Last Thursday, the NBC comedy The Good Place aired its poignant finale, which concluded (spoilers) with Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop deciding her time in the afterlife was up. She walked through the final door, dissolved into floating orbs of light, and wound up down on Earth, where her glittering particles encouraged a stranger to do a good deed for her old pal Michael.
For Bell, life post-show has been both more complicated and simpler. Outside of voice work, she hasn’t done any acting since Good Place wrapped production, by choice. “I have really just been a mom,” she said by phone on Monday afternoon, “and I have loved it.”
We spoke about the swirl of emotion she and her co-stars felt as the series came to its conclusion, what she thinks happens when we die, and more.
Now that you’ve had a few days since the finale aired, how are you feeling?
Difficult to describe. I hate to say bittersweet, but I felt like the ending was so worthy, it’s hard to have any regrets. All that’s there now is the yearning to spend more time with those wonderful people I worked with.
Had the show’s creator, Mike Schur, told you how the show was going to end before you got that last script?
He had talked to all of us about it. In so many words, he told me a couple of different times how it was going to end, but the irony is I have no capacity for retention of anything but dialogue I need to memorize. So every time he told me, I was impressed by how good it was, and almost immediately forgot.
So what was it like when you finally had to read the script?
It was so sad! The level of sadness was in part because I knew we were doing it right. The table read was what was just a snot-fest. Everybody was bawling. It’s this mixture of saying goodbye to the characters, whom we’re attached to, but also saying goodbye to these friendships that we’ve been lucky enough to have on a daily basis. So there were these two levels to reading the finale that made us all extra-teary.
Were there particular parts that were making people cry a lot?
D’Arcy [Carden] had the hardest time when she walked people to the door. And with one specific line that I don’t think she got through at all in the table read, which was, “You can sit on that bench for as long as you like, and whenever you’re ready, you can just walk through the door.” It was amid sobs for each and every person. I had the hardest time with begging Chidi to stay. It’s interesting: When Eleanor lets Chidi go is not the saddest part. That’s actually one of her strongest moments. But when she begs him to stay on the bridge, she’s so scared and so desperate and so selfish, that was the hardest thing for me to read. I had the hardest time shooting that as well. Those tears, there was a lot of them.
You shot the Paris scenes last. Did that complicate the experience of saying goodbye to the show, since not all the cast and crew were there?
I certainly wish everyone could have been there, but the funny thing about this group of people is that most of them came. We had three writers who flew out to Paris for just a few days — didn’t write the episode, just wanted to be part of it. We took a portion of our crew. We had a lot of the OGs there on that day, and that was really special. But there was a little bit of an emptiness that it wasn’t the whole group. The whole thing is a metaphor for real life to me. You don’t get [to be with] everyone you want till the very end. Life ends before you want it to, right? And so did this show.
What was the last thing you shot where it was all six of you?
Jason’s goodbye party. That was where Jameela was wrapped. That was Sad Moment Number One. And then we wrapped Ted and Manny when we were in the redwoods. That was Sad Moment Number Two and Three.
That’s nice, though, that your last scene together was for a farewell party.
I remember moving very slowly that night, because we all knew it was coming. Our set is usually very efficient, but I think everyone wanted to draw it out. We didn’t wrap until 3 A.M.
The scene where Chidi talks about the wave returning to the ocean has a lot of long reaction shots from you where you have to get across how Eleanor is feeling without saying anything. What do you remember about shooting that?
I remember wanting to write that whole thing down and have someone read it to me on my deathbed. It was such a comforting thing to hear. You know, there’s something — no matter what you believe, even if you’re an atheist — about acknowledging a power greater than yourself. You don’t have to define it — don’t know what it is, could be energy, could be a god — but there’s something comforting about that. And the ocean in that paragraph is bigger than Eleanor, and I think she found so much comfort in it, and I did, too.
What do you think Eleanor’s days were like in between when Chidi went through the door and when she did?
I think she finally lived somewhat at peace. I don’t think she was indulgent enough to be ordering jalapeño poppers and porn from Janet every day. I think she was spending a lot of time smooching that cute calendar that Chidi left, and a lot of time trying to figure out what that final mission was. She acknowledged there was a lack of fulfillment — a reason she couldn’t go through the door. So until the lightbulb clicked for her that she needed to give something back to Michael, I think she was very structured and diligent about her time there. She was very focused.
It’s interesting that you say the lightbulb didn’t click until she helped Michael. Because I also took her willingness to go through the door after helping Mindy as half-hearted, at best.
Oh, yeah. I think she was kind of jealous that everyone else had the peaceful feeling, which Jason so eloquently described as the air inside your lungs being the same as the air outside your body. Eleanor wants that feeling so badly, and she’s learned enough to know that it’s probably a selfless act that will give it to her. She thought, “Oh, maybe it’s Mindy!” And when that didn’t work, she had to search harder. And it was this looked-over demon architect, whom she initially thought she couldn’t give anything to, because he’s a member of the afterlife. But when she thought deeper about it, she realized she could use her leverage to give him the one thing he’s always wanted, which is being human. And having Mary Steenburgen teach him how to play guitar.
What was your reaction to seeing the final version of the concluding sequence, where Eleanor goes through the door and turns into the balls of light that then help out Michael on Earth?
It confirmed for me that that’s absolutely what happens. It confirmed for me that Mike is Doug Forcett [the one man in the series’ universe who figured out how the afterlife worked], and he cracked the code.
On the live special with Seth Meyers that aired right after the finale, D’Arcy wore the “J&J” bracelet that Jason had given to Janet. Did you ask to keep any props or pieces of wardrobe?
Even cuter, Manny gave that to D’Arcy right before Seth Meyers, in a beautiful jewelry box. He handed it to her at dinner, and said, “I took this for you.” It’s even more special that she didn’t even take it. I asked for one thing, and I’m so grateful they said yes. I took a sign from the neighborhood flower shop that says, “Too Many Flowers,” and I hung it in my garden.
Why that one?
I just think the notion of there being too many flowers is hilarious.
When we spoke last summer, you said you weren’t sure how you could follow up a job like this — or if you even wanted to. Now that the show’s been wrapped for months, how daunting does that challenge feel?
One thing this show has done for me is really helped me value my life a lot more. I thought I valued it before, but I’ve been incredibly content since the show has ended. Previously — and maybe having kids growing up has something to do with this — I would run from job to job, worrying that if I waited one more moment, I would become irrelevant. But since September, I have really just been a mom, and I have loved it. There’s not a part of me that feels unfulfilled. I’m still working a little bit. I do a voiceover on an Apple show coming out in May called Central Park, and a voice on an Amazon kids show coming out in December called Do, Re & Mi. Morgan Sackett, the producer of The Good Place, and I started a production company that’s been making some commercials, and making an entity called The Tiny Chef alongside Imagine, but I’m not on camera. And I am totally fine with it. In the mornings, I wake up with my kids, I take them to school, I’m done at 9:30. I do work at my computer until 2:30, I pick them up, I make dinner, and I live a very Beaver Cleaver lifestyle with my family. That is, if Beaver Cleaver was into off-roading, which is a little bit more our family.
It feels like you’ve found your own Good Place.
Honestly, I really have. I’m not itching to jump into anything, and that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that peacefulness. I’ve actually turned down a few things that were wonderful projects, because I look at my kids, and I think, “Oh, I don’t want to miss this.” When I become a sparkle at the end of my life, I will want to have been here right now.