D’Arcy Carden got to show off the wide range of her talent in Season 3 on “The Good Place,” not only playing lovable AI system Janet but four of the other main characters in the episode, “Janet(s)”. Carden is also part of the SAG Award-nominated ensemble of “Barry.”
Carden recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Kevin Jacobsen about the crazy “Janet(s)” episode, Janet’s relationship with Jason and her reaction to all this new awards love. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: First off, D’Arcy, you had quite an episode in Season 3, an episode called “Janet(s)” where you play every single one of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason as well as yourself. I have to ask: when you first heard this is what you were going to be doing, what was going through your mind?
D’Arcy Carden: It was equal parts excited and honored. One half was excited and honored and the other half was terrified and hoping that they decided not to do it (laughs). The writers were really excited about it and Mike Schur was really excited about it so I felt like I had a lot to deliver, a lot to live up to. It is sort of an actor’s dream to get to do something like that. It was one of my favorite weeks of my life. It was such a fun thing that we got to do and everybody really brought their A-game. Everybody was over-prepared so we had such a good week. I think of it very dreamily, like, “Aw, that week where we shot that thing!”
GD: What did you actually do to prepare for all these different performances and also how much time did they give you?
DC: They gave me a little bit more time than they would have with a normal episode. I’m trying to think back. I feel like I got the script with a couple weeks to prepare instead of maybe a week to prepare. I knew about it before we even started shooting the season. I had plenty of time to creepily stalk my cast-mates and watch their every move and listen to their voices. I also had the luxury of having many episodes of television to watch them on so I watched a lot of past episodes and honed in on the way they move and the way they talk and the way they sound when they get angry and the way they sound when they’re excited, all their little particularities and their peculiarities, two words that kind of sound the same. I just got a little bit obsessed with it and really felt like I had to totally dive in and get it right. I was really wanting to get it right but the problem was getting it right was even confusing because we didn’t wanna do exact impressions, the way a Darrell Hammond or a Bill Hader or somebody would nail. We didn’t want to do an “SNL” impression. We wanted to do an essence or the vibe of the character. It was a fine line between finding that impression-impression and making sure that the audience knew who I was playing. It was a confusing one. Again, the team around me of people, from the writers to our director, Morgan Sackett, also, the costumes really helped. Putting on the individual costumes really helped. Everybody knew we had this weird challenge, this weird task, and everybody really delivered.
GD: Was there one performance in particular that you got most tripped up on?
DC: I would say Will [Jackson Harper], who plays Chidi, was hard. I think it was because he has a very specific way of talking, a cadence and a tone of his voice. I could really hear it in my head and then I would say the line and I would be like, “Mm, that wasn’t it.” I wasn’t trying to get an exact impression but I was in my head the most for him, which, kind of fitting that Chidi would be the most in his head. I never quite felt comfortable or like I nailed it. But then Tahani was really fun and Jason was really fun and Eleanor was also fun but another one… She’s really subtle in her choices and her acting. I wanted it to be subtle but also I needed to make sure that the viewers know who I’m trying to be, that they’re not all so subtle that there’s no difference between the four.
GD: When that episode actually aired and you saw it all put together, what was your reaction and what was that week like of everyone seeing it?
DC: It was funny. I don’t know if this makes sense but the experience was so good and positive and fun that you almost forget that it’s gonna then be seen by people. The challenge of that week and the day-to-day of that week, or, it was actually eight days so the day-to-day of those days, was all I was really focusing on. Then it was like, “Oh yeah, this is gonna be on TV and people are gonna see this,” and that was a whole other thing. So then I started getting a little bit in my head about like, “I don’t even know if I want to watch it.” I love watching the show. I know a lot of actors don’t like watching themselves. I’m such a fan of the show that I watch every episode but I was starting to feel like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to watch this particular one, if it’ll taint my good memory of it.” But then Mike Schur and Morgan Sackett, the director of that episode, they were very excited once they cut it all together. They were really talking it up and they were like, “You’re gonna love it. You’re gonna be excited. You’re gonna like it. You’re gonna wanna watch it.” So I watched it with my husband and I watched it like this (covers face). It’s hard to watch yourself play five… What was it, six, even? Let me just think. Janet, the four, and neutral Janet, so that’s a lot of my big old face on that screen. So it was not easy to watch but I recognize that it was done well. They did a good job. The editing was incredible. The CGI was incredible. I was very impressed even just the way it looked. And then, not to throw him under the bus, but when it was done my husband started crying. So I was like, “Oh, okay. I guess this is good.” (Laughs.) That’s all I needed. I was not sure until I looked at him and he was very moved by it and happy so I thought, “Okay, I don’t know if this will ever be something that I can fully grasp because it’s just me so much but if he likes it and if people seem to like it then that’s all I can… and the cast was so lovely and wonderful. I didn’t want them to be on-set ‘cause I knew I would get in my head if I was trying to do Jason while Manny [Jacinto] was standing there watching me or whatever. So I was a little bit like, “I love you guys but don’t come to set. I love you but stay far, far away.” So it was all new to them and they were very lovely and had some nice things to say. They’re nice. Everybody’s nice.
GD: Beyond the “Janet(s)” episode you also had some good stuff earlier in the season where Janet is exploring being on Earth without the ability to summon any of her powers. What was it like just exploring Janet without those supernatural abilities?
DC: Yeah, it was fun. It was the first time we had explored frustrated Janet, like really, really frustrated Janet. There’s always such a fine line with this character between showing emotion and not showing emotion and reacting to things. I constantly struggle with that. This was like, “Okay, we haven’t seen her on Earth before. We haven’t seen her without her powers before.” Keeping in mind who she is and what we know of her from the past few seasons, the sky’s the limit. This is a new territory for her. All those scenes were pretty much with Ted [Danson], who’s the world’s best scene partner. It’s always just playtime with him and so fun. I loved those. It’s scary in a way. I’ve never played a character for this long before, for this many years. I’ve never lived with a character this long so you can get in your head a little bit about when a character evolves or changes that the audience won’t like it. You can really get in your head about, “Well, they like this but will they like this?” And you kind of have to just let that go and trust the writing. If Mike Schur’s at the helm of anything, you’re probably in pretty good hands. So I was into this new evolved Janet.
GD: You also got to explore Janet’s relationship with Jason towards the end of the season after Jason learns that he and Janet were married in the Good Place before his memory was wiped. We see that they still have these lingering feelings for each other. What do you think it is that draws these two together?
DC: For me, it’s always this innocent teenager love. Jason’s a sweet dummy and isn’t super mature and he’s not the brightest bulb, as they say. And then Janet, she fell in love with him at this moment where she was rebooting and relearning the world so I just feel like they connected at this moment. It’s Janet’s first love and perhaps Jason’s first love as well where they’re just connected in this very innocent moment where they were like, “You’re nice to me. I like you.” There’s something very sweet and teenage lovey about it that I’ve always really connected to. It’s funny, Janet’s the smartest being in the universe and the idea that she’s with a dumb guy, I’ve thought about this and Mike and I have talked about this before. It’s so funny because whether she’s with a dumb person or a smart person it doesn’t matter because she’s so far beyond them that it’s all the same to her. It’s not about what he knows or doesn’t know. It’s about how she feels or how he makes her feel. What does she do? Feel? I don’t know. But I love, love, love Manny as an actor and I love when we get to do scenes together. Any time the writers give us little two-person scenes we always get really excited.
GD: Janet has this really beautiful monologue at the end of Season 3, the finale, where she talks about the pandemonium of the universe and how finding love in the midst of a world that doesn’t make sense a lot of the time can be so euphoric and it’s this really beautiful life lesson right there. I’m wondering if playing Janet and being on a show that deals with existential matters has actually changed how you look at things and how you view the world.
DC: I think it has changed all of us, the whole cast, being on the show, opening our minds. The ideas that Mike and the writers present are so beyond my little brain but it is all seeping in. They read the books. We don’t read the books. Kristen [Bell] reads some of the books. Will reads some of the books. I don’t read the books. The idea of becoming a better person and I love that speech in that finale last season that Jen Statsky and Megan Amram wrote. It was so moving and really resonated. I’ll put it this way. Kristen and I couldn’t get through that scene. We had to cut so many times because we were crying so much. We cried in the read-through of it. We had to stop the read-through and get our brains together. I’m sure if the editor wanted to really embarrass us he could cut together a bunch of takes of us having to stop and ask for a tissue in that scene. We were really wailing. But it’s really a beautiful way of looking at the world. I’m so impressed with these writers. They happen to be hilarious but then also super geniuses. It’s such a particular group of writers. They’re freaks.
GD: I love it. We are an awards website and you and the show have been getting some awards attention lately. First off, I just wanna congratulate you on behalf of all of us at Gold Derby for winning the Gold Derby Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series last year.
DC: I still can’t get over that. Gold Derby, you guys are too nice. I’m honored, beyond. Thank you. From people who know. That’s how I looked at it. I was like, “Man.”
GD: Yeah, we watch a lot of TV.
DC: It really meant a lot.
GD: You were also nominated at the SAG Awards as part of the ensemble of “Barry” and both “The Good Place” and “Barry” were nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Golden Globes this past year. So has this past year kind of been a whirlwind in that regard?
DC: Yes, that’s a great word for it. It has. It’s been really exciting and a huge honor. There’s a lot of shows on now, more than ever, and to be on two shows that people are into so much that they would think to nominate us for awards, it’s been such an honor. I’m very aware that this doesn’t happen to every show or to every actor so I’m really enjoying every minute of it. Getting to go to those shows it’s so exciting and I think actors can get jaded by them and they go every year. It’s not all glitz and glamor, it’s work and all that stuff, but man, it was fun. I just decided I’m just gonna have fun at these and take in every moment. Although I’ll tell you, it’s overwhelming. I remember the first one was the Golden Globes and I looked around and I thought, “Don’t forget any of this. Really take this in. Don’t forget anything.” And then when my parents asked me how it was I was like, “All I remember is thinking to myself, ‘Don’t forget anything.’” (Laughs.) Can’t quite remember anything that happened. It’s all coming at you. It was great and we would be lucky if we got to do stuff like that again next season.
GD: Also, Kirby Howell-Baptiste was on this season of “The Good Place” as Simone and she’s also on “Barry” as one of the acting students. How do you feel like she gelled with all of you on “The Good Place”?
DC: Couldn’t have gelled more. She’s a dear, old friend of mine. We’ve been friends since before “Barry” or “The Good Place,” which is amazing that we get to work together so much. She instantly gelled. I don’t know if you’ve ever met her or talked to her but she is a light and a darling human being, just a good addition to any cast or any restaurant table, any hangout. She’s just a good person to be with. So, we love her. We love her very much. She and Kristen and I like to work out together a lot so we see each other a lot.
GD: Speaking of your cast, I have to ask if you had some of Janet’s summoning powers if there is anyone on “The Good Place” or “Barry” that you would just like to summon an Emmy for if you could?
DC: There’s this little-known actor but I think he’s going places. His name’s Ted Danson. Edward Danson, actually. I know people don’t really know who he is but I think he’s got a big future. He’s weirdly done a lot of television so you could go back and watch things but just maybe Google him or something. He’s very handsome. But in all seriousness, he is just the world’s best acting partner. Any of us would say the same. He is the most fun and the most present and the most exciting and supportive. He’s as special as they come. He deserves every award that could possibly come to him ‘cause he’s as good as they get. I adore that man.
GD: As we wrap up, I just wanted to know if there is anything you can tease for Season 4 of “The Good Place”?
DC: This is the first time I’ve been asked that about this upcoming season. We’re shooting it right now. I usually have something planned or something prepared to say for a possible tease because I get so scared by that question and I get so worried that I’m gonna say the wrong thing. It’s an adventure-y season. It is a beautiful season. There are things we have not seen yet. Is that a tease? A lot of things we have not seen yet in past seasons we’ll be seeing. I’ll come up with a better thing next time but it’s great. We’re already off to such a good start and Mike and the writers took us through the beginning to end of the season. It was just lovely. They never cease to amaze me. Like I said, they’re freaks. Those writers are freaks. Their brains are freaky.
GD: We’re all very much looking forward to that and thank you so much, D’Arcy, and good luck at the Emmys.
DC: Thank you, and thank you to Gold Derby. I really appreciate you guys. Honored.