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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Daniel Radcliffe on expanding his acting and producing horizons with Miracle Workers

By Tara Bennett

Daniel Radcliffe turns 30 this July, but it's a year that looks pretty similar to what he's already been doing the last two decades. Specifically, he's working. A lot. Radcliffe's been acting professionally from age 10, but his career is still defined by the decade he spent playing The Boy Who Lived. Now, however, a decade away from that character, he's amassed a resume of risky character choices that most actors his age, or with his fame, wouldn't dare try. From going starkers for the West End revival of Equus to playing a desiccating corpse being dragged around in Swiss Army Knife, Radcliffe has embraced exploring the absurd and bizarre.

And now, it's time for American television. With the TBS sitcom Miracle Workers, Radcliffe has decided to tackle the medium as both an actor and executive producer. The series, based on a novel by co-producer Simon Rich, posits that God is a middle-aged dude (Steve Buscemi) who's disenchanted with his increasingly problematic creations. He's ready to wipe it all out, but two of his lowly employees in the Prayer Answering Department, Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Radcliffe's Craig, actually want to convince God to give Earth another try. It's a little bit The Good Place and a lot of Office Space. But the ideas that Rich raises captured Radcliffe's heart immediately.

"My girlfriend gave me the book ages ago, so I have to give her credit for introducing me to [Simon]," Radcliffe tell SYFY WIRE about his path to the series. "I read that, and then I got his short stories and I just loved it. And then I was able to get a meeting with Simon, and I just said, ‘If you ever do anything with What in Gods's Name, please, I would love to be involved in basically any capacity that you feel I can help.' Then a year later, he phoned me up with the idea of doing it as a TV series -- an anthology series -- so that if we come back for multiple seasons, we get to play different characters. That was an ideal situation for me, so it was just a case of getting it all together."

Obviously, attaching Radcliffe as part of the ensemble was a big plus for selling the series, but his EP title also widened his creative landscape. "The chance to be involved with something from such an early stage was really fun, and it meant that Simon could get to know me more and write with me in mind. And to be honest, I think I learned more about writing than producing, just because I got to watch Simon," he explains. "I got to spend a little bit of time in the writers' room, just generally being around this process which was really very cool and instructive."

Miracle Workers group shot

"I definitely would need to do more of it before I ever attempted to do it myself," he says with faux panic about the prospect of writing an episode. "But when you get a job like this, and Swiss Army Man was like that for me, where a tiny part of how I feel about the world is communicated through this thing, in a way I personally would never be articulate enough to say, if you can do those jobs, that's when [acting] can be really fulfilling."

In the series itself, the premise unfolds through various narratives, including the dark space where Eliza and Craig attempt to "divinely" orchestrate a love match between two nerds on Earth. Accomplishing that goal will -- hopefully -- make God rethink his apocalyptic plans for humanity, but it also means introvert Craig has to work with optimist Eliza. Their rapport, and that of all the various character pairings, has that loose feel that comes from working with comedians who are quick on their verbal toes. For Radcliffe, it's been an exercise in exploration, again.

"Chemistry is more about being open and curious with each other," he muses. "Everyone, from Geraldine to Karan to Lolly (Adefope), came in with that ‘Let's just have fun and play and see what works' [attitude]. I know, for me at least, there was a real sense of being freed up by having people like Simon around, because there was a sense that ‘You guys know what's funny, so I'll throw out 10 things and you'll know which ones are shit and which not to use,'" he laughs. "When you have that kind of trust and freedom, because I know you're gonna use the good bits, then you can really let yourself go."

Well, to a point. "I learned early on I can't watch rough cuts without panicking," he adds, laughing. "They sent me one and I was watching it going, ‘No, this cut's not what I want it to look like at all. I can't be doing this!' It was a joy actually watching the final show since there's so much stuff I'm not in, and wasn't on set for. Like all the current Steve stuff, that's some of my favorite stuff in the series."

With Miracle Workers getting positive critical response, Radcliffe says he hopes audiences end up finding it a little show that's brimming with "cheerful pessimism."

"The message of life is objectively awful for most people," he says seriously. "But we would rather live it than never have existed at all, even though none of us ask to be born. I feel like that gives me a lot of comfort, that there's not a thing to live up to, so you can make it mean whatever you like."

Miracle Workers airs Tuesdays on TBS.