Máiréad Tyers: ‘It freaks me out when there are people in their mid-20s who seem to have it sorted’

Tyers is on her way to becoming a well-known name in the acting world. The Cork star talks about her breakout Disney+ role, Bafta nod and more

Máiréad Tyers is a good talker: honest, engaging and candid. But the actor, 25, stops short when she is asked about her home place of Ballinhassig in Cork and how people might know the village. “What is Ballinhassig famous for?” she says. “Jacqui Hurley [the RTÉ broadcaster] is from there, and the Cork hurlers Patrick and Ger Collins. Kirby’s is a nice restaurant that is popular. When I say Ballinhassig, people are like, ‘Where?’ and I say it’s on the road to Bandon. People know where Bandon is.”

In truth, there’s every likelihood that one day Tyers will be the name people will drop when Ballinhassig is mentioned. She might not have a postal box wrapped in Oscar-hued gold near her parents’ door, as in Cillian Murphy’s home place, but she has made a significant impression on audiences and critics, with rave reviews for her lead performance in Extraordinary, the superhero comedy on Disney+ that has just arrived on our screens for a second season.

Earlier this month, Tyers was nominated for a Bafta in the category of best female performance in a comedy for her role as Jen in Extraordinary, with her costar Sofia Oxenham, who plays her best friend Carrie, also getting the nod in the same category. In the past few weeks, Tyers has also netted a nomination for a Royal Television Society Programme award and Extraordinary was nominated for best scripted comedy.

Not bad for a 2020 Rada graduate who is only just getting started. Not that Tyers is keen to make much of the starrier aspects of her acting CV, mind. Interviewed from her home in north London, she’s clad in anonymous black, her reddish-brown hair is scraped back from her head, and she wears simple gold hoops in her ears. Her style is low-key, and her attitude to acting is similarly down to earth. When did she know she was good at acting? She ducks the topic.

Being good isn’t a goal that Tyers tries to concern herself with. In fact, she thinks, trying to be “good” as an actor can be dangerous, because it can make you self-conscious. “This idea of creating something good, I feel you can’t be good and truthful,” she says. “You have to be focused on finding the truth of what you’re doing and telling the story of it. If you’re trying to be ‘good’, then you’ll lose any sense of truth, because ego starts getting involved.”

In Extraordinary, the plot loosely centres on Jen’s attempts to locate her personal superpower. Jen lives in a world where everyone gets a superpower when they turn 18 – anything from summoning dead people to levitating to time-travel and telepathy – but somehow Jen has not acquired hers. She’s trying to unblock her powers, but along the way she’s also doing all the things young adults do: keep her head above water in her dead-end job, take a tilt at romance and pry apart squabbling friends and housemates.

Asked if she feels a kinship with the character, Tyers nods. “Okay there’s people flying about,” she says, “but it is a very normal world. It’s this world and they’re dealing with the problems of this world. It has grounded themes and problems.”

One of the lovely things about Extraordinary is that all of the characters have an appealing humanity to them: they’re messy and multifaceted and funny and relatable. The scything soundtrack, by artists including Sleigh Bells, The Shins and Mitski, adds to the juddering sense of characters who feel slightly dislocated and nervy. They’re not drowning, they’re waving – but they are also clinging on to each other for dear life, as they try to figure out how to become proper grown-ups.

It’s a feeling of disorientation Tyers knows well because for the past few years she’s been living and breathing the discomfort that comes with young adulthood. “It’s such a confusing time,” she says. “You get to the age of, like, 23 and you’re looking at your whole life ahead of you. With university, every year, for three years, I knew what I was going to be doing. Then you graduate and you’re in the state of what do I do now? I have to figure out where I live. I have to figure out how I earn money.

It annoys me when people deny that luck is involved. I would say it’s pretty much all luck. There’s no such thing as one person deserving it more than another person

“It freaks me out when there are people in their mid-20s who seem to have it sorted. I feel like I’ve grown up through the experience of the job, but also watching these characters figure their lives out has been helpful. It’s a joy to act. It feels like nothing I’ve ever done before.”

The move towards a life in acting began for Tyers when she was about 14 years of age, and she joined the Gaiety School of Acting in the Granary Theatre in Cork. “When I got to secondary-school age, I wanted to get on stage, I just wanted to perform,” she says. “I went to the Gaiety School of Acting, then run by Tony McCleane Fay, in the Granary, which I adored. It meant that I was introduced to a community of people who would go to the Granary on a Friday night and to whatever shows were on there, which were usually quite experimental, with unknown writers, unknown actors. And we all used to get in free.”

The Granary Theatre was where the theatre company Corcadorca first premiered Disco Pigs in the 1990s, with Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh in the iconic roles of Pig and Runt. Their abilities and prowess were inspirational for Tyers.

“I was amazed by him and Eileen Walsh,” she says. “I was like, oh my God, these are Cork actors. Since then I’ve seen Eileen Walsh on stage over here and in Catastrophe. I feel like there are so many people who I’ve had my eye on. I remember Saoirse Ronan doing it so young. I was like, how do I do that? How do I get in a film? How do I get that opportunity? You look up their Wikipedia and you think, how did they start? A lot of them are from drama school but a lot of them aren’t.

“So much of it is luck,” she adds. “Just being in the right place at the right time. It annoys me when people deny that luck is involved. I would say it’s pretty much all luck. There’s no such thing as one person deserving it more than another person.”

Does she not think it’s down to that old adage of opportunity meeting preparation? “Yeah, but that’s also privilege,” she says. “If the opportunity comes and you’re financially able to do it, that’s privilege.”

Tyers’ big break came when she got through the notoriously competitive audition process to win a place to study drama at Rada in London. For the audition in Dublin, alongside two Shakespeare pieces, she performed an excerpt from the play Desolate Heaven by Cork playwright Ailís Ní Ríain. “The play was on in the Everyman the year that I was auditioning,” she says. “After the fact, they said, if there’s any advice you want to give to people, tell them to do something from their hometown.

“That’s special. All you have is your identity: who you are and where you come from. Being from Cork feels like such a huge part of my identity. So to do that piece in my Rada audition was absolutely the right choice.”

During her degree, she was spotted by Kenneth Branagh, then president of Rada, who handpicked her to spend five days shooting on the award-winning drama Belfast, although she’s not particularly visible in the film, save for one shot.

“The most embarrassing thing is when people say ‘Oh, I remember you!’” she says, laughing. “No you don’t!” She’s grateful to Branagh. “He’s such an encouraging force,” she says. “He gives people their first credit – it was my first credit, it was multiple people in my year’s first credit. Whether we were in it or not! Not only did he give me my first credit, it gives you some money in the bank for when you’ve just graduated and it can pay two months’ rent.”

Tyers didn’t fancy her chances when she auditioned for Extraordinary, penned by Fermanagh-born screenwriter and comedian Emma Moran, best known for her work on the panel show Have I Got News for You. The part didn’t call for an Irish character, and Tyers didn’t have much of a name. Like many young actors before her, she has watched on from the sidelines as celebrities have used their social media capital to draw large audiences to their projects.

Still, she loved the part of Jen. “I felt I knew how I felt the humour should land,” she says. “But I thought, oh they’ll go for profile. I understand it from a financier’s point of view. If they are guaranteed to have more people watching [a show] because someone has more Instagram followers, I can understand that to a degree.

“But I think I was doing a disservice to the casting team because they cast loads of us who have not had prior experience. And now the funny thing is that we’ve gone from the show to being considered for jobs because we have profile, but we never could have got that if we didn’t do Extraordinary.”

The role has meant that when we speak, Tyers has recently flown in from Los Angeles, where, for the show’s premiere on Hulu, she was dressed by a stylist, and had her hair and make-up done for the red carpet. “That side of it is something you have to embrace to some degree,” she says.

All very glamorous, in other words, but then she returned to the north London house-share she’s in now, where, she laughs, they’ve been allowed to stay on the condition that they fix anything leaky and don’t make too much of a fuss. “We’ve got an insanely good deal,” she says. “I’m touching wood, but we have such a good relationship with the family who own the place that we don’t have the threat of being evicted. It’s run down, the paint is coming off the walls, but they ask us to maintain it and we do.”

Her housemates are her friends: they are stage managers and other actors, people she went to drama school with. “I feel very lucky about that,” she says. “I love that I can go and film for three months, but then still have the support of my housemates, but also feel like we’re all going through the same thing. It’s [all about] day jobs and then it’s not getting jobs and then it’s auditioning. I have a real community here. The community feels so strong.”

One of the accidental reasons for that is Dublin’s housing crisis. The skyrocketing of rents in Ireland’s capital has meant Tyers is surrounded by young Irish acting talent in London. “Sadly, what’s happening now is that a lot of people who are actors, because it’s so hard to live in Dublin, a lot of them come over here instead,” she says. “There’s a huge workforce of actors who are struggling and being pushed out and pushed over here. Yes, they are getting opportunities but it’s a loss.

It’s happened for me quite quickly in the past few years, but there’s no guarantee of anything in the future

“Sometimes, I look back and I look at what’s going on in the Abbey and Druid and the Gate, and I’m like, oh my God. People like Garry Hynes, Caitríona McLaughlin, Louise Lowe, these are people I admire so greatly and would love to work with at some point. I just hope something changes with the housing crisis.”

While her peers have acted as a bulwark, those ahead of her have acted as champions. In Extraordinary, the role of Jen’s mother is played by the London-based, Cork-born actor Siobhán McSweeney, who is beloved around the globe for her role as the brilliantly deadpan Sr Michael in Derry Girls. “She has been so supportive,” Tyers says. “To have mentors or people who have paved the way is huge. She has been so helpful and reassuring.”

Asked about Tyers, in an email to The Irish Times, McSweeney said if she had a daughter in real life, she’d want them to be like Tyers.

“She is fab,” McSweeney writes. “Anyone in the business knows that making it look natural is the hardest thing in the world and she makes it seem as easy as breathing. She is always trying to improve. What I particularly love about her is that she is unaware of how brilliant she is. She is deeply curious about other people and non-judgmental.”

Right now, Tyers is on the cusp of change. Having dipped her toes into the thriller genre with the Colin Morgan-starring Dead Shot in 2023, she has a new role coming up in My Lady Jane, a Tudor dramedy with a fantasy element, which will air on Amazon Prime Video later this year. It’s a historical reimagining of the life of Lady Jane Grey, Henry XI’s great granddaughter, starring Dominic Cooper and Emily Bader.

“It’s sweary and raunchy and has real heart in it,” Tyers says. “I play Susannah, who is Lady Jane Grey’s best friend.” She also has a short film, Meat Puppet, on the way. “It’s a comedy horror, so there was a lot of blood and gore to film. I’m excited for that to come out.

“It’s happened for me quite quickly in the past few years, but there’s no guarantee of anything in the future,” she adds. “When you’re getting jobs, you’re getting validated and then, when that slows down or stops happening, it’s anxiety-inducing.”

But there’s a strong sense that Tyers wouldn’t change careers for the world. “I don’t just want to do comedy,” she says, as our time draws to a close. “I want to do it all.” You wouldn’t doubt her.

Extraordinary is available to stream on Disney+. The BAFTA television awards will take place on Sunday, May 12th, and will be broadcast on BBC One

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