Julianna Margulies talks her memoir, and the Good Wife and ER scenes that impacted her most
On May 4, The Good Wife and ER star Julianna Margulies will release her first book, a memoir titled Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life, in which she reflects on her non-traditional childhood, the decisions that shaped her career, and the life she's built for herself. EW spoke with Margulies about the four-year journey of writing her first book and what it taught her about herself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In your book you mention that after The Good Wife, you finally had a moment to reflect on your life, but how did that moment of reflection translate into writing a book?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: Well, I think ignorance is bliss, because had I known how difficult it is, I don't think I would have attempted it. [Laughs] I tried to give my advance back three times, because the book organically started by me being sick and in bed and not having a job. And so I started writing and got a book deal, then of course, I started getting work. So, we ping-ponged back and forth like that for a while, and god bless my editor, Pamela Cannon, she never took no for an answer. She kept saying to me, "You have the bones of such a great story that could really resonate with people. You take your time." I don't think she thought it would be four years.
How did you stay motivated to write over the course of four years?
I've read a lot of graduation speeches. I find them quite inspiring. And David Carr had talked to a graduating class and he said, "Make sure you get out of your comfort zone because being comfortable leads to complacency." And so every time I was in such agony, I thought, "You're uncomfortable right now. So get uncomfortable and figure it out." We just like to do what we know we do best, and when you've had success at doing what you trained to do, it's very different than sitting down to be vulnerable about your life story and not really know what you're doing, or know if it's good enough. It was really Bryan Cranston who told me, "You're a storyteller. That's what we do for a living. Go tell your story." And something about that freed me a little bit because I thought, "Oh right. Maybe I'm not so far out of my league."
What surprised you the most about the journey in terms of looking back on your own life and really analyzing everything?
The original title for the book actually was A Left Instead of a Right because I always felt like I was never going directly through the front door. Even with my career, I got the pilot of ER and I was supposed to die in the pilot. I never went through the front door of the Warner Brother building, you know what I mean? So, that was sort of the idea of the book. But I think that ultimately this is the beauty of the exercise, just of writing about your life, is it's a great way to grow. At 30, I pictured my life much differently than I did at 40. At 40, I pictured my life much differently than I do now. I never imagined the peace and quiet I could have, and still have an exciting life.
I always thought that everything would be summed up in how I could work as an actress and how I could move people. But truthfully, if I really look at it, none of that matters if I don't have what I ultimately wanted, which was a peace and calm and the stability of someone to share my life with, and a child. All of that stuff I actually didn't know I wanted at all, until I saw the value, once I had it, of how important it was. And I never would have known how important it was if I hadn't had that experience, first, of not having it.
The title is Sunshine Girl, which I thought was interesting because you spend a lot of the book analyzing your journey with that nickname and the expectations that came with it. So why did that ultimately become the title?
I know isn't that crazy, because I didn't want to. And then I re-read the book. And I realized: Sunshine Girl was my nickname. That's who I thought I was supposed to be. That was my blessing and my curse. I was afraid if I wasn't sunshiny when I walked in a room, no one would value me. Therefore, I couldn't say no or be difficult. We get labeled things as children and I think it's very difficult. Michelle Obama wrote about this in her memoir, Becoming, she was like, "Let people become who they are." And I thought that was so poignant because it's true. If you name a kid difficult, then they're going to live up to that. I think that it's really important. As much as I know that name was given to me from my mother out of love, she had no idea how crippling it could be once I became an adult, or even as a child. So it felt relevant to the story I was telling.
You start the book talking about how affected you were by the opening of The Good Wife when Alicia (Margulies) slaps Peter (Chris Noth). Were you often that impacted by Alicia moments or was that scene a particular experience?
I was impacted by a lot of scenes. The Kings are brilliant and they wrote a character so layered and so rich, and I don't think they realized how deep it was for me. I'll be honest with you, I was a little embarrassed at my reaction. I could not understand it. Emotionally, it wrecked me and still, I can't watch it without crying. It is something about that moment and that slap and that walk and that feeling of being trapped and not knowing what's going to happen to your life. It really hit me hard. And I don't think there's ever been a character that's hit me that hard, but there was a moment I remember with Carol Hathaway where a scene took me by surprise. I'm talking to this little Russian girl that I found out I couldn't adopt, because they found out that I had tried to kill myself. And I remember just talking to this little girl. She probably didn't understand a word I was saying, but it was just this quiet, quiet scene with her. And out of nowhere I thought, "Oh my God, I'm going to cry. Don't cry, don't cry." But I could not pull back. And when I got home, I just sat in my car in my driveway, and I thought, "I can't go in that door if I can't get rid of these feelings." Because, if I walk in that door with these feelings, then I'm bringing my work way too far home. And I have to get up tomorrow and do another scene that has nothing to do with that. And so yeah, I have gotten to play two of the richest, I think, female characters on television.
Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life is available for pre-order now.