Daniel Radcliffe is very selective about the roles he accepts. It's fine if the world associates him with Harry Potter, but he doesn’t want that character to define his career. In the ensuing years after he’s hung up his wand as The Boy Who Lived — a part he’d played in eight movies since age 11 — he’s drawn to material that’s offbeat, challenging, and more grown-up.
On film, he’s portrayed a widower haunted by a ghost (The Woman in Black), a mad scientist’s assistant (Victor Frankenstein), a smarmy tech villain (Now You See Me 2), a demon (Horns), and an undercover cop battling white supremacists (Imperium). He has also proven his mettle on stage, earning acclaim and awards for his performances in Equus and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
“I just wanted to be an actor who does lots of different things,” says Radcliffe, 29. It helps that the reported US$100 million (S$135 mil) he made from the Harry Potter franchise allows him to be picky. “It’s very rare for an actor to have so much control over his career. At the moment, I’m in a position where I can choose the things I love to do. I’m always on the lookout for the best script, whether it’s in TV, film, theatre or radio.”
And one of those projects that fell on Radcliffe’s lap is Miracle Workers. In this seven-part workplace comedy — which is executive produced by Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels — Heaven is reimagined as a bureaucratic conglomerate where Radcliffe’s lowly angel Craig runs the Department of Answered Prayers.
When God (Steve Buscemi), disappointed with how crappy the world has turned into, decides to end it, Craig and fellow angel Eliza (Blockers’ Geraldine Viswanathan) must convince the Almighty that Earth is still worth saving — by helping two strangers fall in love. Well, easier said than done, even for these celestial creatures.
Here, Radcliffe, calling from LA, tells 8 DAYS more about his first leading role on a US TV show.
8 DAYS: What drew you to Miracle Workers? Is it because it’s a comedy and you wanted to find something light after working on a series of dark movies such as Horns, Victor Frankenstein and Imperium?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: The thing that I love about Miracle Workers is that it has a lightness to it; the comedy is very sweet a lot of the time. But there is also a very dark side as well. [In order to get two strangers to fall in love and save the planet] we end up doing some very terrible things, accidentally causing a lot of calamities around the world.
Miracle Workers is produced by Saturday Night Live showrunner Lorne Michaels You hosted SNL in 2012. What did the SNL stint teach you about comedy?
The thing that’s the most impressive about SNL is the writing process. There must be about 20 or so writers on that show, and watching all of them work, refine their sketches and come up with stuff very quickly was a huge lesson.
[The experience] taught me something about trusting and connecting to the material. When you are doing comedy, you have to be unafraid of looking stupid or silly. You have to throw all [inhibitions] out the window and just really go for it.
Did those lessons come in handy on Miracle Workers? You’re not doing it live, so that’s less stressful.
Exactly! You want to be on a set that’s relaxed as much as possible because you can feel comfortable to screw up and try stuff with the people around you.
On this set, Jorma Taccone, the director of the first two episodes, and all of the cast really felt very comfortable around each other quickly that we were able to act silly, stupid and try stuff out.
[Some of the takes] may not work, but I know that the director is going to find the funny stuff to use in the final edit. So it’s really about being unafraid to make a fool of yourself.
Did you prepare Miracle Workers by watching movies or TV shows about heaven?
I didn’t, really. I didn’t watch any films as a reference point for this. I didn’t feel like we were necessarily making something that was so much about religion, even though we were saying “God” and “heaven”. It was certainly more along the lines of The Office or 30 Rock.
What was it like to work with God, I mean, Steve Buscemi?
It was wonderful. I’ve been really lucky throughout my career. I’ve worked with a lot of really wonderful actors who are also really good human beings, and Steve is one of those people. He is that kind of actor with the kind of career we want.
He’s worked with everyone — he’s worked with the best directors, and he’s different in everything he’s in. He’s incredibly versatile and funny, and he’s also a very nice, gentle, kind human being. He’s a real pleasure to have around on set. So yeah, we’ve got very lucky to have him playing God. Very lucky indeed.
And speaking of sets, Miracle Workers’ take on heaven looks like a factory straight out of Brazil. What’s your favourite part of the set?
I love [my character] Craig’s office [the Department of Answered Prayers]. It has all the various machines and this huge fan that casts a big shadow when it’s spinning around. I really love that room. We filmed almost the entire show in a factory that used to make fibre-optic cables.
Part of the deal of filming there was, “If we film here, can we use all of your [leftover equipment]?” So all the old, heavy machines got repurposed for my office set.
I think the art and costume design departments had a really fun time trying to imagine this new version of heaven that we’ve never seen before.
When was the last time you got your prayers answered? Are you religious?
I’m not. To be honest, I haven’t prayed for a very long time. I certainly can’t remember the last time I had one answered. But I feel like I have a pretty wonderful life. I love my life and I love my job, and I love the people that I know and get to work with. So yeah, I feel I’ve been very lucky.
Besides the Department of Answered Prayers, is there another department you would love to work for?
The Department of Clouds — which we mention that later on the series — would be a pretty good one. There, you just have to create clouds all day to make them look like whatever you want them to be.
Miracle Workers made me think of The Matrix, about an external party that manipulating our actions. Do you get that feeling that there’s some cosmic force controlling your decisions?
No, I don’t tend to feel that way. Everything’s quite random to me. In a way, that’s what I really enjoy about life and the world. But yeah, I tend to think that not everything happens for a reason. But you know, sometimes, they do.
You turn 30 in July. Any thoughts about crossing that milestone?
Not really! Just that I’m very happy with where I am. It was 10 years ago when I was just [finished with] the Harry Potter series.
I love my job and I love the things that have allowed me to do so. I started working on my first ever job when I was nine, so this year it’ll be 20 years of working in film and TV.
So yeah, I’m really proud of that and very excited to see what happens next.
In an interview with Wired, your joke about being cast as the Wolverine snowballed into an Internet rumour. You spent 10 years on the Harry Potter movies. Are you more skeptical about committing to another potentially long-running franchise?
Yeah, I think I am. It would all depend on the script. If the script is good enough, then I’d be more than happy to do a franchise again. But I’m not rushing for it either. I like the projects I’m working on right now. If the chance to be in something big comes up again, then I’m sure I can definitely [work my life around it]. But yeah, it’s something I have to think long and hard about before I go into something that’s going to last several years.
TBS Presents Miracle Workers airs Wed, WarnerTV (Singtel TV Ch 306 & StarHub Ch 515), 10pm.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, WarnerTV