The Good Wife wrapped production on Year 5 some two months ago, but leading lady Julianna Margulies is still basking in the afterglow of a season many consider to be one of broadcast television’s best in recent memory.
At a recent SAG Foundation panel hosted by yours truly (and excerpted below), the actress — a two-time Emmy winner — reflected on the show’s extraordinary year, singled out her favorite episode (spoiler alert: it’s not one of the obvious ones!), teased Alicia’s big Season 6 dilemma, and speculated about Wife‘s (approaching) end date.
TVLINE | Many broadcast shows are petering out by the time they reach their fifth seasons. Why do you think The Good Wife was able to avoid that fate?
Well, I think [series creators Robert and Michelle King] were incredibly clever in how they set up the [rival] law firms in the first five episodes of the fifth season. It allowed us to go to so many new places. Suddenly, a show that you think you know, you don’t know anymore. People you think you know have become different people and are reacting to situations they’ve never been in. It just upped the stakes so much more.
TVLINE | When you read scripts like “Hitting the Fan” and “The Last Call” do you just get chills, like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to dig into this?”
Yes. If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. I can only do so much [with] bad scripts. But with a good script I really get to do my job, which is act. And the words speak for themselves; the actions speak for themselves. This past season was a privilege for me.
TVLINE | Anything specific stand out this season that you found satisfying? A particular episode or scene… ?
I loved “Hitting the Fan.” But the episode that I felt like we had turned a corner in terms of being [more than just] this “network television [show]” was our 100th episode, “The Decision Tree.” I loved that [we got to] see what [lawyers] do to prepare for a cross-examination. I [also] loved the sort of film noir [aspect] where all of a sudden we were in flashbacks and [left to wonder], ‘Was it all in [Will’s] head?’ And the way we it shot against this black drop with no one there but [Will and Alicia] — it felt like an existential play. I’ve never seen that in television, cable or network.
TVLINE | You often talk about the grind of doing 22 episodes a season. As you head into Season 6, are you worried about burning out?
I’m never worried about burning out. I’m worried about exhaustion. I think if I didn’t love the character so much and if I didn’t love the material so much I probably would worry about burnout. And there are days that are harder than others. And then there are days where it’s just so fulfilling that it outweighs the fatigue. I remember coming home after a 15-hour day and my husband said, “Why are you smiling?” And I said, “Because I was shooting scenes with Jeffrey Tambor and Christine Baranski and Alan Cumming and all these incredible actors.” There’s an incredible fuel that happens. This doesn’t mean you’re not tired, for sure, but it’s an exciting energy and it’s fulfilling.
TVLINE | Has Julianna the Good Wife actress ever been at odds with Julianna the Good Wife producer?
[Laughs] There are definitely times that I have to put my producer hat on and let go of being an actor, and there are things that maybe I would complain about but because I’m the producer I don’t.
TVLINE | How long do you envision the show going?
Eighteen years. [Laughs] Robert’s always said he had seven years of this show in him, and my feeling is, I want to do it as long as the writer feels he has something to write… Alicia is basically in every scene. Characters can come and go on the show, but she can’t. So as long as they’re happy to write for Alicia, I’m happy to play her. My guess is we’ll go seven seasons.
TVLINE | Regarding the Season 5 cliffhanger, do you think Alicia will run for State’s Attorney?
I want her to run. I think it would be so interesting if she ran. I actually asked Robert and Michelle, “If she ran what happens with Peter’s endorsement? Is that legal?” And they had a great answer which was, “When Kennedy was President he brought his brother in. Anything’s legal if you can do it.” So I think it would set up a great story for Peter and Alicia and a great story for her professionally. I think it would be really fun. There’s something sexy about politics, and it would be sort of a different… We’re never going to top what we did [in Season 5]. So, my feeling is, the only way we can do it is to do it differently. To keep people interested we have to not try and top it but go out at a different angle.
TVLINE | I’m ending with a random question that I’ve always been curious about — what’s more challenging to recite, medical or legal jargon?
I find the medical jargon more difficult, because legal jargon I [can] decipher what it means. I don’t know what hemoglobin is. I can say it, but I don’t know what it’s going to feel like. On ER, I remember we were always saying, “Demerol IV, stat!” You say it, but, well, what is Demerol? And then I had it, and I’ll never forget it. We were in our fourth season of ER and I had this little operation, and I woke up and I was shaking cold. I was so cold. And this nurse, this beautiful nurse, leaned over and she went, “Demerol IV, stat.” [And suddenly] everything got warm and beautiful. And my first words were, “Oh, this drug is so good.”
photo credit: Luke Fontana/SAG Foundation