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In a matter of weeks, fans will bid a final farewell to The Good Wife. But saying goodbye to the good wife herself, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), also means saying goodbye to Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). Although many initially assumed that she would serve as Alicia’s chief antagonist, Baranski and the writers behind the acclaimed legal drama turned those expectations on their head time and time again. Instead, Diane served as an important mentor to Alicia as she rose up the ranks at the firm and, more importantly, provided a shoulder to cry on and a friend to share martinis with following the tragic death of Will (Josh Charles).
His murder was just a small part of Diane’s growth on the series, which also saw the longtime single workaholic and devout Democrat tie the knot in season five to ballistics expert and staunch conservative Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole).
With just four episodes to go, The Good Wife will shine a spotlight back on the couple when Kurt contemplates retiring and selling his business. Ahead of her TV husband’s return and days after wrapping production on the series, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Baranski about their “complicated” marriage, the “dramatic” final episodes and closing the book on Diane Lockhart.
I understand it’s been a few days since production wrapped on the series. Has it sunk in yet that it’s over?
By the time we’re done with 22 shows, everybody is ready for the season to be over because we’re all tired. Twenty-two is a lot, and then shooting what were the final episodes had a particular kind of dramatic intensity, but we would be ending now anyway. It’s not like a Broadway show where suddenly on Tuesday night you have nowhere to go because you’ve just been doing it. We definitely all want our hiatus and I think what will be shocking is come July when we always went back, we won’t be, and it was such a really stellar group of people top to bottom, just a wonderful production team, writing, the actors and the guest actors and just an incredible crew also. I will miss the family of this show profoundly.
What was your last day on the show on the set? Was there anything special to commemorate the occasion?
We all had a final scene that would be our series wrap on different days so I was actually the first scene up on a Monday morning and showed up at the crack of dawn and it was with Julianna and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] and we shot a very short scene and then it was my series wrap. Fortunately, a lot of people were around and we did take pictures but it being the beginning of the day, there was no drinking of champagne or anything. I did visit the set on Tuesday, which was Jules’ day, and a lot of people were dropping early in the evening, but shooting went on quite late. But what I’m told is when there was the final, final cut and a series wrap, I think there were lots of bottles of champagne. I just happened not to be there, but then there was a little get-together at a Brooklyn bar the following evening, lots of crew members, lots of great people and then we are going to have a pretty spiffy wrap party at MOMA later in the month.
Were you able to take anything from set to remember Diane and the show by?
I asked for the picture with Hillary Clinton, which had been in my office all those years until she began publicly running for office and then you can’t have somebody’s picture because it looks like the network is endorsing somebody. … and I have some of [her] clothes that I’m fond of. But most of what I take is already deeply stored in my heart and in my mind. What’s really great is I have the luxury now of sitting back maybe in the next year and just starting from the beginning and watching all the episodes, many of them I haven’t seen. I’d love to watch the show in sequence. Although I’m not a binge watcher, I could do two or three in a row and then come back the next day. I’d love to see the sequence.
It’s interesting you bring up the Hillary picture because its such an interesting time with the election and now we have Diane’s husband coming back. These two always such vibrant political debates on the show so what can you tease about that?
I can’t tease anything. We’re sworn to secrecy now that the show is really winding down. I can say that Gary will be back — I’m happy because he was such an integral part of my character’s life and he had really been MIA for so long. Early this season, he wasn’t around at all, but I’m happy he’s on.
Given the topography right now of politics, I think the Kings are going to get to put a lot of that into their new show. But there’s so much one could do. You wonder who would Kurt McVeigh be supporting at this point? And could Diane actually live with his choice? (Laughs.)
Since we haven’t seen Kurt in awhile, how important was it for you to return to that relationship before the end? What were those discussions like?
Here’s what it was: I really wanted him back, and I think the Kings always loved having Gary and they loved writing for him and for the two of us. First of all, the beginning of this season was a lot about [Alicia’s] new life with her new firm and meeting the Cush Jumbo character and trying to make it on her own and trying to pull away from Peter, and it was about the campaign trail. That kind of even precluded my character. I was very light in the first half of this season. I was spending a lot of time doing other things and then the second half or certainly the last third of this season has been very wonderfully dense for my character and bringing Gary back and all. It wasn’t like I was kicking and screaming. First of all, he’s one of the busiest actors working today because he’s so versatile and everyone loves him and he has another show, so it was always hard. It’s a miracle we had him as much as we did because he really figured in The Good Wife landscape a lot.
I was so happy to see him because at the end of this show, you would want to have some sense of those two people. There needed to be some… He couldn’t just disappear, that’s for sure.
Speaking of this part of this season, Diane has really reached out to Alicia and pushed for this female firm. What do you think is behind that?
I’ve always said that Diane, as much as she likes to hold onto her principles and her liberal sensibilities and her integrity, she’s had to bend and twist a lot to save her firm. Through seven years, you’ve seen her struggle to hold onto the firm and endlessly go up against the guys in the firm and be fired by [Will] and leaving and coming back and dealing with the death of her partner. But I think there was always a longing from Diane that, at its best, the thing with Alicia could work out. She knew Alicia was a gifted lawyer and a strong woman. I think Diane always admired the way she somehow navigated the waters of being a political wife. She had misgivings from the time of the pilot… and then when Alicia came into the firm, suddenly she was dealing with the fact that her partner, Will, was having an affair with the wife of the state’s attorney who worked at the firm. She was always dealing with — I don’t know want to say love-hate but an ambivalence there. But in season seven, you see Diane really saying, “Let me really, fully take control of this firm, and let me make it an all-female partnership.” I think she got tired of fighting the guys or thinking that she was always up against something. She wanted a new psychology to the firm. When she talks about the new firm, it’s a full-service firm with a feminine sensibility. We’re on the brink of possibly having a female president and what will that bring and how do women in power yield power? How is it different? I think it opened up for Diane, what could this be? I think its something she’s wanted to make work for all the years we’ve seen her on the show.
It’s interesting to think of where their relationship is now, particularly when a lot of people assumed at the beginning of the series that they would be adversaries.
I always loved that we managed to avoid that cliché. You always thought, ‘Oh, here’s the bitch boss who’s going to make Alicia’s life hell.’ She had her serious misgivings, Diane, and of course when Alicia conspired with Cary to leave, in some ways, her misgivings were confirmed. Could she really be trusted? That was always that issue of, who is she really? … I just loved that it could get tense between them, but it was always two grown-up women. It was never bitch fighting. It never descended to Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Laughs.)
The show has always been known for these strong female characters so it’s interesting to see her push for an all-female firm.
It’s been great. I would like to think that, at best, this show opened the door for other shows about women and about strong women, about women who aren’t victims and aren’t crazy people or addicts or victims of circumstance, or victims of unhappy male relationships. Really with Diane, you saw a woman who was pretty damn strong and authoritative in her work life and her marriage was really interesting and sexy and loving and affectionate and also a challenging marriage, but she was making it work. She might have been, as all of us are, a victim of circumstance, but she was never a victim because she was a woman. I always loved that about the show. There’s so many Diane Lockharts in the world, you just don’t see their stories being told.
Looking back at the show and this character, is there one aspect you’ll miss the most?
I’ll miss her intellectual life. I always thought Diane was so smart in fighting those legal cases. I always thought, ‘Oh wow, I have to measure up to her brain.’ So I think a lot of us were happy about never having to do court again, but honestly, it was good for our brains. Really, if you want to keep your brain healthy, you actually should memorize legal dialogue. It’s right up there with learning Chinese or Arabic or something. I always said, “Man, this is hard to learn,” and it’s hard to hold in your head, but it’s probably really good for us. (Laughs.) But I also just loved her liberal sensibility and how she faced legal arguments and how she personalized a lot of it and tried to keep her own ethical system in tact. Then you saw her having to compromise it at times, but I loved that struggle. I loved watching a woman deal with her sense of morality.
It wasn’t announced until February that this would be the final season of the show. What was your take on that news? Would you would have wanted to come back next year?
Just about everybody was hoping it could come back if for no other reason that it was such a well-produced, well-executed show with wonderful writing. I think we were all wary of it continuing and not being as good, but that’s a natural worry as a show keeps moving on in years. You don’t want to be repeating yourself. So when it was announced, we thought, ‘OK, we get it.’ [Creators Robert and Michelle King] really thought after seven years they will have told this huge story arc about the journey of Alicia Florrick. One understood it intellectually, but on an emotional level, we had a wonderful family and going to work was a pleasure. This show had very few bumps; whatever bumps there were were managed gracefully. You don’t get that that often. We’re all like, “Oh God, what’s next? Is it ever going to be as good as The Good Wife?”
There were rumblings of a spinoff. Had you heard anything about that? Was there ever talk of a Diane spinoff?
There’s always talk about spinoffs as shows are ending. They did the same thing when I was on the Cybill show, they talked about it. I think it’s a way for people to psychologically pad themselves and think, ‘Oh, well, OK. Maybe it will continue.” I’m not in a position to say anything about that. I simply don’t know. God knows the Kings will continue to write because they’re brilliant writers. I really and truly hope to be involved in whatever they’re doing in the future just because it’s been such a privilege to work with them. I always thought they understood me as an actress and they wrote beautifully for actors and they wrote women very well. So, of course I would hope to cross paths with them again.
So maybe an appearance on BrainDead?
I don’t know. I’m in no rush after this. I have to now go and do two Big Bang episodes and that’s about all I can do. I really want the summer after this.
Looking further down the line, do you know what you’d want to do next after you take some time off?
It always depends on the project but it goes without saying that at some point I’m going to want to do the theater again. That’s what I did for most of my career, and I bet a fabulous comedy in the theater would be a wonderful antidote to doing seven years of a network drama. But I have great faith. I go from one thing to another. I’d love to do a movie musical again. I’d love to sing again. There are so many great things being done on cable that don’t involve 22 episodes, but limited runs. Nowadays, you can bounce around as an actor in a most creative way, so I’m wide open, frankly.
Finally, what can you say about the final episode? What did you think of it?
I will say this: When I read it, I thought, ‘I get it. This is so what the Kings do.’ The Kings always had the ability to write something very complicated and ultimately surprising, and so I just thought, ‘I get it.’
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBS.
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