The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will be given out on Sept. 20, so we’re talking to pairs of nominated actors as we look ahead to the ceremony. (Whatever it ends up being.) For a full list of Emmy nominees and other coverage of TV’s top awards, visit nytimes.com/Emmys.
Even over Zoom, Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden are unreserved in their mutual admiration. And why not? Danson (or Sam Malone, if you prefer) is a beloved veteran of prime time, having earned a record 14 Emmy nominations for lead actor in a comedy series. Carden is a star on the rise, with appearances on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Broad City” before her breakout role beside Danson on “The Good Place.” Both received Emmy nominations and the show, which wrapped up in January, is in the running for best comedy.
But it’s more than that. Danson — who plays a demon striving to be like the humans he comes to admire — and Carden — whose Siri-but-in-a-cosmic-way Janet is far more than a girl or a robot — share a warmth that blossomed in their time together. A kind of love grew in the space between the high jinks and high philosophy. Carden is especially effusive in her belief that Danson made her a better actor. But in this era of Covid-19, they’re much less sure about what the Emmys and celebrity even mean.
“There’s a lot of anger and sadness and fear in the world,” Danson said.
Carden and Danson, both in Los Angeles, also talked about the legacy of “The Good Place” and how their relationship shaped the bond between Janet and Michael. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
How did you take the Emmy nomination news?
D’ARCY CARDEN I took the news well! William Jackson Harper and me getting the nomination was such a delicious surprise. I was truly shocked. It was very surreal. When I got the news that I was nominated, I just looked at my husband and we were just like mouth open. Not screaming, not jumping around. We just kept going, “Holy [expletive]” over and over. Then when we heard that Will got the nomination, then there was some screaming and jumping.
What about you, Ted?
TED DANSON It’s strange in this day of Covid, but it was very gratifying. I’m trying not to give you a pat answer. It calms you. It’s very nice to be acknowledged by peers. It’s really lovely. This is me trying to be humble and all that, but I do believe that any chance we get to talk about “The Good Place” and Mike Schur and what that show put out into the world, I really love that opportunity. For me in my career, it was a really special show to be part of.
How did I do? Did you buy that, D’Arcy?
CARDEN Yeah. I bought it. But the truth is, I’ve known Ted for a long time now and I’ve seen him get a lot of nominations and he has such a healthy relationship to it. It’s ——
DANSON OK. Let me interrupt. Nice try. As soon as I heard it coming out of your mouth, I realized, “Oh, that’s [expletive].”
CARDEN It’s not! But go ahead.
DANSON Here’s the truth. Here’s what I don’t like about awards. Everything I said is true. It’s lovely, it does kind of relax that part of you, but it throws you right smack dab into your ego, which is not where you want to live as an actor. If you don’t get nominated, there’s soul searching. If you do get nominated, there’s ego and you think it means something. All of the pratfalls of the award season, I fall into every time. So it’s tricky and lovely.
CARDEN Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. One of my favorite parts of all this is that it’s just sort of extending the life of the show, and it’s letting us do things like this and talk to each other and think about the show.
The cast is close with one another and with Schur. Did you throw a virtual party after the nominations came out?
CARDEN It’s the hard part about all this. I think in a real-world situation, we probably all would have, I don’t know, gone to Ted’s house or Mike would’ve had us over and we would have gone to a restaurant or something to celebrate. But no, it’s some Zooming and some texting and a phone call here and there. Which is great during this time when everyone feels so isolated, but it is a big bummer that we don’t get to hug each other and say congrats.
DANSON We’ve been lucky to have a couple Zooms recently, one for Marc Jackson’s 50th birthday. There was another one where the technical team set us all up and then said, “Come back in a half an hour.” The entire cast just stayed online talking to each other, we were so happy to see each other.
Ted, you said on a recent podcast that the pandemic has forced you to, in a way, get real. Where does that leave you in regard to the Emmys?
DANSON It’s such a jumble. Here’s what I will stick with that I know is true and not ego: I can’t wait, if I were to win and had the opportunity to say something, to once again in public reaffirm how much I love going to work with these people every day and how much it meant to me. How much it meant to me that kids came up in airports and were so excited and that they watched the show, and that their parents loved that they watched the show.
Then there’s other emotions. I wonder if celebrities are not the celebrities anymore, which I think is good. We’re talking about such monumental things in this country, besides the election. We’re talking about climate change and Black Lives Matter and Covid. We’re talking about the courage of first responders and the people who have sacrificed their lives, so that celebrities like me get to stay home. The whole celebrating celebrities, which in a way is what award shows are, feels a little tricky to navigate.
CARDEN I’ve been feeling the same thing. I am so honored to be included in this list of people that I so admire and it’s something that I’ve been working for, for my whole career. But it’s a weird moment to be patting ourselves on the back.
DANSON I’ll pat you on your back. The first couple of weeks of doing the show, I felt so sorry for my new friend who had to play a robot. “I get to play a demon. Poor D’Arcy is going to play a computer.” Lo and behold this astounding part develops. What makes you so special is having this portrayal of this robot-like person come through you. When you contained it inside this little container of “not a robot,” it was just like you, D’Arcy, bursting out of that at all times. It was really fun to watch it.
D’Arcy, you said in an interview that you haven’t gone back and watched the finale, because it would make you cry. Have you watched it since?
CARDEN The cast watched it together the night before it aired, which was really special and exactly the way I wanted to watch it. It was hard and it was emotional. I mean, reading that script was emotional, doing the table read was emotional, shooting the finale was hard. So watching it, yeah it was devastating. I haven’t been able to watch it again. I want to, but I also know that it’ll make me cry. And I’m feeling real fragile right now.
I lucked out because I got to do so many scenes with just Ted. With just Janet and Michael from the beginning, we had this special friendship, which bled over into real life, which again, was just so lucky and special on my end. I think on your end. Right?
CARDEN I always go back to those moments in Season 2, the episode “Janet and Michael.” I remember when Ted told Janet that the reason he can’t kill me is because I’m his truest friend. His emotions came right to the front of his eyes, and I wasn’t expecting that at all. And D’Arcy could not handle it. Janet is not supposed to cry. I just remember having to fight in my own mind, I was staring in his eyes and there was no way it couldn’t affect me. It was one of the moments that she sort of became more human, took a step into evolving more. I don’t think that was the plan. I think that was Ted’s influence.
What do you think the legacy of the show is going to be?
DANSON You go first.
CARDEN I do think we had a very special show that was saying something important without forcing it down your throat, and without being annoying about it. But the way it affected people, from the beginning until today, has been so lovely to witness. We’re in obviously this horrible, strange time, and we’ve all heard from people out in the world going through losing family members and really hard times. This show has given them some peace or helped them get through it. I could cry talking about it. It’s really pretty intense. It is nothing you ever expect when you get an acting job.
DANSON I had this fantasy that it may cool down, disappear, whatever, for a few years, then someone will release it again. And there’ll be a new batch of 12-year-olds coming up whose parents want them to soak up really bright conversation about life, needing to be purposeful and that there are consequences to our actions. When all is said and done, you just try to be a little better every day. Then you mix that in with fart humor and visual magic, and I think parents will delight in seeing it themselves, but also having their kids see it, over the years. That’d be my thought.