Siri, who’s The Good Place‘s scene stealer? That would be D’Arcy Carden, who plays know-it-all Janet on NBC’s afterlife comedy. We got the Upright Citizens Brigade vet to share facts that would surprise even her whiz of a character:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You came up through UCB, so talk about working in that kind of environment.
D’ARCY CARDEN: I started UCB over 10 years ago and I saw one show, I saw an ASSSSCAT there that Amy Poehler and some other people were in. I had never seen anything like it and it blew my mind in a big way where I signed up for classes the next day. So I worked really hard there for a long time trying to get on teams, trying to get onstage, and after a while I did and I still perform there. I had three shows there last weekend, I still perform there all the time. It’s funny, so many people have gone on to such great things from that theater, it’s fun to think back on some of the crazy stuff that we did onstage together.
I could think of coming backstage before a show with soaking wet socks from the rain in some New York downpour. I was about to have a show and my socks were soaking. Kate McKinnon had just finished her show, who was a great friend of mine. She took her soaks off her feet and said, “Put these on,” and I put her socks on my feet and then did the show. She walked home with no socks on because she’s a good girl — just buds helping buds. It’s funny to see her win an Emmy, and just coming up with the Broad City girls and then seeing them go on to do great things. My social circle, my best friends, are all people that I met at UCB. My husband and I share a duplex with Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello from Broad City, who we met at UCB 10 years ago, so it’s like our people; I found my people.
It sounds like one big family.
It totally is. It’s kind of crazy to have a bunch of driven, funny, talented people that are also not — I shouldn’t say not competitive, but I should say very, very supportive of each other, and thrilled when somebody does something good in the community; it is widely celebrated. It’s not how I imagine some other communities, especially in Hollywood, might be like, which is kind of jealous or competitive.
You then worked with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer on Broad City. What was that set like?
So I’ve known Abbi and Ilana for, I say 10 years, it might be more than 10 years. I met Abbi in a class that we took at UCB that was for commercial acting or something like that, some random weird class. We instantly became friends. Watching her and Ilana have a goal, which was they wanted to make this web series and then they wanted to make this TV show, and watching them do it in such a determined, confident way and then getting to be on their show, I mean I could cry if I think about it right now. The first time I was on their set, which I think was for the pilot, I was choking back tears. I hadn’t felt that sort of pride — I was so proud of my friends, they had a goal, a goal that seemed like impossible to achieve and they like went above and beyond. So having them invite me to be on their set every year is like the treat of my life, we just have so much fun.
It’s kind of just play time, it’s just fun, but we’re not just messing around. These two professional women run a show. It’s so awesome to be a part of. There is a good balance because the funny thing is Abbi and Ilana are businesswoman, they are so good at that side of the job of running a show, but then also they’re two of the funniest people you’ve ever met and they love to surround themselves with other funny people. They definitely like encourage.
There was a scene where Abbi beats me up. She beats me with this pugil stick. That was an especially exciting and fun day on set because we were all really wanting this beatdown to look real, but Abbi was nervous that she was going to hurt me. I was getting jacked up almost like an athlete would, like, “Hit me. Hit me in the face!” The amazing stunt coordinator was like, “I want you girls to be careful and we don’t have to make contact.” Lucia, Ilana, Abbi, and I were like, “Argh, you got to make contact. Hit it, it has to look real.” We were losing our minds and the poor stunt coordinator was just like, “Girls be careful.” But it turned out great and my mom won’t watch that scene because it looks so realistic.
Turning to The Good Place, who is Janet modeled after other than Siri? Are there any other famous android characters, like C-3PO or Data, that you’re pulling from?
Oh, that’s good. Actually a little bit of all those. Yes, exactly what you said, android-y, robot-y. I don’t want Janet to be a robot, I don’t want her to be like a beep-boop-bop robot. I love C-3PO, I love the girl from Ex Machina, these kind of robots that have so much soul that you feel for them. I was watching these weird YouTube clips of these Japanese robots that talk to people. She was kind of malfunctioning, but she said something like, “I want to go to school one day,” and it made me cry while I watching. [Laughs] My husband was showing me some Data. When I told him about Janet, he compared it immediately to Data. It’s a little bit of a hard balance to play this Janet character that is so warm and non-judgmental and lovely, but also it’s hard as an actor to not have a judgment or opinion on what other characters are saying to you. That was a struggle for me that at some point I just gave over to. But the first couple episodes, Mike Schur would be like, “Let’s tone down the reactions.” Not so much of an opinion on everything, it was like Janet wouldn’t have that, Janet would take it as it comes and move on, no opinion really.
What was the first overreach with the character? Like when they were creating the part, do you know if she basically had like superhuman strength? Was there anything they cut back with her?
One thing I’ll say is the actors, other than Kristen [Bell] and Ted [Danson] actually, the four of us — this is a little bit of a side note — we didn’t know what the second half of the series was gonna look like. Basically we signed onto the job without reading the pilot, or truly knowing anything about it other than knowing who the cast was and who the creator was. So we were getting pieces of the season throughout, meaning I didn’t know what the end looked like in the beginning, I didn’t know until halfway through what the finale would look like. I didn’t know what Janet’s arc was going to be or what Janet in episode 7 would like, so it was figuring it out, truly taking it episode by episode, which was, in a way, like a freedom. All I have in front of me is all I can really think about, and I didn’t have to worry about where this is going. But at the same time, as an actor, you’re kind of like, “Am I making the right choice? Am I making a choice that will make sense down the road for episode 13 or whatever the heck?” So we would try things out, I would say.
Mike Schur knows exactly what everything should look like, but at the same time is super collaborative and loves working with actors that make choices and bring stuff to the table. So they were very willing to let me try a lot of different versions of Janet and then we knew we would figure out who she was as we went. The funny thing is that I would try a more emotional Janet or a more robotic Janet, but what I’m seeing on the screen is exactly what Mike originally explained, it’s exactly what he wanted; the Janet he explained is what we ended up going with, which is so funny and perfect.
How far did they want to take this character in terms of knowing everything in the world? Is there anything that Janet can’t do?
Basically the way I look at it, and the way I think the writers and Mike looked at it, is she would know anything that a computer could know. I think she has limitations, but anything that Siri could tell you, anything that you could Google, anything that you could find on your computer, she has access to and can present.
Does she speak many languages? Could she act out full plays?
Yeah, for sure. She could definitely. I feel like she could probably sing an opera, you know what I mean? She could harness whatever she needed. Actually, why didn’t we do that episode? Have Janet sing a damn opera! But yeah, I think she could for sure. I like the idea of her acting out a play or something like that. Definitely knows other languages, math, whatever it is, she’s got it all.
How will she show off her impressive knowledge in future episodes?
This is like the thing that gives me like hives and shingles is trying to figure out what we can say and what we can’t. [Laughs] It gives me such stress, I’m like, “What do we know, what do we know?” I don’t think I can answer that question in a way that would be good. I want to tell you everything, I want to tell you everything, I want to have a little sleepover slumber party and just tell you everything, but it would be such a bummer to spoil anything.
What is the weirdest thing that you’ve had to do on set?
I would say that there’s a scene where Ted Danson and I are bellowing in each other’s faces. We’re doing Janet and Michael’s version of crying, and in the script it was just letters, like A-H-H-H-H. Whatever it was, we didn’t know exactly what the sound was going to be and were messing around with it. It turned into this thing where Ted Danson and I are holding hands, looking into each other’s eyeballs and moaning or bellowing. It was the most out of body, surreal experience where I’m on set acting, doing my dream job, but also D’Arcy Carden is outside of herself looking at herself bellowing into Ted Danson’s eyeballs. “What is happening? How is this real? This is some sort of dream/nightmare situation.” Also, the good thing about working with Ted Danson is anything you throw at him, he’s down for. He’s so down to play, and if you make some weird choice, he’ll make a weirder choice and then the second they call cut, he grabs your hand and hugs you because he just loves to play. He’s the most playful actor that I’ve ever worked with.
We know that Michael is some sort of being, but what would you classify Janet as?
I always have a hard time with this, because I think of her in terms of almost being a robot, but Mike Schur does not. I would say that Janet is a robot, Mike would be like, “No, no, she’s not a robot.” So I’m off the robot thing. She’s not exactly a person, she’s not exactly a robot, she’s an informational system, like a human-looking informational system. To me, that is very much a robot, but I guess not. One day I asked Mike Schur what it would look like if you cut Janet open, because I’m like, “Would she be full of parts, would she be full of a computer, would she be blood and guts, what would she be?” And he was like, “I think she’d be some sort of opalescent shiny stone,” which I loved so much. I was like, “I need to see that, I need an episode where Janet gets cut in half and we see what’s inside of her.”
Will we get to meet other Janets?
I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, I do know the answer to that, but if you recall in [a recent] episode, Michael said Janet plural, he said “Janets,” he said, “It’s only for Janets and blah blah blah,” which a lot of people noticed on Twitter, because I got a few little tweets about that. That seems like a fun idea, to see more than one Janet. It seems like Mike Schur likes to have fun, don’t you think?
How do you think you compare to Janet?
I do think I have a little bit of the Janet thing as far as when she has a hard time not correcting people because she knows the right answer. She doesn’t even think of it as correcting people, she’s just like, “Oh, the actual answer is whatever it is.” I have that a little bit, where I recently was with some friends, a group of maybe five friends, and somebody referred to Christie Brinkley as Christine Binkey or something like that; they just messed up both words. He said, “Billy Joel’s old wife, Christine Binkey.” And everyone was like, “Yep, uh huh.” And I looked around like, “What the hell?” And I couldn’t help myself, I was like, “Do you mean Christie Brinkley?” That was a little bit of a Janet move, although she would do it with such grace, she would be like, “Oh, the correct answer is…” And I was like, “You idiot.” I guess I have a little bit of Janet, but I’m much more judgmental. We should all learn from Janet, so un-judgmental.
If you are somewhat similar to Janet, what is the square root of 456,766?
Well, the answer is…
How quickly you can pull out your calculator?
Sh– [Laughs]. D’Arcy brain can’t even retain the number you just said.
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.