Christine Baranski Talks 'Good Wife' Spinoff and Why She Was "Shaken" by That Finale Slap

"Julianna [Margulies] might very well appear as Alicia Florrick in the courtroom with Diane," Baranski tells THR about the untitled CBS All Access offshoot.
Courtesy of CBS
'The Good Wife'

The Good Wife wrapped its seven-season run in May, but Diane Lockhart's story is far from over. The beloved Chicago lawyer, played by Christine Baranski, returns in her own CBS All Access spinoff next spring for a 10-episode first season. Also featuring Cush Jumbo reprising her role as Lucca Quinn, the hourlong offshoot will pick up one year after the events of the series finale, in which Alicia (Julianna Margulies) all but threw Diane and her husband, Kurt (Gary Cole), under the bus to keep her husband (Chris Noth) out of jail. Even more unexpected than Alicia's betrayal of her colleague and her friend was Diane's response: a slap across the face that seemed to shake Alicia, and the show's loyal viewers, to the core.

With production on the spinoff about to kick off next month, Baranski spoke with THR about why she was "shaken" by that slap, the spinoff and the possibility of an Alicia-Diane reunion down the road.

You must have had a lot of different options about what to do next after the end of The Good Wife. What made you want to do this spinoff and continue to do TV and continue to play this character?

Many people, and myself included, so valued the experience of doing The Good Wife. We had the privilege of working on a really well-run show with a fabulous crew, the show was just filled with great actors, many of whom were coming in [from] the theater, and New York is just such a playground for great actors. We just had this wonderful writing and it was so intelligent and great clothes and living in New York and taking the van to Brooklyn and working. It was kind of the perfect job, and when there was talk of it ending, there were a lot of people thinking, "Gosh, we're really happy here." We wanted it to continue but we totally understood why the show as The Good Wife, as a storyline, had to end. That whole arc of Alicia's character, I think they wisely brought that to an end but there was a sense that perhaps we could take the law firm and take my character and Cush and maybe other people who have been in the show, or in and out of the show, and continue life at the firm, life in the courtroom and then where does Diane go?

The ending of Good Wife was very strong with that slap and the two women parting and you have a feeling from that that Diane would survive and go on. That she's the one that ends with her integrity intact and Alicia is very compromised. Whether or not in that final shot people construed that Alicia was going to pull herself together and move on, or whether she was going to remain that way. It was a definite cutoff, but the possibility existed that Diane would very much move on and so that's where we are. I think it's worth a try. First of all, it's the new CBS streaming service and it will be 10 episodes instead of 22, so it's not like continuing on network television, which is hugely demanding. I'll be done by February and could probably do other projects as well after that.

What was your initial reaction when you got to the end of the finale script and saw that the show ends with Diane slapping Alicia?

Well, I'll tell you, there was a sadness. I think Julianna and I both felt a bit shaken by it because first of all we adore each other personally and our characters had connected in so many ways. It was always like Diane and Alicia almost getting it together. Diane and Alicia almost opening up a law firm together. She's almost back in the firm, and then things happen. But it always held out the possibility that you could have had a happy ending with Alicia entering the law office once again as a partner and Diane closing the door and the two women, they're the heads of the law firm, and women rule the world. It could have been a positive thing. But you have to have a dramatic weight after seven years. You just don't go out with "…." You go out with an exclamation point.

I think the Kings wanted to write a moral tale. I think that's what was so compelling about the show to people; this was not a melodramatic show, this was a moral journey for the characters and certainly for Alicia so I think they needed to take that character, her character, and make a statement about her integrity, and what happened to her in all of those years and how she was, how she survived, how she struggled and how her life was finally compromised by choosing to be the good wife. And that slap, as I perceived it when I made friends with the story, I thought, "Well, it's really a wake-up call." The slap from Diane is: Wake up. Wake up to your behavior. Wake up to what you've done and the havoc you've wreaked. Wake up to the consequences of your actions, which is actually a broader statement that could be applied to our culture right now. Like, can we all just wake up please and see what's happening?

You said "make friends with the script." Did it take you time to let these events set in? There was an interview with Julianna where she said she had to read the finale script several times.

She did. She, in particular, would have had a difficulty with it because she was the leading lady and that was a very dark turn and her actions very unsympathetic by the end. That final moment is like her darkest hour probably. The Kings, of course, leave it up to you to decide whether she gets her life together. Does she wake up? Does she move on? Does she remain an amoral character? But I would think in particular for Julianna, as I said, they could have spun the show so that she wound up being a senator for God sake. She could have been triumphant. She could have had a happy ending. For me, it was less so and I rather liked that Diane was the one to slap her because I always thought Diane had a kind of a moral stature and a sense of equilibrium more than any character. There was something foundational about Diane and I love the fact that Diane was a woman with that kind of integrity. God knows she struggled with it and she made compromises but always what you saw with Diane was a woman who was trying to hold her balance in a very morally compromised world.

Given everything that happened in that finale, it will be interesting to see where Diane is a year later after the events of the finale.

I think there are stories to be told like what happens after that and, indeed, Julianna might very well appear as Alicia Florrick in the courtroom with Diane. We don't know, but it's all an open possibility, which I think is exciting. What's exciting is we already have an audience that knows and loves the show, and knows and loves the characters so they're invested and they know the style of the writing and they love it. Almost everyone would comment on how great the writing was so why not see where that will take us? Why not hold on to something that's really good and not try and repeat, but do variations on a theme?

There are a lot of questions about how the show will be different tonally since there are far fewer episodes and since this isn’t going to air on broadcast. What can you say?

I have no idea. I've never done All Access. All I know is I work half as many weeks and that makes me very happy. (Laughs.) There's a big difference between 10 and 22.

The spinoff doesn't have a title yet. Do you have any suggestions? Have you pitched anything to the producers?

No, no, there were jokes about The Better Wife, but that's not an actual suggestion. (Laughs.)

The Good Wife spinoff premieres in early 2017 on CBS All Access.

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