"I loved playing Cuddy for all this time, but I definitely wanted to shift out of that, because I've been playing this sort of repressed control freak for seven years," she tells TVGuide.com. "I want to have a little bit of fun."
Edelstein shocked House fans earlier this year when she announced she was hanging up her stethoscope after seven seasons — essentially leaving the complicated "Huddy" relationship unresolved. (The last fans saw of Cuddy was when House was driving his car into her dining room, so complicated may be an understatement). Now, just six months after her departure, Edelstein is already back on the small screen with a multi-episode arc on The Good Wife.
"They called me less than a week after I made the official announcement," she says. "It made me feel like I — in taking care of myself — had made the right decision. I just really wanted to break the spell. I never intended on moving to The Good Wife permanently, but in terms of a next move and something to do to make myself feel good, this was a great opportunity."
Although she had only seen a few episodes, Edelstein said knowing a lot of fans of the show (including her mother) helped convince her to pick the project as her first foray into the world outside Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital. "My mother is obsessed with it," she says with a laugh. "I don't watch that much television, but as soon as I decided to do it, I watched 48 episodes in a row in the span of a couple of days. I did my homework and it's a great show."
It also helped that Edelstein had so many past ties to the cast and crew of The Good Wife. "I got on that set and I'm the new kid on the block, but the director who directed that particular episode directed four or five episodes of House. Josh Charles and I worked together on Sports Night, Julianna [Margulies] and I worked on ER, Christine [Baranski] and I worked together on Cybil," she says. "I at no point felt like I was in unfamiliar territory."
Still, Edelstein admits to a case of first-day jitters, something she says she enjoyed after becoming so familiar with Cuddy. "When you play the same character for a long time, you have a shorthand. You get onto the set, you put on your outfit and two-thirds of your work is done because you've built on that work for so many years," she says. "When I got this job, I didn't audition for it, so I didn't know what they were thinking in their heads, only what we had talked about on the phone. So it was a risky, scary first day for me and I haven't had that feeling in a long time."
As for the role itself, Edelstein plays lawyer (and Will's ex) Celeste Serrano, and she's everything Cuddy wasn't. Where Cuddy was "repressed" and tried to cure House of his many addictions, Celeste speaks her mind and is more than willing to try to pull Will back to his past vices, mainly gambling (except now with Cheerios instead of chips). "She really is his heroin dealer in that sense," she says. "When people enjoy doing bad things, they usually do it with partners and when you lose that partner, you lose a very important relationship in your life. It feels like that's her relationship with Will, and she wants it back. When she sees sparks of his wily ways, it turns her on and she wants it back."
Celeste asked Will for a job at Lockhart Gardner last week. Does that mean his dealer is here to stay? Edelstein says she "probably will go back and do a few more" episodes beyond her initial three-episode arc (nothing is confirmed yet), but for now she's focused on finding a more permanent gig, preferably one both in front of and behind the camera. "Mostly what I'm trying to do now — in terms of when I'm looking for more permanent places to go — is to be part of the creative team of something and be more participatory in the development of a show and be a producer," she says. "It doesn't mean I have to be No. 1 on the call sheet either; it just means that I want to use more of my brain."
In the meantime, Edelstein still has to find a way to break it to House fans that Cuddy has really left the building. "It's funny because not everybody knows that I left the show. I get a lot of 'Congratulations! I'm so excited to watch the show again,' and I just don't say anything. I say thank you. They'll figure it out at some point," she says. "I just move on."
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS.