Don’t yell at Siri, Alexa, or any other helpful computer in front of D’Arcy Carden. She will take it personally now that she’s playing Janet, a positive and invaluable aid to the humans in the Good Place. The UCB alum landed her dream job when she was cast on Mike Schur’s latest NBC comedy, The Good Place, but all she knew when she was auditioning was who was attached to the show. In a phone call with Vulture, Carden talked about the secrecy around the audition, the twist in the season-one finale, and how she filmed the scenes where Janet kept falling on her face. Carden even sent us an exclusive behind-the-scenes video. She’s so helpful!
Did you listen to computer-helper voices like Siri and Alexa to calibrate how Janet would sound?
Yeah, I did actually. The hard thing is you don’t want Janet to sound like a robot in that stilted way that robots talk. I didn’t want it to sound anything like that, but there is something vaguely human about the way they talk that’s inspired, especially Alexa. I heard her voice for the first time at a party right when I was about to start doing Janet, and I was like, Ooh. I like that. I like the way she sounds. She’s very positive and warm. Ooh! Janet!
Is it triggering when people yell at Alexa?
Alex, yes. It is. It totally is. At this particular party, it was a birthday party, and the girl was bringing the cake out and music was playing and she screamed at Alexa to turn the music off and it was absolutely triggering. I wanted to like stick up for this poor little machine woman. She was like ALEXA, TURN THE MUSIC OFF. I felt more on Alexa’s side than the birthday girl.
What did you read during the audition process? I assume you read sides, but were they scenes from the first season?
I’d never done an audition like this before. For one, we didn’t get a script. And two, the sides were fake. So occasionally you’ll audition for something and they won’t send you the whole script because it’s top secret or it’s not done yet, but this one, there was no script to be read. You couldn’t find it anywhere. No agents, no managers, nobody had it. And the sides were: I was playing an operator at a hotline for broken dolls. So the scene was basically me answering a bunch of different calls where different people would have a problem with the doll they bought—the eye would pop off or the hair was coming out—and I would just have a very easy solution. So it makes perfect sense: It is a very Janet-esque character, but there was no indication that she was not a human. There was no robot element to it at all, not in the character description or anything. So I just got this impression that she was a helpful, positive woman and that felt really fun and easy to play.
After the first audition, it was more of the same. The final test was that scene and another scene. It was literally two full pages of dialogue. There was another person in the scene that asked one question at the top, and then two pages of a monologue, where I was giving the person directions to the bathroom in a high school. It was things like, “Turn left at the second door.” But then it was also things like, “You’re going to pass the officer of the janitor and the janitor is in a fight with this teacher.” It felt like you could read it as gossip, but she wasn’t judging anybody, she was just stating facts.
What did you know about the show at the time?
It’s so funny to look back on it now. I didn’t know what the show was about. All I knew is that Ted [Danson] and Kristen [Bell] were doing it. I wonder if Mike and Drew Godard had explained that she was a Siri-like character if I would have played it any different. I’m sure the worry is that the auditioners would play her robotic and that’s not what they wanted. So it was only after I got the job the next day when they explained her. They sat me down and explained the whole first half of the season and up through my relationship with Jason, and then they stopped. It was such a different way to get a job. I’m such a longtime Mike Schur fan that the fact that there wasn’t a script didn’t even come into play. I was a million percent in. I would have paid them to let me do it. It was my full-on dream job. Still is.
In the most recent episode, we learn that Janet has now been rebooted 802 times and that she might be the most advanced Janet in the universe. I assume this is something we’re going to see come into play for this season.
That seems like a good assumption. Mike’s a smart boy. As we saw with season one, he’s so good with foreshadowing and setting things up in such a fun, smooth, tricky way, and he definitely has done that again with this season. The places we go in this season is astounding to me. This group of writers and Mike Schur really are super-geniuses. It’s hard to even be friends with them because they’re so smart. I feel like the writers are in my brain. Every time I would read a script, it was already in my voice. Every week getting those scripts I would just like devour them. I would like scream. My husband, who has told me over and over again that he doesn’t want spoilers, would be in the other room and he’s like, ‘Don’t tell me, don’t tell me, unless you can tell me. If you can tell me, tell me, but don’t tell me.’
This is the weirdest character I’ve ever played by the way. It’s so much more difficult than I thought it would be, or that I would have assumed it would be.
I don’t know if it’s because I love her so much, but I don’t want to play her one-dimensionally. I’m so afraid of playing her like a robot, but then also how human can I play her? I have to take structure that Mike has set up very seriously. I always ask Mike what the inside of Janet would look like, not that that really matters, but what would she look like if you cut her open? I don’t even know. We’ve joked about it before. I don’t even know if he really knows, but I was wondering if it would be like a machine inside? Would it be like a glowing rock? Would it be gooey? What would it be like? And I told him I would want to see what it would look like if we cut Janet in half. People deserve to know.
So there’s a delightful video where Kristen Bell is filming your reaction as Mike Schur tells you the big twist of season one. What was your reaction in that moment, because I felt like you were like, ‘Okay, and then what happens?’
Totally. It hit me the same way I guess it hit you and whoever watched it. It really shocked me instantly the second he said they’re not in the Good Place, they’re in the Bad Place. My heart dropped, but also I was excited. I went from, “Oh my god, this is such a good twist” to “This is so sad. This is very tragic, I feel so sad for these four people who are now stuck in this horrible place.” My heart was especially broken for Chidi for some reason. I just felt like Chidi was such a good dude, like he only means well and the thought of it truly almost brought me to tears. I kept saying, But what about Chidi? What about Chidi? Mike is good at keeping secrets, so he just took us through the end of that episode and we had to wait until we started shooting season two to hear where it was going to go.
Who did you watch the season-one finale with? Did you just stare at their faces?
Yes. I went to Kristen Bell’s house and it was a couple of the writers and our significant others, so Dax and my husband Jason, and then Megan Amram, a writer, and Jen Stasky, a writer, and all of our dudes. So it was like we had this little secret. It was thrilling to watch them. I wanted to pause and be like, “Did you know?! What do you think?” But also I didn’t want to ruin their experience. It was a blast. It was so fun to watch them watch it, and then just watch them unravel. Because that’s what it is, right? It’s that gut punch of “Whoa!” and then you just want to think back on every single thing that had happened that season, and what does that mean for next season? It just changes everything.
I had a realization when I was rewatching the finale. I was like, “Oh. The Good Place is about Twitter.” Or it’s like an analogy for Twitter. Because you go in and think, “Oh, this is great. It’s like democracy in action.” But then you realize that this is actually hell and you just want to die.
Yes. Yes! That is so smart. What if that’s what the entire series finale is: We pull back and reveal some 15-year-old shitty kid just trolling some well-intentioned adults? The writer’s room is full of big tweeters, but people who have a love/hate relationship with Twitter, so I bet they would laugh if they heard that. Or maybe they would be sad. [Laughs.]
When you were being rebooted and you fell every single time, did you actually have to fall?
Okay, so I did. I had two guys behind me, these two amazing stunt guys that I love, and I have a vest on under my costume and then these two ropes behind me. So I am falling, but it’s almost like I’m falling in slow motion because they are lowering me down.
It’s harder to explain. I have a little video of it—a little behind-the-scenes video of it—on my phone that one of the costume people sent to me recently, and I was thinking about tweeting it the heck out just because I know it looks like I’m nose-diving every time. I’m sure that I could not get hurt doing it but because I’m such a cheesy actor, I love doing the stunts. I feel all revved up like I’m a little action hero, which obviously it’s nothing even dangerous, but I’m like, “Woo! I’ve got a vest on and I’m being lowered. This is all exciting.” And everybody’s always like so gentle and careful and “Are you okay?” The only complaint is that my knees would become raw because of the sand, but it was a small price to pay because that scene looks amazing.
Do you get strange pronunciations of your name because of the apostrophe?
I do. I even did yesterday, and I don’t usually correct people, but I boldly corrected someone and I felt like a jerk. She just went “Are you Dee-Arcy?” and I said, “It’s Darcy,” and then right away I was like, “Oh, shit. I’m a jerk.” Just let her have this.
It’s your name!
Oh right. That’s right. But can I tell you one thing about this name, Alex?
I added the apostrophe.
Yes, big twist. You are shook. So when I was in junior high I was really obsessed with the band Smashing Pumpkins and the bassist was this cool, badass, blonde, rocker girl named D’Arcy with an apostrophe. I didn’t really know anybody with the name Darcy, let alone somebody that I would want to be. She was like my ideal person. So didn’t even think about it, I just started adding the apostrophe. [Laughs.] It wasn’t like a big life choice, maybe because I was like 12 or something. But I just did it and my parents were kind of like, “What’s up? Why are we doing this? This is not your name.” But then it just sort of stuck and after a couple of years I never went back. And my mom still makes fun of me to this day and will often sign letters “M’om” which is just so funny.
This interview has been edited and condensed.