'The Good Wife's' Alan Cumming on That Surprise Eli Twist: "He's Out for Revenge"

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from The Good Wife's season seven premiere, "Bond."]

The lawyers of The Good Wife have been through firm changes and personnel changes galore in the past few seasons. But on Sunday's season premiere of the CBS legal drama, one of the show's longest running partnerships came to an end. After Peter (Chris Noth) brought famed political strategist Ruth Eastman (Margo Martindale) onto his presidential campaign, he promptly fired Eli (Alan Cumming to the shock of not only Eli himself, but also Alicia (Julianna Margulies). After a little soul searching and downtime at home, Eli made a strong comeback when he asked to come aboard as Alicia's chief of staff and told Ruth he intended to "destroy" Peter.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Cumming about why he was "glad" Eli got canned, his new working relationship with Alicia and his "aggressive" new love interest.

How did you first hear about Eli getting fired, and what was your first reaction?

I first heard about it when I got the script, as I do most of the huge changes in the plotline. I was really glad because, frankly, I was a little bored. I think it's such a great character, but I think he got into a rut, where Eli would just go, "Alicia, what the hell is going on?!" I had done that quite a lot, so I actually think it was so good that they listened and took him in a totally different direction. So I'm very, very excited about it.

We rarely get to see Eli be so vulnerable and blindsided like that. How did you approach that scene?

It was really great to have much more of a range of emotions to play. Like I said, I feel like I had kind of have been doing the same thing for a long time. I get why people love Eli and he's a great character, and you want him to do his shtick. And Eli is going to continue to do his stuff, but it is nice to see him completely blindsided. It was just refreshing, and eye-opening to realize that I had been getting into a little bit of a rut with him.

For a minute he seems lost when he's at home watching TV. What changes in him to make him get that makeover and bounce back in such a big way?

We've never seen him at home like that in the six seasons. I think what was great was that the reason he kind of has this epiphany was that he's watching (laughs) that zombie show, and I think it was the zombie show that was the last straw for him  that he kind of thought, 'I can't do this.' So what I love about [creators Robert and Michelle Kings] is that they do things with a lot of humor and give me a chance to really push the boundaries to the edge.

It's really interesting because Eli doesn’t really have a lot of friends and neither does Alicia, yet their friendship is really able to survive this bump in the road. Why do you think that is? What draws them to each other as friends?

I think they've learned a lot from each other over the years. In a way, they both kind of want the same thing. They wanted, at one point anyway, to construct or make a construct that would allow Peter Florrick to flourish and succeed and I think they're both guilty of making this falsehood around Peter, and now they both benefit from it as well. They both need each other in an interesting way. She wants Eli to keep her life more simple and keep all the political stuff away from her.

They worked together last season as well, but how does this new partnership look for them?

Now Alicia knows that Eli is using her. And Eli knows that Alicia is using him, and Peter is using Alicia and Alicia is using Peter. Everyone is using each other. She's much more vocal and she's grown in a way in her knowledge of corruption of the political world. What's interesting is she's much more at peace with it, but also vocal about the fact that she's being used.

Your dynamic with Margo Martindale was really terrific in the premiere. What makes her character such a formidable opponent for Eli? What can you say about their battle going forward?

I love Margo. I just think she's absolutely hilarious. It's just really great to have someone who's Eli's equal in terms of the cunning political actions and ruthlessness, but also happens to be a woman and someone that… he starts off being very in awe of her but very quickly, he has this great spar with her. They really butt heads.

Now that Eli's been through everything that he has in the premiere, how do you think this changes him? Is he less loyal? Is he less trusting?

I have my theories. Obviously, he's out for revenge. That's a grand plan. That's a long-term plan. I think that there's trouble ahead. There's going to be an explosion somewhere because he was wronged and he was betrayed, and I don’t think that sits very well with him.

Obviously, he tells Ruth he wants to destroy Peter but at the same time, he has this alliance with Alicia. How worried is he about whatever blowback she might suffer from what he would do to Peter?

There's some stuff coming with that. Alicia is his kind of Peter. He's protecting her, but also using her, but there's some stuff coming up. He wants to take a few people down, but he doesn't want to take her down and that gets more complicated with the more he finds out about the scandal and actually what really happened the last year.

The show name-drops a lot of real political candidates like Hillary Clinton. So how has that affected how much attention you pay to political news?

It's not because of that. I'm a human being and a citizen of this country with a keen ear to what is going to happen so I'm politically active. I think, in a funny way, doing this show has made me understand much more about the downsides of politics and the business of it and the backroom deals and the old boy network of it. So I'm not as optimistic about the political system as I used to be.

It was also recently announced Vanessa Williams will be coming on as a love interest for Eli. What can you say about her character? It's been awhile since Eli has had a love interest.

It's been a long time. I really like Vanessa, she's lovely. We're just getting into the nitty gritty right now. She plays this millionaire CEO who's interested in supporting Peter's campaign, so she's very dominant and, at the moment, very aggressive in the relationship so it's an interesting thing to see him kind of in a situation where he's having his butt grabbed literally as well as metaphorically.

Did the Kings give you any indication that they had so much planned for your character this season? How did they describe season seven to you?

Well, I was kind of thinking, I don't know if I want to come back and do what I had been doing. A lot had to do with my schedule which made it difficult to do as much. The thing is you can be more vocal and say, "I want more to do," but you also just have to take a risk and see where the plotline is going and all that. But they've really given me great stuff thus far, and I couldn't be happier. I'm actually more excited about this season than I have been about any other season thus far. I always enjoyed it, which is why I kept doing it, but I was really heartened by the fact that they listened to me, and also I think Eli now is quite an essential part of the whole story of the show so it was great just to feel that they valued him and were willing to kick it up a notch.

Eli is one of the longest roles you've ever played. When you were thinking about coming back for this season, what is like now looking ahead to your career post-Good Wife and figuring out what to do next?

You can't imagine not doing it. In the hiatuses between seasons, I've been doing lots of different things and also last year, I did a whole year of Broadway and had a book out and did a book tour at the same time. … In a way I'm quite looking forward to going back to a more structured life. … In a funny way, actors yearn for structure because you live such an unstructured like and then after awhile you pine for something else. So I think its been a great thing for me as both an actor and as a human being just to be able to be at home in my own bed and to have a life because the show is shot in New York. I will miss that. And also obviously the people, it's a really great bunch of people. I don't think its going to be that much of a shock to me just because in the summer I've always been dashing around the world doing other things. Who knows? 

The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS. Watch an exclusive first look at next week's episode above. 

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