Even in the afterlife, we still need someone with all the answers. On NBC’s newest comedy The Good Place, answers come in the form of Janet, a personal assistant that arrives on call and never says “Sorry, I didn’t get that.” The character is brought to life (or, death?) by D’Arcy Carden.
Carden is no stranger to comedy, having a recurring role on Comedy Central’s hit Broad City, as well as being part of an improv troupe in the Upright Citizens Brigade. But if you’re a One Direction fan, you may have seen her at a concert (she’s been to roughly seven of them).
It’s been a busy year for the actress, as she’s starred in Chris Kelly’s Sundance Festival Film “Other People,” Bill Hader’s upcoming HBO series “Barry” and now on NBC. While it seems like “it’s all happening” at once for her, D’Arcy notes that it’s only a couple of jobs hitting at the same time. Nonetheless, she is excited about her hard work paying off.
“I don’t take this for granted in any way,” Carden said. “I’m really taking each day in and appreciating it and feeling very grateful, in a way that, I’ve maybe never felt in my life.”
For Carden, this year has pretty much been a “pinch me” moment. But when she landed the role of Janet on The Good Place, her immediate reaction wasn’t a “pinch” but a “punch.” Getting D’Arcy on the phone, she recounted the night she got the role and how her husband’s leg got the very first burst of her excitement. The actress also revealed the most challenging part of playing Janet, as well as who is the surprising “giggly” cast member.
How did you find out that you got the role? What was that day like for you?
From the time that I had my final callback, it was almost five days of waiting to hear if I got it or not, and I was losing my mind because I wanted it so bad! (laughs) I wanted it so bad and every day that passed, I would convince myself that I got it or that I didn’t get it, based on nothing! I would make things up. So one way that I dealt with it, that my husband helped me come up with, was to sleep all the time. (laughs). Because then I could just not think about it. So we had like a mandatory early bed time that week.
And so, it was like 11 o’clock, and I think I had been in bed for an hour, not asleep but trying to fall asleep, trying not to think about the show. And I got a call from my agent saying I got it, and for some reason my gleeful reaction was to punch the mattress – to punch the mattress as hard as I possibly could, not realizing that my husband’s leg was under the covers and I punched my husband’s leg so hard that he had to ice it down. It was not great. (laughs) I mean it was great, because he was also really excited, but he was like, through tears, “Congratulations!” So it was great. You know, actors and writers and stuff are always waiting to hear if you got something or not, and sometimes it’s okay, and sometimes it’s tragic. This one was like, I just, I wanted it so bad, and I knew I was never gonna get it because I wanted it too bad and it was too perfect, you know what I mean? It was just impossible. Impossible. But it happened, I think…unless this is all a dream.
Were you able to fall asleep after that, or were you just up all night?
(laughs) You know, it’s funny, my husband Jason and I have two best friends…we live in a duplex system, so they live upstairs. We went upstairs and they knew right away because it was late at night and we were giddy. And so we had some champagne, and we just kind of were excited and had a little impromptu pajama, champagne party at midnight, which was very very fun. I don’t know if you’re into Broad City, but that’s Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello, who are writers and directors…we live with them in a duplex, so they were excited. There’s a million great things about living with your friends, and that was one of them. Just being able to have a little mini-party…just being able to knock on the door and celebrate.
Now you play Janet on The Good Place. For clarification, is she a program? Or did she actually make it into The Good Place?
Okay. Well here’s the deal. You’re gonna have great questions like that. And I am not gonna be able to answer them for you. (laughs) Because, as you probably can tell from seeing these episodes, every episode is chock full of twists and turns yeah? Is that the feeling you’re getting?
Yes, very much so.
So, we are completely sworn to secrecy about literally anything that you haven’t seen yet.
I know! I know, I know, and I want to tell you, but I just…our heads would be cut off and we would be so sad. (laughs)
And you worked so hard to get the role.
Exactly! And it would just be like, “Oh, now my head is cut off. If we were to get a second season, they wouldn’t hire me back because I don’t have a head.” And it would be a bummer.
Well, that could be a great twist.
That’s true! Actually, it feels like, if anyone could not have a head, it feels like Janet could figure that out. But all will be explained for sure. Actually, Schur being the operative word…Mike Schur, being the writer and creator. He is such a genius, and such a world creator, and there’s no stone left unturned when it comes to his – I guess his mind – but also the worlds he creates. There is an answer to every question, it’s just a matter of waiting to see it unfold. But it is worth it, I swear to you.
And that answered my next question, on if we will learn more about Janet!
Yes! We will totally learn more. We’ll learn more about everybody, not just Eleanor. It’s really an ensemble show. I think it gets even more ensemble-y as the episodes progress.
Personally, that’s one of the things I love about the show. The cast is so strong and you love all of the characters.
Oh that’s so good to hear! I feel the same way. I love the cast so much. It’s fun, you know, we’ve read all the scripts of course. But, I wasn’t there on every single scene of filming, if I’m not in the scene. I mean, actually it is so good that occasionally I would come early or stay late. But most of these scenes that I’m not in, I haven’t seen before. So it’s been so fun watching my castmates in their scenes because they’re incredible! We have these gushy group texts after each episode, it’s really cute. We’re all a little bit in love with each other. I miss them all.
Avoiding spoiler-y questions, where or from whom do you draw inspiration to play Janet?
Okay, this is a little strange. But there is, I think it’s Amazon, there’s this Siri type of thing called Alexa. So right around the time that I got this part and I had read one script I believe, just the pilot, I was at a party and I heard somebody talking to this thing, Alexa. And every time she would answer I was like, wait that’s Janet talking. That’s Janet! That’s exactly how Janet would say…Janet would say everything like Alexa is saying, like however she says “Okay!” A little bit robotic…it’s not exactly a robot; it’s like a human…whatever it is! Whatever that Alexa deal is, that Siri/Alexa thing. There’s something about that type of voice, where it’s so human but there’s something kind of off about it. I feel like…does this even make sense that somehow Alexa is my biggest inspiration when it comes to Janet? (laughs) I don’t even have an Alexa. I, of course, take inspiration from tons of actors that I love, but as far as the character I think good old Siri and Alexa are my number ones.
It’s kind of like a strangely hard character. I don’t know if “hard” is the right word. But she’s non-judgemental, she has all the information but it’s never with an opinion. She’s never gossiping about it, it’s never judgemental, it’s just the facts. Truly, to say difficult or hard is the wrong word because it’s obviously a joy. But I struggled with trying to make sure there was no emotion attached to it. Obviously, I got to have fun in the third episode, with the malfunctioning Janet.
Did you have a favorite personality of hers in that episode? I really enjoyed her telling Chidi that his manuscript was basically a piece of garbage.
Yeah! That one was really fun, I felt like I was channeling April Ludgate. That one was super fun. And then I think, to be honest, the sexual one with Chidi was really fun just because to try to break Will Harper, is my greatest joy. Making him laugh on set is like, all I live to do. So that was just in his face, basically trying everything I could to make him laugh.
Did you get him?
(laughs) Ooh yeah, he’s easy! He’s easy and he is so fun. I love him. We really connected pretty early. We have a little bit of a similar path, as far as our careers go, and we’re the same age, and we both have done a lot of theater and been trying to get more and more into film and TV with little success here and there. So to get this at the same time, at the same point in our lives, together, it was amazing, amazing, amazing. I loved going through this with him.
Did you guys meet for the first time at the table read?
Yeah! So, the first meeting for the full six of us was, I think it was the day after I got cast, I think or…it was a couple days after I got cast, because I was the last person to get cast. It was a meeting at Mike Schur’s office with the six of us, and Drew Goddard and Mike Schur, and that’s when we all met. Before that I had met nobody. Well, I guess I had met Kristen! I had briefly met Kristen, randomly, at a birthday party the week before, which was just insane.
I think because the script is so special, and Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are so special, and Mike Schur is this gem, and Drew Goddard. Every bit of this is too good to be true, so I think especially the four of us, the four newbies, me and Jameela and Danny and Will, we kind of instantly connected over like, “This is big, this is special.” Big’s maybe not even the right word – special. This is gonna be very important to us. It was kind of an immediate bonding thing. And then, you know, you have Ted and Kristen who are these superstars. And they just, right away, the second I met them, they were all in. They were as excited as I was, there was no attitude, no superstar anything. Ted was as excited for this job as I was. My first big job, his 100th big job, and he was as giddy as I was, and it was very genuine. And Kristen is so loving and warm, it was just like…oh man. I think Mike Schur makes a point of putting together good groups of people. I don’t think he likes working with jerks, there were no jerks on his set. Everybody’s wonderful.
In the last year or so, you’ve been very very busy. You’re working with names like Molly Shannon, Bill Hader, now Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. What has that learning experience been like for you as an actress?
Well, the weird thing is, that I think big name celebrities, these superstars, I feel like they get…Hollywood, in general, gets this bad rep for being jerks, and I’m sure some people are. But I don’t know how I’ve gotten so lucky in this last year or so. Because every person that you just named is, I would describe them as the best person. The nicest person, the warmest person, the most genuine person. I’m learning that everybody…okay how do I say this? People like to work with good people. It helps that they are also insanely talented, sure. But, I think especially when it comes to comedy, you just want to work with people that you look forward to seeing every day at work. And people that are supportive, and people that make you feel good, and people that are happy to be there.
None of those people were too cool for school, or not hanging out with the rest of the crew and the cast. It’s all very ensemble, loving people that you just named. Bill and Molly, and Henry Winkler’s on Bill’s show, and Ted Danson, and Kristen Bell, I can’t even explain how lucky I feel to have gotten to work with these people. You know, once you kind of get over that thing of “This is Ted Danson,” VERY quickly he just becomes your friend that is your legitimate friend, that you kind of forget is Ted Danson. It happens so quickly; I think because they’re all such down-to-earth people. I imagine, people that take themselves very seriously, you forget that these are all really wonderful, genuine, good-hearted people that are just happy to be working on good things. It makes you feel like a team or a family. This is nothing new, but they all treat everybody the same, they know the names of everybody from top to bottom, there’s no attitude, and that goes so far. Not that I necessarily needed to learn that lesson, we all know that that’s true, but it’s so good to see it in action.
With all of the excitement of your projects happening, how are you keeping yourself moving?
The simplest, easiest, best thing I do is spending a ton of time with my husband and my best friends and my dog! Just letting myself take a break to do that, not feeling like I need to pack every day full of things, and that I can just go see a movie or go on a hike and that’s okay. I also play on a basketball team, which is a really fun way to not do anything that has to do with career stuff.
I’m so glad you brought that up. Your team is the Lucille Ballers, which is so clever! And you never hear of an actress playing basketball.
(laughs) It’s such a good release. I wish I could remember who came up with the name. And I would say who I think it is, but I might be wrong so I’ll just not say anybody. But it’s such a great team, and I think it’s been three years, two years, that we’ve been playing together. We have, I think two seasons per year, so it’s been four or five seasons, and we’ve had seasons where we’ve literally never won a single game, and we’ve had a season where we won a bunch of games! It’s fun to kind of watch women in their post-college careers, doing something that maybe they’ve never done before and getting better at it. Taking a risk, especially a physical risk, which I feel like women, maybe everybody, we stop doing. It’s like if you didn’t do it in college or high school, you just don’t allow yourself to do it, like “Oh, I just don’t know how to do that.” But, to just kind of take that risk and say “I’ll figure it out” or “I’ll learn” is so important. It’s crucial. I feel like it’s one of the best things. My team is full of actors and writers, but we don’t talk about anything other than playing basketball and goofing around. It’s not like “What did you audition for today?” Or this or that, it’s a lot of just letting that side of our lives go and just playing basketball. It’s really, really healthy for our brains, you know? It’s necessary, in a town where all we do is work.
Getting back to The Good Place, it’s a huge points system and from all the screenshots we can see that there are some really silly things on there. If you could add one thing to get you positive points and one to get you negative points, what would you add?
(Laughs) Okay, let’s see. Oh my gosh, the writers do such an incredible job. Anything like that on the show, where you get to see a list, or there are some other things coming up that I can think of, definitely get your pause button ready so you can read…any time there’s anything written. There’s no inch of space that the writers don’t put their mark on. They are geniuses. They are packed to the gills with the best writers in TV, and any chance that Mike and the writers get to put their stamp on…they’re just geniuses. I love the writer’s room, they’re amazing.
I was feeling shame recently for starting Veep late. I started watching Veep just this year, so I think I should probably lose some points for starting Veep in 2016. That would be negative points. Positive points, what would positive points be? Okay! Sometimes when my husband is asleep, like dead asleep, I’ll rub his back while he’s asleep.
Well that’s very adorable isn’t it? But it’s like, he doesn’t feel it, and it’s not doing me any good so what is – I mean he probably has a better dream because of it or something like that. But he doesn’t know it, it’s not like I’m doing it so that he will then do the dishes in the morning or whatever.
Sending good dream vibes, it works! Now, Will Harper mentioned there are some guest stars coming up. I know you can’t say who, but do you have any dream guest stars?
Yes! Well, it’s hard not to think of Amy. When you think of Mike Schur, you think of Amy Poehler. Just to see them in the same room and working together would be a dream, let alone her being on the show. It has to happen. She would be my dream guests of all dream guests, for everything, forever. And then, Idris Elba. (laughs). You just gotta get him within 30 feet of me. I just want to see him person. I don’t care what his character is, I just want him to be on set for a day.
If you could be any character other than Janet, who on the show would you play?
I think, let’s see…not Tahani, not Jianyu. Some sort of Chidi/Eleanor hybrid perhaps? Eleanor’s a little nasty, she’s not the best person in the world, but who is? She’s doing her best I guess. And Chidi’s so…it’s like I’m not as bad as Eleanor, but not as good as Chidi. Somewhere in between there.
Are there any bloopers that stand out in your memory, that maybe we won’t see?
I do remember Ted trying to get through the line about “A canyon full of poo poo.” (laughs). That was very early on in filming. One thing that you may not know, or maybe you would assume, about Ted is that he’s very giggly. It’s not that he breaks a lot, he could easily get through a take without breaking, but if everybody’s feeling giggly, he’s the king of the giggles. He really is a giggle man, I love it. He is just so funny and joyous and happy and wonderful. He really, really is. He really loves being on set. He’s very thankful that that’s what he gets to do, and what we get to do. He says it a lot actually. He says, almost everyday at some point, he would say something along the lines of “Can you believe this? This is what we get to do. Can you believe that this is our job?” It’ll kind of blow your mind, he’s just the best. But I remember Jameela having a real laughing fit, just being very aware that Ted Danson was saying the line “a canyon full of poo poo.” That was really cracking us up. And then I think the overtly sexual Janet was fun. They kind of let me go a little bit with that one, it was very fun.
You can follow D’Arcy Carden on Twitter: @DarcyCarden. The Good Place airs on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC.