From creator Michael Schur (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation), the NBC comedy The Good Place, which returns for its fourth and final season on September 26th, is a unique and special story about what makes a good person, which is something that many of us strive to be. While it has surprise after surprise and twist after twist, at its core is Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), an ordinary woman who’s had many ups and downs since entering the afterlife, and who’s become more and more determined to shed her own, more selfish way of living and earn herself a spot in The Good Place.
While at the NBCUniversal portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Kristen Bell about how hard it is to say goodbye to such an incredible project, the collective agreement they made to end the show when Mike Schur found the perfect ending, what it was like to get that phone call telling her that this would be the last season, her reaction to the pitch for what would happen, and what led her to direct an episode this season. She also talked about returning to Veronica Mars, the strong fan reaction to the new season on Hulu, and what excites her about the possible future of the series, as well as whether she’d return for the recently announced revival of Gossip Girl for HBO Max, and coming to the end of the ride for Frozen 2.
*Be aware that there are major Veronica Mars spoilers discussed*
Collider: Do you feel like you’re going through a grieving process with The Good Place?
KRISTEN BELL: Yes.
Do you just carry Kleenex with you now, especially when you know that you’ll be talking about the show?
BELL: I don’t, and that’s a stupid decision. I should. I thought I wasn’t gonna cry. I psyched myself up because I’ve cried numerous times. We’ve known for a year, so it’s been an interesting way to process a long-term creative endeavor coming to an end. Normally, when a show ends, it’s canceled months after you’ve wrapped, and there’s this feeling that something’s been taken from you, or stolen from you, because you’ve been told that you can’t come back. This was a collective agreement that we made to end the show because Mike Schur found the perfect ending. He found an ending that is as meaningful as the reason he created the show. In the dictionary, there should be a picture of Mike under so many different words, beyond just intelligent, like consistency and empowering. In regard to consistency, he’s been consistent, from day one. He wanted to create a show that was a conversation starter, and the ending is a conversation starter. It’s also deeply, deeply meaningful. I don’t think anyone will see it coming. It’s so fucking beautiful, and it was very hard to do.
As an actor, you’re trained to pay attention to story. There are a thousand ways to live your life. You can get lost in just wanting the paycheck. You can get lost in yourself and your own character, or you can pay attention to story. That’s what I was taught, and that’s what I’ve tried to commit to. It’s the most well-intentioned integrity. It has a ton of integrity. It’s the most well-intentioned ending that has meaning and will hopefully be a whole other conversation starter for people. Sorry, I know that seems so dramatic, but this has been such a cool experience for me to do something that fulfills me creatively. I love to make people laugh, and being allowed to say the words of this particular writing team is like, forget it. What am I? I’m literally the luckiest girl in the world. But then, there’s this fusion of who I’ve become, as an adult, and these maternal feelings that I have towards the world, and this idea that I commit to, in my marrow, that there’s no such thing as other people’s children. The whole world has to just learn how to try for each other, and to be able to fuse those ideas is an incredible sensation. I have a lot of desire to see goodness in the world. Many people say, “Do it with your art,” and I truly got to do that here.
When you got that phone call telling you that the series was ending, did Mike Schur also tell you what that ending would be, or did you find that out later?
BELL: No, I found it out about a week later. But he said, “Come into the office, and I’ll pitch you.” Mike Schur is one of the best orators on the planet. When he pitched me Season 2, he said, “And then, Tahani would say something in Episode 4 like . . .,” and deliver a line, and then say, “And Eleanor would respond with something like . . .,” and then deliver the joke. He has an incredible memory, and an incredible ability to tell a story. So, I wanted to give him the respect of sitting down and not just being like, “How does it end? Oh, that happens? Okay.” I went in and he said, “Here’s how it’s gonna go down.” I just stared at him while he gave me a 10-minute synopsis, and it was just beautiful.
How close was that final script to what he said, when he pitched you?
BELL: It was even better because I was able to live it, moment to moment, in the script versus just hearing the download of the entire season. The emotional moments, the sequence of events, and the journey that we take people on – with people’s failures, Jason’s absurd antics, Eleanor’s selfishness, Tahani’s pretentiousness, and their failings and successes – it creates this connective tissue because people are allowed to see, “Oh, I’ve failed like that before. Oh, I’ve made that decision.” The whole goal of the show was to connect to the audience and say, “Hey, there’s all sorts of people in the world. There’s not one way to be right. There are a thousand ways. Let’s discuss a couple hundred of those thousand ways here. And let’s laugh while we do it.”
What’s it like to also take that step to direct, and why was this the right opportunity and show to do that with?
BELL: Well, because I have the ultimate support system here. I’ve never been in better hands. Mike, Morgan Sackett and David Hyman, who produce, are just the best. I have complex feelings about actors that direct, and I’m gonna be honest about that. I’ve never taken the opportunity because I didn’t go to school for directing. There are people and there are women that went to school and learned how to direct. They’re not trying to take my part. That’s important to me, to think that through. Is it something I really wanna do? Am I just taking it because it’s here? Because I would be taking a position from someone else. With this particular show, I felt that I was qualified because I know the material so well. I was also really encouraged and empowered by Mike, Morgan and David, and our producing team, who said, “We know you, inside and out. This is the right step for you to explore this side of yourself.” So, I have mindfully not taken advantage of that, in the past, and I mindfully took advantage of it, this year. It was wonderful. It was a great way to stretch my wings.
Did this experience make you want to do it more?
BELL: Yes, but perhaps not on a show that I wasn’t as familiar with. The reason I think I was successful is because I’m so familiar with even just the inner emotional workings of this whole crew. I’ve worked with a ton of directors, some that have entered into these crew and cast families seamlessly and some that have had rocky roads, and it’s hard because you’re really in someone else’s home. You’re cooking a meal in someone else’s home. So, I would probably wanna do it on a show that I knew really well. Beyond that, I’m not sure I’m ready. I’m not confident with myself, and I can say that with confidence. There are other people more qualified to have a take on something, and I’m totally fine in admitting that.
Does it feel like you would take on an episode of Veronica Mars, if you have more seasons of that?
BELL: Oh, wow. I know that, inside and out, for sure. The answer is maybe because I know what an undertaking that show is. The Good Place is a very different show than Veronica Mars. Not just being a one-hour, but with the noir aspect, the drama and the stunts, it’s a lot bigger of a project. And I don’t know that, at the place I’m at in my life, if I’m ready to put in all the extra work. It’s enough work to be an actor. To take on double that, I don’t know if that’s what my kids deserve right now. But when my kids are a little older, for sure. I don’t mind working long hours. What I mind is being taken away from them.