“I was a sporty kid who was also an actor, so A League of Their Own was everything to me,” enthused D’Arcy Carden as we discussed reimaging the 1940s-set sports comedy drama. She knows how much the 1992 original movie means to people because it changed her life.
The name, the period, the context, and the heart are intact, but this new cast of characters is playing their own game. As with the iconic 1992 movie, it tells the story of forming a World War II-era women’s professional baseball team. Co-created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, it boasts a cast that includes real-life friends Carden and Jacobson, Chanté Adams, Melanie Field, and Dale Dickey, to name a few.
Carden and I connected over Zoom to talk frankly about what drew her to both Leagues, what made her pause, her pinch-me moments, and the difference between real baseball and TV show baseball.
Simon Thompson: Everybody knows the original A League of Their Own movie. This is very different. People love to arrive at things with preconceived ideas and opinions, so right off the bat, no pun intended, what do you think the most important thing is for people to understand?
D’Arcy Carden: I think it’s important to know that we’re not redoing the movie. We’ve been shooting the show for quite a while, and the most common question we get asked is who is playing the Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and the Madonna roles, so we have to say, ‘Okay, it’s not that.’ There are new characters. There will be little kisses to the movie, and at first glance, it might look like Melanie Field and I are playing the Rosie and Madonna roles, but once you get to know our characters, you see they’re different. You might think Nick Offerman is playing Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, but once you see the first scene, you realize we’re going in different directions. It’s the same world, the same period, the same stuff is going on, but we get to meet all these new characters.
Thompson: It has that title, A League of Their Own, and everybody has such a close affinity with the original movie. I know people who either love the film or haven’t seen it. That’s it. There are rarely people in between.
Carden: I agree. I was just saying that to someone. I was like, ‘I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t like this movie.’ It’s so pleasing and such a damn good movie.
Thompson: I remember the first time I saw it. I got dragged along and fell in love. What is your relationship with it?
Carden: I was a young kid who played sports, and I remember sitting in the movie theater and feeling like I wanted to be there. I want to go into the movie. I was a sporty kid who was also an actor, so A League of Their Own was everything to me; plus, I loved Madonna, so everything I loved was like on that screen (laughs). I was inspired, and I want to say that it changed my life. I’d never seen anything like it, and it showed what was possible in a way I had never seen before. It was pretty damn special to me, and I know that many of my cast mates feel the same way.
Thompson: This is a reinvention of an idea and the core values of A League of Their Own, but it’s not the first time it’s been reimagined for TV. There was a previous unsuccessful attempt. What is it about this that keeps the heart of the original but puts it in a way that sets it up for success?
Carden: There’s something about the original movie telling the story and doing it perfectly. Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, the co-creators of this show, were like, ‘Why would we touch that? Why would we try to you retell or continue to tell Dottie’s story or Jimmy’s story or whatever? There is so much more story to tell.’ That movie was made 30 years ago, and as time has gone on, more stories have come out about what was going on in the 40s in books and research, and I think they were just really excited to tell the story in a way that we haven’t gotten to hear before. When I came on to the project, I was excited about all that, and that’s what, as a viewer, I would want to see.
Thompson: When did you and Abbi start talking about this? I know the two of you have been friends for years. Did she use you as a sounding board quite early on? Was there always the intention of you being in this right from the get-go?
Carden: It’s funny because I remember Abbi talking about this in 2017. We’ve been friends for 15 years. We always keep each other up to date on what’s happening in our lives and careers and are definitely sounding board-style friends. I remember when she said she had this meeting about A League of Their Own, which, as one of her longtime friends, I know is one of her favorite movies, and she played baseball growing up. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m so happy for her. I’m so excited. And I’m so jealous because I can’t think of something I would rather do than this.’ You have to separate that from being excited for your friends, so I was very happy for her, but deep down, jealous as hell (laughs). 2017 was deep into The Good Place with no sign of stopping. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe, down the road, I could be in an episode like some villain on a different team.’ I was keeping my fingers crossed for that. When The Good Place ended a little before I thought it would, and a little before a lot of people thought it would, it was wrapping up at what turned out to be a perfect time. I was wondering what to do next, and writing the pilot took longer than they thought. Abbi called me up late one night, which is a weird thing she does, and I always answer. She said, ‘We have this role for you. I want you to read the pilot.’ I loved it. It was a real no-brainer. As much as I wanted to be a part of it right from when she started talking about it, I had this weird little scary moment where I was like, ‘What if it’s bad?’
Thompson: I wanted to ask you that. So you did have that split-second moment?
Carden: Yeah, but it only came after the phone call. She said, ‘I want you to read it,’ and I was like, ‘Great. Yes, I’ll read it.’ I hung up the phone, and I did have that feeling. Even before I opened page one, I was like, ‘What if this is bad, and then I have to say no to one of my best friends about a dream job?’ It was like such a relief that it was so damn, undeniably great, that it was like, ‘I’m in.’
Thompson: Let’s talk about pinch-me moments. What was the first pinch one that the two of you had?
Carden: There are several, there was one every day, but there was one in particular that I can remember so clearly. There have been so many lately with the premiere and getting to do all this great stuff, like meeting Geena Davis, and Abbi and I always check in about it. This particular memory was from the first day of shooting on the baseball field in the pilot. There’s a scene where Melanie, Abbi, and I walk through a tunnel and out onto the field, and it is shot-for-shot what we see in the original movie. The camera is on our faces where we all say, ‘Holy s**t, holy s**t, holy s**t,’ with tears in our eyes, and we’re looking out. These three characters were having a moment, but we three actors were absolutely having a moment of like, ‘Have we teleported on to our favorite movie? What is happening right now?’ It was very meta. I can see there’s a moment where I look over to Abbi, and we have this tiny little laugh like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe what we’re looking at.’ That is 100 percent D’Arcy and Abbi. That is not us, as Greta and Carson, faking it for the camera. That’s just us having a real true friend moment because we can’t believe it, and somehow it made it onto the screen.
Thompson: I know you have a background in baseball because you played it when you were younger. What we see on TV with things like this often differs from real life because you have to get a shot. What did you have to learn or do differently to do TV baseball rather than real-world baseball?
Carden: There was a lot to relearn, and some of it was for TV, some of it was for 40s-style baseball, and some of it was the technical stuff. Whatever I knew as a kid worked for some of it, but when you have these professional coaches teaching you, they’re like, ‘Oh, actually, that swing that you do that you think is great is not good. Let me teach you how to do it properly.’ There was a lot of technical help. I almost hesitate to say this because I don’t want people to get wrapped up in this stuff, but here I go (laughs). Sometimes it can’t be a real ball because it’s being thrown or hit at the camera, and throwing or hitting a ghost ball is harder than throwing or hitting a real ball. It seems like it’d be easier, but it’s harder and a skill we had to learn. It takes more acting than the actual playing of the sport, so that was tough.