Miracle Workers By Jessica Young
After his stellar success as a boy wizard in the Harry Potter films Daniel Radcliffe has found himself in many movies and on Broadway.
Now, he is starring in Miracle Workers, a quirky new American TBS cable series, based on Simon Rich’s book, What in God’s Name, which tells the story of heaven as a corporation run by a leader who has taken a sabbatical to play [with] gold and google himself instead of answering the world’s problems.
Miracle Workers, depicts heaven as if it was grimy and industrial, and stars Daniel as a lower level angel named Craig, Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) as God and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers) and Karan Soni (Deadpool) as angels.
The show tells the story of two angels, Daniel’s character Craig and his female colleague, who are put to task to try to convince God not to destroy the Earth. These two hard-working two angels bet God that “they can pull off their most impossible miracle yet: help two humans fall in love.”
The 29-year-old British actor, whose recent movies include the 2012 horror film The Woman in Black, the thriller-drama Kill Your Darlings, The F Word, the science fiction horror film Victor Frankenstein, the bio drama film The Gamechangers, Swiss Army Man, and Now You See Me 2.
Why did you pick this project, Miracle Workers?
I think that there is something lovely about this show. From the moment I started working on it, you could just tell that [writer-creator] Simon Rich’s world and the world that he’s built up has kind of inspired everybody, who works in all the different departments. It’s so rare to get a job where you have to production design heaven, or to find a new take on heaven.
That is definitely rare.
I think this is the kind of project that just gives everyone permission to kind of go kind of crazy and just their imagination. Also, just the level of detail. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to see the books and stuff, in the department of prayers, and all the prayers that are on the wall are all very specific, real prayers with pictures of crew members. It’s a lovely thing, when you step on to the set and see that level of detail, I always think that’s a really cool, exciting thing. I mean, I think it’s really like, it was a chance to work with Simon and work with him over hopefully a number of years. I just think he just has the most unbelievably creative mind and I’m such a fan of all his sort of short stories and his work.
How do you see working in TV versus making movies?
I think one of the intimidating things for me about doing TV is that you are often signing on to something having just read a pilot, and that’s crazy to me. And not knowing where that goes is something that would worry me. But there’s something about Simon that I have absolutely no doubt that he would be able to come up with amazing ideas for how where to go with this show. Obviously, the next series will not be in Heaven, it will be in somewhere totally different. Hearing how excited Simon was at the prospect of being able to write a show that there are things that I never considered about writing for TV, but you know, you can’t write an ending, you have to write continuously open-ended stuff.
Please tell me more.
How frustrating that must be, as a writer, so I think, when I hear the excitement in his voice, at the amount of freedom [the cable network] TBS was giving him to just create a world and to tell the whole story. So essentially, it’s like a long movie, and then you chuck it out and go on to something completely different for the next season. For me as well, that freed me of any of the worry of, oh ‘I’m going to be playing the same character again for a long time, because I’m going to get to play a different character every year.’
What about your character of Craig?
Well, you know, this first series is obviously based off of Simon’s book, so my character of Craig is pretty much how he is in the book. I think he’s probably become slightly more neurotic and nervous, as the writer started writing for my voice. In some ways, there are definitely parallels between myself and this character that I see, but I also think the character of Craig kind of functions as an avatar for Simon, himself, in the story.
What else is involved?
Obviously, it’s his creation and his character, but I think there’s definitely a lot of both of us in it. And also, this world. I know Simon has written for Pixar, and The Simpsons, and lots of animated stuff, but I definitely picture this world somehow, even though I’ve been filming for four weeks, as still being an animated Pixar movie, it just has that, in the same way that Inside Out did.
What else is appealing about this?
As well as it being a great story, with great characters, there’s an intricacy and a playfulness to the world, where you just want to spend time in it, and see how more of it works. And, to me, that’s a very exciting thing, as an audience member, where you just want to get back to being in that space with all these characters. I think, contrary to what we, as human beings on Earth, would hope for, the answering of our prayers is very low priority in this version of heaven. Craig, my character, takes an incredible amount of joy and pride in his job, but he’s like a one-man army, he’s literally a one man band receiving millions of prayers a day; answering like three or four, that’s like a good day.
What did you think about Heaven when you were growing up?
I feel like most of my versions of heaven were from like, cartoons and Terry Pratchett books. My mum and dad were, I think they definitely both believe in God, I think. But it’s not something that we, as a family, it was never something that was passed on to me, in terms of, this is what Heaven is and this is where you’re going to go and not go. I’ve never been particularly religious, but I’ve always been fascinated by religion and also found it amazing. There’s reason religion has such an important place in all of our lives, and is reflective of where we, as a species, have been at every point in our existence. And so there’s something to it, and there’s something, I particularly think, from a storytelling point of view.
What else comes to mind?
I did a movie called Horns, which is a similarly weird. Like, I’m not religious, but it’s a weirdly very religious movie. And it’s quite straight on, on its take on demons and angels and redemption and that kind of stuff. And so, I think, I don’t know, maybe it’s just pure exploitation, but I feel like heaven and religious symbolism, and stuff like that, is incredibly fertile ground for storytelling. Because it is why things like Good Omens, the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman book that I was thinking of earlier, one of the reasons that’s so good is that it just plays with things we sort of already know about heaven and reinvents them in ways that are pleasing and fun.
Tell me more.
So, I actually think this world is less religious than the heaven in Simon’s book. The heaven in Simon’s book is kind of a straight up Christian heaven. I think Jesus is mentioned directly. This is much more sort of secular. Like it is like a corporation, it’s definitely a non-denominational kind of just omnipresent organization, I don’t know. The closest we ever get to some direct religious parody, or something like that, there’s one episode where God gets a prophet, and that’s great. That’s one of my favourite things, but I don’t want to say too much about it.
Do we know how [your character] Craig gets to Heaven?
You do find out about his past life, yeah. Well, Craig’s life on Earth took place at a time where he was actually probably towards the top end of human life expectancy when he died. It’s one of my favourite jokes in the series actually is you see all of our past lives, all the three main angels, what we did on Earth. But I’m not going to say anything more about that, because it’s such a great joke. Those particular jokes remind me of the jokes in movies like Airplane, where you just are like, ‘whoa. How much time was put into that four second joke?’ Because they’re all very, very short, but we all had sets made specifically for that. It’s one of my favourite moments, but I won’t say any more about that.
What do you think people will respond to about Miracle Workers?
You just hope that it finds an audience and that people like it. The thing that I find lovely about it is that, first of all, the world that it is in I genuinely think is so imaginative and creative and wonderful and fun. I think that is really powerful, in terms of people wanting to watch the show. I’m not saying this is like Harry Potter, but I think it’s the reason that Harry Potter was very successful as well, was that world, and you wanted to spend time in there. So, no matter what iteration of this is, you sort of just want to go back and see more of it. I think this has that same feeling. I think it’s really, as I said earlier, there’s some darker humour in it, but generally speaking, I think it’s incredibly kind and heart-warming and happy comedy.
How do you see your character Craig?
Well, he is somebody who is sort of quite isolated. Because nobody else is really in his department, and he’s developed a certain way of doing things, he’s also very cautious. He’s somebody who, for fear of failing, will not try. He would rather take the path of, well I won’t even try that, because that’s going to go terribly, badly wrong. So, I’ll just stick to my safe prayers that I know that I can get done. Then when Eliza comes into the story, in the beginning, she kind of comes in with an attitude of wait, what the hell are you doing.
Please go on.
You have an opportunity to make a massive difference to people’s lives, and you’re just sort of doing these tiny trivial prayers. But then she finds out, in her zeal to try and make a massive difference in the world, that actually it’s very hard to do that without there being some sort of horrible butterfly effect that launches something terrible else halfway around the world. That’s one of the things in this story that I find, not funniest, because it’s not funny, but it also is. These guys are working in Heaven. So, when something goes wrong, it is truly catastrophic on Earth.
What else is involved?
But they have also been there for ten thousand years, and they’ve seen every variant of an earthquake or every variant of a volcano, or something going wrong. So there’s a certain de-sensitivity, or the doctors, with the sort of gallows humour of, well okay then. There goes another one. Moving on. Simon’s humour, hopefully, combines some very, very light fun stuff with some very, very dark. We are trying to save the world, so at a certain point, the ends justify the means, to a certain extent, for our characters in this series. We do some bad things to people who are getting in our way in order to try and save the world.
What can you tell me about the story?
It’s focused on one particular sort of, I guess just over two-week time period. But you certainly see everyone kind of run the gamut in that thing. Simon had a great analogy for the series actually. What he said was it’s kind of like a sports movie in that a lot of the drama from it comes from, not how is it going to end, but actually how are they going to assemble the team. So it starts off with just me, and I’m useless on my own, and Eliza, and she’s kind of too enthusiastic for her own good on her own.
Tell me more about this.
Then we meet and sort of balance each other out. And then it’s about us learning that we’re not enough, so we maybe have to go with some characters who we don’t won’t to, or we find intimidating, and try and bring them into the team. It’s sort of about the ups and downs of the relationships along the way. And also, my favourite description that Simon has is half the movie is like this crazy high-stakes almost action movie, it’s not an action movie, but it’s that sort of feel of incredibly fast tempo and high stakes craziness, all the time.
What else can you say?
Then the other half is just like this movie about these two kids trying to go on a date. And hopefully the flipping back and forth between these two and seeing these people on Earth completely unaware of the weight that their story is carrying, and the fact that there are literally angels watching them, depending on their every move. Hopefully, a lot of comedy will come from that as well.
Tell me about Craig?
I don’t think it’s addressed. Everyone is randomly assigned roles when they get into heaven, and it’s random weather you get into heaven, in our story, as well. There’s one moment when Eliza is trying to rally the troops, and she’s like come on guys, you know, we’re all in heaven. That means we’re the best humanity has to offer. And somebody else is like, no, no. That’s not how it works. It’s random” I think that’s definitely one of the things that Simon has enjoyed, is just like messing with what expectations of Heaven would be, and generally, I think, being pretty disillusioning to people. I suppose in a way that I’m not trying to give you no answer, but I think that’s probably more of a question for Simon.
It must be quite creative working with Simon. Is it also collaborative?
Simon anddefinitely had conversation about how I saw Craig, particularly in moments at the end of the series. It’s normally like I’d say, I think maybe Craig needs to have something there to sort of tie that together. Then Simon goes off and writes an amazing scene. So, it’s generally that’s the input I had, was just going, maybe something that. And then Simon did something amazing, and it was exactly what it needed. I got to be involved in the casting process as well, which was super weird, to be on the other side of that. It was cool, and it made me have so much respect for actors in a way that I maybe didn’t before, frankly. I obviously have respect for actors but, watching loads and loads and loads of tapes of people that had sent tapes in, for various roles. So, you were seeing the same scene again and again and again. And then suddenly you’ll see somebody and like, oh wow. You just said the exact same thing as everyone one else, and suddenly that was completely different and amazing. So it was cool being involved in that part of the process.
Did you and Simon take to one another?
Yes. I think Simon and I are quite similar people. I’m like a dumb version of Simon. But I do think, talking about the character, that we were often finding a lot of common ground, particularly around stuff, the most I ever feel like myself and comfortable is on set working, and I think that’s something that Craig has as well. When he meets Eliza, in the beginning, he’s thrilled to be meeting her at work, because that’s kind of the place where he knows, and he can show off and be his version of cool. And then outside, anywhere removed from that, in a slightly social situation or in a situation anywhere else around the sort of cavern, or the campus of Heaven Inc, he’s pretty useless. I think Simon and I have experienced versions of that same sort of feeling. So you know, conversations like that.
Anything else you can tell me about this?
Well, I think it’s very hard to do comedy that is just not in any way mean or cynical. There’s a huge amount of warmth for just humanity, and the awkwardness of being human. And I think there’s a huge amount of love in the series. I know that sounds like just a cheesy, corny thing to say, but sometimes you watch some comedies, and you’re like, ‘I feel like this is really funny.’ But often you’re like, I feel like writers kind of hate the characters. On the other hand, with this, there’s an incredible amount of even our depiction of God is kind of crazy. And Steve is sort of like a child in it. But even in that character and even in that depiction of him, there’s still a huge amount of love for that character, and hopefully that sort of comes across. Ultimately, what I’m saying is I think it will be a very happy show to watch, and so I think people want to watch it.