Máiréad Tyers knows her new superhero series Extraordinary might catch some viewers by surprise – and quite possibly, make their jaws drop. “It’s a comedy with a lot of raucous, filthy humour… very filthy humour,” the 24-year-old rising star says when we meet in the bar of a Soho hotel. She isn’t exaggerating: Extraordinary may be premiering on Disney+, but it contains moments that would make Mickey blush. In the very first scene, Tyers’ character Jen tells a prospective employer that she overslept this morning “because I spent so long last night trying to make myself come, but couldn’t because of my antidepressants”. You sense that Marvel would never dare to be so frank.
In fairness to Jen, she overshares because she is being grilled by an interviewer whose superpower is to make everyone in her presence tell the brutally honest truth. The show, created by former Have I Got News For You writer Emma Moran, takes place in a contemporary London where everyone acquires a unique superpower on their 18th birthday. Everyone, that is, except for poor old Jen. “It’s very othering for her,” Tyers says. “And she believes wholeheartedly that by somehow finding what her superpower is, she’ll be able to solve everything else that’s wrong in her life.”
It’s an irreverent spin on the overstuffed superhero genre that allows Extraordinary to go pretty much anywhere; Jen’s flatmate Carrie (Sofia Oxenham) has the ability to act as a communication vessel for dead people, a bit like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. But, even in its most fantastical moments, Tyers believes the series will connect with viewers on a more human level. “We all do what Jen does, especially when we’re in our mid-twenties,” she says. “We say things like ‘when I get this job or have this relationship, I’ll be happy’. And so throughout the series, we see her trying to find her superpower through any means possible.”
Extraordinary’s awesome cast includes Derry Girls’ Siobhán McSweeney as Jen’s formidable mum, Mary. “She just has funny bones,” Tyers says of the Sister Michael actress, still sounding slightly in awe. “There were so many times I had to try really hard to stop myself from corpsing in scenes with her.” Still, the eight-part series is driven by Tyers’ enormously warm, empathetic and hilarious performance as Jen, a young woman who has yet to realise her self-worth. “Sometimes I would think about Jen and her situation and find it quite upsetting,” Tyers says. “And maybe that’s because there’s a lot I can relate to in her situation, especially that feeling of procrastinating and pushing away your problems.”
Tyers can also relate to Jen’s feelings of insecurity compared to peers who’ve already embarked on a linear career path – something no up-and-coming actor ever really enjoys. Born and raised in Cork, Ireland’s second city, she moved to London in 2017 to study at the ultra-prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where recent alumni include Oscar nominee Cynthia Erivo, Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and This Country star Daisy May Cooper. Tyers says it took her “a long time to settle in”, but now thinks of the city as home. Extraordinary was filmed on location in Whitechapel in East London, and she still gets pangs of nostalgia when she visits the neighbourhood.
Tyers speaks fondly of her time at RADA, where she had “the amazing experience” of playing Lady Macbeth in her final year – exactly the sort of meaty classical role her alma mater is known for. But when she graduated in 2020, her career was immediately stalled by Covid. “Instead of getting a job in a call centre, which is what you’re supposed to do after graduating from drama school,” she says wryly, “we all went home and sat on our arses.” Salvation came when Kenneth Branagh cast her and several of her RADA classmates in his semi-autobiographical film Belfast.
Tyers played Auntie Eileen, a member of Ma (Caitríona Balfe) and Pa (Jamie Dornan)’s extended family, a role which involved five days of paid work, mainly in the background. “We were established characters who you’d notice here and there, but it was the perfect first job because it didn’t involve too much stress,” she says. “Kenneth Branagh is the President of RADA and he’s known for giving new graduates opportunities like this, which is just really brilliant of him.”
After Belfast, Tyers landed a “small, quite comic role” in the ITVX teen drama Tell Me Everything and starred in Changing the Sheets, a risqué, joke-packed relationship play that did well at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe. Though her RADA training focused largely on drama, Edinburgh combined with Extraordinary is making Tyers wonder if comedy could be her calling. “I think through doing this show, I may actually be starting to believe that I can be funny,” she says. No one who watches Extraordinary will doubt this in the slightest.
Extraordinary premieres on Disney+ on 25 January 2023.