Christine Baranski has been playing liberal attorney Diane Lockhart for a full decade between “The Good Wife” and now “The Good Fight.” The veteran actress was Emmy-nominated six times for “The Good Wife” and is hoping to get her first nomination for “The Good Fight” next month.
Baranski recently sat down with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum and senior editor Marcus James Dixon to discuss playing Diane Lockhart for so long, what she envisions for a “Good Fight” musical episode and her feelings on awards. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby (Chris Beachum): Christine Baranski, between “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight,” you’ve now been playing Diane Lockhart for 10 years.
Christine Baranski: 10. I’ll be going on the 11th year because we’ve been picked up.
GD (Chris): We’ve just heard that. Congratulations.
CB: Thank you.
GD (Chris): How has she changed for you from the first time you read her to now?
CB: As written, Diane was the grownup in the room, the grownup lady, fierce moral center, liberal feminist, level-headed, playing off of Will Gardner, Josh Charles. He was the more volatile of the two of us. You always had the sense that she was the sane one, that it mattered greatly that she would be the moral authority. I think it’s wonderful that this character’s been on for as long as she has because the audience came to expect that of Diane. It was a comfort level in Diane being Diane, well-dressed, authoritative, elegant. She had her difficulties. She faced crises but there was always a gracefulness about her, a dignity. So “The Good Wife” ends and we wanna continue the character and the Kings wanna continue writing something. We didn’t know what. I didn’t have a script when I said, “Look, let’s work together.” I had another offer but I said, “Look, I’d rather work with you so I’ll wait for a script.” So we waited.
Suddenly, we’re doing a pilot script about Diane and we introduce her as suddenly she’s the lead character and we see this dignified woman in the conference room telling her fellow law partners, “Well, I’m retiring ‘cause there are no more glass ceilings to break and I’m going to the south of France.” This was before the election, obviously. While we were filming the pilot it was election night the night that I was filming with Delroy Lindo and the world kind of changed. Diane’s plot-line, which was to be that of a woman in the pilot who lost all her money and had to start again professionally, that was the big thrust of her dramatic life was that she was going to have to claw her way back having lost that which defined her, which was her professional life, her money, her dignity, her reputation. She lost all that because of this Ponzi scheme. That was supposed to be the central thing that then she gets work at an African American firm. That was gonna be the series. Lo and behold, we have a different president and the leading lady of the show has been for 10 years, when we started I was eight years in — that was my eighth year of playing Diane — but was written as a liberal feminist, so now the leading lady of “The Good Fight” is a woman living in the age of Donald Trump. So to the Kings’ credit, they caught that ball and decided to run with it and write what is it like for a woman, Diane Lockhart, to be living in the age of Donald Trump. Rather than make it just background noise, she can’t get away from it. Diane can’t stop watching cable news. Diane’s going a little crazy as a lot of women are going crazy.
It’s been very fertile ground for the writing and acting particularly of the Diane character in that she’s gone a little nuts and last year she was microdosing and mouthing off and losing her cool, packing heat, sleeping with bartenders (laughs). It’s great to have played a character for all those years who has been grown up and the dignified one. When Mommy loses it, it’s pretty scary, right? That’s what this is. The audience has been used to this dignified woman, with a very strong moral center, losing it. In Season 3, which we’ve just completed filming, she goes over to the dark side. She decides she’s gonna fight the good fight dirty. By the end of the season, which of course I can’t reveal, it has its consequences. So, because we’re writing Diane and because we’re writing all the characters in the age of Trump I think the show goes to some very sensitive issues and discusses it and dramatizes life in the age of MeToo and how do we talk to each other as black and white, man and woman, how do we talk across political differences. The season begins with Diane in bed with her sexy Republican husband. She’s saying, “I’m happy,” in her burgundy satin negligee. After she says, “I’m happy,” you can imagine where a show goes after a lead character says, “I’m happy.” Things get really complicated as she realizes that her husband is working for people she abhors and to me, it’s what happens when what it is out in the world that is dangerous that is perceived as malevolent or unacceptable or politically outrageous, what happens when that comes into your bedroom? What happens when that permeates your personal life, your marriage, the workplace? That’s what Season 3 has really been about.
Gold Derby (Marcus Dixon): We were just talking about the scene where she finds out that the husband isn’t cheating with the woman, she’s cheating with Trump’s children.
CB: Which is even worse!
GD (Marcus): So funny and you bang your head against the wall. I guess this is more of a question for the Kings but do you worry about offending fans who may be Trump supporters?
CB: I wouldn’t say we worry about it. These are fictional characters. I’m always saying to the press, “Look, Diane may be a liberal feminist. That doesn’t mean the show is some kind of liberal, left-wing platform.” It looks at all sides and it makes just as much fun of people with liberal sensibilities as right-wing sensibilities. We’re all human and we’re all foibled. You will see by the end of the season how things can turn around and get very complicated if you adhere too strictly to your own way of thinking. Are we gonna offend people? Yes, that’s what art does. That’s good writing and acting and that’s what we’re meant to do is look at life and have people react. So I’m happy if the show causes people to react as long as they don’t react violently. As long as it becomes part of a conversation then that’s great.
GD (Chris): One of my favorite actors is Michael Sheen. What kind of new dynamic has he brought to the show from your standpoint as an actor but also as a character?
CB: He’s a consummate actor. Let me just say that, and a delightful human being. He’s a Welshman but impeccable manners, impeccable professional sense. He just plays such a big character, larger than life. Mephistopheles literally enters the building. He has no moral compass whatsoever and they wanted a Roy Cohn type of character. When the Kings told me this summer that they wanted to cast an actor that would be that larger than life he was the first actor I said, “Why don’t we try and get Michael Sheen?” He does a great job and he upends everything because in the courtroom it’s like the truth doesn’t matter. Winning over the jury, tell them whatever you want as long as it’s a captivating story. It’s smoke and mirrors. I’m afraid that that’s what we’re seeing in our politics. You just say something long enough and hard enough and with enough panache, maybe somehow it becomes the truth and you can convince people it’s the truth. He’s a great character to introduce at this present moment.
GD (Marcus): As viewers, we can see some of the differences between being on CBS and being on All Access, with the cursing and the no commercials. How is it different from your perspective as an actress? Is there any big differences at all?
CB: Everybody says, “You can finally curse.” Yes, it’s liberating. Often I do, especially because Diane’s been so pissed off in the last two seasons, every so often I let go with the F-word and it’s an ad-lib and they love it and we keep it. It’s really not about dropping F-bombs. I just think it feels like it can take longer to do an episode, it can be more unabashed, it can be darker. I think there are just network restrictions time-wise and let’s face it, network television is corporate and there are things you can’t do. We are writing a very edgy show. Even those they’re fictional characters, the characters out in the world are Donald Trump and his family and whoever else is out there that we’re reacting off of.
GD (Chris): You are a great musical performer. We’ve seen you do that on stage and in movies.
CB: I’m about to do something else. It hasn’t been formally announced but trust me, I’ll be singing in the future.
GD (Chris): On “Good Fight” you’ve got Audra McDonald, in this universe you’ve got Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming. What would a “Good Fight” musical episode look like?
CB: We often joke that Diane should because I worked Stephen Sondheim so many times, Diane should have a dream sequence in which she is in a black sequin dress singing Sondheim with all of her fabulous friends and they would include all the great actors we’ve had on the show. We’ve had Kristin Chenoweth, Laura Benanti, John Cameron Mitchell, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He was just on recently. To say nothing of Alan and Audra. She’s the über, won more Tonys than anybody. She and I do sing a little Prince this season. We sing “Raspberry Beret” together but we try not to let it rip too much because then we would be out of character. We would be singing at a benefit instead.
GD (Marcus): At the Emmys, you were nominated for this character six times for “The Good Wife.”
CB: Really? (Laughs.)
GD (Marcus): If you get nominated now as a lead actress, what would that mean to you? And do you have an episode picked out, ‘cause if you get nominated you have to submit one?
CB: That’s always hard to me. I have to say I take issue with just finding one because I would like to think if you are honored with a nomination that it should be the work of an entire season because there’s so much that goes on over the course of an entire season. It would mean a great deal to me because most of my career has been on the stage. Most of my character work has been comedic. Diane came along because after doing nine months of a Broadway farce with Mark Rylance, I said to my manager, “You know what would be really good for me as an actress is to play a dramatic character on a TV show, someone with authority who’s well-spoken, a professional woman. That would be a great career move.” Lo and behold, my manager said, “Funny, there’s this one pilot that’s really good this season called ‘The Good Wife’” and so here I am 10 years later. I think it’s been a gift as an actor to go from a career that was so, first of all, stage and so much comedy, to then the longest period of time I’ve worked as an actor playing one character has been in a drama rather than in a comedy. I could easily have been Leonard’s mother for 12 years every week doing “The Big Bang Theory” and that would’ve have stretched me as much or enriched me as much as an actress. To get a nomination particularly in a lead role, that in and of itself would be quite wonderful.
GD (Chris): I had a couple Broadway-related questions for you.
CB: Oh Broadway, good!
GD (Chris): We’re right in the middle of the big part of the season with Tony Award nominations. What are two or three things you saw on Broadway over your lifetime that just blew you away?
CB: Anything that Maggie Smith did. That’s such an interesting question. I remember seeing Anthony Hopkins in “Equus.” Believe it or not, I saw Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” I saw Elaine Stritch do “Company.” I saw some of those great Sondheim musicals back in the ‘70s when I had no money and had to stand at the balcony or get seats way up in the balcony to see shows. I actually was there because I stood for three hours to get a ticket for “A Chorus Line.” I saw opening night of “A Chorus Line” and would you believe it? I was so high up that I couldn’t see the mirrors. That’s the whole thing about the show is the mirrors. Studying at Juilliard, what I wanted was to be a great stage actress. I never had it in my head to be a film or TV actor. I didn’t think I had the face for it. Hollywood was some place that was for movie stars. I didn’t dream of a TV career. I just wanted to be on the stage. It served me well because actually now I’ve been playing the same character for 10 years and it’s my stage work that has really given me the discipline and the craft to do what I do even on film or TV.
GD (Chris): Are there a couple plays or musicals this past season you saw that you really enjoyed?
CB: I saw “The Ferryman” which I thought was extraordinary. There’s so much great ensemble acting these days.
GD (Chris): Would you like to see them add an ensemble award as opposed to just the lead and featured?
CB: That’s a very good point because they do that with the SAG Awards and I think it’s a wonderful idea. First of all, I take issue with actors having to compete with each other. If we were all playing the same role, then maybe you could say that person or this actor or this actress played that role better for such and such reasons, but when the roles are so disparate, how can you compare? I know we live in an age when we like award shows and they’re good for business but in terms of the Tonys, I think that would be a wonderful idea because you need your fellow actors. When I did “Boeing Boeing,” a farce, boy, do you need your fellow actors. A door doesn’t open or a cue gets missed and the whole thing derails. We need each other and I’m sorry when we have to compete with each other.
GD (Chris): You won one of the first, it might’ve been the first, SAG film ensemble the first they offered, “The Birdcage.”
CB: “The Birdcage”! And we so weren’t expecting it. We all had a little too much to drink and it was like, “Who’s gonna speak? Nathan! Nathan, speak!” (Laughs). Now, I’m afraid it’s all taken very seriously. Listen, I won an Emmy for “Cybill” and it was after only 13 episodes. There was nothing. I didn’t talk about the character. There was no sense that one had to get out there and talk too much about the work in the way that you do now. It was just nice. My first Tony, boom. My first time I was nominated I won. The first time I was nominated for an Emmy I won. So I feel like no matter happens, I’ve got one and I’ve got another. It’s great.
GD (Marcus): We just wanna say congrats to everyone for Season 4, the pickup. That’s huge news.
CB: It is wonderful. It will be wonderful to see where the Kings take this ‘cause we’re still living in a crazy age.
GD (Marcus): Is there anything you’re still hoping Diane hasn’t done that she will do in Season 4?
CB: Somebody asked that question of us at a panel the other night and I didn’t offer an answer because I couldn’t think of one but I think Diane needs to have her Atticus Finch moment in court. I think she has to argue a case that brings the best of who she is, her greatest moment of eloquence and passion. I would love to see that. Court is a kind of theater. It’s like playing an audience. I would love to see Diane just hit it out of the park with some case that deserves to be won.