Before D’Arcy Carden landed the role of a lifetime as Janet on The Good Place, she was starting to worry her comedy career might never take off. And yet, in the less than six years since that show premiered on NBC, she has earned an Emmy nomination, appeared with her former babysitting boss Bill Hader on HBO’s Barry, and is now about to star opposite her best friend Abbi Jacobson in a high-profile reimagining of A League of Their Own, premiering on Amazon Prime Video next Friday, August 12.
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Carden opens up about how she turned her career around and expresses her shock and disappointment at her Barry co-star Sarah Goldberg’s Emmy snub. She also reminisces about the early days of the Upright Citizens Brigade, shares the important lesson she learned about screen acting during her first TV gig on Broad City, and recalls the demoralizing experience of being an extra on Saturday Night Live.
Warning: Light spoilers for A League of Their Own below.
When I ask Carden how she first met her co-star in—and co-creator of—A League of Their Own, she lets out a sigh and says, “Dear, sweet Abbi Jacobson…” They met about 15 years ago when they were both taking improv classes at UCB in New York, and Carden says, “I just liked her.”
“And here’s the thing. If somebody is reading these words, it’ll sound like I’m insulting her, but if you can hear me saying it, it might make more sense,” she adds, warily. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh God, she’s so great. And no one’s going to ever know.’” Carden felt like the improv teachers at UCB “didn’t really see” Jacobson. “And I really had this feeling like, ‘I see her and unfortunately for her, no one ever will for the rest of her life.’ Cut to a few years later she's like the most successful person coming out of the theater.”
Along with another UCB alum, Ilana Glazer, Jacobson quickly went on to co-create Broad City for Comedy Central. They gave Carden a small role in the pilot, as one of Ilana’s co-workers at Deals, Deals, Deals, but she ended up getting cut out of the episode. Then, they decided to bring her back a few episodes later as Gemma, a trainer at Solstice, where Abbi’s character works as a cleaner.
“We all had each other’s back and we gave each other opportunities and Broad City is a perfect example of that,” Carden says of her fellow female improv comedians who sometimes struggled to find the same avenues to success as their male counterparts. “Occasionally, you would look around and be like, ‘Why am I the only girl on this entire team?” she says of her time at UCB. Instead of complaining, Carden would tell herself, “Shut up, put your head down, work harder, be funnier,” adding that this is not necessarily “advice” for young women coming up today but how she chose to deal with sexism within that scene at the time.
Despite popping up in a handful of Broad City episodes and other small roles along the way, Carden felt like she was watching many of her comedy peers pass her by. It has been widely reported that she was about to give up acting altogether when the role that changed her life came along, but she admits that story has been a bit exaggerated.
“It’s more exciting to say, ‘She was quitting acting!’” she tells me. “But it was more that I was coming to terms with what my life would be as far as my career goes. I was looking around at where I was in my life, my age and that feeling of, ‘I think this dream I had is not actually going to come true. And I’m OK with it.’” She imagined continuing to perform improv for fun, but also having a day job to pay the bills and thought to herself, “This is a cool life, it’s just not the life that you hoped for.”
Then a month later, she landed the role of Janet—a sort of Alexa or Siri-like guide in human form—on Mike Schur’s NBC sitcom The Good Place.
Carden just happened to audition for Barry around the same time and within a few weeks found out that she booked that role, as one of the students in Henry Winkler’s character’s acting class, as well. “I got no shows for my whole life and then I got two shows,” she says of her sudden reversal of fortune.
In the most recent season of Barry, she shared a particularly harrowing scene in an elevator with Sarah Goldberg, who plays the show’s female lead Sally. While pretty much all of the male actors on the show received Emmy nominations for their performances, Goldberg did not. When I mention that her co-star was robbed, Carden stops me in my tracks.
“I know that award shows for art are a goofy thing and everybody that got nominated fully deserves it,” she says. “It’s not about this person’s better than that person. But I was kind of shocked by my own reaction. I sat with it all day, like, ‘How did she not get nominated? How could you have done a better job than what she did this season?’ I don’t understand.” She ended up “truly sobbing” in a voicemail to Goldberg, “just telling her how she’s such an impressive actor” the night after the announcement.
Carden did receive an Emmy nomination for her performance on the final season of The Good Place, but ultimately lost out to Annie Murphy as part of the Schitt’s Creek sweep.
Toward the end of filming that last season, her co-star Ted Danson gave her some crucial advice: “The next thing you do has to be so different from Janet,” he said. And since Danson has “the world’s best career,” she responded, “Whatever you say, I will do.”
So when Jacobson called her late one night and told her she had written a part for her in A League of Their Own and offered to send her the pilot script, she felt a combination of excitement and apprehension.
“I have this fear of working with friends where I was like, ‘Well, what if the pilot’s not good?’” she says. “And I read the pilot in one sitting and it was so good that it was just like, ‘Oh, well this is a complete no-brainer.’”
Not only did she “get to work with one of my best friends who I adore,” but Carden—who did, for the record, play baseball into high school—instantly became “obsessed” with the character of Greta Gill, the Rockford Peaches’ supremely confident first baseman who, we slowly learn, contains deep layers of vulnerability underneath her bombshell exterior. She says the character “scared” her because she had “never played anyone like her before.”
If The Good Place’s Janet was an overly helpful, servile figure—who also happened to possess all of the knowledge in the universe—A League of Their Own’s Greta is a born leader who can use sex appeal to her advantage but doesn’t take any shit from the men trying to control how a lady should behave on or off the field. She was everything Danson had advised her to take on next.
The next day there was a baseball glove on her front stoop with a handwritten letter from Abbi officially asking her to join the series. “It was all really romantic and sweet,” Carden says wistfully.
In the exclusive clip below from the series premiere, Carden’s Greta Gill and Jacobson’s Carson Shaw get drunk together after finding out that—spoiler alert—they both made the team and decide to collaborate on a perhaps-too-honest letter to Carson’s husband, who is serving overseas in World War II.
If Jacobson and her co-creator Will Graham had simply recreated the 1992 film with the same characters and plot, then Carden says the obvious question would be, “Why are we doing this? What’s the point of this? They already did it. And they did it perfectly.”
“So to have all new characters and expand the story” seemed worth it. “Sometimes you get a feeling where you’re like, I can’t not be a part of this,” she says. “If this happens and I don’t get to be a part of it, I’m going to regret it. Or I’m going to jump off the face of the earth.”
When Jacobson was a guest on The Last Laugh last spring, she teased that unlike the movie, her version of the story would be focused on “queerness in a huge way,” because “believe it or not, a lot of the women who played baseball were queer!” She then stressed, “We’re not trying to ruin the movie. We’re just trying to explore a little bit more about what was really going on with these women and dive a little deeper.”
For Carden, that means there are more than a few love scenes between her character and Jacobson’s.
“It’s not not weird,” she says when I ask what it’s like to make out with your best friend on camera. “It’s not like I can be like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ I want to say it’s ultimately better to do it with a dear friend. We were able to cut through the bullshit, but yeah, it’s weird. But that’s because kissing someone with a camera four feet from your face is weird. And anyone who says it’s not is truly insane.”
But all of that being said, Carden adds, “The love I have for Abbi, you can change it a little bit when you’re acting. She’s easy to love.”
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