This week’s outing of CBS’ hit sophomore drama picks up precisely where the last one left off, with the Chicago legal community’s collective jaw dropped by the news that Wendy Scott-Caar (who?!) is entering the race for state’s attorney. But before anyone can register surprise, the partners of Lockhart Gardner have dropped in their lap a case that could make the firm in a very huge and public way… or just as easily break them.
Since Diane of course has some strong views on the potential client – a masseuse accusing a Nobel Peace prize winner of something awful – we invited Emmy nominee Christine Baranski to preview what she says may be the series’ best episode to date.
The last time I saw you was at an April Paley Center event, where you accidentally blurted out the outcome of Season 1′s “bake-off” between Alicia and Cary.
I know. And as you can imagine, I’m very guarded now. [Laughs]
Did the show creators ever forgive you for that?
Oh, they forgave me immediately. Everybody was kind of amused, and actually very sweet about it. I had just finished shooting and I didn’t think I could make the event, so I literally flew out of a car, ran down the street, ran down the hall, sat down… and I had my guard down. But that’s all behind us now!
That was quite the game-changing twist ‘The Good Wife’ left us with at the end of last week’s episode, with Wendy Scott-Caar.
I know, isn’t it wonderful? I tell you, these writers really know how to surprise an audience.
When I broke the news about Anika Noni Rose (‘Dreamgirls’) coming on board, I thought, “They’re going to do something big with her.” It was just a matter of what. You don’t bring her on to be window dressing.
No, and she was marvelous in her interrogation of that young man [in last week's episode]. It’s ingenious the way they bridge the legal world they create with Peters career and seeking reelection… And this week’s episode will be more of the same. This week’s episode might be the writers’ best ever.
That is exactly why I wanted to talk to you. Diane doesn’t get much time at all to process the Wendy Scott-Caar reveal because of the case that comes the firm’s way, involving a masseuse (played by ‘Damages’ Natalie Knepp) and a rather esteemed client of hers.
Exactly. We literally cross the street to go to our offices and deal with this crisis. It’s one of those great episode in terms of having a time crunch, where we have to decide what we’re going to do in a matter of hours, and that’s always interesting from an acting point of view. You have people under extreme pressure to make very big decisions about the fate of others and the fate of the firm. I have never found a more satisfying episode to work on.
Tell us what sort of internal debate takes place in Diane’s head as the firm considers taking on this case.
Well, Diane is a liberal, a big supporter of women’s issues, so she is very torn. For Diane, it’s a hugely important episode in terms of seeing her grapple with her value system. They do that with all the characters, but Diane comes with such a traditional ’60s/’70s bleeding-heart liberal label on her chest. This is a humanitarian issue – we’re dealing with a world-famous man – so it comes down to whether or not we’re seeking the truth. In the legal world, as I find out working on this material, you have to make some very, very, very tough choices – and be rather unemotional about it. Sometimes you have to set your ideals to the side and go with what you perceive to be the true facts.
There’s a great scene when Diane gets a phone call from the accused man’s wife…. You can see her wheels turning.
I thought it was ingenious that she gets that call. Diane champions women’s issues, but she also champions the woman who was assaulted by this man. This [episode was written by series creators] Michelle and Robert [King] and it’s as sophisticated of writing as we’ve had. They are writing with great confidence, and because we all have a better sense of our characters, I certainly feel more comfortable this year.
Would you say that Diane is the most pragmatic of the partners?
Not necessarily. I’ve always said that Diane likes to think that’s she stands on the higher ground and Will is more of a moral relativist, but you’ll see how that changes throughout the season. She does have to become more pragmatic, and that’s the journey they’re taking her on. I don’t think you get to be a woman in power without being pragmatic.
Even with the most superstar of lawyers, it can’t be all work and no play. Are there any plans for Gary Cole to reprise his role as Diane’s ex-boyfriend, McVeigh?
It makes me so happy how many people – even lawyers – ask me that! I like that his character humanizes Diane, and there was a delightful interplay of political values there…. Gary Cole went to do a play in Australia, so he wasn’t available for many months. I think he may be back now, and I do think they want to bring him back.
What can you say about the Michael J. Fox episode airing Nov. 9? Everything I’ve read about it screams Emmy to me.
Oh yeah. He gives an absolutely marvelous performance. And the writing is brilliant – it’s howlingly funny, it’s discomforting…. His character [a lawyer afflicted by a neurological disease] is a marvelously written and performed characterization. That episode unfolds in a wonderful and surprising way. They really make use of who Michael is as a person and as an actor.
As a whole, what do you think ‘The Good Wife’ is doing so well as a drama series that it engages viewers so powerfully?
There’s one word – quality. These writers know how to write very sophisticated plotlines and characters that have a lot of complexity, with no stereotyping…. They deal with contemporary issues, moral dilemmas…. They’re not afraid to deal with shades of grey…. I just had a meeting with Robert and Michelle, and it always impresses me how farsighted they are and how deeply they feel about things. Also, they really like to hear from the actors. They pretty much shifted Diane away from the kind of character they thought she was going to be. They originally thought, “Oh, she’s going to be the big antagonist,” and from my point of view I didn’t want to play yet another embittered, middle-aged woman – the typical bitch-boss – so we worked away from that. Certainly Diane always has an edge, she’s strong and tough, but there wound up being so much more coloration to her. [The Kings] are wonderful collaborators, which is essential. It’s a win-sin situation for all of us.