When CBS announced during last year’s Super Bowl that The Good Wife was coming to an end, star Christine Baranski was presented with two very attractive prospects: to star in a planned spin-off of The Blacklist on NBC or stick around CBS while it figured out a way to keep her playing attorney Diane Lockhart in another drama. In preparation for tonight’s debut of The Good Fight on CBS and CBS All Access, we asked Baranski, 64, to reflect on why she chose to stay put in those fictitious law offices of Chicago. (Lucky for us.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you explain how CBS convinced you to stick around for a spinoff?
CHRISTINE BARANSKI: I was something of a free agent, because the end of The Good Wife was announced Super Bowl weekend. And so, I began to get some other offers and then I got a really serious offer from another network to do another drama. But there had been discussion like, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could continue with what we had with The Good Wife in some way? Was there a way to spin it?’ There was nothing definitive in the works, but a sense that wouldn’t it be great if we could keep much of what was great about The Good Wife together? Anyway, once I got a serious offer to do something else it sort of forced the hand of everybody to say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s see if we can make this work.’ And I said, ‘Look, if I can work with [Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King] again and if I can continue playing Diane Lockhart, and have basically the same work situation, then that’s as good as gold to me.’ Because those were years that were so productive, so creatively fulfilling. I loved the character, loved working with them as writers. So, it had been discussed for a long time and yet when it came together it came together rather quickly.
Wasn’t there doubt that the Kings could stay on beyond the pilot?
It was sort of iffy. The Kings were deeply preoccupied with BrainDead, but then it turned out that once BrainDead neared its end the Kings said, ‘You know, we really actually are very interested in writing full time for this.’ And I was of course overjoyed because that’s why I wanted to stay on. So, it’s all worked out perfectly.
The fact that you stuck around for the spinoff says so much about your experience on The Good Wife.
I think they’re the best writing team in television. I’m surprised they didn’t win an Emmy. I’m sorry they never did. I thought they should’ve been nominated every year. For an actress at this point in my career, to play a character, a female character as smart and as elegant as Diane… there’s a kind of integrity to her. I could see over the course of seven years how much women responded to the Diane character, to say nothing of how well dressed she was. I thought if I could get that character back, I was willing to stay rather than venture into something unknown. Let’s face it: There are only so many roles out there for older women, but very few Diane Lockharts, you know. That kind of stature, that kind of dignity. And so, I’d like to see how far this goes, how far this takes me, because the pilot is a 180-degree turn for Diane. She goes through a spectacular fall. She has to transform her life so she’s upended emotionally and practically. You’re not going to see the same thing that you saw for seven years. For seven years she was behind that majestic desk with Chicago, wearing her beautiful suits and being No. 1 at the law firm. She starts the pilot as No. 1 but by halfway into the pilot, she’s got her foundation rocked to the core.
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What kind of feedback did you get after the Good Wife finale?
I think people were stunned by it, which is always a great response. They didn’t expect it and once again that’s the brilliance of Robert and Michelle. They will just turn you at the last minute in a whole other direction that you didn’t expect. I think people were hoping for Diane and Alicia [Julianna Margulies] to go off to the women’s firm or Alicia to land on her feet, or for Alicia to make a choice between one man or another. Our scene was shot in a fluorescent-lit back part of a hotel. In the bowels of this kitchen in the hotel, these two women confront each other. I never conceived of it as a bitch slap. I always thought it was a wakeup to the consequences of what you’ve done. And Alicia’s final seconds on camera were like, ‘My God, where has my life taken me?’ So, it wasn’t necessarily as dark an ending, in my mind or Julianna’s, but it was a moment of extreme reckoning for both women. I had no problem with it. I thought it was shocking, but why not.
The Good Fight will have a special premiere on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS before streaming exclusively on CBS All Access.