The moment in The Good Wife finale when Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart slapped Julianna Margulies’ character Alicia Florrick in the face not only marked the end of seven seasons of the legal drama, but it also began TV, film and Broadway legend Baranski’s move from supporting role to lead in the spin-off The Good Fight.
In her new incarnation, Diane Lockhart–liberal stalwart, law partner, and general bad-ass woman–navigated the challenges of a Trump administration, financial ruin, sexy liaisons, and even micro-dosing herself with drugs for some light relief.
Now, as Season 3 approaches, Baranski discusses the brilliance of writers Robert and Michelle King, the importance of putting sexy older female characters front and center, how she would never willingly opt out of the show, and what it was really like hanging out with Meryl Streep and Cher on the set of the new Mamma Mia film.
So Diane micro-dosing drugs was a bit of a surprise this past season. Was that really fun to play?
It was. I think the main theme of this season for Diane was that she was under the influence of a world gone mad. Micro-dosing was simply a way of coping. She goes to the funeral of a very famous civil rights lawyer and on the way she hears about the death of two other lawyers and it seems like her world, and the world that we’re living in is spinning out of control. So, when this bartender just slips her this thing at the end of a long, very stressful, mournful day, she’s alone in that limo, and in a way that even a sane person would say, “Hey, I’ve had enough to drink. What about this in my purse?” She just does a few drops on the tip of her tongue. It’s really the only time we see her take it. The other times in the show we see her thinking about taking it, or it’s empty or she’s getting rid of it, or she’s looking in her medicine cabinet but you don’t see her actually ingesting it. And I love that because I think the audience should wonder if the reason she’s flipping out, or the reason she’s acting the way she is, is because she’s doing this, or because the world is making her crazy.
If anything the micro-dosing allows her to just maybe say, “Hey, this is what it is. And I’m kind of relaxing into it. And the fact is, it’s gotten so insane. That, maybe, I’m actually going to walk barefoot in the office and say, “Fuck You!” When somebody really tries to screw me. And maybe I’m actually going to say what I really feel, instead of couching it in all this liberal, PC, politesse she’s been indulging in for years. She was always the most graceful. The most diplomatic person in the room. So, I love that they took the character in this 180 of a turn.
And that’s not the only way we’ve seen her change things up.
I did question how the audience would react to my having a kind of reckless one-night stand with a bartender. I said, “This is going to shock people.” But, I still understand it. I totally understood her behavior throughout. I think the Kings and I are very in touch with who this lady is. She’s a very complex woman. I think she’s really done her best to live by the rules and she had a fierce respect and love for the law. And if ever there was a year in any of our lives when we have felt that things are slipping away and getting out of control it’s this year. And I just love that the Kings really just went head-on into it, and allowed it to really influence the thinking of the leading lady.
The show lets us laugh at the current political situation. To say, “Well, this is surreal.”
Yeah. It’s a laughter. It’s a laughter that’s close to tears. It’s that fine line where you enter the absurd. It’s Beckett-like, isn’t it? You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. But, it is a world turned so almost farcical that your response is either to shut down or to find it wildly, fantastically amusing. The Kings always love that I have a very gutsy laugh, and in the first season there was an episode that ended with my laughing, and it just extended into the credits. They have since wanted to start using that laugh, and this season they’ve used my ability to just laugh and guffaw in that way. To a kind of existential effect. And I’ve just absolutely loved it. It’s way better than sitting there. You know, I wasn’t going to be Alicia Florrick. I wasn’t going to be alone in my house drinking copious amounts of red wine.
Diane is neither one thing or another. She’s liberal, yet she’s married to a card-carrying Republican NRA member…
I know. I totally agree. I find that really smart critics are getting how much of a contribution this has been to show a woman, a really grown-up, well-educated, highly-accomplished, complicated woman avoiding all the stereotypes about her being a bitch, being lonely because she was successful, therefore she’s lonely or she’s bitter. None of that. And at this moment in time with the #MeToo movement and with women running for office, and with women finally just saying, “Hell, no! We’re just saying what happens and what’s on our minds.” Diane was always that woman in the room who went toe-to-toe with the guys at the law firm. Diane I think was way ahead of her time. But, rather gracefully and subtly ahead of her time. It wasn’t a loud statement. She wasn’t some brazen bitch.
I asked them, “Please don’t write me as the nemesis to Alicia Florrick–that I’m the older woman who’s going to be threatened by the young–it’s such a serotype. Please.” And there were times that I had a real difficult time with Alicia Florrick, but there were times when I was her mentor. There were times when I said, “Come on board and join me.” Life in all of its infinite complexity wove plot lines that made me bump up against her in certain ways, but I really credit the Kings with creating a female character that had so much intelligence and therefore, a complexity about her.
Diane could really be played by any woman over 35. There’s no ageism with the writing of her character.
They never made an issue of my age. They never played into a certain pathos with regards to my being at a certain point in my life. When I lost all my money. It was clear that that was a harrowing moment for a person of any age, but particularly someone who is ready to retire. And, yet she bounced back. She clawed her way back without her being embittered and she still showed up in those necklaces in the office. She still put herself together. She’s in the tradition of so many great women who are survivors. They live in so much shit and they still survive. They’re not celebrated enough in our stories that we tell. On film or in the theater or in the movies. We don’t tell those stories enough. We make them victims of junk.
Actually, I just had this conversation with Sharon Stone last week.
I’m sure you did. I’m sure there are a lot of women like Annette Bening or Sharon Stone, or any of us, who want to say, “Wait a minute. We’re still alive and we’re smarter than ever. We’re more experienced than ever. We have so much to give.”
Diane is really sexy too. She’s having these magnetic connections, which is another example of the show’s lack of ageism. Was there a collaborative aspect to making sure she was sexy? The only way to change perspectives is by putting it out there and telling those stories, right?
I agree. I always said that television of all the mediums has the power to lead the culture forward. Television because people watch it and then they follow a character, they follow a show, they follow a storyline. Great television sitcoms have changed the culture, because they’ve said, “This is what it is. This is racism. This is sexism. This is homophobia.” We’ve had break-out characters and break-out moments in television because it’s ubiquitous in people’s homes and lives, and, suddenly, a beloved character is saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Look at who I am.”
My work with the Kings is collaborative, but, they’re a married couple. And Michelle and I have a terrific relationship, and I always thought Michelle always got who I was. And Robert as well. Michelle is just this really smart woman who loves beautiful clothes, and she’s extremely witty; she’s extremely smart. I think she wanted to take care of Diane over the years, and I was always saying, “I love that you write her with a sense of humor. I love that she’s not just one thing. I love that she’s not a bitch.” I also said, “I love working with my male co-stars.” I love men. I, Christine, have a great rapport with men. I think Diane can work all day with a guy and at the end of the day she can sit down and have a Bourbon whisky straight up. Like she was with Will Gardner or Adrian where she’s alone in a room with a guy, with her shoes off, and her feet up. And there’s something sexy about that. And not that they’re going to go to bed together. It’s just that wonderful male-female thing, that I think it’s just innately sexy. And at our best, men and women have a really wonderful dance together. I love that Diane has had really great relationships with male colleagues. I also think that’s a contribution. She gets men. She’s not afraid of them. And she never apologizes for her power.
Diane has now got her money back now. She could retire to France as she previously planned. Do you see her doing that?
Well, if I did that I would take myself out of the show number one. I think from what we’ve seen of Diane at the end of Season 2, she’s in deep trouble. She’s possibly going to be indicted for being a co-conspirator to assassinate the President. That’s big stuff. She’s not going anywhere.
How was the experience of making Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again with Cher and Meryl Streep?
In a few weeks I’m going to London just to do The Graham Norton Show with Cher. But I never thought [of this] in my wildest dreams as a pre-teenager watching Sonny and Cher. I was in a suburb of Buffalo–skinny me; a foolish American girl in an all-girls Catholic High School. If you had said to me, “Someday you are going to be in a movie with Cher, and you’re going to be on a talk show with Cher.” I would say, “That’s crazy!” It’s been so much fun.
There were a few days on the set when it was Meryl, and Julie Walters, and Cher, and we were sitting on our little directors’ chairs and schmoozing and talking girl talk. I can’t tell you how much fun it was. I’ve had the funnest career, I must tell you. This summer I’m going to be doing all this press for Mamma Mia, and I do The Big Bang Theory and Bad Moms. I’ve had a simply great year. But, I love that it’s all sort of mixed up with comedy and drama, and musicals.
Is there anything left on your list?
I’d like to get back to classical plays. I miss Shakespeare. I miss the use of languages, because, I think language is sadly leaving our culture in favor of abbreviated forms of communication and fast communication. But, I think, language is so worth keeping alive. And I would love to do some really literate script or classical play and flex those muscles again.