A version of this story about D’Arcy Carden and “The Good Place” first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
For four seasons, D’Arcy Carden has been playing Janet on NBC’s “The Good Place.” Or, rather, she has been playing Janets, plural, because what started as a job playing an anthropomorphized vessel of knowledge — i.e., a magical humanoid computer-of-sorts who knows everything and can do just about anything — turned into a gig to be Good Janet, Bad Janet and a veritable army of Other Janets.
On a series with a plethora of scene-stealing actors, Carden slyly humanized a character who ought not to be human at all, and became not just a delicious comic creation but also one of the real hearts of the show.
From the start, she said, playing Janet required a particular and unfamiliar approach. “It’s funny to play a character that knows every single thing in the world,” she said. “As an actor the responsibility to your characters is usually to sort of do some research and understand what they know and what they’ve been through. And with Janet, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, there’s no way I’m going to know everything in the world. So I’ll just do zero research.'”
She said she struggled to figure out the character in Season 1, but locked into Janet in Seasons 2 and 3. “I’d never played a character that long,” Carden said. “Usually I was just popping in and out of a TV show for a few months or whatever. This is years of playing the same character, and it was such a cool thing to know a character so well you trust your own gut instinct. I had not experienced that before.”
She smiled. “I miss her now. I miss her forever. She was a joy in every iteration: Good Janet, Bad Janet, everything in between. It was a complete and utter joy to play her, and I never got sick of her.”
The fourth, she said, was tricky because she had to spend several episodes playing a different version of Janet than the one the audience thought it was seeing. And it was also difficult because it was the show’s final season.
“I was so sad when I heard we were ending,” she said. “Even mad, you could say. I wanted to keep going. Deep in the back of our minds, the cast was hoping, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this for 10 years.’ But I’ve seen so many shows that start spinning out a little bit, and as a fan of those shows it’s always painful to watch. I selfishly want to keep going forever, but I really got why we were wrapping it up.”
And she got it even more when showrunner Mike Schur explained his plans for the final season to her. “Right before we started shooting, Mike had each actor individually come into the writers’ room to tell us what the final season was going to look like. And that’s when it clicked for me why we were ending it.”
The final episode was one of the most satisfying finales in recent memory, a beautiful sendoff that finds the characters choosing to move on. “I loved it when Mike explained it to me, I loved it when I read it, I loved it when we did the table read and I loved shooting it,” she said.
“Not to mention watching it, which I’ve only been able to do once, because it’s a tearjerker. I would like to watch it again, but I keep talking myself out of it because I know it’ll make me cry.”
One surprising thing about the finale is the way in which much of the emotion of the episode centers on Janet, who is not supposed to be an emotional character. “How did that happen?” she said, laughing. “I always had this hope that she would Pinocchio a little bit — like, she would sort of become a real boy over time. She certainly didn’t become human, but she became more aware, more evolved.
“And that finale really meant a lot to me — to say goodbye to each of these characters as Janet, but also as myself.”
Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here.