After she finished seven seasons as the star of CBS’ The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies insisted she would never again be the lead in a TV show with a 22-episode season, as is often the case with broadcast series.
So it’s no surprise that when she returns to the small screen as a series regular Monday night, it’s on a show with a much lower episode count — AMC’s Dietland, which kicks off its 10-episode first season June 4.
In the series, Margulies plays Kitty Montgomery, the abrasive, high-powered editor of a fictional fashion magazine, for which the series’ protagonist Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) toils away ghostwriting the answers to the letters Kitty receives from readers.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Margulies cites the schedule, along with her character’s fabulous clothes, as perks of playing Kitty. But most of all, Margulies says, it was the writing in the hourlong feminist series created by veteran writer-producer Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Men, UnREAL and Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) that drew her to the project.
And, unlike with the broadcast dramas on which she’d worked, Margulies was able to read the scripts for five episodes before signing on to the series, which she says was “a luxury I’ve never been afforded.”
Delving into the show, which follows Plum as she struggles with self-image in a weight- and beauty-obsessed world, Margulies was “fascinated by every character,” she says.
“I loved Plum’s journey, and I thought it was such an incredible feat to be able to show the world through Plum’s eyes — a world that I didn’t know and I think many people don’t know — and just to see how she viewed the world,” Margulies explains. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.”
The veteran actress, known for her Emmy-winning turns on The Good Wife and ER, was also drawn to the opportunity to play a different sort of role than she’d taken on in the past.
“The part of Kitty herself, I was so flattered that Marti thought of me and I was a little confused, to be honest,” Margulies says. “I thought, ‘Why?’ And I said to her when we met, I said, ‘I love it and I think this character is fabulous and I am already plotting away at what I could do with her, but why? What made you think of me? And she said, ‘Because I think you’d be perfect for it. And I’ve never been able to see you do anything funny or different. You’re always the girl with the heart on your sleeve and you do it well but I wanted to see you go outside the box.’ And that was challenging and fun, and I just thought, ‘Why not?'”
To prepare to play the imperious fictional editor, Margulies turned to influential figures in fashion journalism, reading a book by former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington and watching the Met Gala doc The First Monday in May, which features Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who hosts the annual star-studded event.
But ultimately, she consulted the author of the Dietland novel, on which the show is based, asking Sarai Walker who was the real-life inspiration for the flame-haired editor.
“I based it on someone you wouldn’t know and I gave her red hair because I didn’t want to get sued by a person who I used to work with who doesn’t have red hair,” Walker explained, as Margulies recalled. “So it’s important for me that she has red hair.”
That’s when Margulies abandoned the real-life inspirations she sought out, and the possibility of even playing Kitty with a British accent, and “decided I had to make Kitty as written.”
Margulies also revealed some of Kitty’s background, according to Noxon, specifically that she’s “a girl from upstate New York who never grew up in the city and had a bad childhood,” something she said would be explored in the show’s second season if AMC renews the series.