In MIRACLE WORKERS, Tuesdays on TBS, Daniel Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan star as angels Craig and Eliza. Craig and Eliza have two weeks to persuade a depressed God, played by Steve Buscemi, not to destroy the Earth.
Radcliffe, who is also one of MIRACLE WORKERS’ executive producers, is known for starring as the title character in the HARRY POTTER franchise. Since then, the English actor has done a wide range of projects, including starring in several Broadway plays, and starred in the films THE WOMAN IN BLACK, KILL YOUR DARLINGS (as real-life poet Allen Ginsberg), HORNS, WHAT IF, SWISS ARMY MAN, IMPERIUM, JUNGLE, and BEAST OF BURDEN.
Viswanathan, originally from Australia, coincidentally appeared in a TV series called LOST ANGELS. Her other credits include the TV series JANET KING and the feature films BLOCKERS, THE PACKAGE, and HALA.
Radcliffe and Viswanathan sit down together for a small roundtable discussion of their work on MIRACLE WORKERS, which is created by Simon Rich from his novel.
ASSIGNMENT X: I have to ask – you were in something called LOST ANGELS. Did that have anything to do with the MIRACLE WORKERS type of angel?
GERALDINE VISWANATHAN: [laughs] No. That was just a random thing I did for an ITV credit a long time ago.
AX: What can you say about your MIRACLE WORKERS characters?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: I play Craig, who is a very diligent and hard-working, well-intentioned angel, working in the Department of Human Prayers, which, contrary to what one might expect and hope, is not at all a desirable position to be in. It’s quite a lowly department by other people’s standards, but he loves it, and he’s quite panicky, and neurotic, and frightened a lot of the time. Then Eliza comes in, who is none of those things, and really sort of changes him, but also sets the story in motion, and then we sort of team up and try and answer the thing that you kind of cause.
VISWANATHAN: Eliza is extremely driven and ambitious and confident – basically, she’s everything that Craig is not [laughs]. And she starts out quite idealistic. She believes that Heaven works, and she’s been quite frustrated, working in the mailroom for ten thousand years, just waiting for the day when she can get promoted to a higher level, and then eventually she does, and is a little bit disappointed to find just one guy answering billions of prayers, one or two a day.
RADCLIFFE: Three or four, hey.
VISWANATHAN: Three or four [laughs]. And [the prayers that are answered are] quite small, whereas I thought they might be a little bit more ambitious than that. So she comes in very gung-ho and tries to make her mark and change things, and in doing so, convinces God to blow up Earth, unless we can answer one of the prayers.
AX: You’ve done some unusual comedy work in film, and also on television. Do have a fondness for eccentric indie humor?
RADCLIFFE: I never thought of it in that way, but I guess I do. I’ve been very lucky. Growing up, THE SIMPSONS was a huge part of my life. And then FAWLTY TOWERS and a British show called YES, MINISTER and [its sequel] YES, PRIME MINISTER, which I watched a lot, and I just – there was a point where I could do entire episodes. And that actually led to another show that I love, which is THE THICK OF IT, which feels like a follow-up or a successor to that. Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, THE DAY TODAY, and I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE, yeah, THE THICK OF IT, I loved all those shows.
Ricky Gervais, whose THE OFFICE was a huge part of my growing up and loving comedy, getting to work with him [in EXTRAS] was amazing, and then the writers of THE YOUNG DOCTOR’S NOTEBOOK were just amazing, very, very funny writers. That series should not have been able to be as funny as it is. It’s about surgery and drug addiction, and it’s a very funny show somehow. Yeah, I really respond to comedy, particularly when it’s this clever. I’ll laugh at anything, but I just feel like the world Simon creates in this is so complete and lovely. Despite the fact that it’s crazy, and it’s chaotic, there’s a warmth to just being in it. And there’s a warmth to Simon’s writing, and a kindness, that I think is possibly slightly different from YOUNG DOCTOR’S NOTEBOOK or EXTRAS in that way. I think they were both slightly harder series. Well, maybe not EXTRAS, well, it had a bit, but YOUNG DOCTOR’S NOTEBOOK was quite hard, but this I do think has an incredible amount of warmth and love for humanity and the human condition, despite how crazed it is.
AX: Did either of you ever think, “It would be funny if Heaven was like this, it would be good if Heaven was like this, this is the worst possible version of Heaven it could be”?
RADCLIFFE: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d given it that much thought. I personally don’t believe in Heaven, so I guess that for me that its existing would be great, because it would be a surprise, certainly. I don’t know. I think on reflection I would not like to have the God that Steve plays as the God. That would worry me.
VISWANATHAN: Yeah. I’ve noticed, actually, that, say, if there’s a thunderstorm, I’ll be like, “I wonder if that’s Steve up there, just pressing some buttons, he fell over, spilled his coffee or something.” [laughs]
RADCLIFFE: There. You’ve solved it for me a little bit there. That’s a nicer version of that.
VISWANATHAN: It’s a little bit comforting, yeah?
AX: How is working with Steve Buscemi?
RADCLIFFE: He’s brilliant.
VISWANATHAN: He’s everything you could hope for, in his character, and as a person.
RADCLIFFE: And as a person. He’s a complete class act, and fun, and works really hard. It’s great. I feel like he would make a much better God than his character does. I feel like things would have gone very smoothly and nicely if Steve was in charge.
AX: In MIRACLE WORKERS, your characters have two weeks to get two millennials who are attracted to one another to actually kiss. Have you ever tried to match-make in real life?
RADCLIFFE: Yeah. I did it disastrously. I did it really badly. I set my two friends up, who I gave each other’s numbers, and they were both recently single, and they had a terrible time with each other [laughs].
VISWANATHAN: Nooo … [laughs]
RADCLIFFE: I mean, it was fine, but it was not going to be repeated, and they both came back to me with various stories about the other one. And I was like, “Okay, cool, I did a really bad job here. I’m never going to do that again.” [laughs]
VISWANATHAN: I think I’ve tried to, but it just never happened.
AX: Are you both approaching MIRACLE WORKERS as an office comedy with super-high stakes?
RADCLIFFE: I guess so, but I don’t think I approach anything with particularly in mind, “What kind of genre is this?” It’s just like, “Oh, I love this, how do I do this scene?” I don’t think of it in broader terms than that, or how it fits into what thing. I think it is exactly what you’ve described, it’s an office comedy with ridiculously high stakes. But I think also it’s a very heightened world, so obviously, the more grounded that you play it, and the more reality you can give to what is in theory a very heightened world, it’s probably helpful.
AX: How did you become involved in MIRACLE WORKERS as a producer?
RADCLIFFE: Originally, how this all started for me was, I was looking to work with Simon. I read the book, and I got in contact with him and said, “If anything ever becomes of this, if you ever turn it into anything, it would be crazy for you not to do at some point, I would love to be involved in whatever capacity you would have me.” And so we started to talk about it, and here we are. And when he came to me with the idea of doing potentially an anthology series, I thought that was even more exciting, because the one thing that I would be worried about again is just obviously playing one character for a very, very long time. And so I thought changing characters and worlds every series is very exciting.
AX: So as an anthology series, all the characters would be different in the next season, and it would not be set in Heaven at all?
RADCLIFFE: It would be something totally different, some different time, different place, different characters. So yeah. But connected somehow.
AX: So it’s like AMERICAN HORROR STORY, where there’s a repertory cast?
RADCLIFFE: I think that’s the plan. This is the first time I’ve [been a producer] on something like this. I tried to help a friend do a documentary he was doing recently, but this is the first time I’ve ever been on that side and involved in the project from such an early stage. I’ve never really had that before, so to be a part of, not shaping it, because this is Simon’s vision, I just had to be like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, do that,” but yeah, being involved in that, in the casting and things like that was really amazing and interesting for the first time. Yeah, one day I would love to, not on this specifically, but I would love to direct and get behind the camera at some point. I would love to write, ideally, as well. I would love to write and direct something.
AX: You wrote a book of poetry, right?
RADCLIFFE: Yeah. I wrote some poetry when I was younger, and it was published under a pseudonym, which the Daily Mail figured out very quickly. It was my teenage – it wasn’t the worst. ButI look back now and I’m like, “Gah! What was I doing?” But yeah. I would love to write scripts. I have written some stuff, but it’s nowhere near I feel it would need to be to actually get made.
AX: How did you get involved with MIRACLE WORKERS?
VISWANATHAN: This just came to me as an audition. I read the script, and I was like, “This is the best script I’ve ever read. This is totally out of my league.” [laughs] But then I read for it, I didn’t hear anything, I read for a different character –
RADCLIFFE: Which one?
VISWANATHAN: I read for Laura [the character played by Sasha Compere]. And it was like, “No.” [laughs] Like hard no. And I was like, “Ah, that really sucks.” Because I was so in love with that one. And then a couple months later, they brought me in for Eliza and then, “Yeah.”
RADCLIFFE: Which is awesome.
AX: Is there any difference about playing an angel, versus playing an ordinary person?
RADCLIFFE: In our version of things, no. I don’t think there is. Sort of what we were talking about earlier, the more real and normal you play it, the funnier I think a lot of it is, because of the crazy things we’re doing, and it’s just part of our world. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in DOGMA, they were obviously playing Biblical angels. Although that was very grounded as well. But when they come out at the end, they’re doing angel stuff, they’ve got wings. We don’t have wings, we don’t have halos. So it is a more earthly version of angels.
AX: Are you enjoying your life right now?
RADCLIFFE: Yeah. This job particularly is ridiculous fun. I’m having so much fun, I feel like I can’t possibly call it work. So I’m very, very happy.
AX: Are you still recognized on the street? If so, how is that?
RADCLIFFE: Most people are very nice about it. Occasionally, somebody might pick a bad moment to ask for a photo when I’m in the middle of, I don’t know, a conversation about a personal situation or something. But generally speaking, everyone’s nice. It’s not a bad thing.
AX: What would you most like people to know about MIRACLE WORKERS?
RADCLIFFE: It’s really, really funny, and I think it is genuinely just really kind and sweet, as well as being dark. It’s got very funny, dark jokes in it, but there’s a warmth to it that I think people will love feeling.
VISWANATHAN: Yeah. I think the same. And it’s not really making a comment on religion, it’s just about relationships and dynamics in the workplace, and there’s a lot of heart, but there’s also a lot of really fun, silly stuff, too.
RADCLIFFE: That is a very good point. It’s a very nondenominational Heaven, even more so than in the book, and I think it’s less directly related to a religion that we would recognize than the book was. It’s much more abstract.
This interview was conducted during TBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: MIRACLE WORKERS: Daniel Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan chat about their new heavenly comedy