10 Behind-the-Scenes Facts About Daniel Radcliffe's New Show Miracle Workers

Courtesy of TBS
Courtesy of TBS

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.

An image of Daniel Radcliffe on the set of Miracle Workers.
Courtesy of TBS

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.

An image of Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Karan Soni in Miracle Workers.
Courtesy of TBS

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!”

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

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