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Much like how viewers met Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) at her lowest point in the series premiere of The Good Wife, viewers were first introduced to Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) just as her world was falling apart.
A bright law student who had just passed the bar and received a job offer at a large Chicago firm, Maia seemed to have the world at her fingertips, that is, until it came to light that her father (Paul Guilfoyle) had orchestrated an elaborate Ponzi scheme that robbed hundreds of thousands — including her godmother and mentor Diane (Christine Baranski) — of their life savings. Not exactly the best way to enter the working world.
However, Maia followed Diane to her new firm and slowly but surely built a solid reputation as a young but smart lawyer, even as she juggled the many stresses of her family’s scandal. At the end of the first season, Maia’s world appeared to come crashing down again when she was arrested for helping cover up the Ponzi scheme on the heels of her father skipping town.
After a turbulent first season for her alter-ego, THR jumped on the phone with Leslie to discuss how she channeled her own nerves for Maia’s big breakdown, how those flashbacks in the penultimate episode informed her portrayal and the “more resilient” Maia to come in season two.
Going back to the very beginning, how did you hear first hear about the role? How was the character of Maia first described to you?
It was a relatively quick turnaround from learning about a character and hopping onto a plane to New York a week later for the next five months. On the phone to [creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King] and also Brooke Kennedy and some other producers, they were describing the role to me — obviously being a fan of The Good Wife — and very much assured me that we are within the same universe and now it’s with different characters and their own situations. As a result, they determined that Maia was somebody who was tarnished due to her father’s behavior with the revelation of her father’s scam. As a result, she would be forced to mentally and professionally struggle to stay afloat, as well as financially.
Learning more about Maia, and knowing what brilliant writers the Kings are, they fully delivered in terms of creating a rounded character with vulnerability in all the right ways. Often when playing a woman in a law firm, there is a temptation to be incredibly strong-willed and domineering and I thought that it was rather interesting to approach this new character as rather wounded and a real representation of someone… Because in my mind, with the character, what would you humanly do if this were to happen to you? You would put up all your barriers in every single aspect of your life and I feel there’s a lot of self-preservation with Maia and I felt that was true in their writing of her. She doesn’t scare easily, but the wind is knocked out of her after the current events with her father.
The pilot sees Maia at her absolute lowest, or so we think, when this Madoff scandal is unveiled. How did you get into that headspace in those darker scenes right off the bat?
Approaching any role for the first time is always going to be incredibly daunting for any actress or any actor, so that almost aided me in being able to tap into her nervous state of mind. Fortunately, we shot the pilot relatively chronologically. We kind of see Maia as we get introduced to her when life is incredibly blissful and being the daughter of millionaires. So with this massive fall from grace for herself professionally and from her peers as well, and then having to rebuild that respect and that self-worth for herself and the people around her, I really learned who she is and emotionally coming to terms with that. Reading some of the biographies on the Madoff scandal, I was doing my best to tap into the tragedy of events. And hopefully I was able to reflect that onscreen.
In the penultimate episode, we suddenly get to learn more about Maia through these flashbacks of her in high school and in college. How did these scenes inform you about the character and change your understanding of the character?
Interestingly enough, from a selfish perspective I rather enjoyed getting my hair curled into tight little ringlets and I thought I looked a hell of a lot younger. It kind of reminded me of when I was 16. By the time we were doing flashbacks on set, it informed me that actually denial is such a powerful feeling and I feel that she really allowed herself to fall into that only because she couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that her father might be lying to her and he no longer is the man that she always put on this pedestal. It informed me in terms of, by backpedaling, I realized how one managed to get to the point of, ‘Wait a minute, are you joking?’ This horrific revelation of my father scamming millions and ruining millions of lives can happen right under your nose because if you’re not willing to confront that, it’s easier to sweep that under the carpet and carry on living your glamorous, luxurious lifestyle. The laziness in not wanting to confront the truth was something that struck me, not something that I was prepared for in the role, but it related to me in the devastation of her realizing that she almost was a tiny cork in this ginormous wheel but she really felt the guilt of that because you can be truthful to yourself and you can realize that you turned your head the other way when something was off key and your father deliberately lied to your face.
During the first season, Maia’s relationship with her father seemed to be constantly changing. One minute she believes he’s been set-up and then later she realizes it was really his idea. How did you navigate that and find a through line during the first season?
I remember when we were shooting it that there was such a kind of fluidity with the destructive relationship that Maia has with her father, in terms of feeling that they’ve gained some trust back and then that’s completely taken away from her with feeling that he almost has duped her by releasing her name. Trying to grapple those feelings was something that I strongly felt should be organic particularly for the scenes. I realized that if I try and block it out too much in my head beforehand, then that wave of shock and paranoia wouldn’t necessarily register just because as Maia, you’re being pulled up and down and left and right like a ragdoll emotionally when she thinks about the way that her father has treated her.
I never really wanted to hone in too specifically to how Maia would feel, but particularly when Lucca Quinn [Cush Jumbo] comes in and informs me of the facts that my father has, once again, betrayed my trust, those tears just kind of came up entirely organically just because I felt, ‘Not again, I’m going through this again,’ and it was a real battering of emotions.
The penultimate episode is a great example of what the show does well in terms of mixing comedy and drama. Coming from mostly dramatic shows, how was it finding the balance between the dramatic and comedic moments?
Shooting with Jane Lynch, I relinquished all control in terms of absolutely allowing the genius that was sitting opposite me to dominate that comedic vein just because that is something that she is so hugely gifted at. I allowed her to go full throttle with it, and in those scenes, I was perfectly comfortable carrying on with the idea that I was backed into a corner and that I was trying to keep a cool head on my shoulders with my heart pounding underneath. I felt that, having watched it, that it was done so brilliantly by Jane and she didn’t even move a muscle when the bird hit the window. She just carried speaking in one of the takes and I just realized I was in the presence of such a brilliant actress.
Jumping to the finale, what was your initial reaction when you read that Maia was going to get arrested at the end of the season?
I felt with the lead-up to this final scene in the flat, there was an anger rising within Maia, particularly in court and having had that brief interview with Barbara and Adrian saying that they felt that I needed to dig deeper and find some real gravitas as it were, I got rather excited at the realization that, hopefully, this issue that I face particularly at the end of [episode] 10, this huge dilemma that Maia faces, this may be an opportunity for her to evolve and for her to develop stamina far more so than we’ve seen previously. And as a result, really, really begin to make headway with the women she admires within the law firm such as Diane and Barbara and Lucca Quinn. I felt that this was kind of a blank canvas on which Maia can now go into the second season as a more resilient, tougher woman.
How much have you talked with the Kings about season two? What can you say about what’s next for Maia in season two?
They told me a couple of things that I know would be incredibly spoiler-y so I’m not too sure on whether I can carry on in that vein. But it certainly gave me pure joy and excitement what they foresaw for Maia and also for season two. The Kings are incredibly bold and my God, do I admire them for being so current in the political landscape and holding up that mirror. Simply as a result, it allows the audience to reflect on what’s happening in the real world and gives politicians something to chew over and realize that there are consequences to behavior. I think the Kings are fantastic at representing both sides of the conversation.
Looking ahead to season two, who from the show would you like to have more scenes with or is there a specific relationship you’d like to explore more?
I would love to see the godmother-goddaughter relationship develop and see Maia lean on Diane. It’s rather fun when all the girls are in the room, with Sarah [Steele] and with Erica [Tazel] and with Cush and with Christine, but I can’t even say that, obviously we’re going to miss Delroy. So I think the cast has a lot of fun when we’re all together so as a result I wholeheartedly trust Robert and Michelle and where they feel the next couple of episodes have to go.
How much do you think the show will explore Maia’s relationship with her partner Amy (Helene Yorke) will be explored more in season two?
Helene is so much fun, so I love spending time with her and as a result, we very much enjoy working together. Within the first season, we focused on just how solid that relationship is. Obviously it is going to be chipped away by the stresses and the strains of Maia’s personal life along with everything that is going on at work. And so I would love to, when I do go back, really explore that relationship in terms of possibly seeing just how strong a partnership they are. For Maia, it is such a service for her to be able to come back and be with her girlfriend and have a loving world center her because work is so stressful and all different aspects of it. So I wholeheartedly hope that Maia and Amy are able to carry on strong.
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