Midway through my interview with D’Arcy Carden, the Siri function on her iPhone randomly turns on, spooking us both. We’ve just been discussing her loveable character Janet from ‘The Good Place’, an artificial intelligence who has won hearts throughout the first two seasons of the show - and the fact that Apple's own version of artificial intelligence decides to join the party is something that plays on our minds for the rest of the interview.
With the third season of the show set to premiere this week on Netflix, we caught up with D’Arcy Carden in Los Angeles to talk about our mutual love of One Direction, and what to expect from the upcoming third season…
Fun fact: I like to stare into my dog's eyes until I cry.
COUP DE MAIN: We were just watching some of the panels from San Diego Comic Con, and saw that someone was dressed up as Janet - SOOO cute, right?
D’ARCY CARDEN: I’ve seen some guys, I’ve seen some girls. It’s very surreal, because Janet has this costume that she basically wears everyday, she has this uniform. She’s an easy one to cosplay as.
CDM: I saw some people dressed as Jason too.
D’ARCY: Yes! It’s so cute. At Comic Con, we saw at least one of everybody - some Michaels, a lot of people love to do the grey hair and tie. It was really thrilling and heartwarming - it’s a weird thing, it’s just not something you expect. It weirdly means a lot to you, though. When I saw these Janets at Comic Con, I felt so connected to them. <laughs> I couldn’t just walk by and be like, ‘Oh cool,’ I had to stop and talk to them and be like, ‘What’s your name, your story, tell me everything about you.’
CDM: We’re so excited about the new season of ‘The Good Place’! What can you tell us about the upcoming third season?
D’ARCY: It’s such a difficult question. If you like the show, I want to tell you everything, but on the other hand, you know that part of the show is the surprises. I’ll tell you this, and I don’t know if this is even telling you anything, but we had our wrap party the other night for Season 3, and you bring your husband or your wife or your sister. They showed a blooper reel of the season, and in the blooper reel there are so many spoilers, because everything from Episode 1 onwards is a spoiler. Manny [Jacinto], who plays Jason, his girlfriend Diane was like, ‘Even though I just saw 50 spoilers, I have no idea what any of them mean. Like, how did you get to this, or that scene, or when Eleanor [Kristen Bell] looked like that, or when Janet looked like that? I don’t know how you got there so it’s not a real spoiler.’ Truly, if I told you what Episode 10 was, sure it would be a spoiler, but out of context it would make no sense - which is one of the things that I love about the show, how the writers churn through storylines so quickly. It’s not like, ‘Season 3 takes place in blah blah blah,’ it’s like, ‘Season 3, every episode is different.’ They trust the audience to be on-board with them, and be on this fast-moving train with them.
CDM: After two seasons I feel like they know the audience really well.
D’ARCY: Totally. It seems like at this point, you’re probably not going to jump in at Season 3. So, you’ve either watched in real time or binge watched the first two seasons, and now we’re all caught up and ready to rock. What can I tell you though? We ended Season 2 with Eleanor and Chidi [William Jackson Harper] meeting each other on Earth in Australia. Michael [Ted Danson] and Janet are watching them from afar, and you can assume that we’ll see some of that - their goal is that the humans are trying to meet up. Michael and Janet are trying to make it so that the humans all meet up. I love a story like that, and it happened in the first two seasons where they kept reconnecting, something was pulling them together, and there’s something very magical and almost romantic about that to me.
CDM: It must be so fun playing both Good Janet and Bad Janet - how do you get into the two different headspaces of the two different characters?
D’ARCY: Really different characters! I feel like with Good Janet there’s so many shades of her - you have rebooted Janet, you have drunk-on-magnets Janet - and I get to play all these different versions of Good Janet, but I don’t think of Bad Janet as a version of Good Janet. I think of her as the complete opposite end of the spectrum, she is the opposite of Janet. It is like playing a totally different character, which, when I got this job, I didn’t know if I would get to play Bad Janet, it wasn’t part of the deal. When I first got the job, Mike Schur (the show creator) took me through the first half of the season and he mentioned this Bad Janet character, and I was really crossing my fingers, but not wanting to rock the boat. I don’t get to play Bad Janet that much, but when I do, it’s so fun. I love the costume, I love the wig, the stupid make-up and the stupid nails, and just getting to play that surly teenager character that I don’t usually get to play is so fun. Honestly, I wish I could do it more. I wish that Bad Janet was in it more. Both of them feel very ‘in me’ now, you know? When you sit with a character for so long, it feels like home when you put those costumes on, which is such a great feeling that I haven’t had before. It’s just the best.
CDM: It’s such a fantastical comedy show, but it’s also interesting in a world where Artificial Intelligence is actually developing. Do you think in the future there will be real Janets?
D’ARCY: Doesn’t it seem like we’re heading that way? It’s not that far away.
CDM: I just watched ‘Ex Machina’ the other day.
D’ARCY: Yes! I love that movie. When I was preparing for this role, I watched that movie, and I think ‘Pinocchio’ is a big Janet inspiration - wanting to please Geppetto and be a real boy. I’ve always had a real soft spot for these AI characters that have a little bit of humanity inside of them, and where they long to be real. I thought ‘Ex Machina’ was brilliant. It’s very dark and disturbing, and ‘The Good Place’ isn’t all that dark or disturbing, but there’s something similar about those characters.
CDM: It’s AI having the ability to develop actual emotions, which is not what people think is ever possible.
D’ARCY: Totally. But tell me if you have this, when I talk to Siri or Alexa, I feel like I need to say please and thank you. Not to be ridiculous, but I almost want to ask her about how she’s doing.
CDM: They’re designed to feel human, like a friend.
D’ARCY: Right. I don’t like to order Siri around, it feels weird to just be like, ‘Play my music.’
CDM: It’s a bit like servitude.
D’ARCY: It is! I think that’s why I want to say please and thank you, and I want to be like, ‘And how do you feel about that?’ But then she inevitably says something more robotic. But I do think we’re getting closer and closer, which is ultimately terrifying, because they’ll take over the world.
CDM: Janet kind of has all the answers for facts you want to know. Do you ever wish you could ask Janet something, and if so, what would you ask?
D’ARCY: Totally. While I was driving here, I was like, ‘I don’t know a tonne about New Zealand, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing or be offensive in any way,’ so on the drive I was like, ‘Hey Siri, tell me about New Zealand.’ All she did was make my map go to New Zealand. <laughs> So if I had a Janet I would just be like, ‘Tell me all about…’ - for example, ‘Tell me about New Zealand,’ but also, I think as an adult, you have these moments where you realise you should’ve paid more attention in school. I think my capacity or willingness to learn is greater now, the further I get away from school. So now that I’m away from that, I’m like, ‘I wish I knew more about that war,’ or, ‘What is economics exactly?’ So I would love to have a nice friendly Janet who could give me mini lessons. Chidi would be nice for that too.
CDM: What's your favourite Janet-ism (i.e. Janet quote)? Ours is: "Love isn't a triangle. It's a five dimensional blob."
D’ARCY: I do love when she gives you the, “Not a girl, not a robot, not a woman, not a lady.” I also loved, “I’m luggage!” <laughs>
CDM: I loved when she kept giving Michael cacti.
D’ARCY: I loved that so much. I could talk about the writers and Mike Schur all day, I’m obsessed with them, but reading that gag in the script, I was like, ‘How are they this good?’ It’s almost so simple, but I know how it’s gonna look on screen and I know it’s gonna work. By the way, we did more cacti that didn’t make it. When I watched it back the first time I remember being sort of bummed, and then watching it again and being like, ’No, that was perfect. That was the right amount.’
CDM: Janet is into sharing fun facts. What's your favourite fun fact about yourself?
D’ARCY: Let’s see… I have a few. Fun fact: I play on a basketball team. Fun fact: I’ve watched every episode of ‘Friends’ at least ten times. But maybe everybody has, that’s universal. Fun fact: I like to stare into my dog's eyes until I cry.
CDM: Your dog is so cute!
D’ARCY: I almost brought her. I should’ve.
CDM: In your GQ feature you shared that the writers told you, “We trust you if you make a decision about Janet." What’s it been like becoming so involved with your own character? It doesn’t seem like that happens with a lot of acting roles!
D’ARCY: It’s a funny thing, because it’s so mutual. I wouldn’t veer out of the structure that they’ve given me, but it’s a mutual respect thing. I know if I did something with Janet, they would give me that freedom to do it, but I’m also thinking of them with every move I make. It’s this weird brain share that we have. Even though there is a lot of freedom, I am limiting myself so much to the structure that we’ve already given her. She has such a strict set of rules, but the thing that started happening at the end of Season 2 is that with her discovering that she had been in love with, or is maybe still in love with Jason, it sort of broke those rules apart, in a way that perhaps we explore in Season 3… It’s so fun to play a character with a strict set of rules--
CDM: But the rules are changing.
D’ARCY: Exactly. It’s scary, occasionally we’ll do something where I’ll be like, ‘Janet wouldn’t do that!’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh, she would now.’ We discovered it in the episode ‘Janet and Michael’ where Michael realised that he can’t self-destruct Janet into a marble because they’re friends. That was one where I felt we pushed emotions a little bit further in a way where I was like, ‘This isn’t what Janet would do,’ but then as soon as we did it, I was like, ‘No, that’s exactly what would happen,’ because she’d never been in that situation before.
CDM: As well as 'The Good Place', you’re also in the HBO show Barry, which has been renewed for Season 2. How is working on that show with Bill Hader?
D’ARCY: It’s a dream. I love Bill, and I’ve loved him for many years, as we all have. I have the added weird history of being his nanny for many years. I nannied for his kids for many years, so we almost have this family relationship, we know each other on a family level, and we had never worked together before, so now we have this new relationship which is really special. Having our history together, it’s just like getting the chance to work with your brother. We really had something extremely special on that show, the cast fell in love with each other. On the last day of shooting, we couldn’t leave. It was like summer camp, people were crying, we were just hanging out in the parking lot, no one wanted to leave. It was an unnecessarily late night.
CDM: The cast and crew of 'The Good Place' just announced the other day The Good Cause, where you guys are all matching donations up to $25,000 to KIND (Kids In Need of Defense), which provides high quality legal services to immigrant children, ensuring that no child appears in an immigration court without an attorney. It’s really cool seeing a TV show unite on a level like this for such a current cause - how did that cause come about?
D’ARCY: It feels so good to be part of a show that would do that, and also it didn’t surprise me at all when I heard that we were doing that. The leaders of our show - Mike Schur, Kristen Bell, Ted Danson - are these amazing, wonderful people that are constantly giving back and looking for ways to help, and they all have their own charities that they’re all involved in and that they get us involved in, and they’re real people that have real concerns about the world. When I heard that we were doing that I was like, ‘This is so right up our alley.’ There’s a million reasons that I’m proud to be a part of this show, and that is one of them - that it’s a bunch of good people that want to do good. It makes me very proud of the show. When you’re a struggling actor, you just sort of take what jobs come your way, and sometimes it’s not a great script, sometimes the people are lame, sometimes the showrunner is a jerk, whatever it is, but with ‘The Good Place’ and with ‘Barry’ and with ‘Broad City’, I’m so lucky. I think I struggled for what feels like decades, in order to get to be a part of three shows that are truly, deeply, what I would hope and pray for.
CDM: We know you are a Harry Styles fan, but does that love extend to the rest of One Direction as well?
D’ARCY: It really does. I’ve been a longtime Niall Horan fan, and it pains me to my very core that I didn’t get to see him live the last two nights. The fact that Niall was at The Greek and I wasn’t, was very painful.
CDM: He lives in Los Angeles now, so there’s hope you can see him again!
D’ARCY: We’ve met briefly a couple of times. One time was a few years ago, we were both at a James Bay concert, and I knew he was there because I could feel an electricity in the air. We were both backstage afterwards, I saw him, I was with my friend Drew and my husband Jason, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to say anything, I’m going to let him live his life.’ As I’m saying this, he walks by, and this deep booming voice came out of me and I was like, ‘Hello, Niall!’ He was so sweet. For some reason, it helped that I wasn’t by myself, and Jason and Drew had a very calming effect on him.
CDM: What is it that you love about One Direction?
D’ARCY: First of all, I wish I could explain it. I don’t know. I have never felt the way I feel about One Direction about any other band, or any boyband. I think I found them in 2012, well into my adult life - I was not a teenager in 2012 - and they just rocked my world in a way that I can’t quite explain it. And if I could explain it, I would have found a way to stop it, but I can’t. It overtook my life, and their hiatus is good for me. I needed a break. And it’s so fun to watch them do their solo thing, I’m so proud of Niall, this is exactly what I thought he would do. He’s so talented, he loves performing, that seems like his comfort zone. Same with Harry [Styles], they both love being on stage. [One Direction] reminded me of boys that I knew that I loved, they were very nostalgic for me, it’s hard to put my finger on.
'The Good Place' Season 3 is out now on Netflix - watch a sneak peek for the new season below...