What was the most challenging scene to pull off in season 1?
Probably the most challenging thing was the introduction, in the pilot, when me and Eleanor are getting to know each other. I don’t do a lot of volunteering of information about myself; I tend to kind of stay quiet and let other people talk most of the time except for right now. So it took a second for me to actually get into that mode of just open and smiley and that’s not where I live most of the time. That was a good jumping off point for the whole character — to be this guy who’s not necessarily shy and quiet, which is where I am most of the time.
What do you consider the quintessential scene for Chidi, one that told us everything we needed to know about the character?
I’ve got two of them. There’s one scene where I wind up in this boat with a bottle of wine and some French poetry in the middle of a lake, and I don’t know how to row a boat and I don’t know how to get back to shore. I thought that’s what I wanted, and it totally turned out to be not what I wanted. Sometimes the idea of the thing that you love and you want and you like is not actually the reality of it, and I feel like Chidi in life was so tortured and so indecisive that he didn’t really have a whole lot of time to just enjoy stuff, so here’s this thing, like, “Yeah, I like this! Actually, you know what? Nope, never mind. I don’t like this. This is freaking me out.” And then there’s the episode where it turns out that real Eleanor [Tiya Sircar] and Eleanor and Tahani [Jameela Jamil] all say that they love me, and the panic that Chidi felt at making a choice and hurting somebody’s feelings or making the wrong choice, that is essentially the core of who he is, because that’s what landed him in the quote-unquote Good Place in the first place.
You didn’t find out about that the-Good-Place-is-actually-the-Bad-Place twist until just before the finale. What was your first reaction, besides anger at Kristen, Ted, and [creator] Mike Schur for hiding that from you and your castmates? And did being in the dark help you in a way?
I actually was profoundly sad for the characters. I wasn’t sure about a lot of the things about all of us that pointed to, “Maybe these people aren’t as good as they seem to be. Is this the idea of goodness enough to get you into paradise? These people don’t seem good to me. They seem like they’re rigid, and they seem like they’re moralizing types, and they have some pretty nasty flaws that they haven’t let go.” So there was always something there that I was like, “This is strange but we’ll see.” I was sad that these people who were trying [to be good] wound up in hell. They just made mistakes. No one took them aside and said, “What you are is not good for other people. You’re not bringing any happiness into the world by being who you are, you’re actually making people miserable.”
It was good not to know until the very end. It’s just part of the character to not know. In a way, it’s like Ted, Kristen, and Mike made me a Method actor against my will, which is great! Who knows what I would have done? It could have been that I would have started to make choices that make certain things a little bit more clear or foreshadowed things. You make those little choices that are too clever by half sometimes.
And what was your second reaction to the twist?
Then I was like, “Oh, these scripts went from really fun and funny to being exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing. The concept — we wait for 13 episodes to get that twist — it was definitely like a “Bravo, Mike! Bravo, writers!” for stringing us along that well and having us wait for this huge twist at the end… I mean, the show is so sweet for so long and then there’s this really dark turn at the end and that’s my favorite thing. All of the sudden it went from being sort of a rom com to a Terry Gillam movie — and it’s great! Now it opens up the world to everything, and now there’s really no telling what can happen. Anything can happen.
It’s one thing to find out that Eleanor and Jason are doomed to hell, but it’s a harsh realization to learn that Chidi was too. He’s so well-intentioned and, sure, his indecision cost people dearly and he was selfish in a way telling his dying friend about the boots, but it just seemed so dark that he would have the same fate as them. Did that surprise you too?
It did. It’s sort of a harsh rubric for everyone to be held to. But honestly, a lot of those questions in this next season will explore that a lot more — why those things were so damning for Chidi and why things are so harsh. A lot of those questions will be answered, to some degree.
What new shades of Chidi can we expect in season 2?
The nervousness takes on a different tone because the world has changed. It’s not just simply ducking and dodging and running from Michael because now we know Michael, we know who he is. And it changes things. And in a way, it’s really interesting because the audience will probably know some things that the characters won’t know, and that does change things narratively, which is fun. It’s just fun for the audience to be ahead of the characters in that way, not necessarily in the way where we know exactly what’s going to happen, but in the way where the audience is aware that the characters don’t know, and watching them make mistakes or have their tiny victories.
EW put up a first look at season 2, which included a clam chowder fountain. Anything you can say about that? Is that as nasty as it looks?
It’s not a trick. It definitely is as disgusting up close as it will be onscreen. The face that I was making was the face of most of the crew around at the time looking at this thing. And I mean, that’s just the tip of the iceberg with the craziness and the weirdness of this season. It just gets weirder and stranger and funnier from there.
A cryptic hint about season 2?
Acupuncture and pigs.
Perfect. What is your personal opinion about frozen yogurt, by the way? Is it the devil’s work?
Yeah, because it tears me up on the inside. I’m like, “I kinda like the way it tastes, but I know that I’m settling, and then I get a stomach ache on top of that anyway?” It’s a big old loss for everything and everyone.