In what is sure to go down as one of the most outta-nowhere deaths in TV history, the actor’s alter ego, attorney Will Gardner, was gunned down by his unhinged client, Jeffrey Grant (returning guest star Hunter Parrish), in the middle of the courtroom. Later, he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
In the following exclusive interview, Charles — an original cast member and the CBS drama’s de-facto male lead — opens up to TVLine about why he opted to walk away from his enviable day job (and yes, leaving was his choice), the role Julianna Margulies played in his decision, the Will/Alicia scene that left him emotionally distraught (surprise: It hasn’t aired yet!) and much, much more.
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TVLINE | When did you decide this was going to be your final season?
I knew last year. Through discussions with the producers and Julianna, we all kind of thought of an idea that [included me coming] back this year to do a set amount of 15 episodes, and really build towards something and give the character a more proper goodbye.
TVLINE | Why did you want to leave?
It wasn’t anything bad. Creatively, I was just ready to move on to the next chapter. After having a long conversation with Julianna, and with [series co-creators] Robert and Michelle [King], I liked the idea of coming back and doing a finite amount of episodes. It all sounded like positives for me and for the show, and that turned out to be true. Once the decision was made and we knew what we were doing, it made it very special for me because I knew going into this season that this would be my last year, that I would be doing these 15 episodes. And it gave everything a real heightened quality for me.
TVLINE | Was Julianna disappointed?
Julianna and I are very good friends. She’s the reason I’m doing this show; she thought of me for this role, and called me about it when they were casting it. That friendship and bond will always be there. She was the first person I called when I was considering what to do. I talked to her very honestly about how I was feeling, and, as a friend, she really understood my point of view and respected that decision. There was some sadness in the conversation because we knew this [was] coming to an end. She was sad, but very supportive and understanding… I never wanted to leave the show in a bad place. Where Julianna was really helpful was in coming up with the idea of doing maybe a little bit more than just a few episodes this season, and that’s where I came up with the number 15. It got stuck in my head; it sounded like the right amount. And that allowed everybody to plan for it and build accordingly. She was very instrumental in that. And, also, in talking to Robert and Michelle about where we were going this year, it sounded very exciting — for the show and for my character.
TVLINE | What was your reaction when you learned how Will would exit?
I was very supportive of it. I thought it sounded really powerful and strong and shocking.
TVLINE | Given all the acclaim the show has garnered this season, and, specifically, the accolades that have been showered on you — you won a People’s Choice Award, you were nominated for a Golden Globe — did you ever stop and think, “Do I really want to walk away from this?”
No. Creatively, I’m excited about where this year has gone, and the depths that they’ve taken Will to has been really interesting for me. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. [But] you just kind of know sometimes when you’re ready to move on to new experiences. And that [doesn’t mean] there’s something wrong with this experience. It’s more about what I want to explore. It does me no good to second-guess that.
TVLINE | How do you feel about the place Will and Alicia ended up in? There was that nice scene outside the courtroom before he was shot…
The ice definitely thawed a little bit between them, and you see that maybe they could be moving towards a new direction, a softening of this anger that’s been circling around their relationship. And the sense of betrayal, you feel that soften a little bit.
TVLINE | Was it hard saying goodbye to the cast and crew?
It’s sad, obviously. The beauty of television is the sense that, unlike any other medium, you develop relationships of such depth and length, more so than films or even theater. You see these crewmembers that work so hard and give so much and help contribute and collaborate to make the show what it is. You see them more than your own family. So the bonds are really deep. There are a lot of people on that show that I’m going to miss a great deal.
TVLINE | What was it like shooting the hospital scene with Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi?
That was very tough for both of those actresses; they had to do a lot of heavy lifting. I just had to lay there. Christine and I have become incredibly bonded over these last four and a half years, and it was a hard time for us. Tough scenes, tough grieving.
TVLINE | You’re returning in next week’s episode in a series of flashbacks from Alicia’s POV. Was it weird to shoot your death scene and then turn around and come back?
I told them when the decision was made last year, “Look, I don’t know what my schedule is going to be like, but let’s see how the season is going to play out. If you need me to do one or two more and I’m around and available and it can help tell the story you want to tell and help elevate whatever you want to do, let me know.” So Robert reached out to me and said, “As we’re crafting [Episode] 16 in the writers room, we [need Will].” And I immediately said I’m game. Let’s do it. And that really was my last time shooting on the show. Will’s presence is deeply felt in [next week’s episode]. And the script is extremely powerful. The shock is in Episode 15, but Episode 16 is where you see the ripple effect of how everyone is taking the news. Reading the script was very hard for me. The scenes between Alicia and Diane… it really broke me up reading it. It was beautifully written and crafted and I was thrilled to be a part of it. There’s a moment at the end of the episode where Alicia is dealing with her memory of the day that it happened… Let’s just say that there was a phone-call moment that I had [which was] the last piece of real acting that I did on the show, and that was a very emotional moment for me. I think we did about five or six takes. And as each take progressed, I found myself getting more and more emotional, because I realized this is the last time I’d be talking as this character. This emotion came from some sort of deep place inside of me. And I had to kind of contain it somewhat. But that was when it hit me. That moment was one I will remember for a long time.
TVLINE | What’s next?
I’m doing a little indie film with Sarah Silverman [now, titled I Smile Back]. That’s it for the time being.
TVLINE | Would you do another TV show?
Absolutely. I love the structure of television. I love being able to craft a character over a long period of time. I think more than likely it would probably not be 22 episodes a year. I’d put the writing on The Good Wife up against any of the cable shows. It’s just that 22 [episodes] a year is really hard for everybody. For me, just newly-married and wanting to have a family and wanting to do other things, the more likely scenario is a 10 or 13-episode situation. It really is about the material. TV has been very good to me. I felt very blessed to have had this gig.
TVLINE | Any final thoughts?
I know people will be shocked and some fans will be upset, and maybe even angry, and I can take the hit on that one. If they’re going to blame anybody, they can blame me. But I think it’s going to send the show in a new direction and it’s going to just keep being fantastic. I’ve been really proud to be a part of it. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had. I leave with my head held high and feeling, hopefully, that I contributed in some small way to make it what it is.