Colleen Hayes/NBC
December 06, 2018 at 09:01 PM EST

In Thursday’s stellar, bizarro episode of The Good Place, D’Arcy Carden shined as Janet. And as Jason, too. Plus, Eleanor. Also: Chidi. Oh, and don’t forget Tahani!

Yes, the extremely pleasant, ultra capable, not-a-robot named Janet devised a clever plan to hide the already-doomed quartet in her stark white void, also known as a subdimension outside of space and time at the nexus and consciousness and matter, tethered to her essence. This action did not come without glitchy consequence, though, as it rendered each member of the Soul Squad as Janet look-alikes/sound-alikes, which Janet was able to only semi-remedy by outfitting each one in their usual clothes. What resulted was a trippy journey into the self, a rekindling of romance between Eleanor (Kristen Bell, eventually) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and an absurdly perfect comedy showcase for Carden (who will play Gretchen Carlson’s executive producer in the Jay Roach-directed Roger Ailes movie, and will return to Barry and Broad City).

Meanwhile, as the foursome worked out their issues alongside accidental adorable puppies, actual Janet and Michael (Ted Danson) journey to the afterlife accounting department, which was run by cake-obsessed head accountant Neil (Stephen Merchant), who was assisted by Neutral Janet (played by more Carden). There, the duo learned that the Bad Place had somehow rigged the points system so that no one had been admitted into the Good Place in 521 years, and all six members of Team Cockroach locked themselves in the special room with the pneumatic tube that goes directly to the Good Place and shot themselves into what appears to be profanity-free paradise. Before the just-renewed show goes next level in its January return, let’s speak with the Good Place breakout who took you to comedy heaven in this episode.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So… that was suitably bonkers. What was the first thing that popped into your surely melted mind when Mike [Schur, the show’s creator] pitched you this episode?
I remember just being stunned. I remember putting my whole entire hand over my face and sort of peeking out between two fingers, like not sure if I could even face it. I knew months ahead of time, and so it was like this big exciting, terrifying thing that was coming up that I was equal parts couldn’t wait to dive into and also hoped someone would change their mind. I was thrilled at the chance to do it and also can’t explain how overwhelmed with gratitude that they would even trust me with something like this — “they” being Mike and the writers and producers. I texted Mike just the other day, “I’ll never get over you guys trusting me with this.”

How did you prepare for this episode? Were you studying mannerisms of the other characters from previous episodes like game film — or is it mostly just institutional character knowledge for you?
It’s a little bit of both. If they said, “You’re doing this tomorrow” and I had no preparation, I would know what to do because I know these characters so well, and I know the actors so well. I almost think any fan of the show could tap into the different mannerisms and little quirks that each character has, but I had months to watch them and study them. I creepily lurked a lot, especially when we were filming. I either would not be in the scene, or we were rehearsing the scene, and I would find myself standing like them or whispering their lines back to myself — weird little creepy things that I’m sure was very off-putting for my castmates. They were like, “Why are you turning into such a creep all of the sudden?”…  The editing team put together — did you say “game tape?”

Yes, like in football — studying and breaking down footage from previous games or practice.
That is exactly what they did. They made me a little reel of each character, the way they would walk, the way they would sit the way they would point to something. Things like that are super helpful, but they also can get you in your head a little bit. It was nice to have some prep time, and I definitely took advantage of the prep time and sort of lost my little mind in the process.

The most helpful things that I found — we did do one in-costume rehearsal on the void stage with each actor. So Kristen playing Eleanor, Will playing Chidi, et cetera. Everybody had scripts in hands — it was just very informal — but they filmed it and then the editing team cut it together like a real episode and they sent it to me the next day…. I had game tape, and then I had this rehearsal that I could watch back and see how Kristen puts her hands in her back pockets or whatever. And then I recorded that rehearsal on my phone so that I could listen to it constantly, so I could memorize [it]. Even just the memorizing of this episode was daunting. In the days leading up to it, I truly didn’t do anything else but just listen to it. I was driving down Sunset, listening to it full-blast in my car, and then I spotted William Jackson Harper just walking down the street. So I pulled over and rolled my window down and blasted what I was listening to. He came up to my window and heard his own voice bellowing back at him and he was like, “Oh no, you’ve gone crazy, you’re losing your mind, I’m so sorry.”

What was the biggest challenge in bringing this whole episode to life?
The biggest challenge was acting opposite a pole with a piece of tape on it. You kind of lose your mind a little bit. Not to mention that we’re in a big white room, so your brains are tripping out anyway. Any actor wants an acting partner. I need it. It felt like a new way of acting that I hadn’t experienced before, so I had to wrap my brain around it. Ted is in that first scene with me, so he had the experience of acting opposite four poles with tape on them, and after he was done, he was like, “Oh, no, no, no, this is not for me. Good luck, I don’t want to do this anymore.” [Laughs]… I did have to adjust to that, and we had some really amazing stand-ins wearing Janet wigs and Janet costumes. They were all incredible and so, so helpful. But we couldn’t always use them; very often it was just a pole with a tennis ball or tape on it. I don’t know if I can accurately explain how helpful, more than helpful [everyone was], from Morgan [Sackett], the director, to the costume department. It was very long, crazy hours and everybody was losing their mind, but it was such a good vibe on set. It was one of the best weeks of my life. It truly was. I even remember thinking, “I don’t know if I ever want to watch this episode because I don’t want anything to change my memory of how great this week was.”

Michael Schur

Which character was hardest for you to nail down — and which was the easiest?
Jason [Manny Jacinto] and Tahani [Jameela Jamil] were on the easier side. Jason was the most fun for sure, without a doubt. If I could just switch roles with Manny from now on, I would do that. And yeah, maybe Manny would want to put on the Janet outfit, I would not mind seeing that…. I would say Kristen is so subtle, her little things were very hard. She does so much in such subtle ways that you don’t really know if you’re capturing it or not. Will was extremely hard. I could hear him in my head, and I couldn’t do him, if that makes sense. We didn’t really want to do sketch-style impressions, SNL impressions. But you had to still know who each character was. I was most frustrated playing Chidi because I could really see and hear him in my head, but not necessarily get it out.

One of the scenes that hurt my brain in the best way was when you’re playing Eleanor pretending to be Jason to get information from Chidi, who you’re also playing. What do you remember about pulling off the absurdity and complexity of that moment?
I mean, it’s so goofy. I’m sitting there as Eleanor playing Jason, or I guess as Janet, but I’m also not acting with anybody. I’m talking to myself like a lunatic. That might have been the scene that really broke my brain too because we’re not doing perfect impressions, we’re not doing over-the-top impressions, but also now there’s this other weird layer where I’m like, “I should be doing a sort of bad Jason, but not too bad so that the joke is given away.” It’s all a bit of a weird blur in my head. Morgan Sackett and the two writers, Josh [Siegal] and Dylan [Morgan] were so helpful. It was almost like the four of us were sharing a big weird brain. I relied on them so, so, so much… I would say a line and just look at them right away and be like, “Did we get it? Do it again? What do you think? Help me, help me.” That was definitely a fun one — not to mention getting to play Jason dressed as Eleanor in the background saying that he was “Arizona shrimp-horny.”

This episode is such a big swing. How nervous was everyone that this was viable? As great and ambitious as this idea was, did you ever discuss that you might have to abandon it if it doesn’t work?
I think everybody was extremely nervous. Definitely more nervous for this than we’ve ever been for any other episode, just because we’re like, “Will it even work?” I will say that I trust Mike Schur with everything I have, with my life, so when he’s —  I wouldn’t even say confident because he wasn’t necessarily confident about this — but when he got the idea and was like, “I want to do this weird thing,” I was like, “I will follow you to the ends of the earth. I trust you, I believe you. If you think we can do this, if you think I can do this, let’s just jump in.”

I remember the first day of filming; it was such a question mark. We wanted to try to get through something like four scenes that day, maybe five. We got through one scene. It just took so long, and there was so much more to it than we expected. They had definitely crossed every t and dotted every i. They were over-prepared, but still it was different than we thought it would be. With a different group of people, there would have been a lot of complaining and a lot of eye-rolling and a lot of grumbling under their breath, but there just wasn’t that. It was a bunch of people saying to each other, “How can I help the job?” Everybody had the same goal to make this weird thing work. It was awesome, it was such an awesome experience.

As a big fan of the Medium Place, I was happy to meet Neutral Janet. How did you approach that role? Did you just pretend the light went out in your eyes?
Yes. I tried to think what would my face look like if I was dead.

Can you rank the three Janets — Good, Neutral, Bad — in order of how fun they are to play?
Good Janet, No. 1. Bad Janet, No. 2. Neutral Janet, No. 3. But it’s so close. It’s almost like 1, 1.5, it is so close. We had a whole weird walk that Neutral Janet had that we don’t really get to see. We definitely found some fun weird things for Neutral Janet. Who knows if we’ll ever see her again, but I definitely enjoyed that new version. And then Bad Janet is just such a thrill. It feels like a little mean to be that mean to people, especially when the directors are like, “Improvise, be meaner to Ted Danson.” But it’s so freeing and fun. And then obviously I have such a soft spot and love for regular Janet. Janet Proper is what Mike Schur calls her.

NEXT PAGE: Carden on what happens now that they’re in the Good Place

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