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The Good Wife pulled off one of the biggest shockers of the past season: the death of Will Gardner.
The unexpected development came out of Josh Charles’ decision to exit the series – one he made near the end of season four. Citing the grueling network production schedule (“there were moments of being burnt”), Charles – whose only other TV-starring roles were Sports Night and In Treatment – “thought long and hard about” departing at the height of the critically acclaimed CBS drama’s run.
“That’s a really long time to be playing the same character and I can feel really blessed about it, but also I was eager to move on to something new,” Charles said during The Hollywood Reporter’s Drama Actor Roundtable. “I always wanted to do right by the show, so if it meant finishing after year four, I would give them some [episodes] at the top of year five to help them figure out how to do it.”
What ended up happening was a much “longer solution,” which saw Charles appearing in 16 episodes in the fifth season. “That was something I was game for because I wanted to leave the show in a good place, and felt really proud of the work we did, but it’s a process you go through that it’s hard to articulate exactly what it is,” Charles said. “You were bored out of your mind,” Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) jokingly interjected.
Charles revealed that Julianna Margulies, who herself had left ER in its sixth season, was the first person he called after he made his decision. “We had a really long heart-to-heart,” he recalled, adding that she was “instrumental” in getting him to stick around for a prolonged stay in order for a “proper goodbye.”
The way Will died, in a courtroom shooting by a fatal gunshot, was surprising in itself. The finite ending was something he and co-creator Robert King had long discussions about. “There are two options: He goes somewhere and then it’s always kind of lingering or you just sort of pull the cord,” he said. “I trust them [Robert and co-creator Michelle King] implicitly as storytellers, so however they wanted to handle it was their choice.”
When asked how he felt about ending a character’s arc in a death, a trend that seems to be on the upswing, Jon Hamm said it’s reliant “on the execution – no pun intended.”
“Mostly because it’s not expected. If you watch TV, you have these expectations of how these things are going to go and one big expectation is that the main characters are going to be there as long as the show is,” the Mad Men star said, referencing the surprising death of Jared Harris’ Lane Pryce in season five. “It wasn’t like it was a dream and he was going to come back. There was no chicanery to avoid that thing that happened. It’s incredibly effective. It’s obviously something we all deal with in real life, so it can be effective as a dramatic piece of the puzzle, especially when it’s surprising.”
When asked about speculation over the fate of Don Draper, Hamm was candid — almost too candid. “Well, I die,” he joked. “I think we can say that. Matt[hew Weiner] will be OK with that. Early, too. I die early.”
Hamm echoed Charles’ sentiments, saying that he has full trust in Weiner’s ability to wrap the character’s story in an effective manner. “To second-guess it at this point is a fool’s errand,” he said. “It’s on him to land the plane.”
Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex), Mark Ruffalo (The Normal Heart) and Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) also took part in the Roundtable, moderated by executive editor Matthew Belloni and senior editor Stacey Wilson.
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