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Christine Baranski Reflects on Female Empowerment as ‘The Good Wife’ Readies Its Final Argument
April 26, 2016  | By Alex Strachan
 

The Good Wife has experienced both highs and lows in its seven years as one of network television’s shining lights. 

If there’s one thing Christine Baranski will take with her, though, as the respected legal drama prepares its final arguments, it’s the bigger-picture themes the series tackled, from the empowerment of women in both reel life and real life, and gender politics, both literal and figurative.

“It was part of the genius of the writers to have this extraordinary plot-line last season with Alicia Florrick being groomed for a political campaign, at this moment in time when we do have someone in American politics who is being groomed as a female presidential nominee.”

Baranski was speaking before a small group of reporters from around the world, from points as far flung as Israel and Australia, Turkey and France, where — despite its strong American underpinnings and foundation in the American legal system — The Good Wife is as popular as any American TV import, despite being several seasons behind in several foreign markets.

When a reporter from Brazil noted that a Latin actress of no small renown told him just the other day that there are no decent roles for women in film — but that there do seem to be decent roles for women in television — Baranski concurred. Heartily.

“That is so true,” she said. “I think it’s so true, which is why every actress now wants to work in television. You get to tell the story of your character week after week, month after month. I’m now in, six years into The Good Wife, and look how my character has developed. I couldn’t have done that in 90 minutes or two hours, or whatever a film is these days.

“And the development of Alicia Florrick, from this wife that stood by her husband’s side looking like, you know, so defeated with her skin pale and her hair just hanging… It was painful to look at that picture, of her standing by her man, and then to that episode five years later where she’s standing there announcing that she’s going to run for State’s Attorney, and he’s standing by her side. That took five-and-a-half years of character development, and if it had happened in 90 minutes it would have been done as a fast-forward.

“Whereas over the course of five-and-a-half years, you get to tell a story that is subtle. You see her personal development in her relationship with her workmates, with her husband, how her marriage has changed, how her relationship with her children has changed, how her developing her own strength within the law firm to the point where she breaks away, her moral development — all those things took place over the course of many years.

“What woman would want her story told in 90 minutes? I couldn’t tell my story in 90 minutes. It’s much too interesting a life. So, yeah. Television is wonderful, particularly for women, female characters.”

Baranski confirmed suggestions that she was peeved over the years at The Good Wife’s being snubbed at the Emmys — not so much for herself but for her behind-the-scenes colleagues, and the series itself.

The Good Wife won the 2013-‘14 Television Critics Association award for outstanding achievement in drama over a field that included previous — and subsequent — winners like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Series star Julianna Margulies won the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama that same year to go with the Emmy she won in The Good Wife’s sophomore season. Baranski herself has been a nominee for supporting actress each and every year since The Good Wife’s debut in 2010.

Still, the lack of Emmy attention for the people who actually make the show — the writers especially — grates.

“As Julianna said in her Emmy speech, let’s acknowledge here that we do 22 episodes and True Detective did, what, six? Four? I mean, come on, there’s no comparison. We are like long-distance runners. We are running a marathon, 22 quality episodes each season, that tell a story arc and do it well.”

That marathon is now coming to an end. The finish line is in sight. Following this past weekend’s outing, “Party,” just two episodes remain.

Baranski acknowledged that being in a room of international reporters makes her job as Good Wife spokesman easier, but that didn’t mean she was going to turn into Aunt Blabby, like one of her sitcom characters.

“The American press always says, ‘So, what’s going to happen?’ Well, I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen because that’s why people tune in.”

As with any actor, Baranski says she sees parts of herself in her character, but other aspects of her character are elusive. That’s only natural, for an actor who has to live with a character for an extended period of time.

“She might be tougher than me,” Baranski admitted, suddenly quiet. “I like to think I’m strong and resilient.

“But to run a law firm, to get to the point where you’re a woman at the head of a law firm and control a room full of guys, as I have over the course of these many seasons, to get up there and fight that fight — I found it challenging as an actress.

“It was a wonderful challenge, though. To keep digging into myself, thinking, where do I find that part of me that could actually be tough enough to walk into a room full of guys and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’

“I think, actually, that that’s a journey a lot of women are making in the world right now, claiming their own power. One of the many sides of the show I think is pure genius is the way we watch Alicia and Diane keep digging further and further into themselves over time, to find the courage to say, ‘No, I’m going for it. I’m going to assert myself.’”

The Good Wife calls it a day for good on May 8.

Just two episodes remain: the self-explanatory “Verdict,” this weekend, and the equally self-explanatory “End” the following week. The finale was written by series-creators Robert King and Michelle King, and directed by Robert King.

Margulies has said in recent interviews that The Good Wife’s faithful will either love or hate the finale.

That’s true of any long-running series, though, especially a series that was followed over the years with equal parts respect and affection.

In an interview this past week with Entertainment Weekly, Margulies said the last scene in the series — the first scene filmed, ironically enough, thanks to the vagaries of production scheduling and actor availability — features her character and Baranski’s character together.

Margulies described the scene as “intense,” but stopped there. She refused to divulge any more details, except to say that she was so shaken when she first read the script that she had to read it three times before forming an opinion.

No doubt The Good Wife’s loyal following probably feel the same way about saying goodbye to an old favorite — even if Robert King and Michelle King did say from the outset that it would last no more than seven years.

Endings are hard, after all. On both sides of the camera.

“It’s been a wonderful journey for me as an actress,” Baranski said. “I was raised a nice, obedient Catholic schoolgirl girl in Buffalo. Catholic girls are very nice and obedient, but inside there’s a rebel. So I really enjoyed reaching for Diane and finding her over the course of these many years.”

 
 
 
 
 
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