One of the pleasant surprises at this year's SXSW Film Festival was a film called Extra Ordinary, a supernatural comedy from Ireland that manages to bring together a great comedic cast to tell a very R-rated story. It's a delicate brew that combines demonic sacrifice, middle-aged romance, severed appendages, exploding bodies, and "tiny hauntings," and somehow makes it work.
Tiny hauntings are just what they sound like. It's not Pazuzu inhabiting the body of young Linda Blair, it's more like a recently deceased husband haunting the rubbish bin because his wife still refuses to separate out the glass and plastic.
"We really liked the idea of tiny hauntings and looking at it from that perspective instead of big demons and stuff," says co-writer/director Enda Loughman. "Once you have the kernel of the idea of tiny hauntings and the characters that would investigate those hauntings, then you have a universe that starts opening up and it's pretty easy to write jokes and hang them on that."
"The jokes are the easy part," adds Loughman's co-writer/director Mike Ahern. "The hard part is making people you care about."
Which is why the casting was so crucial. At the center of this story are Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a single woman with an unwanted talent for communicating with the dead, and the confusingly named Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a widowed dad haunted by his deceased, controlling wife, who exerts her strong will even in the afterlife.
Meanwhile, a washed-up, one-hit-wonder musician named Christian Winter (Will Forte) is on the lookout for a virgin to sacrifice in order to get another successful run at his music career. Unfortunately, he sets his sights on Martin's teenage daughter (Emma Coleman).
Rounding out the cast is Claudia O'Doherty, who recently made a splash as Gillian Jacobs' lovably naïve Australian roommate in Netflix's Love. Here she plays Forte's bloodthirsty significant other, who also happens to be named Claudia, a move the filmmakers admitted was a ploy to get the actress to sign on.
O'Doherty was one of the first cast members to join the project, thanks to an existing friendship with the writer-directors and the "high-concept silliness" of the script. Higgins was also an early get. In fact, Loughman and Ahern wanted her for the lead role from the start.
"We went to Maeve straightaway," Loughman says. "We always wanted Maeve to do it and tried convincing her to do it for a while, pretending that it was a real film."
That pretending became real once they got their first big name involved. They credit Forte with getting them their budget once he agreed to do the movie, even if he was reluctant to do so ... at first.
"I very badly wanted to say no without reading it just because I was so tired," Forte says.
To be fair, he was just coming off of filming the latest (and sadly last) season of his show The Last Man on Earth. He didn't know at the time that he wasn't getting another season, so he thought he only had one chance to get some rest and relaxation in before gearing up again.
"I was going to go to Ireland on vacation, and this came around and I was like, 'I guess I'll read it,' and it was amazing," Forte adds. "It's just wildly dumb and exciting. The tone of it is unlike anything out there. There are so many specific little jokes that just delighted me. When I found out they were directing it, too, that was the thing that sealed the deal for me. These guys took such care with those moments in the script, I knew they were going to be doing the same thing with the actual production of the movie."
Ward was also slow to sign on. He says he "dallied over it a while," only for Ahern to quickly interrupt to correct the record.
"You didn't dally, you said no!" Ahern exclaims with a laugh.
So what made him say yes? Mostly meeting the directing duo and realizing they knew their stuff. He was impressed enough with their pitch materials that he was willing to record an audition, and while he was waiting to hear back he slowly realized he was already invested in getting the role.
"I was thinking, 'I really f***in' have to play this part,'" Ward says. "I rarely, rarely, rarely get that with a script, but I had to do it. The part is amazing, and I would be really sick if someone else gets to do it."
One of the reasons the role of Martin Martin was so attractive is that he proves to be a natural conduit for ghosts, which means he gets to play myriad different characters as he channels them during his quest to protect his daughter from Satanic sacrifice.
Extra Ordinary was popular enough to earn a coveted Buzz Screening slot at SXSW, which happens when a movie keeps turning away people at their original alotted screenings. Hopefully, that helps the quirky, funny, kinda wrong in all the right ways Irish comedy find a home.
Loughman said the film has already locked up distribution in Ireland but was still on the hunt for a home in the U.S. In fact, the reason he chose SXSW to launch was in hopes of snagging a distributor. No news on that front yet, but with the successful SXSW screenings and all the funny people attached it doesn't feel like it'll be an impossible task to find a decent distributor willing to put this film out.
Before parting ways with the cast and filmmakers of Extra Ordinary, I had to ask Forte for an update on a project near and dear to my heart: MacGruber. The unabashedly silly first film has become a cult classic with a vocal fanbase demanding a return of the ridiculously incompetent character.
Forte and director Jorma Taccone haven't been shy about their desire to do a MacGruber follow-up, and according to Forte we just may hear some news on that in the near future, even if it might not be in the form most are expecting.
"We're now not trying to make a sequel to the movie," Forte says. "Now we're trying to make a small series, like a TV series. We pitched it to some places a little bit ago, and we're just waiting to see if someone will let us do it. Fingers crossed, but we should have some news pretty soon."
He adds that, no matter what, we MacGruber fans will get some kind of followup, even if it ends up being super-low-budget. Forte pondered the idea of a claymation MacGruber, but thinks that might end up even more expensive than a low-budget movie or series.
The thought of a stop-motion MacGruber ripping throats does paint an intriguing picture, though, doesn't it?