For Maeve Higgins, launching a film career started with denial. “It’s so hard to get a movie made, I just didn’t believe it would happen,” she says with a laugh. Written and directed by Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, “Extra Ordinary” features the Irish comedian in her first starring role. “It’s probably good I didn’t fully believe it,” Higgins adds. “I didn’t have time to get worried about it.”
Known for her work on series like Ireland’s “Naked Camera” and “Maeve Higgins’ Fancy Vittles” and her books “We Have a Good Time, Don’t We?” and “Maeve In America: Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else,” Higgins might be best known to American audiences for her recent appearances on the hit NPR program “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” On that quiz show, Higgins doesn’t always have the right answers, but makes up for it with great one-liners and witty observations.
“Extra Ordinary” is a great showcase of her talents, a movie that manages to be funny, scary, romantic and wistful – sometimes all at once. She plays Rose, a woman who can communicate with the dead but chooses not to after a tragedy. Instead, she teaches driving in her small Irish town and tries to keep a low profile. But her gift is needed when a kind widower, played by Barry Ward, finds himself haunted by his late wife and his daughter possessed. Add to the mix Will Forte as a rock star looking to sacrifice a virgin and Claudia O’Doherty as his clueless wife, and you have a film that earns comparisons to “Ghostbusters” and “Hot Fuzz,” yet is also completely original.
A lot of American audiences know you from “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” How did you come to be involved on that show?
I was on a podcast with one of the producers and he asked me to come on. I didn’t realize at the time it was this treasured institution, so now I feel so lucky to be a part of it. And I hope to actually win it. But I doubt that’s going to happen. I consistently come last in that show.
I believe you will win this year!
(Laughs) I don’t, but thank you!
You knew writer-directors of “Extra Ordinary”; did they tell you they were writing something for you or just surprise you with a script?
I’m not sure which came first, but they said they wrote the role for me. I’ve known them since we all lived in Dublin. That was probably about eight years ago. They said, “We have this idea, we want you to be the lead.” Typical behavior for two male directors, writing a good funny part for a woman! They also wrote Claudia O’Doherty’s role for her; we’re all friends.
Did you know them just from living in Ireland? Is it that small?
Ireland is small, but I think it’s more about the fact they have a distinct taste that is also my taste. In a small space when you have that unique viewpoint, there’s probably even fewer of you and that’s probably why we gravitated towards each other. I live in New York now and have found those are the people I surround myself with, so it might be more a taste thing than an Ireland thing.
This is your first lead role in a film; was that intimidating?
I mean it’s my first real role ever in a movie. I did TV and I’m in “Babymooners” for like five seconds. But I didn’t even feel apprehensive because I trusted them, the script was so funny, and to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to happen for a really long time so I didn’t have time to be nervous. And when it did happen, I just told myself to wear what they told me to wear, stand where they told me to stand, and say the lines. It was actually a nice break from the hustle of being a comedian and writer and generating your own stuff. Also, this role is in my range; I don’t think I could do like a medical drama like “ER.” I mean, I could, but I’d have to play someone unconscious.
You play a driving instructor but I understand you don’t know how to drive?
It’s so unlikely a movie will ever get made that when they asked, I said, “Of course I can drive! I’ll just brush up and get my license before the movie happens.” But when it did happen, it was too late for me and I think they spent their entire budget on special effects making it look like I could drive.
Working with someone like Will Forte, I imagine one of the biggest challenges of the movie is not laughing opposite him?
I’m such a fan of his. He’s so funny, just pure funny. There were a couple of scenes where I really had to hold myself together. There’s one where we’re in the car together and Will takes his glove off really slowly. It doesn’t sound funny, but it makes me laugh so hard. I would have to think of sad things so I didn’t ruin takes.
Making a supernatural movie and shooting in an old castle makes me wonder; are you superstitious? Did it every get scary?
You have to remember, Ireland is full of castles, so we’re used to it. I didn’t think I was superstitious but I’ve actually learned I am. In Ireland, when we see a magpie, you’re supposed to say hello, or it’s bad luck. I never thought twice about this but there’s a scene in the movie where I do that and around the world, people would ask me, “Why does she say hello to that bird?” It’s so natural, I guess I am superstitious.
Are there other moments like that where it translates differently to audiences in other countries?
The film has played festivals all over the world and it’s always interesting. There’s a scene with a cuckoo clock and in Switzerland, it got a standing ovation. It seems to be being appreciated all over. It’s a small movie, an Irish movie but people really seem to get it. Genre folk really appreciate it and are so generous. I’m so glad people are getting it. The movie is just out and its getting such a good response in the US. It might even be going down better here than it did in Ireland.