Julianna Margulies’s Favorite ‘The Good Wife’ Scenes
The Emmy-winning star of ‘The Good Wife’ (nominated again this year) reflects on the most memorable moments from the past season, from a tragic death to a new beginning.
Season 5, Episode 5 “Hitting the Fan”
Will Gardner discovers that Alicia is leaving the firm, confronts her in the office, and all hell breaks loose.
I felt like that was one of the first moments you ever see Alicia caught in an act of deception. The way the show first starts in the pilot, she’s the good girl. In this scene in “Hitting the Fan” she’s really the bad guy. Even though her reasoning might be understandable and best for their relationship, I think what she did and the trail leading up to it, for Will, is so devastating in that moment. When he walks in and he says, “So you’re leaving,” and she’s stumbling and trying to figure out how to handle the situation, this is a woman who is just completely off guard by his reaction and being found out. I loved the volatility to his reaction and the deception, and then her walking away with the security guards to the elevator. You really feel like this is not what she wanted. This is not how she wanted it to happen.
The brilliance of this scene, and this season, is that there are no good guys and bad guys. That’s exactly how I felt when I read this scene. Who’s going to root for her? How could you root for her? He is the person that brought her there. Everyone said no, and he took her in. And what I love about the unfolding of the whole season is that by Episode 14, when she’s giving her speech, you see the trajectory of what she went through to get where she is, all of the rejection. He was her light at the end of the tunnel. He stopped the elevator doors from closing and said, “Give me a call.” He changed her life! So I found that scene to be the most “slippery slope,” in terms of how do you act that? How do you get the audience to stay on your side knowing you’ve done wrong?
Season 5, Episode 10 “The Decision Tree”
In a flashback scene, Will and Alicia are on a terrace in New York City, and Alicia whispers in his ear, “This is the happiest I have ever been.”
That whole episode was one of my favorite episodes. That scene, in particular, I don’t think you ever saw Alicia and Will be truly who they were together when they were alone. You saw some moments of sexual tension and sexual activity in the bedroom, but you never saw her really confess her feelings. So for her to be able to say, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been”—he knows how unhappy she’s been. The audience has never been able to see her truly happy, either. I love that scene because there’s this freedom. They’re in New York City, she’s not worrying about her kids. She’s never put herself first before. She always puts her husband first or her children first, and in that one moment you see her putting herself first, and sharing it with him. I think it was a great moment to build up to the moment she finds out when he died, and why it’s so devastating for her.
What I love about being able to do flashbacks is that the audience stays with the characters through each show, but then you forget where they’ve come from if you don’t go back sometimes. So I thought it was beautifully shot. Rosemary Rodriguez directed that. Alicia doesn’t give away her feelings too easily, so I thought that was one of the important moments for her. For me as an actor, too, it was nice to be able to peel another layer off her and realize that this is something that she wants. It’s not just a sexual need. He makes her happy.
Season 5, Episode 14 “A Few Words”
In a flashback scene, Alicia tries to rebuild her life by interviewing for jobs and returning to work. She thinks she finally lands one only to realize she didn’t and breaks down in an elevator.
Going back and playing who I played in the pilot in this episode’s flashback scenes was such a great acting challenge for me. No one else will probably notice, but she stood a little differently, not as upright as she is now. Her armor wasn’t as strong. She still had such an open heart and was so vulnerable to all of it. She was trying to be who she is now, but she wasn’t. Just tiny little subtle differences. In that moment, she thinks “I can do this.” It was sink or swim and she thought, “I can do this. I’m going to get a job!” She had already rented the apartment and lived beyond her means before getting the job because she felt so secure. Then came the crushing blow: I’m just an intern. I’m nothing. I can’t even get a job in a shitty law firm. That was a moment of complete desperation when she walks into the elevator.
For any actor, being able to break down when you have someone else to react to is much easier than walking into an elevator by yourself and trying to do it alone. It’s such a great acting exercise because you have to go to these places, and the only place I could go was where she was at that time in her life. I watched the pilot before I shot it, just to remind myself where she had been and how humiliated she was. It’s one thing to be humiliated in the privacy of your own home, but everyone knew her business. She’s a private person, and it was just mortifying. So that was a moment, in her silly little getup—she looked like a stewardess—she was trying to look the part and she just wasn’t.
Season 5, Episode 16 “The Last Call”
After learning that Will is dead, Alicia goes back to Lockhart/Gardner and falls into Diane’s arms, sobbing. Immediately after, she checks her phone and sees the messages from Will.
That was a hard one to choose. There were so many moments in that episode that I felt were a) challenging and b) incredibly insightful into what she was going through and feeling. One of the best moments is when you see Eli come and give her the phone, but the real moment was right after that when she sees Diane. There’s been so much bad blood between these two women, but the one person who brought them together was Will. And the one person they both feel closest to is Will. So I love that moment where she is just so raw. You don’t know if Diane is going to tell her to get the fuck out or embrace her. It’s that moment when they just collapse into each other’s arms and she brings her into the office. Strangely, it’s the only safe place Alicia had to go. There was nowhere else she could go but to the enemy. And at that point, the enemy is her only friend.
Then when Diane steps out of her office for a minute—then again I have to act alone with a phone—she sees the phone messages and sees one from Will. She replays it and replays it and replays it. That was just all moments that I had to take in and imagine. I love how they shot it. It was done so simply, because it was so complex what was going on. Strangely, it was horribly easy. I thought it would be the hardest thing to look at those messages. “OK, here are the messages. Now she starts tearing up. Now she turns to look back at his office.” But it all felt so real, the way it was done, that it was actually not so hard to imagine your lover’s last words and the frustration of was he angry, was he happy, was he telling you that he loves you—what was he? That anxiety of what she’s going through was a lot easier to film that it was to imagine doing.
What I loved about the end of the whole episode when her husband is holding her—in the original script it doesn’t say that she’s closing her eyes. It said that she stares out, but I thought the only way to really let the audience into what she was feeling was to close her eyes because then they imagine what she’s thinking. She closes her eyes and hears his voice saying, “I want to be with you. You’re the one.” She can leave that day feeling like he really loved her.
Season 5, Episode 17 “A Material World”
After three days of mourning in her bedroom, Alicia resurfaces and finds Peter in the kitchen, and the two of them go at each other.
She crawls into bed with all her clothes on and she’s probably in there for three days. Then the first scene she has is with Peter. When he says to her to basically get over it already, she was just like: Let’s just be real. Seriously? I’m done with you. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean you can dictate who I am and am supposed to be with. It was just a great moment for her. I loved the way it was filmed. Griffin Dunne directed that episode and he wanted me to feel like a caged animal. I was stuck between the sink and the stove, which I thought was fantastic! Right back into that housewife position I was in in the first place. I start backing away from him into the stove and I just have this moment where I look up and go, “No. You know what? No. You do whatever you want. I won’t divorce you…” Even though she’s got mascara running down her face and she probably hasn’t taken a shower in three days and looks like crap, there’s this guttural, almost lion sort of attack of get out of my den. And that was so much fun to play! She doesn’t get to do that too often.
It was so funny, because Alicia’s very put together. She’s very specific in her look. It was so hard for my poor hair and makeup people. I’d have to tell them to leave me alone. I’d rub my eyes before shooting and mess up my hair and they’d be like, “But! But!” And I was like, “It’s OK. I’m good. She’s been in bed for three days. She’s a mess. But don’t worry! She’ll be back.” Allowing her to stay in bed like that allowed her to be human for the audience. You can only be so stoic and so regal. If I’m not human and the audience can’t see my pain then they’re not going to want to go with me for the rest of the ride. They’re not going to want to see her better, because she never got bad. So it has to be this journey.
Season 5, Episode 22 “A Weird Year”
Alicia says goodbye to Zach, who is leaving for college, and then sits down with Eli, who asks her to run for State’s Attorney.
Maybe it’s because I have a six-and-a-half-year-old, but I just that the moment with her son was great. They have such a sweet relationship and mutual respect, that moment of being a parent where you have to let go and you have to let them go, but the pain you know she’s feeling when she walks out the door. What I loved about how that scene was written is that one door closes and another opens. So there she is saying goodbye to her son. And that’s her life! Even though she still has Grace at home, your first born, that’s your life. Most of what she’s done she’s done for him, for her children. That door closes and she sits down, and she’s got to keep it together, obviously, because she’s got Eli there.
She can’t fall apart, she already did that. And all of a sudden Eli’s sitting there and you see light bulbs going off in her head. I love her moments with Eli, because they’re in a different world than anyone else. Because Eli, from the get-go, is in all of it. Eli was there from the beginning. He knows more than she does about the messages Will Gardner left years ago that she never got to hear. So he’s really closer to her about the Will Gardner stuff than anyone else. He knows more. So for him to suddenly say, “Would you ever consider running for State’s Attorney?,” it’s like one door closes in her life and this new chapter opens. And I love how, in just moments, your life can change. And I think that’s really what our show is about. It was just, I thought, a very adult moment to see her sit down and think, “Now what?” And then it just gets thrown in her face! On to the next problem. Life goes on.
As told to Kevin Fallon.