Growing up, D’Arcy Carden had three career aspirations: “rock star, actress, baseball player.”
Of course, she’s already seen success as an actor with memorable roles as Janet in “The Good Place” and Natalie in “Barry.” But in Amazon Prime Video’s “A League of Their Own,” which premiered in a binge on Aug. 12, Carden had the chance to make another one of those childhood dreams come true, hitting a grand slam as fiery Rockford Peaches player Greta Gill.
The new series from “Broad City” co-creator Abbi Jacobson and “Mozart in the Jungle” showrunner Will Graham is based on Penny Marshall’s beloved 1992 film of the same name — but don’t call it a reboot. The retelling includes what Carden calls “kisses to the original,” but features all-new characters, while tackling queer storylines and racism.
“We really haven’t seen this time period through a queer lens. There’s a taste here and there — but, if anything, it’s one story, one character. This really opens the lens,” Carden says over brunch ahead of the series premiere.
“They set out to tell a more inclusive story, because we’ve already seen the story from the straight white girl lens. So let’s see what else is out there,” she continues. “Women were playing baseball. Black women were playing baseball. In 2022, getting eight hours instead of two hours, we were able to tell a bigger story. It’s what I want to watch.”
While the new series broadens its scope, Carden, who’s 42, has nothing but fond memories of watching the “life-changing,” ‘brain-busting” original film. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were all these baseball movies. I was a sporty little kid and I really liked them. When ‘A League of Their Own’ came out, I didn’t even know there could be a sports movie about women,” she says. “It totally, completely holds up. It’s still incredible. The performances are incredible. There’s not a bad moment in it. I love it all. In fact, I love it more now.”
The series first came onto Carden’s radar years ago when longtime pal Jacobson first began developing it. The duo met over a decade ago at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, and briefly shared the screen when Carden guest-starred on “Broad City.”
Carden desperately wanted to be a part of “A League of Their Own,” but was starring on “The Good Place” at the time and assumed she wouldn’t be able to participate. “I remember her bringing it up, and being so happy for her, but so jealous — good jealous! Not mad jealous, but just painful. It was like, ‘Oh my God, the dream!’”
On Michael Schur’s comedy about the afterlife, Carden won hearts as the cheery anthropomorphized database with a heart of gold. Well, not literally: Janet wasn’t human, and constantly reminded her friends: “Not a girl!” Carden’s nuanced portrayal earned her an Emmy nomination in 2020.
“There’s something Mickey Mouse-ish about Janet. I’m wearing the same costume every day. I have a catchphrase or two,” she says. “In a way, it’s all you could ever ask for. But then you’re like, ‘Let me show you what else I can do.'”
That’s not an easy task when Janet still seems to follow her everywhere. Year after year on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Twitter floods with memes of the character explaining, “Fun fact: Columbus is in the Bad Place, because of all the raping, slave trade and genocide.”
“There are worse things” than being known as a beloved character, Carden acknowledges. “At least I absolutely loved Janet. If someone calls me Janet in 50 years, I’ll be happy with that.”
When “The Good Place” ended earlier than Carden expected, she sought co-star Ted Danson’s guidance for her next career move. “My advice to you is to do something as different from Janet as possible,” Carden recalls him saying. “Do not do something in the world of Janet.”
With perfect timing, Jacobson delivered a role as far from not-a-girl, not-a-robot Janet as possible. “I got a phone call from Abbi one night — if you get a late-night phone call from Abbi, you’ve just got to answer.” Jacobson shared that there was a role in the series for Carden and sent over the pilot script.
Carden was hooked instantly. “I remember saying to my husband, ‘I have to do this. This can’t happen without me.’ I told her right away, ‘I’m so in.’”
The next day, Jacobson left a baseball glove on Carden’s doorstep to seal the deal. “It was very un-Hollywood. Usually it’s through your reps and your agents, negotiating shit. This was just two friends that were like, ‘I love you. Let’s work together.’”
Carden still had some nerves when taking on the role of confident, flirtatious first basewoman Greta Gill. “I haven’t played sultry. This is out of my comfort zone. I’m so used to playing the weirdo goofball,” Carden says with a laugh.
“I started looking at cool actors’ performances. My little secret is that I was like, ‘This character is George Clooney.’ Greta’s cool. And she’s sexy, but she’s not trying too hard. How would a guy play her? I don’t know how to play ‘sexy woman.’ I know how to play ‘cool guy.’”
“She’s almost zero percent goofy. I can’t settle into my tricks,” Carden adds. “But I was like, I think I have to do something like this in order to shake off every comment on my Instagram being, ‘not a girl!’”
Greta’s glamorous period-accurate wardrobe in the series was another fresh concept for Carden, who’d worn the same outfit for nearly every episode of “The Good Place.”
Greta consistently dons a signature red lip and perfectly-coiffed curls, paired with a truly enviable rotation of 1940s dresses, and, of course, the iconic Rockford Peaches uniform. “It was such a new thing for me to go into my trailer and be like, ‘What do we get to wear today? How will this inform the character?”
Carden describes the “magical” moment she first tried on the costume: “It’s something that brings my childhood together with my career in a way that just feels big for me. I kind of can’t believe my luck.”
Early conversations with “wonderful, professional, amazing” costume designer Trayce Field made Carden confident she was in the right hands: “She was like, ‘This shit is going to be vintage, and it’s going to be correct. And everybody’s going to look good.”
The Peaches didn’t just have to look good in their costumes, though — they had to look good on the field. Carden credits months of baseball practice led by coach Justine Siegal with getting the cast ready to run the bases. “As girls started getting cast, they would join the practices. Getting months of baseball time with the other actors was so magical, because we became a team.”
With her new team by her side, Carden feels ready for this next phase in her career. “These last six or seven years, between ‘The Good Place’ and ‘Barry,’ and now ‘A League of Their Own,’ it’s hard to put it into words. It took me so long to get here. So much struggling and discounting myself.”
“My dreams truly came true in a way that I occasionally can’t even believe. I just feel beyond grateful.” She laughs. “It’s impossible to talk about this shit without sounding cheesy!”
A modifed version of this story ran in the Aug. 10 issue of Variety.
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