It’s the beginning of the week and I’m on the phone to D’Arcy Carden talking The Good Place. It’s a much-loved, fan favorite on NBC and by the end of the week, we learned the show would end after its fourth season.
While fans prepare to mourn the ending, I had a good laugh with Carden to talk about the fun in playing Janet. We talk about working with Michael Schur, impressions and the ultimate Janet impression – Cher.
I’m so glad to talk to you today because we get to talk about you singing Cher’s Believe. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard seeing Janet burp and then that song comes out.
I’m so glad you know that was such a weird thing to do, right? I had to actually sing it.
That was just iconic. What was your reaction when you read that?
There are some things that you just don’t know what’s going to happen until you get on to the set and it was one of those things where I was like, ‘So?…’ Morgan Sackett, who is one of our executive producers, was directing that episode. I asked him, “Are you playing Cher and I’m lip-syncing it?” He just told me no and to do my best Cher impression.
It was very strange but also it’s such a fun group of people but everyone is so supportive and great that it was just silly and fun.
There was no lip syncing for your life.
Exactly. It was my moment to be Cher. You know what’s funny, I had to do a weird ADR. I think there was a moment when they weren’t sure whether they were going to get the actual rights to use actual Cher’s voice or so then I did my voice. It was just silly and silly fun. Ted Danson always says, “Acting is embarrassing.” And that’s something we have to remember. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes you feel artfully fulfilled, and sometimes it’s embarrassing and you just have to go with it and be ok with that.
While we’re talking about impressions, who is the toughest to do?
I think Chidi was the toughest. I don’t think of myself as an impressionist at all. I would love to do what Maya Rudolph or Bill Hader can do. I don’t know how to do that. We were trying to get the essence of someone. For some reason, Chidi was hard. He’s very specific. I could hear his voice in my head and see his mannerisms, but I was more in my head for him. I could see what he was trying to attempt and feeling like I wasn’t hitting marks. When watching it back, it all worked out, but that’s what I’d get in my head about.
We had many different types of Janet this season and we had Neutral Janet. What is Neutral? How did you craft her?
When I thought of Neutral Janet, I thought Dead Face. I thought, “Let your face meat hang off the bone.” Just no twinkle in your eye and no smile. I thought, it was going to be very unflattering and it was OK. It was dead face Janet. I think Neutral Janet is so funny because in an episode when Mike Schur and the writers gave me four other Janets to play, here was Neutral Janet. I thought it was a subtle prank they were playing on me and I appreciate it.
It is so funny, though, and Janet is always the most interested. Also, she’s had 800 reboots or something like that.
When we first started this a few years ago, I didn’t know what the future of Janet would be because Mike Schur didn’t tell us very much as all. There was a moment when I remember thinking that it was going to be a challenge to play this non-reactive emotionless, non-robot, robot. I thought I wouldn’t be showing any emotion and thought she was going to be a strict robot character, but within three episodes, she’s being rebooted and everything. It was such the opposite of everything I thought it was going to be. It’s been beyond fun. It’s been such a wonderful gift and I’m forever indebted to these writers that keep giving me these insane things to do.
Mike Schur is a genius. He’s so funny. What is it like working with him and getting inside his brain?
It’s funny because he’s such a genius and he’s so smart. You’d think he’d be intimidating and a know-it-all. He’s so wonderful and warm and collaborative. All the writers in that room are geniuses but then also so goofy. It’s such a wonderful mix of the two things. He’s so eager to hear your stupid idea as his genius writers. He picks very specific people that he loves working with, and he’s, “What ya got?” He’s very trusting and wonderful and he’s taught me so much. I want to work with him forever.
Let’s talk about reboots. What is it like to shoot those scenes?
Whenever Janet is rebooted, it’s weird for sure. She’s a weird character to play because you can’t tap into a computer brain. You have to think of it in ways that make sense to you as a human. I think of Janet as a kid or a teenager, and when she gets rebooted I think of her going back to a kid version of her. When she’s experiencing love for the first time, I think of her as a pre-teen, teenage love and there’s something very funny and immature about Janet. It’s crazy because she’s also the smartest being in the entire universe, but she’s new to these feelings and emotions, so I think of teenage me or whatever it is that clicks for me.
Janet is the best character to play because she’s a know-it-all. She has all the secrets, but she can’t spill them. What’s that like to be that character?
She’s not trying to prove anything. She’s a know-it-all, but she’s not always correcting you. I think it would be a different thing if she had anything to prove. Her only goals and want is to help, to improve your situation and she’s always trying to help. She’s falling in love, and that’s a new amazing, fun thing to play. Her number one goal is to improve life in any way she can.
So, you know my highlight, you singing Cher. What was yours?
I can’t even express how much I loved doing that episode. It was such a life highlight. It was so much fun and it was really a wonderful week of my life. I can’t even repay the writers. I didn’t know what to buy them because how do I repay them for what they did for me.
I loved having to do that fight scene in the episode before. There’s the big bar brawl. I worked with this amazing fight choreographer, and he was on The Bourne movies. I got to work with a stunt double who does Wonder Woman. I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to do it again. It was almost like I found a new calling and thought, I was going to quit acting and become a full-time stunt person and this is what I need to do now. [laughs]
There was serious butt-kicking.
That finale got me. It got me when I read it. It got me at the table read. I kept thinking I’d get over it and not be emotional. There’s that scene with Janet and Eleanor, where Eleanor is trying to figure out the meaning of the universe. Kristen and I could not get through those words. I can’t say enough about the writers. They’re smart, funny and emotional. Doing that scene was a highlight of the season.
I love that the female dynamics are so great. It’s great seeing that on TV and your writers aren’t pitting women against each other.
It’s such a funny thing. I can’t explain how happy I am that that’s the way this show is. I know we’re used to women being catty and that, but it seems so forced. It’s almost a non-issue because this feels true to my life, to your life. It’s not about fighting over some guy. Janet and Tahani have been in love with the same man, and there’s never been a cat fight about it. It’s not about that with me and my friends, so it feels very natural to have that.
Some of these issues with women and men are so forced upon us, and that’s not the natural thing. It just feels great, and it feels great that it’s not an issue. It just is what it is.
One thing the women get catty over though is One Direction. Who’s your favorite, does it change?
I’m so proud of all of them, but I do have a love for Harry Styles and what he’s done since the band ceased to be. I love his album, and I’ve seen him in concert. I love them all very much, and I will continue to love them forever and ever and ever.
Maybe there’ll be a reunion.
I’m sure there will be. As much as I love them, I’m so happy they’re doing their own thing. I’m very happy they exist. If they want to do another album or tour, it would be great. Oh my gosh, I could talk about this for hours. [laughs]