Emmys Set Visit: THR in Court With 'The Good Wife' (Photos)

Margulies, Charles Laugh Between Takes
Dorothy Hong

Margulies and Charles laugh between takes on set of the series' season four finale. "You want to work different parts of your acting muscles," Charles said as they laughed. "I know that's such a cliché thing that actors say, but you just want to be challenged."

After a 2012 snub, the CBS drama (and A-list guest-star hot zone) hopes 11 million viewers and wide critical acclaim will carry the show back into contention.

This story first appeared in the June 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Josh Charles buries his head in his hands and begins to shake with laughter. He is between takes on the final courtroom scene of the fourth-season finale of The Good Wife, the consistently smart and provocative CBS drama that stars Charles and Julianna Margulies (who won a 2011 Emmy for her role) as colleagues and sometime lovers in a complicated dance of personal sublimation. Charles sits behind the defense table, flanked by Margulies and Christine Baranski, with recurring stars Martha Plimpton at the opposing counsel's table and Denis O'Hare behind the judge's bench. It is the last Thursday in March, a day after word came down that the network has picked up a fifth season of the show, so it's little wonder the cast is a bit punchy. And something about the way O'Hare, as quirky judge Charles Abernathy, delivers his line gives Charles, Margulies and Baranski a case of the giggles.

"We've been in court four days in a row," notes Margulies with a grin. "We need to laugh."

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Indeed, courtroom scenes are the series' most challenging, not only because they require many more takes but also because the legal language is so precise and, for the actors, so arcane. "It's a very strict form," says Baranski of the legalese. "There's a formality to it. There's nothing conversational about it, and it is challenging to learn. You either know it or you don't. There's no ad-libbing this stuff."

Not that she or anyone else in the cast is complaining. Good Wife, which averaged 11 million viewers during the 2012-13 season while boasting A-list guest stars (Michael J. Fox, Stockard Channing, Kyle MacLachlan and Matthew Perry in a devious turn as Chris Noth's political nemesis), is the rare primetime entry that has become both a critical and ratings success.

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"The writing is really consistently strong," says Charles. "That's what is so impressive about Robert and Michelle [King, the series' husband-and-wife co-creators]. There's never anything pretentious about the show. There's humor; there are satirical touches. They never lose sight of the fact that the show is here to entertain."