Thanks to roles on two high-profile comedies, actress and comedian D’Arcy Carden has become the common link to the two sitcom stars most likely to be dubbed “national treasures”: Ted Danson and Henry Winkler.
Through a luck of scheduling, and some patient producers and network executives, Carden juggles gigs on NBC’s “The Good Place” and HBO’s “Barry.” It’s quite a moment for the actress, who spent years dreaming of being a part of a beloved TV ensemble and now is on two.
“TV scheduling is a weird thing,” Carden said. “I shot the pilot for ‘Barry’ the same month I shot the pilot for ‘The Good Place” [in winter 2016].” “The Good Place” was immediately ordered to series, while it took a year for HBO to greenlight “Barry” — which means last year, Carden was shooting the second season of “The Good Place” and the first season of “Barry” at the same time. (“The same exact months.”) It wasn’t easy.
Generally, a performer would have to choose — but “The Good Place” creator Mike Schur and “Barry” creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg found a way to make it work. (Carden ultimately appeared in six episodes of “Barry.”) “It’s a bunch of good dudes who want good things to be made,” she said. “There’s not a lot of ego there.”
That brings us back to Danson and Winkler. Danson, who plays the dark angel Michael on “The Good Place,” and Winkler, who stars as drama coach Gene Cousineau on “Barry,” are frequently described as two of the kindest stars in Hollywood — a notion that Carden doesn’t dispute.
“You’d think one of them wouldn’t be great — but guess what, they’re both the best,” she said.
Winkler and Danson became household names thanks to their iconic roles on two classic sitcoms: “Happy Days” and “Cheers,” respectively. But when asked to choose her favorite TV episode of all time, Carden cites another landmark series: “Friends.”
Carden was a fan of the 1990s sitcom from the very beginning, when her mother convinced the then-high school student to watch. “My mom had this amazing quality of picking shows that we should watch as a family,” she said. “She would know if before, as she’d read about it. From the pilot of ‘Friends,’ the whole family would gather.”
IndieWire asked Carden to choose her favorite episode of TV of all time, and she responded with the seminal February 1999 episode “The One Where Everybody Finds Out.” Written by Alexa Junge and directed by Michael Lembeck, the episode follows Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) as she learns that Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox) have started secretly dating. She begins blatantly flirting with Chandler in order to get him to cop to the secret, leading to several hysterical — and uncomfortable — moments.
“I remember being in the moment when that episode aired, it rocking my world,” Carden recalled. “It was so well done and I do believe it totally holds up.”
Carden discussed that episode, plus her favorite episode of “The Good Place,” and how she got her start in comedy thanks to the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe, on this edition of IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast Listen below!
When Carden auditioned to play Janet, the mysterious personal assistant on NBC’s “The Good Place,” she did not know that the character wasn’t human. Creator Mike Schur did that by design: Although Janet is an artificial intelligence being who can be summoned anywhere at anytime, she still possesses human-like qualities.
“We were figuring her out as we went,” Carden told IndieWire. “Season 1, it was such a question mark. I feel like I know her so well now. As the ‘owner’ of Janet, I’m so protective of her. It’s such a gut instinct to know how she would react or say things, or know what her body or face would do.”
“The Good Place” returned for its third season with another twist: The four humans who had been part of a devilish scheme by dark angel Michael (Ted Danson) to recreate human misery as punishment the afterlife have now been sent back down to earth. Michael has fallen in love with the characters (played by Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto) and is now trying to trigger their redemption. Back in the afterlife, Michael and Janet are watching their progress with trepidation.
“I am such a fan of this show,” Carden said. “I am obsessed with the writers, I am obsessed with Mike Schur. I lose my mind every time we get a new script.”
“The Good Place” has already wrapped its third season, which premiered last week. That clears the deck for Carden to return to the set of “Barry,” which is just starting to shoot Season 2. Meanwhile, Carden still has a regular stint at the UCB theater in Los Angeles.
John P. Johnson/HBO
Carden began her UCB relationship in New York, after seeing a show there. “I signed up for classes the next day,” she said. “Fun fact: The intern who signed me up for classes was Donald Glover. That’s how long ago it was. It’s really a great place for an actor who’s into comedy. I found my lane and took a million classes. It’s pretty competitive. You have to audition and there’s a lot of people there. I think of it as the best comedy school/theater in the country.”
UCB alums now populate the TV and film world, and Carden credits its philosophy: Finding “truth in comedy and grounded comedy.” That’s the secret behind the success of series like “Parks and Recreation,” which, of course, starred Amy Poehler, one of the UCB founding members.
“That was my dream goal, I had to be on something like that,” she said. Mission accomplished. “I sometimes wonder if I will wake up, and it was all a dream!”
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