Ted Danson on ‘The Good Place’ and Why He Doesn’t Need to Know His Characters Backstory
“On this show, you’re constantly walking in with a new script with a new backstory and a new revelation on who you are. You’re constantly discovering.” – Ted Danson
Television shows don’t often make a major character shift so early in the series, but The Good Place had one of the most surprising changes in recent memory. In the season finale of the first season (and stop reading here if you don’t want to know), Michael (Ted Denson), who was previously portrayed as a kindhearted caretaker of the afterlife — known as the titular “The Good Place” — is actually a twisted, evil character who also is ther creator of a horrible version known as “The Bad Place.” In an interview with Vulture, Danson spoke about knowing the twist well in advance, how it influenced his portrayal of the character, and what preparation he doesn’t do when playing a character.
While Danson’s career has mostly been made up of good-guy roles, he enjoys playing villains. He explains, “It’s always fun to play the bad guy. It’s hard to be politically correct in life as well. It’s much more fun to be a little naughty. I would watch the show last year and sometimes I’d look at myself and be like, ‘Wow, either that’s some of the worst acting I’d ever seen, or good. I can’t tell.’ [Laughs.] Usually you learn something about a character from their private moments. And Michael had no private moments or else you would’ve seen him smirking or laughing or giving it all away. You just saw him pop in as this enthusiastic, bumbling middle-management architect, kind of one note, in a way. But I just loved that it worked. We made it all the way and fooled pretty much everybody into a surprise that I thought was very well worth it. It was great fun. We discovered there was so much social media after the last episode!”
Danson admits that he hasn’t created an explanation as to why his character is so evil. He reveals, “Because this world is so complicated and comes from Mike’s imagination and the writers that it would be kind of pointless to go off on your own. Backstories are fun, but only matter if they can impact your performance. When you know the beginning, middle, and end, then a backstory can be helpful. But on this show, you’re constantly walking in with a new script with a new backstory and a new revelation on who you are. You’re constantly discovering.”
That’s not the only thing Danson hasn’t done — he also didn’t feel compelled to learn about his character’s interest and make them his own. He explains, “It’s weird, if a character had an ability that I don’t have, then yes, I’d go off and try to learn how play the bagpipes or whatever it is that’s necessary for the role. I’d practice and rehearse and try to make that a part of something I can make look natural. But nowadays I feel like if I say the words, and work with the words over and over and over again, if I take what the character’s saying and it’s really real and true for that character —those words are true and real — then it’ll start to have an impact on me and how I behave by just saying it.”