Ted Danson On Managing Stress And Saying Goodbye To 'The Good Place'

The veteran actor also opens up about politics and what's next in his career.
NBC via Getty Images

When Ted Danson starts a new project, he admits to sometimes feeling stressed. It could happen before joining a series or returning to work after time off. To stave off that pressure, the longtime actor says he’ll often turn to meditation or exercise. Other times, he’ll talk things through with his wife, fellow actor Mary Steenburgen.

“I’m blessed with Mary, who’s not only wise, but she loves me and has witnessed me through the years and can say, ‘Don’t be silly. You always think you’re dying right before you start work. You’re not.’ It’s my fear, my tension. It actually sometimes makes my arthritis flare-up … I’m always getting some painful thing going on in my body right before I start work and she can lift me up and say, ‘No, Ted. This is you being afraid, or whatever.‘’’

Having ways to manage stress is key for the 71-year-old Danson. It’s the reason he teamed up with Cigna on its initiative to encourage people to take control of both their physical and mental health by having a four-step plan to take on stress.

In addition to the campaign, Danson is about to be seen in the final episodes of “The Good Place,” which returns on Jan. 9 on NBC.

We caught up with Danson about saying goodbye to “The Good Place,” and talked about his health, politics and more.

As part of this Cigna initiative, you’re encouraging others to take control of their physical and mental health. Tell me more about what specifically you do to manage stress in your own life.

I think the older you get the more you realize how eloquent your body is ― like telling you that you’re not dealing with an emotion. Or you’re stressing yourself out and it’s actually having an impact on your body, your health. That started for me in my 40s. And that’s roughly the same time that I met my wife Mary, from which all good things come. She taught me to meditate … I started meditating. I will talk to you about what I do. But these are aspirations … I’m human. I will tell you what I know works, and what I do ― not enough of myself … Anyway, I don’t want to set myself up! My brain can get into a circular, chewing on the same thought over and over again, especially with a stressful or angry— like what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this thought. That’s when I literally silence my mind through meditating ... You do all of a sudden get a perspective, or you get a moment of relief … Like, “Oh, I don’t really have to stress this. This is small stuff.” It’s very effective.

For me also, cardio ― if I raise my heart level, whether I’m walking in the woods, which is Mary’s and my cardio of choice. But I also love going to Gold’s Gym in Venice, [California]. So 20, 30 minutes — get your heart rate up every day … Find time to do this. Have a person you can talk to … Or a psychiatrist. I have this amazing psychiatrist that I’m blessed to be able to talk to on occasion or I have a doctor that I can talk to ... And make sure you have a check-up.

Kristen Bell as Eleanor and Ted Danson as Michael in NBC's "The Good Place," which is coming to an end after a four-season run.
Kristen Bell as Eleanor and Ted Danson as Michael in NBC's "The Good Place," which is coming to an end after a four-season run.
NBC via Getty Images

You’ve been on “The Good Place” for four years now ― a show that centers a lot on morals and ethics. Has there been something that you’ve changed about your own life since joining the show?

One of the things you say to yourself, is what a hypocrite you are. I say this as a joke, but I watch myself through this, literally. Like leaving a tip for the barista. I’m a celebrity. People know who I am. So I want to leave a nice big tip. So instead of anonymously leaving my nice big tip in the jar and walking off, I make sure the barista turns around in time for me to see me slipping in the $20. So I’m really basically full of shit. It’s a comic wash ―at best ― to be calling out … So yes, I do see myself all the time and how sometimes my walk doesn’t match my talk. But I think that thing about it is ... just try to be better … It doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed. It’s a gentle way of saying, “Hey you’re human. You’re going to make mistakes.”

This is a cast you’ve been together with for a while The show was kind of a surprise hit. Plus, you’ve been nominated and won awards for it. How are you feeling about saying goodbye?

Usually a show gets canceled and you thought you were going to see your best friends in a few months and then you never see them again. This had the grace of [creator] Mike Schur realizing by the end of this season we will have told our tale and it’ll be time for us to go. So we had the entire season to cherish each other and actively grieve our goodbye. Which was very eloquent. It was interesting that the characters starting to grieve at the same time as we as actors were. It was a very powerful time. What’s lovely is that we’ve got to experience that. It doesn’t feel like a divorce.

You’re already on a new show and were recently cast alongside Holly Hunter.

Tina Fey and her writing partner Robert Carlock created the show … I play the mayor of Los Angeles … It’s just a wonderful group of actors. Bobby Moynihan. We start shooting in January. I’m very excited.

Playing a mayor. It’s an interesting time to playing someone who’s in politics.

Our mandate is to be funny. I won’t be solving a lot of problems as the mayor of L.A., but hopefully it will make you laugh.

You were arrested at a climate protest alongside Jane Fonda back in October. How are you feeling about everything, heading into 2020 amid the presidential election?

How am I feeling? Well, as soon as we get off the phone, I’m going to take a long walk. I will try to meditate today instead of watching CNN. It is a very, very stressful time. It feels like it’s inevitable but I will refuse to believe that. I keep thinking, off-topic here, I keep thinking here, we’re advertised as this split country that’s very angry with each other and when you talk politics, people can easily get enraged. But those same people, when you see a flood hit some southern, midwestern town and you see first responders in rowboats risking their lives to save someone else — who I can almost guarantee has a different political point of view than you — and it’s so human, to reach out and save people. And firefighters out West saving people’s lives by risking their own, there are so many things that we do when we say, “This is what I believe, that this is how I feel. Here I am. This is human nature.” There has to be hope for us getting back together. It just makes good sense. I think sometimes people in power — in the press and in politics — benefit by having us fight each there. I bet you we can heal. I really do.

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