There are biographical commonalities when it comes to people that gravitate toward a stage and the company of other theater kids, comedy nerds, and creative weirdos. Tons of celebrity profiles touch on those foundational years of acting out, getting labeled the “class clown,” and discovering the magic of the spotlight hitting for the first time; how good and right it feels and how it’s a predictor for more grown and financially rewarding versions. D’Arcy Carden knows this, which is why she jokes that she probably sounds annoying when answering my questions about her early on-stage experiences and inspirations. Things that sparked a career that seems to be hitting a new level with an Emmy nomination for her beloved performance as Janet on The Good Place and the pick up for her next ensemble project, the reimaging of A League Of Their Own as a series for Amazon. But it’s not annoying, at least not the way she tells it.
To hear Carden talk about acting feels the same as listening to someone talking about how they fell in love with their soul mate. I know saying that kind of cliched thing should get me thrown in writer jail, but it’s true. From the time she saw her father on stage at a community theater production and took it to mean she too could get up there to rejecting the thought that she needed to find a fallback, and her time in UCB, Carden has been falling deeper and deeper in love with performing and working with other performers. In the following interview, we talk about that, what the new normal might look like when it comes to on-set camaraderie, and how she feels about individual accolades like that Emmy nomination. We also take a nuanced look at The Good Place finale and whether she walked away from the show with any deep philosophical learnings.
What was your first experience on a stage?
The first experience I had on stage was in second grade. My school was doing the show You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I was cast as Lucy, which was a very big deal for me because the third graders were doing it too and I was only in second grade. It was really fun and great. Whatever age that is, I was like, “Yep, I was right. This is what I want to do.” I have such a clear memory of opening night, singing my big old song, and absolutely blowing it. Totally screwing up lyrics, looking at the pianist and being like, “What next,” and she fed the lyric, and onstage I was like, “But I already sang that one.”I remember the audience laughing in a way where I was like, “Oh, I like that.”
I remember, a few years later in junior high doing the talent show with some friends, just the usual lip-syncing to some song. We were doing the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon. I was dressed up as the bee girl. I went out to do my little beginning dance or whatever, and the music didn’t come on and I was sort of improvising, sort of making a joke to the audience or whatever. Being scared, like, “Shit, the music isn’t coming on. What do I do?” Whatever it was that I did or said, the audience laughed. And it was like breathing air for the first time. It was like, “Ah. Oh, that’s the best feeling. Okay. That’s the best feeling. I like that.” That kind of informed the rest of it, my life. I just never, ever decided to do anything else. Really, truly, even in high school and college where I’m like, “I know I should have a plan B. I know I should have the other idea if this doesn’t work out,” but I just couldn’t, didn’t, wouldn’t.
Between sports and plays and watching sitcoms that I loved, I knew I wanted to be in a funny ensemble. Then I went to theater school and did Shakespeare and stuff. I was sort of trying to figure it out. I sort of found my spot when I went to New York. I got involved with the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is the sketch and improv school in New York. That became my full obsession and my full life for basically a decade, a little more.
How does an Emmy nomination and that personal recognition hit you when you’re coming from this background where everything is the ensemble first and team first with UCB? Is it weird?
It is weird. Yeah. It totally is weird. Thank you for even allowing me to say that. I’m grateful. It’s very surreal. I’m sort of stunned by it all. It’s such a weird thing to say [that] it’s not a nomination for me, it’s a nomination for all of us, but it really is. The show is an ensemble. It’s about the group. It’s not even just the six of us. It’s Mark Evan Jackson and Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Brandon Scott Jones and Maya Rudolph and all the people that make our show great. Don’t even get me started on the writers and the crew. It’s such a group effort. It does feel a little embarrassing or whatever to be singled out. But it’s just so nice. It’s just so sweet. It makes you feel like you’re getting a big warm hug.
The thing that was so thrilling is that William [Jackson Harper] got it as well. I was watching the announcement. During the announcement, during the Emmy announcements, they don’t mention the supporting actors and actresses. They just say the shows and the leads. I didn’t even have to worry about hearing anything about my category. I got to see that The Good Place was nominated and Ted was nominated. I was so happy. Then I got a text that I was nominated and then I heard that Will was nominated. It was such a fun surprise. I was in full shock when I heard that I was nominated. Then when I heard that Will was nominated, I was screaming and jumping up and down and talking to him and yelling into the camera.
With the finale of the show, when you find out about that, are you instantly okay with that ending or did it take you a minute to kind of accept it and get to where you were right with it?
I really, really loved the ending as soon as I heard about it. The thing I wasn’t okay with was ending the show. That’s what I was bummed about. Not to say I wasn’t okay with it. I was like, “I trust you, Mike [Schur]. I trust that you’re making the right decision. I wish we were doing a couple more seasons of it, but I get it.” When he told me what the season was going to look like, but more importantly what that finale was going to look like and what the last scene was going to look like and what the last line was going to be, I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s totally correct. You are right. That’s it. That’s the end.” I was fully onboard. When he told me that the last line of the show was going to be “take it sleazy,” I burst out crying. Then I went home and I told my husband, and he burst out crying. I knew it was, for people that love the show like we do, it was the right move.
You have a little bit more weight to carry in that finale because you’re basically having to say individual goodbyes to every character, both you for your character, and for us really. How that was filmed, logistically? Was that towards the beginning of the production of the episode? Was that the very end thing? Is Mike Schur that evil?
Great question. It was a bit of torture, but it was also so beautiful to end that way. Our last day of filming was in the redwoods in Northern California. It’s beautiful. I mean, just a breathtakingly beautiful location. Yes. We were saying goodbye to each other in character and as real people. It was terrible, but it was amazing. It was really beautiful.
But you had to do it four times! Everybody else did it once. You had to do it four times.
I know, dude!
That’s a lot.
I know. I know, and I’m by far the one that cries the most. He [Schur] knew that going into it. He knew that I was going to cry and that I was going to ruin takes because Janet shouldn’t cry and I would cry. Saying goodbye with Ted, he went through a different door to go back to Earth. That was a couple of days before our last day. That one was equally as rough, but I knew I was going to at least see him at work the next day. The hard part was saying goodbye to them. Actually, the truth is, we were all saying goodbye to each other in the redwoods, and then we had a work event the next morning. It was like, “Goodbye. I mean, see you tomorrow, but goodbye. See you also because we’re all friends and live near each other and see you in a couple of days anyway and talk to you in five minutes.” But still, it’s this whole thing, this whole show, this whole world we created coming to an end. That was what was so heartbreaking. It was definitely felt in the lines we were saying to each other.
The way I look at the finale… I’m in the middle on a few things. This is going to be schmaltzy, but I’ll say it anyway.
The very end, if you’re at the end of the universe and you’ve got nothing but time, it’s hard for me to imagine (and of course it’s impossible to imagine), that I would be able to be like, “You know what? I’m good. Bye, soulmate.” I’ve been with my wife for 17 years. It would be hard for me to be like, “I’m just going to bounce and see what’s in the great beyond.”
I know. I know.
Do you view that ending through the prism of your own relationship too or am I just way in my head about it?
No. No. I feel you. To me, that’s kind of the genius of this finale, is that I think the easiest way to end the show would be like, “and they all lived happily ever after in a big juicy rainbow in the sky.” But it was like, “let’s take that one step beyond. What happens when you’ve been in the good place for an eternity?” We explore it so much in the last couple of episodes. “Then what?” Even in eternity, the best thing becomes old at some point. It just was like, oof. That was such a gut punch to me. The line that Chidi said to Eleanor when he says, I guess they say it to each other, basically like, “The Good Place is just more time with the people you love.” I honestly could cry right now just talking about this. That scene is killing me, and honestly it’s killing me right now in this particular time when we’re all sort of, yeah, having to be away from our loved ones. I’m five hours away from my parents. I can’t see them. You know what I mean? It’s that type of thing where it’s just time is passing by and we’re getting less time with the people we love, which is just really messing with me.
I think the end is not 100% happy, even though I think ultimately it is. It’s really hard to take. It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s a hard reality to grasp. I don’t think it’s like, “ah yes, perfect, and now I feel good about all this. It’s like, shit, that’s it? Chidi’s done? He’s just done? How can he be done? She’s not done.” It makes you think. That’s kind of a dumb way to say it, but it does. I know Manny [Jacinto] said that when he heard what the finale was going to be, when Mike told him everything, he got in his car and called the parents and was like, “I love you.” I wish you could talk to Ted [Danson] about this. Because and Mary [Steenburgen] have been together for a long time and they’re older than you and I are. He really had some cool insights about the ending and sort of how perfect it is. Him saying, “I really hope that’s what it’s like,” really made me sort of deeply happy.
It’s an interesting thing to consider. The show was so good at sparking these philosophical conversations, so of course, it would exit with the same kind of thing. In terms of philosophy and thoughts about the afterlife and things of that nature, is that something that you considered during the show? Did it open your mind to some new things?
I do think it opened my mind, for sure. Even just from scene one or reading that first script. Honestly, when I read the first script, I didn’t know what the twist was going to be. The first half of the first season, most of us, four of us, not Ted and Kristen [Bell], we weren’t in on the twist. I was sort of taking it all at face value and the point system and all that stuff. It made me think and it was really in my head a lot. Then as the season progressed and all these big, huge ideas were explored, yes, for sure, it crept in. I mean, I will also admit that I tried to read some of these books and I can’t do it. I am not Chidi. I am not a good student. I’m like, “Oh, these are a lot of words that I can’t understand.” I really appreciate Mike and the writers kind of dumbing it down for us because I don’t know how else I could have understood all this stuff. Will and Kristen did a lot of reading. They’re the heroes. The writers, that goes without saying. They had to read so much, but Will and Kristen really understood what they were talking about. Whereas, me? I just read the lines and hit my mark, baby. [Laughs]
Congratulations on the League of Their Own pickup. How are you looking at that process? Is it with kind of grim acceptance of there being a new normal that makes it hard to be near people and establish camaraderie for a little while or is it just excitement about the idea of getting to create again?
I definitely am so excited to get to create again and be with the cast and do all the things that I love about acting. Just the simple things like sitting in your cast chairs while they’re setting up the scene and talking, those things are what I love. I love working with other creative people, actors and writers and the crew. It’s really my favorite place to be. Like, I think everybody, the kind of unknown of it all stresses me out and the will it ever be the same of it all stresses me out and sort of worries me and sort of makes me sad. I think I’m also overly optimistic that things will kind of go back to normal. I know that that I might wish I wasn’t that way because I might be rudely awakened. I think everybody just wants to do what we do. I think like it’ll be there for a little while for sure, but I think… God, I don’t know.
Yeah, it’s hard. Because everything you talk about, about sitting with the cast and everything like that, it’s like, is that reality for right now or is it just going to be everyone kind of cordoned off? It’s really weird and scary to think about it.
It might take a while. Who knows what it will look like? The best part of this job is each other. You know what I mean? Without a doubt. It’s fun to go to the Emmy’s or get a nomination. The Hollywood-y sort of glamorous glitzy part of it is fun, for sure, but without a doubt the best part of it is sort of falling in love with your castmates and your crew and your writers and creating a little family and a little world together. It’s the same feeling I had when I was in junior high doing a community theater play. It’s like, you just kind of want to stare in each other’s eyes and talk all day. Truly, when you distill down what actors do, it’s so goofy. We play pretend like little kids for a living, but it’s all we know or it’s what we’re good at or whatever. It’s so much more to be on a set than just the TV show you see. It’s drinking coffee with your makeup artists in the morning. There are so many pieces to it. It’s such a big team. The idea of it not being a team is so heartbreaking. I know everyone is trying to make it work. Hopefully, at some point, it’ll go back to normal.