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Steve Buscemi And Daniel Radcliffe Take The Oregon Trail In "Miracle Workers" Season 3

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a small frontier town on its way to disappearing, a poor harvest, cholera, but the Reverend Ezekiel Brown begins yet another funeral by telling townspeople...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MIRACLE WORKERS: OREGON TRAIL")

DANIEL RADCLIFFE: (As Ezekiel Brown) Hope. That is what I am feeling on this glorious day as we are gathered here together to mourn the loss of one of our brethren. But as each new day pummels us with a seemingly endless onslaught of fresh horrors, we must not lose faith. After all, this is America.

SIMON: “Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail” is the third season of an anthology comedy series on TBS. Daniel Radcliffe is the Reverend Brown. Geraldine Viswanathan is the modern woman stuck in the Old West. Steve Buscemi is the mangy varmint - and I don't get a chance to use that phrase nearly enough - who leads the wagon train to the Oregon Trail. Steve Buscemi and Daniel Radcliffe both join us now. Gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us.

RADCLIFFE: Thanks for having us.

STEVE BUSCEMI: Thank you.

SIMON: So how does this work? Like a comedy rep, same actors, different roles each season? Mr. Buscemi.

BUSCEMI: That's exactly it. When we first signed on, we didn't know what the other two seasons would be. We only knew that the first season took place in heaven. I was to play God, a very sort of disinterested and depressed God. And Daniel played a new angel. And then the second season, we were in the Dark Ages. And now the third season, as you said, we are on the Oregon Trail, which - I'm very happy that we have a third season. People may have gotten confused if they saw us in the Dark Ages and went, what happened? Why is God doing this?

SIMON: Yeah. When did God become such a mangy varmint?

BUSCEMI: Yes.

SIMON: Daniel Radcliffe, this looks like a lot of fun to work on.

RADCLIFFE: It is. It is extremely fun. I think one of the great thrills of it for me is that, you know, we all get to, because it's an anthology, change the roles we're playing every year and start with something completely new and fresh. And this was the first job I had done since the pandemic started. So for this to be my sort of first job going back to work was really - I couldn't have wished for anything more in terms of knowing everyone already and just being a joyous experience and mostly filming outside, as well.

SIMON: Steve Buscemi, what's it like to work with each other? Because I would join most of, I think, of the outside world and thinking you're too distinct and different talents. What's it like to be able to strike sparks with each other comedically?

BUSCEMI: I love working with Dan. The first two seasons, you know, we really didn't get a lot of scenes together. And so going into the third season, the writers, Daniel Mirk and Robert Padnick asked us if there's anything specific that we wanted to see in the third season. And both Dan and I lobbied for more scenes together. And they really came through because a lot of the time we're side by side, you know, on the wagon. And I love that they made us, you know, sort of diametrically opposed. You know, like, I'm, like you say, a mangy - what did you call me?

SIMON: I mean, I called your role, your character a mangy varmint. You, of course, are a gentleman. Yeah.

BUSCEMI: Yeah, he's amoral. He's selfish. He's out for himself. And, you know, Dan's character really wants to help people and is maybe a little bit too religious and moral. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MIRACLE WORKERS: OREGON TRAIL")

RADCLIFFE: (As Ezekiel Brown) Sir, my name is Reverend Ezekiel Brown. Can I ask who you are?

BUSCEMI: (As Benny the Teen) Jim Nobody. Oh. Yeah, I'm a frontiersmen.

RADCLIFFE: (As Ezekiel Brown) This is it. This is the man who can take us to Oregon. You said yourself that all we need was the guide and God has sent us this man. Sir, will you lead us to our salvation in Oregon?

BUSCEMI: (As Benny the Teen) No.

RADCLIFFE: (As Ezekiel Brown) What?

BUSCEMI: (As Benny the Teen) Look. I appreciate you patching me up and all, but I have no interest in chaperoning a bunch of soft-bellied, slack-jawed dirt farmers across the country.

SIMON: I find it interesting. I've got to ask you, Daniel Radcliffe, you play a minister. You have been an outspoken atheist from a Jewish family.

RADCLIFFE: Yeah. I mean, I don't know about outspoken. People have asked, and I've told them.

SIMON: All right. I got to tell you I happen to like the Reverend Brown's religion, whatever it is.

RADCLIFFE: Yeah, that's the thing. I am somebody who when people's faith causes them to just be incredibly compassionate and caring human beings, I have nothing but good things to feel about those people and that religion. It's never been something that I particularly believed in. But there's nothing about me that wants to mock Zeke for his religion. I think things that over the course of the season, he becomes aware that his religion has sent him down a such a strict and unbending moral path that is actually incompatible with life on the Oregon Trail. And so, you know, his faith in God, and also his faith in the idea of America is tested throughout the season as it goes on.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about that. Growing up in the U.K., in an artistic family, you were still familiar with American Westerns, right?

RADCLIFFE: Oh, yeah. Me and my friends would, like, pretend to be cowboys growing up, even though that is never a thing that has really existed in the U.K. in the same way. But yeah, like, the Western genre - I think it's one of the things we love most about America, if you know what I mean. It's something purely American about that genre of movie.

SIMON: Steve Buscemi, you - maybe it's a trick photography, but you seem to be driving a wagon train. Can you do that in real life if you needed to?

BUSCEMI: I'm glad it looked like I was really driving the wagon train.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSCEMI: And I hope it looks like I'm really riding a horse. And no, I mean, I could ride a horse a little bit. But no, driving a wagon train - we had incredible animals on it, and they are not easy to handle.

SIMON: Daniel Radcliffe, I feel moved to ask you at this point in the pandemic, you've spent, you know, really almost a lifetime in show business and entertainment. What have we learned over the last year and a half about the role that popular entertainment can play in our lives?

RADCLIFFE: I mean, having kind of come up through Potter, I've always had a very keen awareness, actually, of what popular culture can mean to people and how - the effect it can have in people's lives. And I think, you know, that was certainly - Potter became a thing that I think a lot of people watched this year because it has a certain comfortable feel to it. But I think there were also shows like "Schitt's Creek." And that became, like, a huge comfort show for me during quarantine that I think did for a lot of other people, as well.

You know, I've got a friend who is going in for an operation soon and has in the past had to have operations where he's had to then lie on his back for a long time afterwards, like days and days. And, you know, he will put on - he will project the "Lord Of The Rings" films onto the ceiling. And I was able to speak to Elijah Wood at one point and tell him that and thank him. What some people will say is like, oh, it's a film, and there's something frivolous about it because it's entertainment - can also, like, mean so much to people. And yeah, I am so lucky to be associated with something that means that much to so many.

SIMON: Daniel Radcliffe and that mangy varmint, Steve Buscemi. The third season of "Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail" is on TBS.

Thank you both, gentlemen, for being with us.

RADCLIFFE: Thank you so much.

BUSCEMI: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.