"He's a character who is continually disorientated and that's exactly how I felt filming this."
Imagine a world where everyone has a superpower... except you. That's the premise for Disney+'s brand new comedy Extraordinary, which has been written by debut screenwriter Emma Moran, and is about being young and finding your feet in a confusing world when all you’ll ever be is ‘ordinary’.
10 years ago, everyone over the age of 18 got their superpower. But Jen, played by Máiréad Tyers, at 25 is still waiting to get hers. She’d take anything at this point. Adrift in a big, confusing world and armed with nothing but a bit of hope, a lot of desperation and her flatmates, Jen begins her journey to find her maybe-superpower. But in doing so, she might discover the joy of being just kind of OK.
Starring alongside Máiréad Tyers as Jen, Sofia Oxenham as Carrie and Bilal Hasna as Kash is comedian Luke Rollason who plays their unexpected new flatmate Jizzlord, in what is his first major television role.
I recently caught up with Luke to find out why his background as a clown has helped with his performance, the challenges of shooting scenes in the nude as well as the superpowers he'd possess if the world of Extraordinary was real and more!
How did you feel when you first read the script for Extraordinary and found out more about the character you were potentially going to play?
I've done a fair amount of auditions over the past few years and because my background is in comedy, I've gone up for a lot of sitcoms and it probably feels cliché to say, but I couldn't believe this thing. It felt so unlike anything else I'd got to read. And so much fun to read.
I had to do loads of it (for the audition) as well, it was scenes, upon scenes, upon scenes, upon scenes and it can feel quite scary and dangerous as an actor when you audition for something that you believe you might be ideal for. I feel like I should be able to do this.
Normally, I audition for stuff and I think well if the person they were looking for is to play a professional footballer, sure, I'm not going to get this. So to suddenly read something where in terms of the part, the first comedy show I did years ago was a show where I did a one-man nature documentary, and I played a cat so I thought it was too cruel.
I haven't done a load of screen acting, a few roles here and there on TV, so it didn't really feel like I was going to get this role. It felt cruel to be reading this fucking amazing script. What I immediately loved about it, is that it works like a normal sitcom, but whatever is going on between the characters in the scene, the powers are always used to heighten those relationships or heighten those conflicts. It felt like playing a game on stage really, but on screen.
The really obvious example of this is the dentist scene where you think "What would make this worse?" It never feels like it's about showing off powers, it's always about making the comedy in the problems from the characters' problems with themselves and each other, sing more.
I think it was probably the first thing that I auditioned for where the script made me laugh out loud. What's so gorgeous about working on this show is that the scripts change. So you get one draft and then it changes. Usually due to budgets. So today that character has lobster claws and tomorrow they have something which is more conceptually funny but isn't as insane to try and pull off. You get a little memo every time something changes and one day we got this memo that just said the bartender no longer has lobster claws. I framed that and put it in my dressing room!
How would you describe Extraordinary and the character you play?
The show is set in a world very much like our own, where everyone has a superpower except for our lead character. But it's still a completely ordinary world. And people have very much gotten used to powers just being part of everyday life.
But our main character, Jen, still feels like an outsider and they still feel like someone who will never have their life together. Or as together as everyone else around them and doesn't have as much of an identity as everyone else around them. And that serves as a kind of metaphor for how she feels like her life's a bit of a disappointment.
My character who's called Jizzlord, which isn't a name he gives himself, is someone who, like Jen, feels like an outsider because of something to do with their power, which means that because of a consequence of their power almost misfiring, they also are in a situation where they don't know anything about themselves, quite literally in Jizzlord's case. And they're also starting again or starting from the bottom.
So I think his character and Jen's character are drawn together really because he's probably the only person who's as clueless as she is. And for him, she knows everything.
For a large part of the series, especially at the beginning, Jizzlord spends a lot of his screen time naked. How did you feel about those scenes? And what was the approach you took?
The production company were Sid Gentle, it's a really kind team and we all got to know the producer and the director really early on from the audition process and the rehearsal process. They were around lots.
Charlie Palmer, who's the producer, came into rehearsals a lot and came to talk to me about it. And I believe we had a conversation where he was like "It'll only be side bum" and I was like, "That's such a pity!"
My background is in live comedy performance and something that was quite big for me was about learning to be confident in my body. I've always felt like I had quite an unusual body. I'm very slender and quite boney looking. And I think performing on stage helped me feel a lot more confident about my body, in ways that now feel like very second nature to me.
I remember in 2017 I did a naked charity cabaret and I remember saying yes because I was like "That sounds really scary" and I was trying to do this mime bit, which is a terrible idea! Don't do something where the focus is on your hands! That was in Brighton. I've done that a few times now, and I really, really love it.
For me now, performing naked is something that feels not second nature, but for sure like a lot less scary. I was always very upfront about how comfortable I was with it. The thing that's funny about doing those scenes is I'm wearing this little kind of modesty pouch. Which is like this beige thing.
I used to call it the Dignity Diaper, but I've since looked that up and that's a very different thing. It was like a pouch and it would have this tab that would be taped up coming my crack. I feel so sorry for Ivan, who was the amazing costume assistant who was responsible for glueing it onto me. It took us a long time to work out how it actually fitted on. I always felt very secure, but in some of the longer takes, especially if I had to do a lot of squatting or standing up or a lot of movement, you could feel it going.
And you also knew that there's a reset time on it. Maybe it takes around 10 minutes to reset and you're so aware filming, not from other people putting pressure on you, but just you putting pressure on yourself, being like, all these people are working so hard. I've got like one simple job to do. I know that if this takes a 10-minute reset, that probably means one less take on a closeup for another actor.
So you find yourself in the situation where you're holding this thing on just by tensing your butt crack and everyone's like "Do you need a reset?" and you're like, "No!".
I'm pretty certain the scene where Jen meets me for the first time, there's a take, which I can see where I know that in that moment I'm holding it on.
It's a very physical role. Because of your clown background, is that something you enjoyed?
Yeah, definitely. This really felt for many reasons, like a very natural role for me to get to play. I've always approached making work, either as an actor, but primarily as a comedian, with physicality first. Being embodied or being in a situation will give you the answers for everything else you have to do.
So I really enjoyed those early scenes where I'm kind of staggering around. I don't need to work out psychologically what Jizzlord is understanding about where he's at in this scene. There's enough physical difficulties. including the pouch, to reckon with. For me to just try and be in the moment as much as possible.
And that's something that I think is obviously true for any acting role, but really specifically for this one, because I've got nothing else to go on. He doesn't remember anything about his past. From before... let's just call it "the incident". He doesn't have any real idea about who he is or where he's come from. It was a role where the only things I had to work with were the situations I was in.
I couldn't do any of the preparation which we normally associate with being an actor of research, or character backgrounds, or relationship work. All of that stuff's completely out the window and it just means purely you are having to work off your curiosity.
My background's in clown, I went to clown school, I never went to drama school. I've got no real toolset for analysing a script or thinking about motivations, et cetera. But I do think I have a good toolkit for trying to remain live in performance. And trying to keep my attention outwards.
There's a sequence at the beginning of episode three where I'm trying to open a can of tuna and I think pretty much for that sequence, they just let the cameras roll and let me do what I wanted.
It's weird though with the physical stuff, I think there was this rumour that spread around set that because I'd gone to clown school, that meant that I had a circus background. So there's this beautiful stunt man who was so kind and such a sweet guy, because all they're dealing with is safety. It's like a stunt coordinator.
It'd be simple stuff like jumping off a chair and they'll put a crashmat down because they really don't want anyone to hurt themselves. Every time he would approach me really embarrassed being like "Obviously I know you've done backflips and stuff in your circus training, you've probably been up and down trapezes" and no matter how many times I explained it, no one could quite understand that I'm not an acrobat.
Really, I'm very physically unskilled. I'm very unskilled physically. For an actor, I guess I have maybe slightly more of a physical background, but for anyone with an actual physical background? I'm as britle as a twig.
What were some of your favourite scenes to film?
The whole sequence at the strip club with the dog was, I think, one of the most fun days on set and what I really. love about this show is that the situations are so bizarre and ridiculous, it was very hard to get complacent as an actor.
Goes back to what I was saying earlier about how the powers work as an absurd prompt almost for the characters. But Strip Club Dog Day was absolutely incredible. I mean, the weirdest thing, because a lot of shots in that are continuous, you'd have these strange moments of choreography where the dog's got to keep its dog trainer in its eye the whole time.
So the camera sweeps down, past these pole dancers and then as soon as it's off the pole dancers, this old woman in a gilet, jumps onto the stage and starts clicking to get the dog's attention so that the dog was looking at the strippers. And then the pole dancers are still doing pole dancing around this old lady. It's moments like that where you're like "I have this bizarre job that's really exciting."
In a world like the one in Extraordinary, what would you want your superpower to be?
I think teleporting would be great. I'm often afraid of being late for stuff and I often end up spending way too much time planning how to be as time efficient as possible in a way that I'm not sure is a good use of my time. I think if I start doing this at the same time as this... ooh, maybe multitasking? No. That's not. I mean, that's something people can do.
So teleporting. Or, I'd like to be able to turn any stretch of floor into a travelator. You know that feeling when you're walking on a travelator and you're like, I just walk better than other people. Then you step off it and I think that for me is the perfect feeling of extraordinary. Stepping off a travelator and realising the distance between your idea of yourself and who you are. So if I has a superpower, I would never have to step off that travelator again.
Your character is a shapeshifter. If you too were a shapeshifter, what would you like to shapeshift into?
Nothing too small because actually insects really freak me out and I think if insects relative to my size were big, I'd hate that. That'd be fucking awful. But similarly, I am terrified of heights. Which is good as I didn't do any flying in this show. I never got to go on the wires in the green screen studio. I'm super aware that I would've had a terrible time.
I think some of those sequences were filmed after the wrap party, which means some people are very hungover when they're on those wires, which I quite like knowing!
It would be absolutely great to be something with four legs. I think that would be a surprisingly great experience. I was going to say. flightless bird, but that feels really sad. A pheasant. The saddest bird out there. I'm going to say deer. I'd quite like to be a deer.
How do you think the world as it is now would cope with a world in which everyone has a superpower?
This is the thing that I think the show deals with so beautifully. It's like that thing about human beings basically having a base level of happiness that just doesn't change that much depending on your situation. And I think this is really what this show is about. People are always gonna end up being people.
If you're someone who's convinced that your life sucks, no amount of change in your circumstances is going to change that. Your circumstances aren't what needs to change. And I guess to extrapolate that, I basically think that if everyone had superpowers, things would be really out of control for like 10 years and then... it's the same with Covid, right?
We're very adaptable as a species and we're very ready to accept new circumstances and that becomes your new base level. I remember for ages during the lockdowns thinking "Oh my god, I can't wait to do this again or do that again" and now we kind of can do those things again, it's a bit like "Oh.". Your base level of happiness hasn't really changed.
No one runs around filled with gratitude. We still have the same 24 hours in a day and I spend quite a lot of it in bed. So, I genuinely don't think it would throw the world that far out of balance. I guess what you would find is maybe differing levels of status for what powers people have. Which is something I think the show explores a little bit. But I don't know if that's so different to other ways in which we accord status in society.
The thing that I love so much about the show is just how mundane it is for people. You can have a world where you can fly or be super strength, but it still matters to Jen's mother, Mary, whether or not her daughter's got into a Conservatoire.
There are other people who can literally play the violin with their mind, but that doesn't matter because that's not status.
Extraordinary is going out in America on Hulu and worldwide on Disney+. Outside of the UK, how do you think audiences are going to take to the show?
Weirdly, we're really doing the numbers in Hungary. If you see the Hungarian dubbed trailer, that is really doing the numbers.
I think this show is extremely visual and extremely visually engaging and again as someone whose background is in visual comedy, that was really appealing to me. I think it's something that helps make the show immediately appealing to people, even if they're not speaking the same language.
The same things are kind of ridiculous everywhere. Also, it's set in an area of London that is so multicultural. I don't feel like, even though that juxtaposition between the humour and the mundanity and the extreme and the absurd, feels like a very eccentric form of British humour, I do feel like the setting feels very universal.
One of the strangest things for me with this show was doing press and hearing journalists from around the world being like "I really loved this show." That I think was the first moment where I was going "Oh my god, this is like actually happening!"
This is your first major television role. How do you feel about this going out not just here in the UK, but worldwide also?
The whole thing of it being my first TV role on this kind of scale, was really helpful to play this part because he's a character who is continually disorientated and that's exactly how I felt filming this. Again, it just felt like such a gift of a role in terms of the easiest you can make it for someone who has no idea what they're doing.
It's hard to talk about this show and not mention the ending. Without giving any spoilers because it's a wonderful surprise when what happens, happens. But can you remember your reaction to the ending? And how do you think audiences will react?
It still gave me goosebumps watching it. I love that that particular scene, and I think Extraordinary does this quite beautifully, where some of the scenes right after the credits are a return of a really beloved character, or side character. Those post-credit scenes are the ones that seemed to change quite a lot in the scripts as well.
I remember in one version of the script, a character was just killed off. I won't say who. But it was one of the vigilantes and they were just dead! Then it was written out and changed. Phew!
My first appearance is in a post-credit scene. That revelation at the end of the series is part of a post-credit scene. I think the series does quite a beautiful job of a slightness of hand. I don't think it's what you'd ever expect for that character. I want it to give you goosebumps. I love that. I love that shot.
Audiences can binge it or save it and watch at their own pace. What would you prefer?
I mean, I'd suggest watching it with the other three leads of Extraordinary which is how I watched it. And to me, something I really like about this show is that it isn't a sitcom. It isn't this thing where there are no consequences per episode.
I really love that the characters really develop and there are some big irreversible changes that mean you can be a lot braver with the characters than you might in a totally conventional sitcom. I think this show is about real life rather than a fantasy wish-fulfilment version of the world where superpowers do everything for you. Or that you can't do irreparable damage to people, because you can.
I really love the plotlines in the last episode for this reason, especially for Bilal's character Kash, that's a really interesting way to explore how powers might give you the tools to ruin your own life.
In terms of how I'd recommend people watch it. I'm not a big binger myself, I have to admit. But I do feel like this show encourages you to try and watch one more. I think I would watch them in pairs. I would pair them up.
Whatever you do, please don't skip the credits or you won't have a clue as to what's going on.
Finally, what's next for you? More live comedy?
Yeah, I'm going to be doing my Edinburgh show from last year's Fringe at the Soho Theatre in July. I'm really excited to do it again. Obviously, TV releases are quite complicated beasts, they work on very different timescales, so I was trying to work out when this show was going to be released.
With a live show, you book in the dates and then with TV you're like "So when's it being released?" and they're like "You will never know that because there are so many other people who need to make a decision about that. You'll be the last person to know."
So anyway, I decided to wait to bring that show back to London after doing it in Edinburgh, but I had such a fun time doing that in Edinburgh and it feels very exciting to do TV work, which hopefully will bring a new audience to the kind of work that I create myself.
I do think there's a lot that those things have in common. One of the things that really drew me to Emma's scripts is the beauty of the writing, how inventive it is and how visually imaginative it is, which is always the work that I'm drawn to. I'm not very drawn to series where the relationships are true or very recognisable in conventional terms.
I hope that if I do more of this kind of work, it will give me the confidence to continue to experiment more in my live work with the confidence that there'll be an audience for something like that.
Live work is so important for me cause it's kind of like the coalface of my creativity. When I do gigs, it's never really been to make money, it's always been to develop new ideas. The format of an hour-long show has always been what excited me the most.
This show, Bowerbird, is made of material that I've been playing with for a few years before Covid and then arranging that in a form that finally made sense. So I'm really excited to go back to it and maybe tour it in a little bit.
Extraordinary launches Wednesday on Disney+