In the third season of CBS’s The Good Wife, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart found herself on the defense, fending off attacks from the equity partners after the suspension of her partner, Will (Josh Charles), a grand jury investigation, uppity clients, and vengeful adversaries.
In the process, Emmy and Tony Award winner Baranski, 60, showed Diane at her fiercest, as she kept a strong hand on the firm’s figurative tiller, even as, in her personal life, she found herself ricocheting between two potential lovers. In an age where television romances are most often limited to women 35 and under, Diane’s romantic journey this season was refreshingly honest.
The Daily Beast spoke to Baranski about how her character has changed since the pilot episode, what’s ahead in Season 4 of The Good Wife, those bizarre Brady Bunch Internet rumors, and more. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
This is your third time being nominated for Diane Lockhart. Why do you think viewers find Diane so compelling?
She has a ferocious work ethic and is such a model of integrity. I love the way they write the character as sometimes the only grown-up in the room, especially in a room full of guys. She has one of those tough journeys that women had in the ‘60s, going into the ‘70s. She followed right behind Hillary [Clinton] and went to Wellesley, and then to law school, and had high aspirations and didn’t have the time or good fortune to meet a partner. She’s a very independent woman, and yet there’s a vulnerability that I often see in the writing that they let me reveal, and a great sense of humor. There’s a maturity that she has that people have really responded to.
In Season 3, Diane took the reins of Lockhart & Gardner, thanks to Will’s suspension and a thwarted power grab from Eli. What was it like being able to show Diane’s tenacity?
She really took strides last year with the firm in a state of eternal crisis. There was this terrific feeling of unease. I just loved the writing last year for the character. I thought, without becoming a bitch or maternal or condescending, she offered tough love to people. She cares fiercely about this firm that she created. She was expected to be this bitchy antagonist for Alicia, but it went the other way; she wanted to mentor a woman who she thought had tremendous promise. She saw in Alicia a ghost of her past: not wanting Alicia to be indebted to a man to make it to the top.
Why do you think viewers love to see Diane and Will together?
The writers like to say that it’s the healthiest marriage or relationship on television because they seem to be able to tough it out. Diane has a fierce sense of loyalty to him. There’s a ton of real affection there without it ever becoming romantic. There’s an intimacy to that professional relationship that is really interesting to show, because people in the workplace do have a level of intimacy and camaraderie that can be really fierce.
Will and Diane really do represent a platonic ideal of partnership. There’s a very real but nonsexualized romance between the two.
Let’s face it: there are only two sexes and it can’t always be about the romantic or sexual side. I love that Diane seems to be a woman who has relationships with men that are actually very healthy. She likes men, and she’s comfortable being in a man’s world.
How do you see Diane’s arc over the last three seasons?
Diane has gotten more centered in her strength and sense of her own integrity. When we see Diane in the first year, she is a tough litigator, she’s successful. We’ve seen that character have to ride out a lot: the external threat of a takeover and an internal threat with the romance between her partner and an associate.
My first scene in Season 4 is in front of a bankruptcy judge. We’re victims of the recession and we have to have a trustee [Nathan Lane] come in and oversee our firm. Diane may be at her lowest point at the start of Season 4. But in terms of a progression, there’s a growing depth to the relationship with Will. Diane toughed it out through feeling that he was betraying me to then being loyal to him when he was, I think, being falsely accused for judicial bribery.
In terms of Alicia coming on board, I was wary of her, as the wife of the state’s attorney, but I wound up, over the course of the show, recognizing her gifts as a lawyer and her integrity and strength as a human being, managing this public life and this public humiliation. She’s a person of great substance. Diane recognizes that Alicia is someone to have on her side. But ultimately, with Diane Lockhart, it’s about moving forward toward greater and greater professional and inner strength.
Season 3 offered Diane a romantic binary choice, between Gary Cole’s McVeigh and Bryan Brown’s Jack. What do each of these men offer Diane, and have we seen the last of them?
No, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them. I love that both of them are in play. They’re both real guys’ guys. One of the challenges of the show is finding men to play opposite, romantically, these three strong women. With Diane, of course, she is really a grown-up woman. She is the head of a firm, she is not going to just date anybody, and she chooses carefully to not date people in her profession. Only once have you seen her, in Season 1, with this guy, who turned out to be a schmuck.
She likes guys who are mavericks. With [McVeigh], you have the political issue becoming this sparring thing; disagreeing becomes this sexy spark between the two of them. With Jack, we haven’t seen enough of him to know where this may lead, but there’s just this crackling energy when we’re together and a mutual appreciation. There’s that scene where Diane watches him throw that guy against the wall when he tries to serve him a summons, and you can see that Diane is actually pretty turned on by the sheer display of male force. What I love is that she can hold her own over the course of an evening of drinking and conversation with a guy and still wind up happily in bed.
That scene is a key moment in “Alienation of Affection,” which you submitted as your Emmy episode. Why was this such a standout episode?
My favorite scene that I shot last year would be my confrontation with Will on the roof, because it was so dramatic. It was such a moment between us, this grown-up tough love. But they want you to submit a whole episode, and I had a lot to do in [“Alienation of Affection”] that starts with Diane and Jack in the art gallery. It shows a lot of colors: we see her sitting there, giggling with a guy and being intrigued by him, and seeing her with all of the guys at the firm and having to fight a case with F. Murray Abraham’s character. That episode showed a lot about who Diane is, as a woman and as a professional.
In that same episode, Diane says, “You have such lofty goals when you start a law firm.” How has reality, the need for compromise, or pure ambition changed her motives?
Alicia and Diane are both extremely principled women. They hold themselves to very high standards. She grew up in the ‘60s. She’s my age. This was [an era of] civil rights, women’s rights, Vietnam. She is a liberal. She’s a lefty. She holds that dear to her. Her father was a law professor and he probably fought in the war. She comes from a certain tradition and historical perspective and during the course of these years, she’s had to live through times where the ground is shifting and it’s hard to figure out how to stay alive, how to be economically feasible when you’re holding onto your principles. We see it everywhere in our world: corporate culture, show business, and, God knows, in politics. You will see more of that in Diane, but that is true of [Alicia] as well: she is becoming more compromising in terms of moving forward.
The Good Wife was egregiously shut out of the Best Drama race. In fact, there are no network dramas represented this year. What is your take on the omission?
I don’t see it as a level playing field. We do 22 episodes of high-quality writing and acting and production. Cable does 10, [maybe 13]. It’s a half a year. There used to be Cable ACE Awards and now everybody is together. Our writers have been egregiously overlooked and, if I have the good fortune to win, I will probably address that and speak in defense of my show. We have eight days of shooting and we do 22 in a row. We don’t have hiatuses in between, we don’t take breaks except for holidays. That’s an astonishing achievement.
No other show is mining marriage, morality, technology, and politics in the same way as The Good Wife.
We’re blown away by the production values of a show like Game of Thrones. It’s astonishing; it’s like watching a feature film. It’s amazing what they do. But the subtlety of our writing and the intelligence? And I agree: who is writing about our time and the zeitgeist in the way that this show is?
At the end of Season 3, Lockhart & Gardner is in trouble. How does the financial crisis play out next season?
Over the hiatus, we had the Dewey & LeBoeuf thing, and that’s really where we’re starting: in bankruptcy court. It all, finally, caught up with us. We’re $1 million in debt. We started this show during a recession and we’ve seen the [firm] rebounding, just as it seemed as a country we were rebounding, and unfortunately, we’re still mired in a recession. There’s a lot of downsizing that’s really terrifying, and that’s where you’ll catch us at the beginning of Season 4. Whole departments are being let go, and it’s really ruthless and heartbreaking.
Where did this bizarre rumor about you appearing as a child actor on The Brady Bunch come from?
It’s completely false. I think that someone saw an episode of The Brady Bunch and—I finally did see it—that girl does look a lot like what I might have looked like as a little girl. Somebody may have posted it and said, ‘Hey, this is Christine Baranski.’ But I was never a child actor. I didn’t start acting until I was in high school in Buffalo, N.Y. I did high school plays, some avant-garde theater workshops, and a few things professionally in Buffalo for our theater troupe. But [the Brady Bunch rumor] was a complete falsehood. Do you know how hard it is to get it off Google? I’ve had reporters put it in profiles of me, and I’ll say, ‘You can’t use Google as a source!’ It’s inaccurate. The only way to change it is to make a public statement, which I’m doing now by saying, ‘Nope!’ So now that becomes part of the public record.
When we met Diane in the pilot episode, she was introduced with a fluffy little dog, seen one other time in Season 1’s “Bad.” Where is Justice?
My retort to that is that there is no Justice, and that’s all I’ll say!