Have you ever wondered if someone is up there, answering your prayers? In the new comedy Miracle Workers, which premieres on TBS on February 12, there is someone up there answering prayers, and it’s Daniel Radcliffe. The Harry Potter star plays Craig, an angel at Heaven, Inc. who works in the Department of Answered Prayers. He’s the only one in the Department until Eliza, played by Geraldine Viswanathan, is transferred there. They soon must answer an “impossible prayer” in order to keep God, played by Steve Buscemi, from destroying Earth. (Radcliffe, Viswanathan, and Buscemi are joined by Karan Soni, who plays Sanjay, an executive who works closely with God, and Lolly Adefope, who plays Rosie, God’s assistant.)
Mental Floss hopped on the phone with Radcliffe to find out all about why he loves Miracle Workers, what he has in common with his character, and what he hopes viewers will take away from the new series.
1. Miracle Workers is based on a book, but differs a bit from its source material.
Miracle Workers is based on Simon Rich’s book What In God’s Name: A Novel. "The TV show is much more sort of secular than the book was in many ways,” Radcliffe tells Mental Floss. “There’s a few kind of Bible-y, Old Testament-y tropes in there, but it’s mainly much more this idea of heaven and God as a corporation and a CEO. There’s an internal bureaucracy to how everything works.”
The book has been compared to Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and, says Radcliffe, “One of the things that’s fun about Douglas Adam’s books, or loads of great books that fall into some sort of fantasy, sci-fi [category], is that they build these worlds. I think that the world Simon has built in this heavenly corporation is really a fun place to spend time as a viewer, hopefully. And part of the joy of the show is in seeing the mess of how it all supposedly works—or doesn’t work, in many cases.”
2. Radcliffe has wanted to be involved since reading the book ...
Radcliffe loved What In God’s Name from the get-go. After reading it, he met with Rich, “and I basically said, ‘I love this book, and if you ever turn it into anything—if that was film, TV, or radioplay, I don’t care—I would just love to be involved.’”
About a year later, Rich called Radcliffe and proposed a TV series. Usually when something like this happens, Radcliffe says, your agent sets up the call and you know you shouldn’t commit until you’ve run it by them. But when it came to Miracle Workers, “I was basically immediately in. It wasn’t one of those things where I have to like ‘Oh, I should need to talk this over with anyone.’ It was just like, ‘No. I am doing this. If this show is happening, then I want to be in it.’”
3. … and he would have played any character.
When it came time to figure out what his role would be, Radcliffe says that he was “literally up for anything. It was very much just a case of me saying to Simon: ‘Any role you see fit to use me in, please use me. I would love to have that happen.’” That said, Radcliffe admits that, “I always felt like Craig was the most natural fit. Or Craig is the one I would pick if I could pick. And I’m very happy that he chose Craig.”
Radcliffe didn’t just act in Miracle Workers; he also executive produced it (along with Rich, Buscemi, Lorne Michaels, Andrew Singer, and co-executive producer Katy Johnson). “I was involved in the development of the project, and casting and that side of the process,” Radcliffe says. “But once I got on set, I was focused on just acting. I don’t want to take credit away from the people who really worked very hard!”
4. Miracle Workers shows off Radcliffe’s comedic side.
As Radcliffe told us in 2014, when he’s on the hunt for new projects, he’s always looking for something that will challenge him. He’s dabbled in comedic roles before, especially in indie films and onstage (and, of course, in a memorable appearance on Extras)—but he says Miracle Workers is “the [first] time I feel like I’ve got to really do comedy in a way that many people in America may have a chance to see it, which is really exciting. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything with quite [this] sense of humor before. So it was kind of new for me. And to be able to work on a series like this, which had a writer’s room ... I got to spend a little bit of time in that room, and I’m just in awe of how f***ing talented and funny people are. I’m very, very lucky I got to say their jokes.”
5. Radcliffe and his character have at least one thing in common.
Craig is a bit of an oddball; he’s extremely devoted to his job and doesn’t have many friends. And also, he really loves mustard. It’s something the character has in common with Radcliffe, who is emphatic on this point: “I f**king love mustard. If you have a steak or something and there’s some like mustard left in the bowl at the end [of dinner], I will eat that off a spoon.” When he read that moment in the script, “I swear I almost emailed Simon, like, ‘has someone told you something about me?’” Radcliffe says, laughing.
Craig’s method of eating mustard differs slightly from Radcliffe’s, however: The character squeezes packets directly into his mouth. “I worked out that the most efficient method of getting an entire packet of mustard into your mouth without just squeezing it all over your face is to tear off a corner, and then bite down. Put the entire packet into your mouth and just drag it out through your teeth,” Radcliffe says. “I don’t do that in real life.” Which isn’t to say he actually minded having to eat mustard while shooting. “Everyone on set was going ‘you must hate this,’” he says, “and I was having to pretend like, ‘Yeah, yeah. This is weird.’”
6. The Heaven Corporation’s industrial vibe comes from Miracle Workers’s set.
Miracle Workers was shot in Norcross, Georgia, in an airport-sized factory-turned-studio space. “They basically scaled [the factory operation] down so that now, I think one-tenth of the factory space is in use for its original purpose, and the rest of it’s just rented out for films and studio spaces,” Radcliffe says.
The production team took advantage of what was left in the factory for the set of Miracle Workers. “[That’s] why it does have this fantastic semi-bureaucratic, semi-industrial feel to it, the whole set,” Radcliffe says. “A lot of the time in the corridors we weren’t even using sets, we were just using the factory and the studio itself as our set.”
7. The show’s production and design teams clearly had a blast.
The humor in Miracle Workers extends to the show’s sets and props—look in the background and you’re likely to find something that will get you giggling. “It was one of those projects where you could tell those departments were having a lot of fun,” Radcliffe says. “Sometimes the production designer’s job is to go unnoticed and create something incredibly naturalistic, but when you have to create a really unique, unexpected version of heaven, something that everybody has at some point had some concept of—I think those departments have a lot of fun just upending it [and], along with Simon, creating that world.”
8. Radcliffe’s favorite set was Craig’s office.
“I loved my, Craig’s, office,” he says. “Just an endless amount of jokes in the background, and an endless array of props to play with and get involved in the scene. It felt like I had imagined it, somehow. It was a really brilliant set, with the wall of prayers he’s answered just stretching up into infinity. There are so many great ideas in there.”
9. Answering an “impossible” prayer drives most of the action, but there are other hijinks, too.
In the Department of Answered Prayers, Craig separates the prayers into ones he thinks he can accomplish, and ones he labels “impossible,” which go directly up to God. When answering a prayer they’ve marked doable, the angels have to do it unobtrusively; being too obvious or taking a shortcut can lead to unintended consequences. So Craig spends inordinate amounts of time generating wind to precisely blow leaves away to reveal a missing item, for example.
But those minor miracles take a backseat when Craig and Eliza start trying to answer their impossible prayer, which involves Earthlings Laura and Sam (played by Sasha Compère and Jon Bass). “That’s really what drives the plot in every episode,” Radcliffe says. “There are things that they have to do along the way in order to [answer it], and some of that does involve orchestrating people on Earth’s lives, in hopefully as unobtrusive of a way as possible. But as the series goes on and we get more desperate, our miracles get a lot less subtle.” (And, it should be said, more hilarious.)
10. The humor in Miracle Workers is dark, but the message is uplifting.
One thing that really excites Radcliffe about Miracle Workers is ultimately what he hopes audiences will take away from it. “Simon’s tone in that world view is something that I’m excited to share with people—that sensibility that the world is a dark, chaotic place sometimes, but it’s the only one we have,” he says. “[The show] has a lot of faith in human beings, and there’s an immense amount of excitement for the idea of being alive—in spite of all the insanity that the world sometimes offers you. The jokes are very sharp, but there’s a generosity of spirit that I really love and hope that other people love, too!”