While most people were trimming their trees, wrapping presents or baking cookies, The Good Wife star Christine Baranski was doing something far less merry in the days leading up to Christmas last year: She was reading the death of her character's best friend and longtime firm partner, Will Gardner (Josh Charles).
"I'd get to a certain point and I'd put it down because I knew what was coming — that this was the script. I actually had an emotional inability to just read any further and then finally one day right Christmas, I read it all the way," Baranski tells TVGuide.com. "I couldn't even see the page, my eyes were just so filled with tears. It was really very, very emotional."
The sorrow and despair Baranski felt back in December is what fans of CBS' critically acclaimed legal drama (Sundays, 9/8c) have been dealing with all week following — spoiler alert! — the on-screen death of the show's leading man, Will Gardner. The Emmy winner admits she was "dreading" returning to work to shoot the episode, the cast and crew's first after the holiday hiatus. "It was just very somber," she recalls of the mood on set. "The subsequent weeks of shooting that episode and the following episode, which was everyone's grief, I have to say that those were maybe the most difficult weeks of my life as an actress just in terms of emotion."
Will's death, spurred by Charles' decision to leave the show after his contract ended last season, was jarring for fans not only because of the important role he played, but also because the show never warned fans that there would be a death. After Diane and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) heard gunshots at the courthouse, Kalinda found Will barely breathing in a pool of blood. It was only when both of their characters discovered Will's lifeless body under a sheet at the hospital that fans knew Will was really gone. "I didn't really talk to Josh. I didn't email. He emailed me to say, 'I know that was a tough day.' You have to go this place as an actor where you just really believe and you're invested," Baranski says of filming that scene. "It really wasn't until his last day on the set, pretty much almost after [Episode] 5-16 was all finished, that I embraced him and cried in his arms."
Baranski spoke with TVGuide.com about the public outcry following Will's death, her reaction to Charles' decision to leave and how the loss will impact Diane and the show moving forward:
Were you surprised by the strong reaction from the fans and the coverage Will's death has been getting?
Christine Baranski: People really act as if it's a real person. It's almost scary. They're so heavily invested that I think it's a tribute to the show and how much people believe in the characters and the show that they would be so riled by it and moved by it.... What I think was so amazing, of course, is that it was actually kept a secret. The audience just did not see that coming, and the episodes that preceded Will's death were, quite intentionally, very much about the Will-Alicia relationship because it was meant to build up to that moment, the next episode that airs on Sunday will be of course her reaction.
What was your reaction when you first heard Josh was leaving?
Baranski: He came to me at the end of Season 4 and said that he was going to be asking to leave and he gave reasons. In Season 5, when we had this resurgence with the splitting up of the firms, suddenly audiences were galvanized by the show, the critics were praising the show and Josh was getting fabulous writing. He won a People's Choice Award and he got a Golden Globe [nomination]. I just kept thinking that he would think again about leaving such an extraordinary character and show, but he held fast to his decision so I was surprised. I'm still kind of in disbelief.
Were you worried about the show after losing such a big character?
Baranski: I think we all are, but we also have a lot of faith in the writing. It was kind of scary when we broke up the firm but its led to very interesting stories. ... There are so many other interesting characters and interesting stories that can be written that it's actually going to be marvelously challenging. But, hey, you worry about a show every week. ... You never know how the public or the critics are going to respond.
Is there anything coming up in the material that particularly surprised you about the post-Will era?
Baranski: I think they're handling it beautifully. The episode after Will's shooting is highly emotional. The one after that, I think, is a beautifully written and constructed episode as well, where you begin to see all three of the women gain strength. I still find it so wonderful that the women keep breaking freer and freer and becoming stronger and stronger without being defined by the men. Diane has been defined by her partners at the firm and having to struggle with them. Alicia, by her husband and being pulled in the direction of Will. And Kalinda, of course, who's strong and yet curiously also falls into these patterns of behavior. I don't think this was ever meant to be a feminist show, but it is certainly compelling to see female characters just keep digging in and having to find their strength and I think you're going to see some of that as the season ends.
How will Will's death affect Diane personally and professionally?
Baranski: [Executive producers Robert and Michelle King] always said that was the happy marriage in the show, so I think it's an enormous loss. There's just this visual of Diane always looking up and seeing his empty office. I don't want to give away what happens, but it is interesting what happens to Diane as she's dealing with the grief and just trying to find her own strength. It's actually kind of cool.
But it will definitely change her?
Baranski: How could it not? Everyone's changed by catastrophic events in their life. ... Everyone deals with grief in a very personal way so I think that's what you're going to see.
A big moment in the promo for this week's episode is when Diane and Alicia embrace each other and cry together. Obviously there had been tension between them since she left the firm, so what do you think it is that makes these two women turn to each other when they could go to other people in their lives?
Baranski: She's immediately drawn to the firm because that's where her family was, in a way. ... She goes there looking for answers. She wanted to see Diane to see what happened. Diane was at the hospital. Diane discovered him with Kalinda. ... The embrace is just a transcendent moment where all of the stuff, all of the other tensions, all of the professional agendas, fall away. One of the things we see is that grief just levels people — it just levels the playing field. You're just two human beings feeling a profound sadness.
Will we see a closer bond between Diane and Alicia now that Will is gone?
Baranski: I can't give away any resolutions. It makes for an interesting window of opportunity to see how these women are going to be dealing with each other in the next phase of lives.
Julianna Margulies had told us earlier this season that she was rooting for Alicia and Diane to bond closer together. Do you share that sentiment?
Baranski: I do. They were strangely never real adversaries if you think about it. Diane championed her, wanted her to move up in the firm. Diane got terribly punished by Peter Florrick taking away the judgeship, but she's really not the one that kicked Alicia out of the firm; she was already one foot out the door. ... I often think Diane's been heavily punished for things that perhaps she wasn't directly responsible for. Coming up, you'll see an attempt. Just in a way the series is constructed, we're going to have to engage. They're certainly two women who have been hurt a lot and the potential for them bonding is just very great.
There's a lot of speculation now that the firms will merge in the wake of Will's death.
Baranski: It's just like life when something really major happens or you get a major job change or somebody you love dies, you can't imagine life going on and then it curiously does go on, and new things that can open up that are quite extraordinary.
What will you most about the Will-Diane dynamic and working with Josh on the show?
Baranski: We had a very easygoing relationship and after five seasons, he was the actor with whom I worked the most. We had a great sense of humor and ease with each other. Will and Diane, the ups and downs are just incredible, so a lot of history is gone with his departure. ... She was just a woman who got along with a guy really well in the workplace without it being romantic. In a way it was the enviable relationship because they could be who they were and be a man and a woman, but it was nowhere near Will and Alicia, which was so fraught, so painful, so unfulfilled. Will and Diane were never going to go that route but they had a deep respect and a deep bond.
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS. How do you think Will's death will change Diane? Do you want to see the firms merge?
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