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Kristen Bell and Ted Danson Dish on ‘The Good Place’ and Their Real-Life Bad Places

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson Dish on ‘The Good Place’ and Their Real-Life Bad Places

The Wrap – Don’t put Danson behind a bar or take him to an escape room, the way Bell recently did.

This story about Kristen Bell, Ted Danson and “The Good Place” first appeared in the Comedy/Drama/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Heaven or hell? Devil or angel? And does it even matter?

NBC’s delightful comedy series “The Good Place” started out as a vision of paradise, albeit a rather odd and completely secular paradise; it ended its first season with the show-shattering reveal that our human characters had actually been spending their time in a radical new version of hell designed to get them to torture each other rather than leaving that job to the pros.

And in Season 2, the show from “Parks and Recreation” creator Mike Schur kept upending itself in the most delicious of ways.

This is a show that can make hell kind of charming and give a fun, cuddly twist to the afterlife. Kristen Bell somehow makes us root for a woman whose self-obsession knows no bounds but who’s smarter and maybe even nicer than she lets on. Ted Danson was a scene stealer even in the first season as a human-torturing demon who had to hide his true nature from the other characters and from the audience.

(Granted, words like demon may not be appropriate for an altogether nonreligious and bureaucratic afterworld; he’s middle management at best, and not very good at his job of torturing humans.)

On a break early in the filming of Season 3, Bell and Danson discussed the pleasures and challenges of a show that delights in blowing up its own premise over and over. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Season 2 must have been a real kick for you, Ted, because you finally got to…
TED DANSON Be who I am. Yeah, it was really fun. And it was easier to find the funny, because funny usually is this kind of triangular thing between you, another character and the audience. But I had no relationship to the audience in Season 1. They never saw me in a private moment, or I would have been twirling my mustache.

Would you have taken the part without the knowledge that eventually you were going to get to show who this guy really is?
DANSON Oh, I would have done it. I signed on before I saw a script. I knew that Kristen was likely going to do it. I then listened to Mike Schur empty his mind for an hour and tell me everything he knew about the show and the twist. And I really signed up for Mike Schur.

KRISTEN BELL He can tell a story with detail that is frightening, like a computer. “Here’s what I want to do in Episode 9, and it’s a callback to Episode 6…” And I’m like, “You haven’t even written the pilot, bro! Slow down!”

DANSON Is this the first job you’ve taken when you haven’t read a script?

BELL Yeah. Wow. Yeah. We were sold on the idea, with the twist, and with his commitment to cliff-hangers and pulling the rug out from under people. I just thought, “What a goal. Let him try, I’d love to be a part of it.”

I feel as if Ted needed to know the twist to play his part, but you didn’t.
DANSON But she needed to know in order to take the part.

BELL Well, yes and no. Mike is an unparalleled collaborator, and I think he had respect enough for me to say, “I would like you to know what you’re signing up for.” So he opened the whole kimono that day.

Was it frustrating to hide who this guy was, Ted?
DANSON I don’t know about frustrating, because I had my hands full just trying to fulfill the script. But watching it, I would go, “You’re either doing a really good job, Ted, or that’s some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen.” And I couldn’t quite make up my mind.

BELL Around Episode 8 of the first season, my husband [Dax Shepard] said, “I love your show, but my one critique is that Ted is just wildly underused. He’s just kind of one-note.” And I didn’t tell him the twist, because I can keep a secret.

DANSON [Silently mouths] I can’t.

BELL I couldn’t tell him that there was a very specific reason you’ve never seen Michael on camera by himself, that all those choices were leading up to something wonderful.

DANSON It was hard.

BELL Keeping the secret?

DANSON No, that was easy, because I didn’t. But I didn’t know how to be funny.

BELL I don’t think you realize how funny it is when you’re bumbling.

DANSON I don’t.

BELL It’s pretty cute.

So Kristen, were you looking forward to working with the unleashed Ted Danson in Season 2?
BELL Big time. That terrifying cackle he gave at the end of Season 1, I was like, “What is in store?”

What’s in store is that Michael changes — he starts the season torturing humans and ends as something of a guardian angel.
DANSON Well, he’s madly in love with humans. And I think he recognizes that Eleanor’s way smarter than he is.

BELL I agree.

DANSON He watches her change and still be doomed. And if you can change in the afterlife, you should be able to garner points or something. The system sucks, and it just seems horribly unfair to him that people he’s grown to love don’t stand a chance to be in the Good Place.

As a viewer, I have no idea where the show is going in Season 3. You blew up the premise at the end of Season 1, then took the setting for both seasons and stuck it in a museum on hell. The humans are back on Earth, but for how long?
DANSON Nice try, thinking you can get us to tell you something about Season 3. Not me.

BELL It’s impossible not to say at the end of each of our seasons, “Where on Earth are they going to put us?” No pun intended. “What is going to happen, how could we possibly raise the stakes?” But they figure it out. They are given a problem in that writers room and they figure it out. I don’t even know how they do it, but it’s fascinating what they do.

Kristen, when you were on TheWrap’s comedy actors panel, you talked about how we’re in a time where we need heroes who are good — that we’re not looking for Walter White or Tony Soprano anymore. Do you think this is a show for its time?
BELL I do. I think that when your reality is comfortable, you can be entertained by something uncomfortable. When your reality is more uncomfortable, I think you want to see people fighting for good. You want to see something relatable: “Oh, those people are in a crazy/s—ty situation as well, and they’re figuring it out, and they have hope and drive.”

I think that’s why our show has been successful, because people enjoy that these characters are fighting for goodness amidst all their bumbling complexities and idiotic behavior.

DANSON When I think about Mike Schur, one of the things I think about is that he’s a decent man. And I think to talk about decency and ethics and consequences and do it with a 9-year-old’s fart sense of humor and magical visual effects, it’s just brilliant.

Was the morality of it, for lack of a better word, one of the reasons you were interested?
DANSON I don’t think I got it until I started watching the shows and would see Eleanor wrap up a little moral to our story. It took me a while to get it. You must have gotten it faster.

BELL For sure. In that love fest with Mike in our first meeting, I realized that he, too, has long been preoccupied with what it means to be a good person. I felt a connection with him.

So you have that preoccupation as well?
BELL Oh, yeah. It began as your regular old therapeutic codependency. I wanted to please people, and I want to be liked, and I’m afraid to disappoint people. And in learning how to manage that a little bit more, and figure out how to be good to myself with self-care and boundaries, I realized that a lot of my codependency was things that I really enjoyed, and some of it wasn’t codependency at all. It was just who I wanted to be.

There is a part that recognizes that good behavior makes me feel good. Who knows if there will ever be a reward, but the reward of feeling good is enough for me right now.

Ted, was it as much fun for you as it was for the audience when you showed up as a bartender in a scene late in Season 2?
DANSON No! I hate getting behind a bar. It took me a year on “Cheers” to not be embarrassed or shy. I was so not a bar person or a confident Romeo. I was a backwards, shy kind of kid. Took me almost a year to get that Sam Malone relief-pitcher, bartender arrogance. So having stopped that, I seriously have anxiety stepping behind a bar. It was a great scene, but I was so uncomfortable.

Had you two met before this series?
BELL We had. My husband and I had just watched the first season of “Damages,” which is so good. Ted plays Arthur Frobisher, and we were so obsessed with it that for that year or two, we changed our alias to get mail to Holly and Arthur Frobisher.

Then I booked this movie called “Big Miracle,” which Ted was also in. And I met him for the first time in Alaska in this lobby of the hotel. And I said, “Hello, Mr. Danson, my name is Kristen Bell. I don’t want to freak you out, but I do want to let you know that I am checked into this hotel as Holly Frobisher.” And he was like, “Oh, OK. Very nice to meet you.” I realized in retrospect that was maybe not a good opener.

DANSON Captain Cook.

BELL It was the Captain Cook Hotel. Did it freak you out when I told you I was checked in as Mrs. Frobisher?

DANSON Well, maybe.

BELL Did you, like, tell the ADs to keep me away?

DANSON No. And now that I know you and Dax, I can see how much fun you must have had doing it.

BELL Oh, we loved it.

I hear you took Ted to his first escape room, and I’m wondering if there will be a second.
DANSON No. No f—ing way.

BELL Shut up! There will be a second escape room. First of all, if Mary [Steenburgen, Danson’s wife] and I have anything to say about it, there will be.

DANSON Mary is dying to go again.

BELL I should have done more research, so this one is on me. I should have realized that this was an escape room where A, they split your group up, which is already no fun, and B, they turn off the lights, so it’s pitch black. You are given flashlights, and Ted just sat down on the little twin bed that was in the room and handed Dax his flashlight…

DANSON And just stretched out.

BELL Meanwhile, Mary was killing it on our side. She was an amazing detective.

DANSON It wasn’t just that the lights were out and I like to take naps. It’s also that I was with the guys, and the guys are meant to relax. If I’m around women, I’m up and interested. If it’s the guys, I’m gonna stretch out. There’s no one to impress.

Getting back to your show, do you have any ideas of how you’d like things to end for your characters?
DANSON I can guarantee that whatever I could possibly imagine would fall so short of whatever comes out of Mike’s noggin.

BELL Ditto. Yeah. We know our place, and we’re so happy to live here.

It’s a good place?
BELL Exactly. I have no problem leaving the heavy lifting up to them.

Read more of TheWrap’s Comedy/Drama/Actors Emmy issue here.

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Why Kristen Bell says she’s ‘obsessive about food’

LA TimesKristen Bell doesn’t just buy groceries and shove them into her refrigerator. Instead, she hits up Google and does what she describes as a “deep dive” into every brand she’s purchased, every ingredient listed on each box.

Food — that’s my jam,” said “The Good Place” and “Frozen” actress. “I want to know what’s in everything. I’m obsessive about food. I want to know who made it and where it came from.

Bell was chatting before a party in West Hollywood to celebrate her other business — This Bar Saves Lives — a line of snack bars co-founded by Bell and fellow actors Ryan Devlin, Todd Grinnell and Ravi Patel. On this night, a couple of new flavors were being launched (dark chocolate and coconut, peanut butter and jelly) to add to the gluten-free, non-GMO and kosher products.

I’d always been struck by this feeling that charity is wonderful, but businesses could do better,” said Bell, 37. “There is a lack of giving back in the food space.

The solution, according to Bell and her co-founders? With every bar they sell, a nutrition packet will be given to a malnourished child via Plumpy’Nut — a peanut butter, powdered milk and vitamin parcel that can take “a skeletal baby at death’s door to a healthy, thriving child,” she said.

Nutritious convenience foods, prized berries from the farmers market and clever swaps — cauliflower crust pizza instead of regular — are all part of meal planning for Bell, who is married to actor Dax Shepherd, with whom she has two children. Here she shares her tips for clean eating, being ingredient-savvy, and why baby steps are better than nothing.

Stock up on go-tos

I’m really into pasta made with chickpeas. It’s got a ton of protein. It’s a little more chewy than regular pasta, but not in the way that gluten-free pasta is. And my whole household is on ghee instead of butter. There’s a California garlic one which I like to open and just smell. And a Madagascar vanilla, which I put on my kids’ waffles instead of syrup. I get a farm box that sometimes has Harry’s Berries. They’re incredible. You can maybe find them at the farmers market. … In the summer, we’ll go through six containers a week.

Listen to your body

I was vegan and am now vegetarian. I’m all about eating clean and ethically, but I also believe that it’s important to listen to your body. Some people’s bodies tell them to eat meat. There’s a better way to do it because factory farming is a nightmare. I give my children meat; the chicken they get has been raised in, basically, a spa. They get all but manicures.

Seek out the healthier option

For protein, I’m obsessed with the Beyond Burger. When I’m working out, I’ll eat two a day. When I want to do fast food, I’ll make a cauliflower crust pizza with a Beyond Burger in the middle, and I’ve got a pizza burger.

Inconsistency isn’t all bad

My workout habits aren’t as good as my eating habits. For me, 70% of feeling good is the food I eat. Working out for me is very random. L.A. has great hikes so sometimes I’ll do that. Lately it’s been Pilates. I have problems with my posture and Pilates mat and reformer help a ton with that. I use a site called Pilates Anytime where you can follow any Pilates class. I’ve taken some TRX classes at Yogaworks, which is resistance work using bands on the walls. It feels horrifying 48 hours later, but the good kind of horrifying.

Start small

This is what I tell people; you don’t have to shoot for the moon. If all you can do is 100 sit-ups on the floor while the kids are watching TV, then do that. You don’t have to commit to something for the rest of your life. Maybe try something like Whole30. You buy a book, follow the recipes and after 30 days hopefully you will notice enough of a change to make it last. But for now, just think about today.

Hit the keyboard

There is more information out there than you know. Food feels confusing, but it’s not. If you have the inkling to better your life and health, there are resources out there and a little understanding goes a long way.

Kristen Bell on why she opened up about anxiety and depression

Kristen Bell on why she opened up about anxiety and depression

Today – Kristen Bell knows people love how real she and husband Dax Shepard are, on social media and in real life.

But she has a confession: “That is choreographed,” she told TODAY Parents in an exclusive digital interview.

Bell cares deeply about protecting the privacy of their children; she does not share their photos and she stands up to paparazzo who try to sneak photos of them. So, some things about her family life she’ll share and others she definitely won’t.

“As open as we are, we’ve agreed to a certain amount of openness. And the rest is ours. And it will stay ours,” Bell told the TODAY Parenting Team’s Meredith Sinclair in an interview at the Mom 2.0 Summit. “We are fiercely territorial about our family.”

In other areas of her life, Bell is totally transparent — the mother of two and star of “Frozen,” “Bad Moms” and “The Good Place” speaks candidly about her struggles with depression and anxiety.

“I like hearing that it helped somebody. And that will always drive me to continue to overshare,” Bell said. It was her husband who first inspired her to talk about her mental health, when she asked him what she should discuss on an upcoming talk show appearance.

“It occurred to me that I was showing this very bubbly, bright persona, and that it was inauthentic. Because it wasn’t telling the whole story,” Bell told TODAY Parents. “I had a pit in my stomach for almost feeling ashamed that I had hidden it for so long, because it could’ve helped people before if I had talked about it.”

“I’m grateful to my husband for saying, ‘No, you should just talk about it.’ Like he talks about the fact that he’s sober, and that helps people,” Bell said. “And I now have not stopped talking about it, mainly because I want people to hear that it’s not a big deal and that you can be happy and healthy.”

Bell, who said her goal in life is to promote happiness and reduce suffering, is also co-founder of “This Bar Saves Lives,” a company that donates a life-saving nutrition package to a child in need for every snack bar it sells.

As for anyone who judges her, or another mom, or any person dealing with mental health issues?

“It’s a joke if you think everybody’s not hiding some secret shame about being anxiety-riddled or depressed at some point,” Bell said with a laugh. “We’re all there, OK? ‘Everybody’s crazy. It’s not a competition.”

Kristen Bell and other comedy stars on unlikable characters and the rise of nostalgia

Kristen Bell and other comedy stars on unlikable characters and the rise of nostalgia

LA Times – Editor’s note: This interview took place before Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet caused ABC to cancel “Roseanne” on Tuesday.

In tumultuous times such as these, comedy is more essential than ever. It offers some common ground, some (mostly) safe space and, best of all, a good time. “Everybody is dying for a little bit of comic relief,” says Eric McCormack whose “Will & Grace” recently relaunched after 10 years away. McCormack was one of six comedic actors from shows both new and familiar to join the Envelope for a free-flowing conversation that at one point threatened to make a left-turn into an intervention for “Glow’s” Marc Maron.

Along with McCormack (whose “Will & Grace” regathers its original cast) and Maron (whose series is about the launch of women’s wrestling and the cocaine-sniffing director behind it), were Kristen Bell (“The Good Place,” an examination of morality set in the afterlife), Bill Hader (“Barry,” a hitman who wants to be an actor), Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne,” the family we know and love some 20 years later) and Justina Machado (“One Day at a Time,” a family similar to the one we know and love some 30 years later). Between the giggles, the group touched on such topics as diversity, nostalgia, bad dye jobs and the Fonz.

Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

The characters that most of you play, how do I say this, they’re not warm, fuzzy and likable.

Sara Gilbert: How dare you?

Eric McCormack: I like to think of myself as fuzzy.

For instance, there’s a self-centeredness to Will, to Eleanor. You are—

Bill Hader: I murder people, so I think I take the cake pretty much in unlikable.

McCormack: But I think that actually speaks to the sophistication of the audience that’s grown over the years. There was a time when a network executive would say, “They’re not likable enough! We have to love them!”

Hader: Yeah, actually it’s the opposite now, we went in to pitch the show [to HBO], and it was like, “I’m gonna be a hit man who wants to be an actor, but it’s going to be very grounded; the violence is very real.” And they were the ones that said, “Oh, and he takes an acting class so that he can get in touch with his emotions.” And we were like, “Yes. You’re right! That’s what we thought.” Like they’re telling you, “We don’t want a thing that’s safe,” because there’s so much of it now.

Gilbert: I said this when I was a kid — it might speak to my character in a bad way — but I said, “Nice isn’t funny.” You know? So if your character is too nice, unless they’re a doormat, it’s really not that funny.

Kristen Bell: There’s nothing funny about perfection, for sure. And then the archetypes that you used to have to have when there were only five movies out a year and it was really just like playing with Barbie and Ken — people want the complexity of characters. And they also want to have some sort of catharsis where you can sort of picture yourself on the screen. And we are messy and complex and have bad character defects and so when you see that represented, it just makes the whole thing more interesting, more unpredictable.

Marc Maron: Someone came up to me and said about Sam Sylvia from “Glow,” “Everyone knew that asshole.” And I’m like, “Thank you. Yeah, a familiar asshole”

So for people who might not know, how would you describe him?

Maron: He’s a guy that doesn’t know he’s washed up and he’s got a little bit of a cocaine problem and he thinks he’s on top of stuff and he’s running the show. I would say he’s mildly sexist, but also, he’s incredibly vulnerable to one or two people. … And whose dad wasn’t that guy?

There will be a therapy session after.

Hader: This is actually a thing for you, Marc, where we’ve met here today to talk to you about—

Justina Machado: An intervention.

Maron: Do you mind if I conference my dad in?

With “Roseanne” and “One Day at a Time,” the idea of working-class, you don’t often see it on TV.

Machado: It went away, the middle-class hero went away, and then everything started to be very slick, and I kind of understand that because you want to escape. But still these stories are so relatable and representation matters. I cannot say that enough. We have a show that is relatable, but we’re just telling it through a Latino lens, and we’re showing everybody that we’re more alike than we are different, you know? So we’re going through the same things. Everyday things, we take them and they’re funny. We’re just telling American stories.

Speak a little bit about “Roseanne” and “Will & Grace” coming back now.

McCormack: At first, there was a fear of like, “Are we just going to try to be the same thing and we can’t be because we’re older?” Then it was, “Oh wait, we’re older, maybe that’s the key. Maybe tapping into the fact that they’ve been alive for 10 years in this country and they’re living in this nightmare right now, and let’s make that into something. Let’s allow that to inform the show and the characters and it becomes deeper.”

Gilbert: Yeah, for me, the aim of the show is to tell these people’s stories and do them justice, and I want people to relate to their joys and to their struggles, and as long as you’re doing that honestly, I don’t really think it matters which time period you’re in, as long as you’re true to these people.

With so much more programming, there are more roles for women, for people of color, for gay, gender fluid, whatever it is. And I had read something that you had said about working on “Glow” that was interesting because you were surrounded by women.

Maron: Well, that’s not the best way to phrase it but yeah.

Bell: Underwater with women.

Maron: They’re just all over the place. Everywhere I turn, there’s a woman —

Hader: I open up my door, and it’s 1960s Beatles.

Maron: I’ve never been around this many women in my life, and I say that in a nice way. The entire set and people behind the camera, the showrunners, to me I was just happy that I’m playing a part where I can watch them all. Because they have to learn to wrestle, and they’re going through this stuff; it’s insane. There were times where [co-stars] Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin would wrestle, and it was like watching theater. Like, I’d get choked up. It was sort of amazing to be one of the only men in the cast, because they were all sort of becoming this team and they’re becoming close on and off screen. It’s had a positive effect on me is what I’m trying to say.

Kristen, for you doing lots of film, lots of television, have you noticed the change in terms of not just the roles that are available but the premises of shows?

Bell: Yeah, it’s an interesting conversation because you say, “It’s just the girlfriend role,” and then people react like, “That’s such a tired conversation,” and you’re like, ‘Yeah, because it hasn’t been fixed!” But I feel like over the last five years, I’ve been reading roles that were better, seeing shows and movies that have a ton more female representation and diversity. There are more female showrunners. There are more female directors. There are more female leads, and they’re all sort of taking charge, and they’re writing the complexities of our side of it. We’re not going to do away with you guys…

Machado: Maybe. [laughs]

Bell: It’s not that we want you gone, just a 50/50 thing would be totally cool.

The premise of “Barry” is such a left-field idea….

Hader: Well, it came from my time at “SNL” because I had really bad anxiety and I was telling [co-creator with Hader, Alec Berg] about this and I said, “It’s this weird thing where I can do voices and impressions and things, but I don’t like being in front of an audience. I get very nervous.” And I was having massive panic attacks and bad anxiety and I was like, “Yeah, so maybe a show.” It was kind of like what we were talking about, it’s finding what is that universal emotion and letting that drive a show. [What if] the thing you’re good at and kind of maybe born to do is destroying you? And then it was, conversely, what if the thing you really wanted to do and put all your heart and soul into, you were terrible at? So we said, let’s give it stakes, life and death — what if a hitman wanted to be an actor? So that’s how that came out of my own nervousness.

McCormack: I’ve had success as an actor, but I really want to be a hitman.

Those scenes in the acting classes are hysterical and they’re so painful. Henry Winkler is so abusive.

Hader: We saw a guy in an acting class yelling at this actress, and he just broke her down and she started crying. Then she did the scene and afterwards, she went, “Thank you so much. Oh my God, thank you!” And I was like, “I’ve been in a lot of movies and TV. No one has ever done that to me.” Like, Judd Apatow is not beating me up to get me to a place. I thought it was really strange.

Besides how many great new shows there are now, there’s also this gravitation toward things we’re familiar with — “Roseanne,” “Will and Grace,” “One Day at a Time,” even beloved actors such as Ted Danson in “The Good Place” and Henry Winkler. It seems like people really want something that they know.

Machado: My show is more of a reimagining. It was more Norman Lear, I think maybe that was the familiarity that people came back for.

McCormack: Our show was in discussions about coming back before the election because we’d done a video for Hillary as the characters and it sort of sparked the reunion. But it was sort of discussed, I could hear people discussing it outside the circle as, “Oh, well that will be comfort food. I mean, it’s a throwback.”

Bell: Comfort food is delicious.

McCormack: Not only that, we didn’t need it as much a year-and-a-half ago. Right now, nobody says comfort food in a sarcastic way. Everybody is dying for a little bit of relief, comic relief, just the relief of nostalgia, the relief of characters that we can rely on because they’ve been around for a while. Because not only is everything changing politically, it’s as we say, there’s 500 shows, so if one of them is something that is a bit familiar and a bit — like you used to watch with your mom. When I think of watching “M*A*S*H” with my dad or watching “All in the Family” with my dad, it was tremendously influential on me, but it’s also a huge emotional impact. So when people say, “I’m watching ‘Will & Grace’ now but with my kids,” or “I didn’t ever watch “Will & Grace,” I was too young, but I watch it now with my grandmother,” I mean, there’s something to that.

Gilbert: I also think nostalgia was just a huge untapped market. It’s this big emotion we all have. We go to our high school reunions. We think back fondly to our grade-school friends. And it had never been used in television to the full extent and I think now people are realizing— especially because we’re cutting the pie so small with so many shows — if they go back to shows that were on the air when the pie was bigger, you can reach those people plus new people.

Hader: I was showing my kids “Back to the Future,” and when it goes into the ‘50s I was like, “That was your grandfather’s comfort food,” and then when it’s present day I’m like, “Well, this is my comfort food.” You know what I mean? It was like the two levels of it.

Maron: Did you show them Fonzie?

Hader: Yeah, I did. And I go, “That’s Henry at work,” and they were like, “Wow, so he was cool?” And I go, “He was the coolest guy in the world.”

McCormack: He was the coolest guy.

Hader: He did Fonzie once [for] me and Alec Berg. He was just telling a story and he went into the voice and he was like, “I told these people, [in Fonzie voice] ‘Part like the Red Sea.’” That’s what he said to a bunch of fans, and I mean, I got chills. When I was a kid, that’s what television was, him hitting a jukebox and everything.”

I wanted to ask you about Eleanor on “The Good Place” because she has one of the most interesting character arcs just even in one season.

Bell: I am incredibly interested in someone who is inherently unlikable on the page and then figuring out how to get you to root for them. That’s such a stimulating challenge for me because you read it and you’re like, “Oh, this girl is kind of a jerk,” but then I’m like, “OK, what can I do and where can I layer little bits of humanity into her but still keep the comedy of the jerk?” It was also not just about her, it was all layered in with everyone else’s arc, to get us to end of the first season’s reveal. Spoiler alert, there’s a big change. It’s hell. It’s not heaven, I’m so sorry.

Hader: Well, that was a waste of a download.

[laughter]

Gilbert: I didn’t feel like there was enough space between “spoiler alert” and the spoil.

McCormack: Yes, you needed to stretch that one out a little bit.

Bell: I’m still working on my timing. Spoiler alert, I’m still working on my timing. But yeah, I just saw someone who wasn’t maybe great at reading a room and genuinely was just concerned with how she was feeling at all times. It’s just all about Eleanor. And that’s a really, really fun thing to play. To disregard all other humans is a very fun place to be because I’m paranoid in my real life about disregarding people.

Gilbert: And I think it’s like if you’re funny, people are going to like your character. No matter how evil it is or twisted, it’s like you confuse them with the emotion of pleasure watching you and they start liking you.

McCormack: Larry Linville on “M*A*S*H” as Frank Burns. I don’t think he had a moment where you actually liked the man he was. But you couldn’t stop loving him on your screen.

[To Machado] Was there a great sort of pressure in that “One Day at a Time” is a show that people loved back in the day. They expect a certain thing?

Machado: Not because of that. The trepidation was only to make a great show with this amazing Latino cast. That was the pressure, not to be a stereotype. So many times, we’re the butt of the joke. So the pressure was on to make a show that represents us.

McCormack: Did you at least try the Bonnie Franklin haircut? I mean, please tell me that you tried it.

Machado: [laughs] I have it! We did this whole promo where I was being Bonnie Franklin, but, oh wow, that was not good. I looked like…it was terrible. There’s a color hair that Latinas always get if they go cheap and it’s like the red hair.

Gilbert: I think there is pressure if you’re representing an underrepresented group that networks and all the people who make the decisions are going to decide if they can do it again. Nobody is ever like, “Oh, we tried that white guy show; we can’t make another.”

Machado: I don’t know, white people don’t seem to like it.

A forkin’ awesome conversation with the cast of ‘The Good Place’

A forkin’ awesome conversation with the cast of ‘The Good Place’

LA Times – “The Good Place” ended its first season with an astonishing, ground-shifting bombshell — Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a human trying to save her soul by becoming a better person after death, figured out that the Good Place was, in fact, the Bad Place, which should have been obvious all along what with those ubiquitous frozen yogurt stores in the neighborhood.

Ted Danson’s afterlife architect, Michael, confirmed this delicious disclosure with a maniacal laugh that became an instant moment of classic television, also revealing himself to be an immortal demon, and the episode itself firmly established the show’s bona fides. If series creator Michael Schur possessed the confidence to play that kind of a long game, what might he do for a follow-up?

The 13-episode, second season answer proved every bit as satisfying. While premises were still made to be broken, Schur and the show’s writers leaned into the idea of community, exploring the idea that people define themselves by the strength of their tribes. For “The Good Place,” that includes four humans striving to avoid eternal damnation, a demon learning to love flawed mortals and an all-knowing Siri-like being named Janet who appears to be turning into a human herself.

The actors playing the members of this makeshift family — Danson, Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and Jameela Jamil — have quickly become one of the most appealing ensembles on television. The day before they were to begin shooting the third season premiere, we sat down with the cast on the Universal Studios backlot to talk about the show’s radical optimism.

I want to get just a taste of the upcoming season, and I have it on good authority that one of you has trouble keeping secrets.

Bell: Loose Lips Danson!

Danson: That’s absolutely true. I’m impossible. So let me guess: You probably want to know about what’s in store for our group of humans, who, last we saw them, were down on Earth pursuing their second chances. And Michael and Janet are monitoring them …

Bell: I think we can reveal that, metaphorically, this next season is about how you can play chess with people who don’t know you’re playing with them and doing so in a way that doesn’t affect the greater universe.

Danson: What she said. [Laughs]

Bell: Because our characters don’t know there’s a greater mission. We’re meandering on Earth. What I loved about that whole last episode from Season 2 was that it summed up everyone’s yearly existence from Jan. 1 to March 1. You make resolutions. You’re going to be a better person. You’re going to work out more. You’re going to eat broccoli. And by March, none of that is happening. You saw it with Eleanor. She vows to change, and then she gets bored.

So now we are all left on Earth separately. And what we learned from the first two seasons is that our strengths come when we’re together. But can Michael and Janet tamper with us without affecting the universe?

Jamil: I will also add that the scripts we’ve read so far are even funnier. And slightly filthier.

Filthier how? Asking for all those fans writing “Good Place” erotic fan fiction.

Danson: Wait a minute. Where do you see this erotic fan fiction?

Jamil: On your blog, Ted. No … there’s volumes of it, mostly about me and Kristen.

Bell: It’s no secret that Eleanor’s very fluid in her sexuality. So people have been stimulated by that thought.

Jamil: The stories always start the same way. We’re just laughing and having a great time. And then one of our fingers touches the other one’s hair and then one thing leads to another.

And a hot-diggity-dog moment ensues …

Carden: You get it!

Jamil: It’s genuinely very sweet. Our fans are so passionate. They’ve made so many amazing paintings and even some statues.

Carden: I’d like to buy some of it. Is that dorky?

Danson: Well, it’d be like going to someone’s house and they have a baby picture of themselves out.

Carden: What if I buy it and make my parents put it up in their house? That’s cool, right?

Harper: No. But I have a framed baby picture of myself, so who am I to say?

Going back to that idea of Michael and Janet tampering with the humans, we saw that in the last episode where Michael shows up as a bartender on Earth, offering Eleanor guidance. Ted, did you enjoy that “Cheers” callback?

Danson: No. I’m literally traumatized if I have to get behind a bar. For some bizarre reason, I break into a sweat.

Bell: You’re so weird. Is it too much pressure?

Danson: No. It’s really like … I don’t know …

Bell: Well, dig deep!

Danson: It blindsides me every time. And if I have to be attractively coming on to a woman in a scene, it just devastatingly paralyzes me. I just hope they can get back to the Good Place without Michael having to do that.

Do you think there is a Good Place?

Jamil: I don’t know. But I do know I think about my motivations a lot more since doing this show.

Danson: Making sure the waitress sees how large a tip you left. Everybody does that.

Bell: Will just whispered that he tries to hide it.

Harper: I don’t want to be that cheesy guy who looks them in the eye and says, “Hey, that’s for you.”

Bell: Mike developed this point system, this little game with himself where if he’s driving and someone cuts him off, it’s minus 20 points. He tallies people all day for a fun game for himself.

And what he figured out for the show was … [Section omitted because it involves a huge spoiler for Season Three.]

Carden: That was a bit that got taken out of Season Two.

Harper: Yeah. But it will come back.

Danson: Who’s “Loose Lips” now? [Laughs]

Will I have points deducted if I put that information in the story?

Bell: You will go straight to the Bad Place.

If you went through life in a Mike Schur way, what kind of behavior loses points?

Bell: I judge everything by: Does it lean toward happiness or does it lean toward suffering? Like cutting someone off in traffic or all the seven sins … because cutting people off in traffic is one of them, right?

Harper: In L.A. Also: Selfies.

Jamil: Selfies definitely. And anyone who designs any sort of G-string. I’m more about minutiae.

Carden: I think about the point system a lot because my husband and I have a different moral compass. He’s a very good person, but he can justify just about anything if it helps his family or people he loves.

Bell: That’s tribal and, to be stereotypical, it’s more male. It’s more female to see the world a little more maternally. But look, if there was a lion in my backyard, my whole family would be dead. I’d be wondering if he needed water or had a thorn in his paw.

Jamil: Manny, what would your bad place things be?

Jacinto: I grew up in a very religious household and was fortunate to be given those principles as a kid. But who knows if they’re right or wrong. I think all I know is that I know nothing.

Danson: He’s just going for being the smartest person in the room. Because it’s true, what he said. I remember watching my mother die. Up until then, I had read this philosophy, that religion, meditating, Zen and felt a kind of spiritual pride about who I was. And watching her die, I was like, “Oh, I know nothing. She may be about to know. But I don’t have a clue.”

Which brings us back to wondering if there’s a Good Place — both on the show and the afterlife.

Bell: Maybe the Good Place is right here, finding those people who challenge you and help you grow. And you do the same for them.

Carden: And no mobile phones. There are no mobile phones in the Good Place.

Jamil: Because we have Janet. But think about it: If the characters had mobile phones, they never would have bonded. Too many distractions — the breaking news alerts, the social media, the apps. Also Chidi would have ghosted the hell out of Eleanor every time she got in his face about his neuroses.

Danson: Now what does “ghosted” mean again?

Carden: It means when you don’t reply to a text. Ted, you should know. You’re a big ghoster!

Harper: I think we see groups of people doing bad things so often in the media that, with our show, it’s heartening to see a bunch of people come together and look out for each other without it being cheesy. In life, I’ve been part of groups of friends with really great people, and I’m a better person because of that. I think it’s a pretty common experience, so it’s nice to reflect that.

Bell: I think this show helps us digest the negative things around us and transcend them. Because if you look at the statistics and start from a place of logic, things have never been better. It’s like Steven Pinker said in a lecture a couple of weeks ago: Every newspaper could have printed for the last 30 years that “Today, 138,000 less people died of starvation.” The world is not getting worse. I mean, the Crusades aren’t going on. Little things like that.

Jamil: Absolutely. You know, there are moral philosophy lecturers discussing this show in their classes.

Danson: [Feigning pomposity] Oh, we’re fabulous. You know the trouble with these conversations is you always walk out and step into a big pile of karmic poop. We’re all going to have to tread carefully the rest of the day.

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