Miracle Workers: Dark Ages star Daniel Radcliffe discusses his most difficult costars ever
Sometimes costars aren’t all they’re quacked up to be.
Daniel Radcliffe discovered just that while shooting Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, the second season of the TBS anthology comedy series. Radcliffe and the rest of the Miracle Workers ensemble step into new roles, moving from the heavenly setting of season 1 to a more earthbound — but no less ridiculous — story line that’s positively medieval.
Radcliffe plays Prince Chauncley the Still-to-Be-Determined, a hapless heir to the throne who’s consumed with living up to his father’s legacy and happens to count a flock of ducks as his closest friends. It’s those feathered featured players that Radcliffe reveals were some of the most difficult actors he’s ever shared the screen with. “They’re quite hard to train,” he tells EW, reflecting on their all-consuming fowl smell.
Luckily, his returning castmates, who include Steve Buscemi, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Karan Soni, were much easier (and more fun) to act alongside — the new scenario giving some of them the chance to share scenes for the first time.
Before Miracle Workers: Dark Ages’ Jan. 28 premiere on TBS, we dialed up Radcliffe to discuss the show’s new setting, why he trusts creator Simon Rich implicitly, and which Harry Potter character he would’ve liked to play if the franchise had followed an anthology format.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you signed on to the first season of Miracle Workers, there was always the plan to make it an anthology series. How did Simon decide on this Dark Ages setting and story line?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: Simon is somebody who is a bit of a history nerd, and Simon’s brain looked at a lot of the potential situations in that world and just saw something he could make very, very funny. There is some stuff in the show that is really obviously heightened, that is very crazy, but it’s not that far off from the kind of stuff that was going on in medieval Europe. We have a goat on trial, and that is actually something that is completely true and something that happened with semi-regularity in medieval Europe. There really were animals put on trial for things, so it’s quite rich pickings for comedy.
The first season played with our common perceptions of the afterlife and God, and this is certainly a different take on the Middle Ages than we’re used to seeing — less Game of Thrones, more medieval sitcom. What do you most enjoy about the expectations or world this is subverting?
As you say, it complicates people’s notions of what these archetypes of certain characters would be, and Simon finds the means to subvert them. My character, for instance, is essentially a stupid prince in the way you might expect one to exist, but then we gradually watch him become more human as the series goes on. With how beautiful the sets are and how well lit it is, it has the look of Game of Thrones, but the jokes and the format of The Simpsons.
It’s so fun to see this repertory company of actors shaking things up, taking on very different roles from season 1. Did you draw straws for them? How did that all shake out?
No, not at all. My one request, or the thing I was most excited about, was that we would actually all be on set together for this series, because certain structural things in the first [season] — I never had scenes with Jon Bass, for example, because he was on earth and I was in heaven. I was very excited to actually have the cast all combined for this series this time around, and get to do stuff with them. It was me, Steve, and Geraldine’s characters that I remember Simon talking about first. The joy of working with somebody like Simon is that I don’t know if there’s anybody else that I know well enough that I could just trust and be like, “Whatever you write for the next few years, I will be happy to perform.” I am in such awe of his ability. I’ve been in the writers’ room with him and watched him be forensic and amazing about a story in a way that I have admiration for. I feel very safe in his hands. I would pretty much do whatever he writes — I have to be careful saying that.
Your character has… I guess we could call it an affinity for ducks. What is one surprising thing you learned from working with live ducks?
[Laughs] It’s unfortunate to say that the one thing I learned about them is that they smell worse than you’d expect, but there was a lot of duck s— happening when you’ve got multiple ducks on set, and it is a very distinctive smell. Karan Soni will confirm that once you’ve smelt it, it’s a smell you can identify anywhere, and as soon as they’re around you’re like, “Oh, the ducks are here.” They’re quite hard to train. Originally it was going to be geese, and they were like, “No, geese are a nightmare. That’s not going to happen.” We had three ducks that were the main ducks — they were called in British film terminology the hero ducks — and they would be brought to set. They were very good. You would set them in a certain spot and they would kind of do what they were told, and then you would get the other ducks on set and it’d be like, “Okay, let’s see what happens.”
It sounds like a bit of a clusterduck.
[Laughs] Yes, you could say that. I can’t believe I never thought of that in 10 weeks of filming!
How would you describe Chauncley, and in particular his relationship with his father? What journey can we expect this season?
At the beginning, Chauncley is intensely lonely and psychotically stupid. He’s an individual who has no empathy or self-awareness whatsoever, and the journey throughout — he meets Alexandra, Geraldine’s character, and she begins to open him up to a new world and between her and Karan, he gradually learns he does not have to follow in his tyrannical father’s footsteps. [She] helps him become more human and nice toward the end.
You and Geraldine have an easy rapport and natural chemistry. Is that story one of friendship or her making you more politically aware?
That friendship grows and maybe blossoms into something else, but Chauncley’s obviously not very good at that. He doesn’t really know what to do with these new feelings. But it is also about her just making him realize that there is life outside of the castle, and there is life outside of the line of murderous tyrants that he comes from. He does not necessarily have to follow in their footsteps. I would say that she learns stuff from me, but I don’t think she does — I think I just kind of help out at key moments, but it’s very rare that I’m speaking out as a character. Chauncley does not have a lot of speeches, bless him.
This is the first project you’ve done since Harry Potter where you got to have that experience of coming back together as a group to tell a story with deepened relationships and familiarity with one other — but now with the added element of taking on a new set of characters. If you had the luxury of doing that on Potter, which character would you have wanted to jump into?
Oh God, I guess Lupin and Sirius Black are both incredibly cool characters. Though I have to say, it’s also [because] I probably am biased a little because I love both the actors [David Thewlis and Gary Oldman] that played them. But yeah, I’d probably have to say one of those two.
You’ve been in rehearsals for Endgame on the West End, and I saw Alan Cumming’s photo with your director’s notes saying, “Actors fried.” You’ve done classic musical theater, Martin McDonagh, Peter Shaffer. Where does Beckett rank in difficulty level for you, in terms of language and approach?
Right up there at the very top. It’s tough, and I’m so glad I’m subjected to it with Alan and with [director] Richard Jones. It’s an amazing team that I’m getting to work with. It’s really tricky material, and it requires a lot of precision. Hopefully, it will come out right. But you’re definitely talking to me at a period of rehearsals where I’m like, “Oh my God.” It really is the hardest thing I’ve done.
Prince Chauncley is a bit more song-and-dance than warmonger. Do you want to do another musical, and if so do you have one in particular you want to do?
I would love to do another musical, but you have to genuinely commit for a long time. That’s not the case with plays, normally. You generally have to commit for a lot longer, and then you have to really love it. You have to absolutely know going in. You have to love doing that show, and be able to love it for a year. So I definitely want to do a musical again, but I’m not going to do it until I’m sure of that.
Miracle Workers: Dark Ages
Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi star in season 2 of the comedy, which follows a group of villagers during the Dark Ages who are trying to stay positive in a time of inequality and fake news.