As the thick orange smoke that was covering the cityscape of New York City was just started to disperse, Christine Baranski sat down with us to talk about the final season of The Good Fight. In an eerie parallel to what was going on outside her window, the dread, confusion, and disconcertment that fueled her performance end of Diane Lockhart, a character she played for thirteen years.
With a decades-spanning career that includes two Tony Awards, more than a dozen Emmy Award nominations (half of them for playing Diane, plus a win for her work in Cybill), and many, many scene-stealing roles in TV and television that combined make up one of the most iconic careers in show business, Christine talked to us about making the jump from network into streaming, how she feels she’s been spoiled in her career, and, of course, Cher.
Jorge Molina: How are you doing today, Christine?
Christine Baranski: It’s better. I’ve been inside now for the last few many hours, but yesterday was really scary.
JM: I know. I saw the pictures. I’m flying there tonight.
CB: Oh. Well, I hope you have safe landing.
JM: I hope that too! It seems to dissipate by tomorrow, I hear. So, we’ll see. But I got a good mask. Thank you for joining me. I’m very, very excited to talk to you about… a lot of things.
CB: I always love talking about my show.
JM: This is actually not the first time we’ve met. I don’t know if you remember this event, but in 2019, there was an FYC event for The Good Fight at a courtyard in a Beverly Hills hotel.
CB: Yes, I remember.
JM: Yes. Where it was you and maybe about dozen homosexual journalists just talking to you. And I got to talk to you a little there. It was a delightful time.
CB: Weren’t we all just in a circle? It was like a party. Like a fabulous Greenwich Village party.
JM: Exactly the vibe we wanted to give you here in LA. But one of the things I remember you saying there is that you were about to go to a Cher concert. That you had, I think, backstage tickets or floor tickets. So, I guess my first question is just to follow up and ask…how was the Cher concert?!
CB: Inspirational and fun. And there’s nothing like rock chick energy. I was with Judy Kramer, the producer of Mamma Mia. She orchestrated it all. I went with my daughter and my manager and it was just girl energy. And there’s Cher being fabulous. Maybe she was 70. She had to be. She’s a little ahead of me, but definitely still rocking it. And then we saw her backstage and I was just a complete fan girl. I mean, Cher was just the coolest woman on the planet when I was growing up.
JM: I mean, I think she still is in a way.
CB: One of the coolest.
JM: I got to see her later. And I just love how half her concert is an iconic songbook of pop and half is a standup special. The way she carries a crowd is incredible. But I just wanted to hear how your experience was because you were very excited about that.
But moving into Diane and The Good Fight… Thirteen years of playing her. Is the period between when you stopped shooting and now the longest you haven’t played her?
CB: Yes. And I have to say, when it ended in July, I said to everybody … They handed me flowers and we were all tearful, but I said, “I can’t process this.” And when I talked to the press about my final year of doing it, and the show suddenly announced we were ending, I kept saying over and over, “I really can’t process. I can’t imagine not being her… “
And so time has passed, and I would like to say I’ve processed it. But in processing it, I would say I now really miss this woman. I miss the part of Christine that was Diane because she was fierce and fiercely intelligent and passionate. I don’t miss having to live as much in the crazy world reality of checking in on MSNBC to feed my acting engine about how crazy the world is.
Diane’s life was … What was happening in the world permeated and influenced Diane and all the characters. I think that’s the strength of The Good Fight was that unlike other shows that are about … Okay, it’s about a family, it’s about an office. Of course it was a law firm, but it was about people having to live in America in the last six years. The Good Fight really began with the election of Donald Trump.
So to get back to your question, it is the longest time without Diane, and I don’t want to let go of that part of me that is the passionate feminist and the fighter and the person who says, “No matter how bad things are, I’m going to continue to fight.”
No, I don’t think I’m going to go to my French villa and retire forever. But the Diane… when you talk about Cher, it’s that girl energy that’s like, “No matter what age I am, I’m still going to rock the house.”
JM: The Good Fight obviously focused on Diane, but the character started with The Good Wife. And one of the things I love about that universe is how it tracked the change of not only the country, but only television itself in a way.
The Good Wife started as a very traditional legal procedural on CBS, which became more subversive as it went on along. And then The Good Fight was on streaming. The world kind of opened up to all these new possibilities. And Diane was also a perfect reflection of this and her journey. How was this? Did what the show doing both formally and with storylines, help you find her journey and her layers? And how did this evolution of the show help you find new ways of who Diane was?
CB: Well, once we went from network to streaming, and from 22 episodes to 10, that became a different way of telling the story. It became a way of liberating the writer’s room and the Kings imaginatively linguistically. I’ll never forget. I mean, Robert wrote that more wonderful … when I find out I’ve lost all my money. I know that he just wanted that moment, that F-word, loud and clear, “It’s not network.”
JM: No, it’s brilliant.
CB: And then Diane’s language, she often came out with expletives because she got more and more angry with every season, banging her head against the wall and saying, “What the F is going on in the world?” And all of that. So it liberated the Kings creatively, and we were literally surfing the streaming wave and figuring out how to tell a story or do a season in 10 episodes rather than 22.
And actually, I think Robert and Michelle much preferred only doing 10 because in a way, it was more telling a short story instead of a novel. But there wasn’t the burden of … By episode 16, 17, 20, you’re like dragging your way to the finish line, actors and writers. They get tired and it’s always the danger of repeating yourself. Whereas with each season of The Good Fight, you had a very specific theme.
JM: Yeah. I will say the show never repeated itself.
CB: No. You had the introduction of that crazy character in season two, and then you had Diane joining the women’s group. There were definitely ways of telling that story succinctly. So by the end, it wrapped up and it gave you a feeling of just telling a story that was very strong in its narrative, but didn’t overstay Its welcome.
Except the world kept changing. The news kept changing. We were always surfing the waves of the present tense.
JM: And I believe that this is the one show that captures the mental state that the world was in. It reflected it so well, and it’s both a time capsule, but also perennially relevant.
CB: It’ll be a wonderful document. If we live long enough to look back on television or on this time, it will be a significant document.
JM: And the way even unexpected events like COVID that fell within those kind of parentheses…
CB: We had COVID, we had #MeToo, we had Black Lives Matter. It took place in a black law firm. And imagine at that time that … I mean, Diane lost all her money and the only place that would take her was this black law firm. So there was that, but then with Black Lives Matter, it was suddenly an issue. What is a white woman doing as a equity partner when she’s not representative of the majority of the firm? I think it was the first show employed more black actors, great leading actors, but extras. I mean, it was an incredibly diverse set. In that regard. It was groundbreaking as well. Ahead of a time.
JM: You mentioned that you think the move to streaming liberated the Kings. Did it all feel like it liberated you in your performance?
CB: Yes. Oh my gosh. Oh yeah. And it’s not a question of just … Oh yeah, I get to swear and drop the F word. It could push the envelope. I don’t think you would’ve had the Michael Sheen character appear on network television.
I mean, that was way out there and the slave play episode… there were so many episodes that really went to dangerous terrain. And even the China issue, that they would never have even thought of writing an episode that challenged the Chinese market. And yet we did, and we made news. And the whole thing of it was these were thought experiments. I think the Kings were able to do what Robert called thought experiments. What if, what if?
We would write these episodes and they would seem so outrageous. And yet three months later, the news reflected exactly what we were writing about, which was I think the main brilliance of the show was this uncanny clairvoyance on their part.
JM: Yeah, yeah. No, you’re right. I don’t think the final moment … I think of whatever season of in the island with that Citizen Kane, Jeffrey Epstein moment … That would’ve never flown in network.
CB: Never. And then we had to shut down after that because of COVID. But all the memo 6-18 thing. I’m telling you. There was a cast member, I won’t name, but was very nervous about pushing that button because we were getting at the Department of Justice. We were really calling out very powerful people and saying, “Okay, why is there another system of justice for the rich and powerful?” So we were pushing a lot of buttons.
JM: And it was thrilling to watch on our end. You mentioned at the beginning the things you’ve kept about Diane.
As you look for the next thing that comes … I mean, I know you still have a semi regular thing with The Gilded Age, which I cannot wait for season two to come back. But how does spending so much time with a character inform what the next role you want to take? Are you looking for this kind of stability or familiarity with a character? Do you want something completely different? How has Diane helped you in picking what’s next?
CB: Well, I mean, the good news, bad news is I’m completely spoiled, completely spoiled. Chuck Lorre has written the comedies that I’ve been … with Cybil and Big Bang. So there’s the comedy with Chuck Lorre, and then there’s drama with Robert and Michelle. And I’m completely spoiled. It may be like I stay home a lot because I’ll just look at stuff material and go, “Nah, I don’t think so.
Yeah. So suffice to say, I don’t want to put anything out there in the world that isn’t thoughtful and responsible and reflective about what we’re living through. And that’s why I was so proud of the show because I thought, “Okay, the world is in a really messy place right now, but at least I am not putting junk out that just anesthetizes or stupefies people.” This is a thought-provoking show. It’s funny, it’s audacious, but it is intelligent.
Of course, it had a liberal point of view, but why not? And it was really very brave in its going after Trump because the central character was a feminist who fought the good starting from the time she was a young woman and was trying to break the glass ceiling. So for all of us women who have seen Roe v. Wade be reversed, this time has been a really horrifying time to live through. And I’m glad I played a character that could reflect that angst and horror and not put something vapid out into the world or something so fictional or outrageous that you’d say, “Oh, well, okay, that’s just sort of silliness. That’s never going to happen.” This was living in a dystopian world that actually was a world we were living in.
JM: And I bet for you was also a good channeling of this rage and this kind of confusion and putting it into actual physicality.
CB: It was wonderful. I got to put all of my anxiety and my rage and my confusion and my deep sadness about the world, and we all brought it to work with us. Myself and all of the extraordinary actors with whom I shared the show got us through Trump and COVID, oh my God, Hurricane Sandy. We lived through a lot, and God knows what we’re in for. But when you do a show a character for thirteen years, and some of the people with whom you’re working every day have been with you that whole time, that’s why it’s hard to process when it’s over because they’re your family.
They become your family, and you never can say goodbye to your family. So in a way, it’s a great luxury to be on the air that long, but it does kind of spoil you forever.
JM: Well, and that universe is not really ending yet; there’s a new Elsbeth Tascioni series coming out. If the Kings were to ask Diane back for that, would you do it? Or are you done with the character?
CB: I just don’t know. That’s a dot, dot, dot at the end of the sentence. I wouldn’t feel a need in the way that … We never brought Alicia back. It was such a stunning ending and I don’t think we could ever top what we did on The Good Wife. It was so dramatically succinct. I think there’s a great mistake in trying to go back and … I don’t know. But I think sometimes we revive things. If you ask me did I want to revive certain shows that I did on television, I’d say, no, it doesn’t need more fluffing or glossing.
JM: And it was such a perfect bookend, almost ending where it started.
CB: With Trump coming down the staircase. And we didn’t know if he was going to announce. We didn’t even know about the midterms. But in terms of the ending of that show, for it to end that way as it began, with him being sworn in, it was a perfect bookend. And the final season could have been called “Deja vu all over again”. Because he begins the season thinking, wait a minute, voting rights, women’s rights, freedom of choice, didn’t we already fight these battles? And here she is going back.
So there is this sense of, “Oh my God, are we really going to go through this again?” Which when you think about Trump running again, you think, “Oh, can we really live through another, forgive me, shit show like this?”
And we are. We already are. The gloves are off.
JM: The wheels have been turning and I would betray my ideals if I didn’t ask this. If there is a Mamma Mia 3, are you in for it?
CB: Well, we’d all be in for it because we loved being together. We loved going to islands and hanging out. And the idea of, let’s see, Cher, Meryl, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, I think so.
But better hurry up or some of the cast will be doing “Dancing Queen” using walkers.
JM: There’s a new album out, so there’s new music to pull from.
CB: I think Judy Kramer would love for there to be a Mamma 5 and 6, you know what I mean, just because the making of that movie was so … We just had so much fun.
JM: And it translates, it’s one the most joyous films to watch because you can tell that behind the scenes, it’s just the best time. You’re having time of your life. Well, Christine, thank you so much for jumping on with me.
CB: That was a pleasant interview. Thank you so much.
Christine Baranski is Emmy-eligible in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for The Good Fight.
Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+