Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick in CBS’s The Good Wife) was spending an afternoon in Washington Square Park. “A lovely couple came up and said, `We’re on the Peter Florrick team,’” she said. “Then, another couple approached me and said, `We’re on the Will Hunt team.’” For Margulies, the two encounters showed how viewers are caught up in the drama of The Good Wife. Alicia’s husband, Peter (Chris Noth), a Chicago state’s attorney, is forced to resign after he’s implicated in a sex scandal. Will Alicia stay with Peter, who is promising to reform? Or, will she rekindle an old relationship with Will Gardner (Josh Charles), a law school classmate, now a partner in the law firm where Alicia works as an associate? “People are happy it’s complicated, and we’re happy people care,” said Margulies.
“An Evening with The Good Wife,” at the Paley Center for Media on April 21, brought together five cast members from the popular CBS drama. Matt Roush, senior critic for TV Guide, served as moderator, drawing the cast out about their roles, relationships, and what will happen in future episodes. Christine Baranski, who plays Diane Lockhart, another partner in the law firm, arrived late but wasted no time taking center stage, revealing a major plot development the rest of the cast had kept under wraps. (We’re not spoilers, so we won’t reveal Baranski’s gaffe). Other story threads, however, will be slowly unspooled during the remaining five episodes, with a season finale scheduled for May 25. Might we see Alicia leave Peter for Will? The episode airing this Tuesday, April 27, was screened for the Paley Center audience and hinted Alicia may be on the verge of making a choice.
For Margulies, being cast in The Good Wife was kismet. In the show’s first year, she has won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of Alicia. “I was looking to find something in cable, something that I could handle as a working mother,” she said. (Margulies is married to an attorney, Keith Lieberthal, and they have a two year-old son). Instead, she found herself cast in one of the few hour-long dramas now on network TV. In the beginning she was afraid that the show might be “too small and multi-layered” to become a hit. While the program’s legal plots have been praised, the personal stories are what keep people tuning in. “The writing was so good, that I wasn’t surprised it was embraced [by the audience],” she said. Even thought the action is set in Chicago, The Good Wife is actually filmed in New York, fortunate for longtime New Yorker Margulies. Also, the New York location allows the show to take advantage of the city’s talented actor pool. Past guest stars have included Martha Plimpton, Gary Cole, Kate Burton, and Alan Cumming, who is now a regular.
There was some joking that The Good Wife benefitted from NBC’s experiement, counter programming with The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. “I was thrilled that we killed them in the ratings,” Margulies said, with a laugh.
Although Margulies is undoubtedly the star of the show, she is backed up with a talented ensemble. Baranski is fabulous in her role as the take-no-prisoners, tough-talking Lockhart. Josh Charles, whose multi-faceted career includes roles on stage, film, and TV, gives a nuanced performance as Will, a lawyer whose personal life has long taken a back seat to his career. He’s succeeded in making partner at a young age, but now, faced with Alicia, and what might have been, he’s rethinking his life. Charles is brilliant in illustrating Will’s inner conflict in understated ways, a glance, a gesture.
The audience’s personal favorite seemed to be Archie Panjabi, who plays the law firm’s secret weapon, investigator Kalinda Sharma. The British Sharma said she was “gob-smacked” with her popularity and the show’s success. The audience wanted to know whether Kalinda’s sexual preference will be revealed in upcoming episodes. Panjabi, whose British accent is absent when she plays Kalinda, wouldn’t say.
Matt Czuchry, who plays Cary Agos, the young Harvard Law School grad gunning for the associate position Alicia hopes will be hers, seemed to have the most fun during the Paley program, kidding his fellow cast members and delivering one-liners to the audience.
Asked about the research she did for the role, Margulies said she watched tapes of Silda Spitzer, wife of Eliot Spitzer, before and after the sex scandal forced the New York governor to resign. Standing beside Spitzer at his press conference, Silda looked tired and drained, something Margulies drew on when she had to play a similar scene in The Good Wife’s first episode. Of all the wives whose lives have paralleled Alicia’s, only Elizabeth Edwards called to tell the show’s producers the program was on the mark. Although that call came early on, before most of the news of Edwards’ transgressions made headlines. Margulies said she doesn’t think the other wives watch the show, and she understands why. “It’s too painful,” she said.
Silda Spitzer recently posed for a fashion magazine and looked beautiful, Margulies said. In that situation, you can sink or swim. “She chose to swim,” she said. Alicia, too, has blossomed on the show, from victim to someone in control of her life. Fans will be tuning in to see where those next episodes take her.