TBS’ new heaven-set workplace comedy Miracle Workers hails from Man Seeking Woman creator and showrunner Simon Rich. In the limited series adaptation of his book, “What in God’s Name”, the show seeks to turn the perception of heaven on its head while also making the case that humans are worth saving. Leading this story is Daniel Radcliffe as Craig, a low-level angel responsible for handling all of humanity’s prayers. Steve Buscemi plays Craig’s boss, God, who has pretty much checked out to focus on petty hobbies. To prevent Earth’s destruction, Craig and fellow angel Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) must answer a seemingly impossible prayer: help two humans, Laura and Sam (played by Sasha Compere and Jon Bass), fall in love.
Guest stars Tituss Burgess, Margaret Cho, Angela Kinsey, Tim Meadows, John Reynolds, Lolly Adefope and Chris Parnell appearing throughout the season. Look for Miracle Workers on TBS starting February 12th!
During a visit to the Atlanta-area set with a small group of journalists, we had a chance to chat with Viswanathan (Blockers) about her part to play as the angel Eliza, her relationship in the office with Craig, and just what her character used to do before the afterlife. During the interview, her co-star Karan Soni (Deadpool) stopped by to chat about his character Sanjay, the sort of right-hand man to God, and how he feels about the conflict in the corporation.
Viswanathan showed up to the set visit interview session in a leg cast, so obviously that was the first thing we asked about:
Geraldine Viswanathan: I was doing a scene where I’m on a horse, and I got into a battle. And, we kept doing it, and on the sixth take, I landed funny and rolled my ankle.
Viswanathan: But, you know. It was worth it.
It must have been hard to shoot around?
Viswanathan: A little. Just now we have a scene where I’m running. I was like, “yeah, I can’t do that”. So, they have a double with my pants, and they’re just like filming. And I’m running. It’s getting better though. Could’ve been worse. So.
The costuming is very off the rack, like in a surprising sort of way. Talk a little about the movie and what they were in it.
Viswanathan: I love the costumes. I love everyone’s costumes but especially Eliza’s because… I don’t know. There’s something really kind of vintage but masculine about everything she wears; it’s a lot of blazers and I call them these “grandpa pants”. But it’s really practical and comfortable, and I love it. Yeah, Jennifer Eve is the costume designer. She’s great.
Could you introduce your character and how she fits into the scheme of things?
Viswanathan: So, Eliza is the new recruit in the department of answered prayers. So, she joins Craig, who is played by Daniel Radcliffe, and she has the world’s toughest first day ever, where she accidentally convinces God to destroy earth and then makes a bet with him to save the world again. So, if Craig and Eliza answer one of the impossible prayers, God will save the earth. So, yeah, Eliza is kind of the team leader, she’s the captain, she is very bold and doesn’t really question herself or her ideals. So, she’s basically just the complete opposite of the Craig character.
What does she do on Earth?
Viswanathan: She was a barbarian warrior princess. She’s pretty cool, back on earth. And yeah, just fought a lot of dudes. So, she’s quite aggressive.
Can you just walk us through the landscape of Heaven? We know there’s the unanswered prayers room, God has a room, but what’s the environment you guys can operate in?
Viswanathan: Right. Well, it’s just a giant corporation– Everything from payroll to department of snowflakes, department of generals, it’s really specific. It’s a giant company, and we all work pretty independently within the departments. Landscape, yeah. That’s pretty much…
How are you compensated?
Viswanathan: I think we get one month of healthcare for every thousand years we’re employed? It’s not a great deal, but you’re kind of stuck because you die and this is where you go, just keep working. And you don’t get to choose what department you work in, it’s all random. Completely random, nothing makes sense. It doesn’t really work that well.
What’s the relationship like between you and Craig?
Viswanathan: I guess Craig and I are an unlikely pair, but eventually we balance each other out. We’re kind of perfect for each other because he’s cautious and meticulous and careful, and I’m the opposite of that. We bring each other up and down when we need to.
What part of Eliza’s character really drew you to the role?
Viswanathan: really loved this character I think she is so… What drew me to the role was how unapologetic she is, and how she’s so durable. She has the worst first day ever, and she could’ve just given up, but she does whatever the hell it takes to fix it. She’s a fixer, and she’s really bold. We have some things in common, but I think she’s a lot cooler than me so… It’s cool, plain and simple, it’s really cool.
How corporate is it? I mean is God the CEO? Do you have name badges? Are there a lot of things that sort of echo as ‘corporate’?
Viswanathan: Yeah, I think it’s quite reminiscent of an agency? He’s a CEO [God], and there is a mail room and you can really work your way up.
There are pretty high stakes here. Do you kind of feel that in filming? That you’re shooting the show that’s a mix of a bunch of different genres?
Viswanathan: Kind of. It is very high stakes, it is also very broad and silly at times, but it is also really grounded, and the relationships are the key. Sometimes there’s a silly gag, and sometimes there’s a really intimate scene between two people working out. So, that’s another thing I really love about it. It has both.
Is the humor mostly visual bits and visual and verbal?
Viswanathan: Yes, I think so. Yeah, I don’t think the show has a lot of classic ‘zingers’. It’s just really super– Simon Rich is a genius, I think
Were you familiar with his work before you signed on to the show?
Viswanathan: I was, I mean, I was introduced to him when I got the audition. And become completely obsessed with his work, and, in the meantime, I’ve bought all of his books and given them to people because I think it’s just incredible. And I want to share it. Yeah, and I love ‘Man Seeking Women’s.
Can you walk us through the audition process?
Viswanathan: First, I auditioned for Laura’s character, and it was a hard “no”. I was like, “okay”. And then a couple of months later they brought me back in for Eliza. And it was so fun, and it was just one take. And then I tested, and that was that.
Daniel said the angles were not going to have wings or halos. Do they go to earth? Or do they just operate out of their corporate headquarters?
Viswanathan: They operate out of their corporate headquarters. They can see everything that is happening on earth; they have a lot of technology that isn’t, you know, standard as it’s at real time, but no they cannot go to earth. That would be fun though. You know.
How is it working opposite of Daniel? And also how was Rich’s direction on set for you?
Viswanathan: Yeah, Daniel is honestly my favorite person I’ve ever worked with. He is so nice, and he is an amazing team leader on set. And he is so good, he’s just a dream partner. He’s the best. And Simon is also the best. He is just so kind and creates such a nice atmosphere on set. And he’s so game and he’s not precious about his work at all. If you say, “Hey!” And come up with an idea, he won’t be like, “Well, I didn’t think of that so… meh”. He’s so open to it, and he’s so excited by actors and seeing his work come to life, which is so exciting for us because we’re so excited by his work. So, it’s a great team.
Viswanathan: I feel like sometimes it’s hard to… well… let me think of how to phrase this because it’s not a religious show. I don’t think we’re making a big comment on “God”. It’s just kind of, “Well, hey, what if God was just like you? Pretty flawed and premature and doesn’t have the answers himself?” And he has less control than you think. Which I think is cool. It really gives me a lighter perspective on life. Because something bad happens, I’m like, “maybe that’s Craig and Eliza” or “God did something silly”. So, yeah, I think it’s just the idea that God is just as flawed as the rest of us.
This is an anthology show, so if you guys get a second season, where would you like to see it go next?
Viswanathan: Well, I know it’s going to be a completely different setting, time-period, different, I don’t think it’s even in Heaven… I’m not sure? I’m not sure what I can say… But I don’t even know. So, it’s hopefully going to be the same cast. If it is, the plan is to kind of switch up some high-status roles and low-status roles so we all just play different people and different relationships. Because, with this, it’s been a lot of me and Daniel, Karim and Steve, there’s pairings. So, I think we’re going to remix season two.
Did you get a lot of screen-time with Steve Buscemi or is that something…?
How was that?
Viswanathan: Amazing! Steve’s the best! He’s so funny in this, it’s crazy. And he’s just the best, he’s a total …
Karan Soni: You talking about me?
Viswanathan: You got me!
Do you guys get any screen-time together?
Soni: A lot, yeah. We don’t start of the season together, but then we’re together a lot.
Could just walk us through your character?
Soni: I play Sanjay who is God’s right-hand man. And, in the beginning I’ve basically been doing the same job for a long, long time. Which is just that I dress really well, and I pretend like this is the most important job in the universe. And the secret that I’m hiding is that God’s actually having a full-fledged crisis, but no one knows. So, the company of Heaven is running smoothly and, I’m just kind of comfortable. And her character comes in and shakes everything up, and that’s when I have to kind of reevaluate my whole life and everything changes.
There does seem to be some slight parallel to the government. How coincidental is that?
Soni: Nah, I think it’s not just government, but I think Simon is really fascinated with things that are run in an old-school way that are never operated, it can be companies too. It can be anything that’s just kind of run a certain way that hasn’t been updated. And he relates it to kind of the idea that maybe Heaven back in the day worked so great, but then, because of overpopulation, we just wasn’t equipped for that, and we just haven’t had a chance to catch up. And so, in his amazing mind, that’s a way of looking at anything that does happen bad on our planet; these people are trying their best, but their hands are tied.
In a weird way, you sympathize with God because you’re like, “what would I do? I don’t know”. There’s nothing to do but maybe reboot. And then Simon’s look of the show is actually pretty positive, because the idea is that all of us could actually do nothing and actually just let this end, and then there’s an idea set up of what the angels would do after Heaven would shut down; there’s a life for us beyond this company. But, in Simon’s world, he wanted it to be a positive thing; it’s just a few people have to care enough to do something for this to keep working. So, that, I think, is really beautiful. And it just comes from her character’s belief that “I’m not just gonna let it fall; I’m going to do something”.
Who’s the protagonist? I mean we have heard in every story there’s always negative energy, where does that come from?
Soni: Yeah, I think the protagonist… I don’t know? I don’t think there is… It starts off feeling like maybe it’s God because he’s kind of given up, but you also kind of feel for him and the thing. So it’s kind of this interesting thing where, the company is the protagonist. The infrastructure of the company and this idea is kind of the protagonist. And it’s the people within it that show you the good side of it, I guess.
Is the organization in decline from mismanagement?
Soni: I think it’s more so just the volume of prayers; I think that’s a big thing. There’s just a lot of people, and when there’s a lot of people there’s a lot of problems, and the idea behind the show, which I love, is that the technology is so old. Our cellphones are the size of a brick, and everything is really old. So, one prayer takes like seven hours to answer. Someone being like, “please, God, help me find my keys”, is taking seven hours. So then, we can’t even get started on the bigger things. The idea is the technology is really old, and we just haven’t had a break. Because humankind keeps expanding every second.
Was your character for or against possibly rebooting the entirety of civilization or the whole Earth?
Soni: In the beginning I’m kind of indifferent, and then I learn what God’s future plan would hold for myself, and them I’m very much against it. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it’s about to get a lot worse.
Does Heaven Inc have a competitor, or is it really a monopoly? Is that why they can get away with not really upgrading?
Soni: I don’t want to spoil too much, but basically, we don’t really have a competitor. The idea is more so the earth is kind of God’s main focus, but there’s other things in the universe you learn exist also, and there’s other corporations, but they don’t deal with earth specifically; they deal with other stuff.
You mentioned that your character, Sanjay, was written as an Indian character? What was the audition process like for you based on that?
Soni: The audition process was that I was in Vancouver filming a different movie, and they sent me the audition, and I sent a very bad audition tape. *laughs* I’m not good at audition tapes. And the cast director was a friend of mine; she put me in a bunch of other stuff, and she basically was like, “I’m not going to show this to them”. But she’s like, “as soon as you come back in town you can come in and make another tape”, and I did. The big thing was that I didn’t have a suit in Vancouver; I was just working. And the character, the big part, is that he dresses really well cause he’s compensating for everything else.
And so, I came back and auditioned and a few weeks later I had Dewey McDaniel, and we did a chemistry test, and in the test you were allowed to improvise and stuff because they want to see your chemistry, and I just ended up insulting him throughout the test and calling him short and all these other things. Because my character thinks he’s better than him. So, I kind of left being like, “Either I did a good job or I really offended”. But I had to think, if I do get this job, then it’s going to be great because Daniel has a good sense of humor because I really said all the worst things you could say to him, specifically, on the camera.
Do you want to make any of those insults official now that we’re all recording?
Soni: No, no. It’s on a tape somewhere. Get your hacker friend to get it.
You previously worked on shows that were based in Silicon Valley, Betas, how different of a switch is this to really downgrade the technological setting?
Soni: Yeah, this is different just in general as a show because it’s so cinematic I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of something like this. It’s deceptively set up as a workplace comedy, but then it becomes so much more than that. And what’s really cool about this show is that there’s a beginning, middle, and very clear end. The way the season ends, it wraps up the story in this satisfying way. So, it’s almost like a three and a half hour movie for me, more than a show. So, it’s different than anything TV-wise I’ve ever done. Because you still have the idea of four different directions coming in and doing their thing, but also, it really feels like we’re making a movie. We had every script before we started.
So, we knew exactly where everything was going– which never happens. Simon is here every day for every take. Normally the writer on the show, the show runner, is the office working on the other scripts or editing or something. He is here all the time because the scripts have been done before we got here. It really feels like a long-term movie–which is really fun. Also the budget is much higher than any other show I’ve ever done. These sets are insane. We have to build everything–it’s so specific. They’ll just build-read something and the next day we’ll come in, and we’ll be like, “oh, there it is, the death machine, the mammoth machine”, like looking at crazy things. It’s cool.
Do you think The Good Place is an optimistic show?
Soni: I do, yeah. I think that is an optimistic show. I think this show is different from that show, because I do love The Good Place. We deal with earth, everything that happens on this show is directly like we’re trying to do something purpose, live at that moment. Versus that show where like that chapter is come to a close and now it’s beyond that. I think this show is more like, this could be happening right now up there. That’s the idea. The humans have no idea that they’re apart of something like supernatural, you know what I mean?