Emmys 2011

08.22.11

'Good Wife,' Best Actress

Playing Alicia Florrick, the brilliant and career-driven wife of a disgraced politician on CBS’s 'The Good Wife,' Julianna Margulies is again nominated for an Emmy Award. Jace Lacob talked with her about Alicia’s love life, crashing the Governor’s Ball, and wigs.

As the title character in CBS’s genre-busting The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies’s Alicia Florrick has been put through the emotional ringer in the show’s second season. After she reunited with Peter (Chris Noth), her disgraced politico husband, recently reelected to state’s attorney, she discovered that he had previously slept with her best friend, legal snoop Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi), and promptly kicked him out of their home. (In fact, she boxed up his belongings and leased him an apartment while he celebrated at his victory party.)

The Daily Beast caught up with Margulies, again nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (she lost last year to Kyra Sedgwick), to talk about Alicia and Will (Josh Charles), Alicia and Kalinda, the show’s upcoming move to Sundays, and those shocking bangs she’s sporting for Season 3.

The Daily Beast: Last fall you said of Alicia, “It’s such a challenge to play her because my reactions are very different then hers.  I never feel completely comfortable in her shoes.” Has your perception of her changed now that you’re entering a third season?

Julianna Margulies: The beauty of being on a television show is that you really get to see your character grow constantly... There’s this tremendous leap that she’s taken in her personal and professional life since when we first met her and I can relate to her a little bit more now that she’s found her freedom in having a voice.

julianna margulies
Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick on "The Good Wife" (CBS)

The Daily Beast: The scene in the episode “Foreign Affairs” where you stagger into the hallway after learning of Peter’s affair with Kalinda had such painful realism. How was that to shoot?

Margulies: I’ve lived with this character for two years and I really have grown to love her and feel very protective of her. That whole sequence was gut-wrenching and I really didn’t have to do much except act. I am not one of those people who can suddenly think about something awful happening to someone that I love in real life. It takes me out of the character. I just really thought about this journey and this shocking news that she heard and the devastation and humiliation it would cause her [after] seeing her succumb to thinking, “Maybe I can go back to being his wife, maybe we can have a big house again,” getting sucked into that world that she had known. You see it as she is walking through the new house in the beginning of that episode. The writing is so good that I can just rely on it.

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The Daily Beast: There are amazing moments in “In Sickness,” the episode you selected for Emmy consideration, in particular the scene where you tell the kids that Alicia and Peter are separating. How heartbreaking was it to play?

Margulies: That scene for me was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I didn’t know that it was going to be until I sat down in front of those kids. Graham Phillips and Makenzie Vega are so remarkable as actors… In the script, it said, “Alicia just breaks down.” But I never take those things seriously. I always just play the moments as they come … and the amazing moment in that scene was when I saw Makenzie’s little face and she said, “Mom, you need to protect us more.” I think that’s the whole crux of this character’s life. She allowed people to infiltrate their lives and her children are vulnerable. So seeing that she hasn’t protected them … was such a sad, sad moment, especially if you’re from divorce like I am. I was too young to sit down and hear the story; my sister was seven and so she remembers it, but I was one, so I don’t remember that talk. I’m sure it’s just the hardest thing a parent could ever do… I had to hold back tears the entire time … It was hilarious, when we finished filming, the set emptied out and everyone was on their cell phones to their spouses.

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The Daily Beast: Do you do anything to get into character or is it as simple as putting on the Alicia wig?

Margulies: It gets easier and easier because with time you’re so used to turning on who she is, but I said this to Robert and Michelle King this year, the amazing thing is, just when I think I can’t do it or I’m not equipped for a scene, I just read the script again and the words carry me. I never feel like I have to get into character anymore because literally I am more Alicia than I am myself these days: 14 hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year.

The Daily Beast: The Internet is aflame after a photo of Alicia with bangs was released. What’s your take on her new hairstyle?

Margulies: I love it … We discussed it at great length because we know how people react to everything and always have an opinion. I said that the one thing a woman does when she’s trying to change herself is change her hairdo and especially, because she had been in that hairdo for so long, she needed to feel a little younger, hipper, and sexier. It was the absolute right thing to do and I love [the bangs]. I think that it gives her a little bit more edge and she needs that right now. She’s got to start putting on some armor.

The Daily Beast: Are you nervous at all about the show’s move from Tuesdays at 10 to Sundays this fall?

Margulies: I’m really thrilled about it because I think first of all everyone’s home on Sunday night and second of all, 9 p.m. allows us a bigger variety of people to watch … I got to partake in, I think, one of the best shows ever on air, which was The Sopranos. It was such a coveted time slot, Sunday nights at 9 after you’ve had dinner, you’ve had a long weekend, and you can’t wait to watch your favorite shows and still get to bed on time to go to work in the morning. It’s the best spot I could imagine.

The Daily Beast: CBS released new promo images for season three that are pretty steamy. Just how naughty is the good wife herself this upcoming year?

Margulies: I think you’re going to see a very different side of her. She’s past the point of no return and I think the knife that went in her heart at the end of last season, with the whole Kalinda debacle, has changed her because that was someone she poured her heart out to and trusted and that trust is gone, as is the trust of her husband … There’s a bit of steeliness to her, but it has nothing to do with her being a prude anymore. It has to do with getting what she wants for a while and the problem with that … She really is a good girl, so everything comes with a huge, heavy price for her. She has this moral conscience that very few people have and I think it’s like me; the one thing that I share with her is if say I’m going to call at 5, I’m going to call at 5. It’s the bane of my existence, being on time.

The Daily Beast: Would you think it’s even remotely possible that she and Kalinda might be able to repair that friendship?

Margulies: I think if we want to make sure that we stay true to the characters, it would be a very long time … Any woman who has ever found out that her friend has slept with her husband will backtrack every single conversation they’ve ever had and realize what underlies the entire time was the fact that she slept with her husband. It’s a very tough call to make but I have faith in the writers that they will handle it with as much grace and brilliance that they do with everything else. In a certain way, it opens up a really fun passage for other characters to come in and be important to both those character’s lives.

Kalinda is on a path to change herself, too. I think that it was a big shake up for her. There was a great speech … where she said to me, “You didn’t have a face, and you were just a wife,” when she’s explaining that she slept with him. Are you kidding? You’re that detached from being human? I think it’s reeling her back possibly to becoming more of a feeling human being.

The Daily Beast: Season two ended with Alicia walking into the hotel room with Will, even though the universe tries to stop them. What’s behind her decision, and why does she make that leap?

Margulies: She wanted to show him that she knew how to use the key. [Laughs.] The second she realizes that all is for naught in her marriage, I think she wants to act on feelings she’s had for a very long time. [In] the scene before that, they were having shots of tequila ... I think it gave her the strength to do something she wanted to do for a long time. If they hadn’t been sitting down at that bar, I doubt that she would have been able to pull it off, but I think your true feelings come out when you’re a little tipsy and I think she wanted to experience some loving. It had been two years. She needed a little something. I was really glad she got a little something.

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The Daily Beast: I heard that you had to gatecrash the post-Emmys Governor’s Ball last year because your husband left the tickets in the car and then you only ended up drinking one martini. What debauchery are you planning this Emmy Awards night?

Margulies: It had been a lot of years since I’d been and it was my fault, I said, “No, leave the tickets in the car.“ I forgot that the Governor’s Ball was there. Last year was a tough time for me at the Emmys because my son had just broken his arm five days before we left, and I had been in operation rooms with him and surgeries, and I did not want to go to the Emmys last year. It took horses to drag me there. I was like, please, I can’t leave my child and finally my husband’s said, “Honey, he’s fine,” and my mother-in-law came, my father-in-law, everyone was here for him … My head was somewhere else last year. I was tired and not really having the best time to be honest, except that I got to present my sweet friend George [Clooney] with his Humanitarian Award.

This year, I’m knocking wood, I’m playing hardball. I just want to enjoy myself because, if you can’t enjoy yourself, what’s the point in going? I feel like there is no pressure because it is what it is now. It feels so wonderful that we have nine nominations and I’m just planning on having a really good time. This time, we’ll remember our tickets.