Extraordinary’s Máiréad Tyers on clowns, superheroes and what she learnt from a shapeshifter

Extraordinary’s Máiréad Tyers on clowns, superheroes and what she learnt from a shapeshifter

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Wednesday, 17th April 2024
Jen from Extraordinary stands in a shop, red in the face, holding a bottle of milk
Máiréad Tyers in Extraordinary (credit: Natalie Seery/Disney+)

It takes the first minute of Extraordinary’s pilot for protagonist Jen to admit she’s selfish, lazy, insecure, unambitious, jealous and stubborn. For Máiréad Tyers, the actor who plays her, this was welcome news.

“Jen does so many things that can be seen as unlikeable, but I actually think people have grown to really like her,” Tyers tells me. “She does things or says things that we all think or feel but would never actually say out loud.”

In the Disney+ show, everybody has superpowers except Jen. Instead of veering into familiar superhero territory about chasing a MacGuffin or defeating the big CGI-rendered baddie, the comedy stays fresh by keeping one foot on the ground. People in the world of Extraordinary are more occupied with their career or getting through a situationship in one piece than saving the universe. Instead of acting as a vehicle for poorly-edited fight scenes, the show’s premise works as an analogy for the mid-20s mindset that everyone has it figured out, except you.

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and you need to decide what you do with it,” Tyers tells me. “It’s a lost time, and a lost space to be in.”

Jen – who leads friends astray and can’t go ten seconds without snapping at her family – certainly has a way to go. She’s desperate to get a power and feel better about herself, but isn’t quite sure how. Along the way, she deals with disappointing men, hare-brained schemes and calling your attractive older mentor-cum-therapist ‘dad’.

Playing someone with Jen’s flaws was freeing, Tyers tells me. After years of playing nagging wives or eye-rolling love interests, women in comedy are finally being allowed to mine their characters for depth. The fact that Jen is Tyers’s first lead role is not lost on her.

“I’m aware of how many actresses in the past have had to play so many parts that are not as nuanced or not written as well,” she says. “I don’t want to take it for granted at all.”

Her work was recognised with a nomination for Comedy Performance (Female) at the RTS Programme Awards. A high-concept show with down-to-Earth execution can be a tricky thing to approach as an actor: do you lean into the intensity, or keep things grounded?

The show’s creator, Emma Moran, provided an easy answer.

“From hearing Emma describe it, superheroes don’t exist in this world.”

Powers exist, yes, but don’t “really matter”. In a world where they’re relegated to small talk (‘where are you from? Can you fly?’), it made sense to Tyers to play it straight.

“You need to be aware of hitting the joke at the right time with the right intonation and everything, but as time has gone on, that has felt less and less difficult.”

Now, what feels more important is “living truthfully with the characters,” Tyers explains.

“When I’m opposite Luke [Rollason, her co-star] in a scene, we’re just living as Jen and Jizzlord [a shapeshifter – okay, maybe the show doesn’t always keep one foot on the ground], and the comedic beats fall into it so easily. It’s less about ‘right, we need to set up this joke’.”

Along the way, figuring out what exactly motivated Jen into her latest self-destructive scheme was a big part of the fun. Jen herself has no clue, seeing as that would require a level of self-awareness beyond her. The trick to playing her, then, was “learning the reasons why she may have done it, and then having to forget in order to play it”.

Jen from Extraordinary stands in a blue dress holding a balloon
Jen at her day job (credit: Natalie Seery/Disney+)

Other characters have bits of their personality on show through their power. Kash (Bilal Hasna) can rewind time to change the past, preventing him from learning from his mistakes. Carrie (Sofia Oxenham) can channel the dead, which leads to her being even more ignored, in favour of the more important people she can reach. And Jen?

“Her personality seems tied to not having [a power],” says Tyers. “If she was to get one tomorrow, she’d realise that actually her life wouldn’t change.”

“It’s that constant thing that I think we always tell ourselves: ‘oh, tomorrow, if I got that job I always wanted, or I had a million pounds…’”

“I think you’re gonna have to learn to be happy with your lot,” she continues. “I would hope that Jen would realise if she were to get a power, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

The self-assuredness of Tyers's performance belies how new she is to comedy. Before Extraordinary, her only other comic role was in two-hander Edinburgh Fringe play Changing the Sheets, in which she had the legendary line “don’t compare my vagina to lasagne”.

Drama school provided a “minimal” amount of comedic training. One area of study was Restoration comedy, a bawdy genre from the late 17th century that emerged after King Charles II returned to Britain from exile. Historically significant, certainly, but perhaps not a laugh a minute. It afforded “limited knowledge,” Tyers says diplomatically, before laughing.

“Some drama schools do stand-up,” she enthuses. “I’d love to have done something like that.”

Now that Tyers has experience with comedy that’s a bit more contemporary, has her approach to dramatic acting changed?

“100%. Absolutely. When I do, let’s say, self-tape scenes or auditions for things that aren’t comedy, I always try and find a humour,” she says. “It’s nice to have a bit of levity in scenes that can be quite intense.”

Trying out improv on the set of Extraordinary was a big confidence boost.

“It’s always been something I’ve been quite nervous or scared of,” Tyers says. “You have to enter into it blind: that’s the gig, you have to open yourself up to saying anything and doing anything and responding to people.”

“To get the confidence and experience of working with others who have that freedom benefited me so much.”

Her co-star Rollason – a physical comedian trained at prestigious French clown school École Philippe Gaulier – “introduced us to this whole world of alternative comedy that I had never seen, really, before.”

Alongside crowd-pleasers like The Royle Family, Friends and The Office, Tyers is now also a fan of Estonian clown act Julia Masli, whose influences range from Serbian conceptual artist Marina Abramović to “enormous trousers”. Tyers also singles out double act Siblings (made up of real-life sister duo, Maddy and Marina Bye), but is still a fan of more conventional stand-up comics, like Catherine Bohart and Helen Bauer.

“I don’t think there’s as much focus in the mainstream media on those alternative comics,” says Tyers. “I’d love for them to be trusted with more earlier on, because they’re so, so, so talented.”

Prior to Changing the Sheets, “I think I was ignorant to a lot of [comedy], but it was quite good to be naïve about it,” she continues. “When I first read the [Extraordinary] scripts, I felt I instinctually knew how to do it.”

“Whether that was because my comedy is so aligned with Emma’s, or I’m quite similar to the character, and also got amazing direction, and the writing was so good, I think all of those factors meant that the character didn’t feel too far away.”

Extraordinary is now streaming on Disney+ and ITVX

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It takes the first minute of Extraordinary’s pilot for protagonist Jen to admit she’s selfish, lazy, insecure, unambitious, jealous and stubborn. For Máiréad Tyers, the actor who plays her, this was welcome news.