Josh Charles was part of one of the most shocking moments of the year when his character Will Gardner was gunned down on CBS’ The Good Wife. This was the longest TV stint for Charles—he previously toplined Aaron Sorkin’s critically praised ABC comedy Sports Night, which ran for two years in the late ’90s. Charles already has one Emmy nom for The Good Wife and now is looking to join a long list of actors who won supporting acting drama Emmys after their characters were killed off, including Drea de Matteo and Joe Pantoliano of The Sopranos, Margo Martindale of Justified and, most recently, Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale.
AWARDSLINE: Were you looking to do a series when you were approached for The Good Wife?
JOSH CHARLES: I don’t think I particularly was, but it came my way, and I thought it was really well written. I liked the fact that it was shooting in New York and Julianna (Margulies), who was a friend, was doing it. So, yeah, I wasn’t really looking to do a series, per se, but this one came around, and I’m glad it did.
AWARDSLINE: You never signed a standard seven-year deal, it was more you re-upping every year. Why was that?
CHARLES: I would rather not bore people with contract details, but the reality is that I had a very short-term deal, it was renewed a couple of times over, and at the end of the fourth year my contract was up, and I chose not to renew. It was just a creative decision for me wanting to go and explore new stuff—in my life, in my career. I was always going to try to give the show a few episodes this year to help them arc it out, but I’m glad that we ended up doing more.
AWARDSLINE: After you found out what was in store for your character in season five, did you pause for a second and reconsider leaving?
CHARLES: No. I didn’t. You make these decisions when you make them, and it’s no reflection of the show, it was just my own sort of internal process. It was something that I thought very long about. And you’ve got to remember, I’ve been playing the character for four full seasons. The idea of doing one more partial season was something I was glad we did, especially because I feel like the show went to some really great places this year, for (my) character in particular, giving him a proper goodbye. Regarding looking back, and regretting… no. I ended up doing one more episode than I thought. I also knew, going into the season that I would be directing, too. As soon as I finished acting in episode 16 I knew that I’d be coming back a few weeks later to start prepping episode 19. It really felt like I was there most of this year. And I think I’m up to direct another episode next season, so I think I still feel like I’ll stay involved in the show, in some capacity, and that makes me happy.
AWARDSLINE: How was it reuniting with the cast and crew to direct episode 19?
CHARLES: That was great. It was the third episode I directed for the show and the first time that I had not acted at all in it. It was exhausting, as it always is—the process of directing television: the accelerated prep time, the scripts are really long. I know this is something I really want to do more of; I want to direct a film. It’s just been great to work with this family of mine and have that be the first opportunity I’ve had to step behind a camera.
AWARDSLINE: What was the hardest thing about playing Will Gardner?
CHARLES: Learning all of that legal dialogue on 24 hours’ notice, or 48 hours. Getting a script the night before, two nights before, while you’re shooting the (previous) episode, and looking through the script and realizing you’re in court a lot, having to say a lot of that legalese, making it sound clear, precise and succinct. The courtroom stuff is not always the most fun to shoot, both as an actor and as a director. You have to shoot so much coverage because there are so many people in those scenes. You’ve got to get all of those pieces in, so you’re just sitting there doing it over and over again. It’s a test of endurance.
AWARDSLINE: How hard was it to keep Will’s death quiet for so long?
CHARLES: How did we do it? I don’t know. I told people, but it was just people in my inner circle that I knew could clam up and keep a secret. It was a good test for me to see the kind of friends I have. A lot of my friends knew, and my family knew. None of them yapped, which was great. Across the board—between the rest of the cast, the crew, all of our different performers, guests, and background performers—it’s a lot of different people, and you would think somewhere along the line something would have slipped, but it didn’t. Other than a few little things here and there, we were really able to keep it primarily a secret, which was nice.
AWARDSLINE: Are you aware of how many actors get Emmys after their characters are killed off? Did that play a role in deciding Will’s fate?
CHARLES: What? No. Oh no. I was not aware of that. I had no idea, to be honest with you. I can just tell you that I don’t know how that all works. Obviously it’s nice if you get invited to the parties and stuff like that, but if you’re not, you can live with that as well.
AWARDSLINE: What is your favorite Will Gardner scene?
CHARLES: A couple of things this year. I certainly loved “Hitting the Fan,” I loved that script. I just loved the journey that all of the characters go on in that script, and particularly Will because he’s finding out the betrayal for the first time, and the track that sends him on. The drama, the humor, everything is sort of all wrapped into one, and it’s really high intensity pace. I really enjoyed acting in that episode very much.
I also like elements of our 100th episode, “The Decision Tree,” like the dynamic between Will and Alicia, both sort of working on cross-examining her. I just loved getting to see under his armor, a little bit of what’s actually behind all of that rage, and anger, and betrayal, that hurt, and sort of seeing the sense of love that he had for her.
AWARDSLINE: A lot of fans were devastated by Will’s death. Have you been able to make peace with them? Are they still angry at you?
CHARLES: Most of my interactions have been via Twitter, and I would say that the majority of them have been completely understanding, a lot of them have been very respectful and saying they’re sorry to see the character go but look forward to what I’m doing next, and it’s been great to feel that energy from people. Certainly there have been some angry people who said things to me, and you know that’s fine. I won’t tell people how to feel, people can feel however they want to feel, but I think the main thing is to make sure that we were really clear how everything went down. I think from a network point of view and for myself, we all handled it really well because there was nothing there that we were trying to hide. There’s no contracts broken, no asking to be let out of contracts, just staying past my contract, trying to do right by the show that’s been so great to me, and by the fans that I’m very lucky to have, and me wanting to leave is not anything because I’m mad at the show, just really a long time for me playing the same character. Most people have really understood that, and have been very supportive of that, and appreciate how the whole thing has been handled, and there are some that have been like, “You’re an asshole”, “How dare you?” “You’ve ruined your career.” All things that I just find kind of silly, but you know that’s life.
AWARDSLINE: You recently resurrected your character from Sports Night on Keith Olbermann 14 years after the show. How long do you think before you can revisit Will Gardner?
CHARLES: I just thought that was a fun tip of the cap to that show. Keith and I talked about doing a show for a while, and it finally worked out. I just felt like this would be a great time to have a laugh, realize it’s all show business, and that was fun to do. I enjoyed it. I forgot how hard that was, doing those highlights, and Keith was like, “Oh it’ll be easy. It’ll be nothing.” And then when I got up there it was like, “I need to rehearse.” But how long will it be before I bring Will back? Who knows? You never know.
Original photograph by Mark Mann