D’Arcy Carden finished up her fourth and final season on NBC’s “The Good Place” earlier this year, playing the programmed guide Janet. She has won two consecutive Gold Derby Awards for Best Comedy Supporting Actress.
Carden recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Matt Noble about the final days of shooting the departed sitcom, how she defines who Janet is, her top three moments and her favorite version of Janet. Watch the exclusive video interview and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: D’Arcy, what were the top three moments of your life on The Good Place?
D’Arcy Carden: I know right off the bat that probably most of them involve Ted. I’ve got it. One was in Season 2 there was an episode called “Michael and Janet” and we had a scene where I was basically asking him to murder me. Hilarious if you don’t know the show, it’s like, “What are you talking about?” And he is looking for all these reasons not to and then he finally admits the reason he can’t kill me is because he considers me a friend. I just remember that day. The whole day down to that moment of filming that scene was pretty special. Ted and I already had a season together and we were close friends. The cast bonded very quickly. We were friends at that point and there was just something about getting to be with him all week just the two of us really getting to know each other and really getting to act with literally one of the best actors on the face of the planet and certainly one of the best scene partners I’ve ever worked with, if not the best. I think all of the cast would say that, that he’s just from a different planet. He’s the most connected, giving, supportive scene partner you could possibly ask for. There was just something electric about that day and I remember that scene feeling really good. We discovered something that we weren’t planning on. He’s a giving person and he’s a giving scene partner and when things feel good, he likes to let you know, like, “Oh, that was good.” You like to hear that from him. He’s no BS, so if something went well, it’s great to hear from him that it went well. That day was especially fun and also there’s the on-camera stuff and off-camera, like sitting in our chairs and eating snacks and talking about life and all that stuff. That was a good day.
There was another day in Season 4. We rarely have night shoots. We get a lot of our stuff done during the day. So sometimes a night shoot feels really exciting for our cast and it’s usually on Friday. We had a night shoot on Season 4 that involved the six cast members and Kirby [Howell-Baptiste], Brandon [Scott Jones], there was a couple guest stars there, and we were playing Pictionary. In the scene, the Pictionary comes to life and freaks us out. It was such a fun night. We felt giddy and high. We were giggling and we were messing around. It felt like a party and I remember Brandon Scott Jones, who plays Michael. Nope. His name was certainly not Michael. John. He’s one of my oldest best friends from New York and I remember in between one of the takes we walked off to get a snack or something. We had tears in our eyes. We were like, “This is one of the best outcomes. How did we go from doing comedy theater on the bottom of a basement in New York to getting to work on a show like this with this caliber of actor and people. It was a real “Oh my god” moment. Everybody was just having so much fun. Ben [Lawson] was there too that night. That was just a fun silly giddy night where it was just 100% fun.
The other top moment was in the Redwoods for the finale. We shot a bunch of scenes where Janet would take all the characters — not Tahani — through the… what do we call that thing? It’s not a gate. It’s not a door. It’s an open door. You know what I’m talking about.
DC: Portal, that’s the word. That day was like, “Oh boy.” That day was incredible. We had known that the show was gonna end for quite some time at that point, almost a year. We were shooting in August, so yeah, we were almost coming up on a year of knowing that this was ending. Nobody was happy about that, although everybody understood that we were ending. So there was this huge buildup to the end. Everything was very special and precious and every last moment was a big last moment. We’re lucky to know that we were ending. So many shows and so many situations that you’re in, whatever it is, you don’t necessarily know that it’s the end. Getting to be aware that it was the end was very special. That location was just from a dream. It was so gorgeous and quiet and the weather was perfect and it was just incredible. We all were very aware of how perfect it was. Like I said, Ted really likes to let you know. He’ll take you by the shoulder and be like, “Look around. This is where we are. Isn’t it beautiful? Can you imagine this being a better situation?” It was so gorgeous and everyone was having fun but also tears brimming over their eyes. That day was awesome. I will never, ever forget that day. And when they called wrap on Ted, man, there was some emotion.
GD: I don’t know but I can imagine. So kissing Manny [Jacinto] wasn’t there.
DC: So you mean the top moment. You mean the actual top moment? Yeah (laughs). I got to kiss a lot of people on that show. I got to kiss Kristen [Bell], I got to kiss Jason Mantzoukas.
GD: You got to kiss yourself!
DC: Yes I did, and thank you for reminding me of that.
GD: That was the top moment. Taking it back to that last one, what was the last scene that you shot? When did they call wrap on you?
DC: It was so strange, it was almost like two wraps. There was the American wrap. My wrap was Kristen and I had a scene where she walking through there door and I’m asking her, “I wonder what’s through the door. It’s the only thing I don’t know,” and I say, “I hate to see you go but I love to watch you leave.” That was my real last line of the show and it was my real last scene in America, which is a weird way of putting it. Because so much of the crew wasn’t coming to Europe with us and so much of the cast wasn’t coming to Europe with us, that felt like a good ending and a real wrap. Then, two months later, Kristen and Will [Jackson Harper] and a small crew went to Greece and Paris. How lucky am I? If you think back to that finale, those scenes, I truly have one line in each country (laughs). I pop into Paris and I pop into Greece but I’m so lucky that Mike and the writers wrote Janet into those scenes because I got to go on a really fun vacation with my friends. So my real-real true last worldwide wrap was on the lovers bridge in Paris when I pop in with some candy corn? Huh-uh.
GD: Cotton candy?
DC: Cotton candy! Yep, that’s it. You got it! And I pop in and I say, “Who wants to go to Six Flags?” That was my real last scene and Will and Kristen wrapped then as well. It was very emotional and beautiful. We were standing over the water on this bridge in Paris on a gorgeous day and it was beautiful. I don’t know if you can tell but I really like this show and I really like these people. I have really good things to say about the experience in general. The question about top three moments, I could do top three moments from each episode. There’s so many good memories and it was truly always a great day. Always a good day at work. Unbelievably fun and just a wonderful four years.
GD: Can you compare what was going on in your head on the show as it’s wrapping compared to that first day you came in and they yelled action?
DC: Oh my gosh. I was nervous. It’s not that I hadn’t done TV stuff before. I had, but this felt different. This felt like I had to set my own tone. I don’t know, I was in my head for sure. Also, Janet is such a strange character that I wasn’t exactly sure who she was. I think even Mike Schur and the writers were figuring out who she was. I really wanted to get it right but I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. It was like, “Let’s see if this sticks,” or, “I’ll throw this against the wall and see if this feels right.” The first thing I shot was in Tahani’s house, the big mansion, and it’s actually weirdly a scene that got cut. It was a scene where Eleanor calls for Janet, Janet pops in, and Eleanor asks about why she isn’t feeling drunk and Janet says, “The only way you can feel drunk is if you want to be drunk. Otherwise, you can just drink all night and just not get drunk.” To which Eleanor says, “Great,” and gets drunk. It’s funny to think back on that.
You know what else was funny about that? Drew Goddard was directing that one and Mike Schur was on-set and they had, on their iPhone, blocked it out. The two of them played Eleanor and Janet and they went through the lines and the blocking and the camera angles and showed it to Kristen and myself. I was like, “Oh my god. They’re gonna do this for every scene? IS this how a real TV show works? They play the characters?” I was playing it cool, like, “Okay, yes, of course. I’m used to this.” But then they never did that again. I think it was just dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s. I would say that even though I was nervous that first episode and that first day, there’s something very calming about a Mike Schur set. You just feel instantly supported. It’s a weird situation and I think it’s very easy as an actor to feel constantly judged. Oh gosh. I never felt judged or unsupported. Even from the beginning it was such a great group and so many of that crew had worked together on “Parks and Rec” and I think there was just this instant family feeling where a lot of people knew each other and it was very warm.
The difference of that day to the last day, it really was just four years of 100% great and there was so much love on that set. Wrapping each actor was heartbreaking. Oh god. There was a lot of tears. Wrapping the guest stars was heartbreaking, wrapping each cast member. I remember each one. It was really devastating and you just had this very final feeling. I know these are my friends and I know I’ll know them forever but I don’t know that I’ll ever be in a situation like this with them again or even get to work with them again. That was the thing that was really killing me with Ted. I can’t even talk about it or I’ll start crying (laughs). But I remember Morgan Sackett, one of our executive producers and directors and a big part of the show, at the Redwoods he came up to Ted and I could tell he was about to wrap him and we were sitting on that bench and I gave him a big hug. I was behind his back, wrapped around him, and I felt like a little kid. I was really crying ‘cause I just kept thinking, “I got so lucky to work with this man who is so wonderful and has made all of us, the cast and everybody that works with him, a better actor a better person.” Lucky to know him. I just had this sad feeling like, “I don’t know if we’ll get to do this again?” Who knows.
GD: And your character in particular had a lot to do with Ted over the years and you were the two outsiders to the human crew. That was really nice. The finale is called “Whenever You’re Ready.” Were you ready for it to end?
DC: I was and I wasn’t. I guess this wouldn’t really make sense with this situation because the finale was so final, but so many shows shoot their last episode without knowing it and don’t get to really say goodbye to each other. We got to say goodbye to each other for a year. So in a way, I was ready for it, and in a way I wasn’t. I had come to terms with it and I had accepted it and I even think it was the right thing to do. I remember when Mike and the writers called me into the writers’ room before we started filming Season 4 and they pitched me this season, told me what it was gonna be and what it was gonna look like and how it was gonna end and that was really when I realized, “This is a perfect ending and this is completely the right time to end it. I am on board with this.” Even though I had come to terms with that and really accepted it and thought it was the right decision, I remember up until the very end I was hoping that we were gonna get a surprise (laughs). Mike would just call us all into the office and be like, “You guys, we’re doing a Season 5!” I think we all would’ve jumped on that.
GD: You talked about how when you started, you wanted to get Janet right, “I’m not sure if I’m getting it right,” and things like that. You’ve got a background in comedy and improv with the UCB and stuff like that. Did that help you in something where you’ve gotta work on something and accept offers and take stuff, did that help you develop the role and find the game of Janet?
DC: Yeah, I think it absolutely did. There’s something coming up at UCB. If you don’t know, it’s the Upright Citizens Brigade, it’s a comedy theater in New York and there’s one in L.A. and I work there. I performed there for 10 years before I got “The Good Place” and everything I do as a performer I think is influenced by my time there. I still perform there all the time. I have a show there tonight over Zoom (laughs). When you do improv and sketch and all that stuff but especially improv, you’ve gotta learn to trust your gut. Sometimes I think of trusting my gut as my biggest truth. The thing I can believe in the most on Earth is my gut. I almost have to. I have to believe in it. The funny thing with Janet was when I auditioned for her, like what I’m saying, you trust your gut with the character, this is what I read, this is what I feel she is, I’m gonna trust my gut and go for it. When I would doubt myself that first season, Mike would say, “Just do what you would do in the audition. That was her. That’s why we cast you. You got her in the audition so go back to whatever that was.” To me, that meant go with your gut. I knew what she was then, so don’t overthink it.
As the seasons progressed, she evolved a lot and it was a matter of trusting the writers so much. I’m obsessed with those writers and I shout it from the rooftops. They’re amazing. Would work with them forever ’til the day I die. I just feel like they always got it right and they were always giving us these gifts and challenges, making us rise to the occasion. It was such a joy to get those scripts and to figure out where Janet was going. Some episodes were certainly crazier than others when it came to Janet stuff. But I loved having her evolved over the four seasons. It was scary and stressful and I wanted to get it right but it was a gift for an actor, especially playing a character that could very easily stay one-note the whole time. The writers could’ve totally made Janet just ATM, here’s information and pop in and out. But they gave her so much to do, which was just a gift as an actor.
GD: And we know that Janet is not a girl. What is she?
DC: Mm. Not a girl. Not a robot. What the hell is she? The thing is, Mike Schur could answer this question, I feel like, but I can’t.
GD: You played her for four years!
DC: I know, but what I mean is, I can’t think of her as a computer. As an actor, I have to imbue her with humanity otherwise I don’t think I can play her. I don’t know how to act a computer or act an A.I. So I had to find humanity in other ways and some of that would be I think she has a very childlike innocence so I could find innocence and vulnerability as she evolved. I would love if Mike could just pop in right now and explain her. I wonder what does she look like inside, if you could peel her back? Over time she certainly became more human. I don’t think she has organs inside of her and a heart but I think that she has a soul. Does that make sense?
GD: It does. I didn’t count this, I just read it online so it may or may not be true. There are 800 reboots of Janet or something. Did you have a favorite version of Janet in the series? A favorite reboot? You played different types of Janets as well.
DC: I have a soft spot for regular old Janet-Janet. It feels very natural. Even just walking into my trailer and seeing the purple suit every day I was like, “Ahh. I’m home.” But I certainly loved playing Bad Janet. You know what was fun about Bad Janet is I didn’t even think of her as a Janet. I think of her as a different person altogether. I know she is a Janet. There was different reboots of regular Janet that felt like different shades of Janet but Bad Janet felt like something altogether different. How fun. Also, it’s so funny to think back on Bad Janet because I remember when Mike told me there would be a bad Janet, he didn’t say that I would be playing her. This is before we even started filming. It was the day after I got cast I had a meeting with him and he was explaining there would be this bad Janet. There was this little part of me, not jealous but, “Oh god, who’s gonna play her?” I was very happy to hear that I got to play her. It was such a different energy from regular Janet.
We don’t improvise a ton. It was not a heavily improvised show and I guess because the plot was so dense, there’s not a lot of room for improv in those scripts. We’re on a mission. But with Bad Janet, the directors would always let me go a little bit, which was really fun. Bad Janet was a blast to play. There’s something fun about every Janet, even Neutral Janet. Even though there’s nothing to her, it was very fun to play her. It was fun to figure out how she would walk. I love it all, man. Not to mention getting to play the other characters, my castmates. It was cuckoo bananas.
GD: That episode got nominated for a writing Emmy last year which was very exciting, you guys made it into the Best Comedy Series race at the Emmys, which was also a super cool and lovely thing to happen towards the end of the run of the show after putting years into work for that. D’Arcy, thanks so much for chatting with us today. Also, congratulations, you also won a Gold Derby TV Award last year. I think you won the last two years.
DC: I did! It really does mean a lot to me. When I see Gold Derby people at events, I always really wanna let them know how much it means to me. Who better than you guys? Who knows it better? It really means a lot to me.
GD: Congratulations on those. Maybe you’ll win again this year. You’re also nominated for our Decade Performer of the Year. You didn’t win that one but you were nominated for Decade Supporting Comedy Actress.
DC: It was an honor to be nominated!