‘The Good Wife’: Josh Charles talks about what’s next for Will and Alicia
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Josh Charles has made a career of bringing some complexity to otherwise boyish characters. Many an adolescent girl first fell in love with him as lovelorn prep-schooler Knox Overstreet in “Dead Poets Society;” many a dude wanted to be friends with Dan Rydell, his character on Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived but acclaimed “Sports Night.”
He’s now a standout on one of network television’s best shows, “The Good Wife,” playing firm partner Will Gardner, whose off-duty stubble and tentative romance with Alicia Florrick have made him a fan favorite. In true “Good Wife” fashion, the allure of their storyline isn’t just a “will-they-or-won’t they” thing, it’s also a question of “Do we even want them to?” We’re never entirely sure what to think of Will, who’s either Alicia’s greatest champion, a power-hungry operator and womanizer, or a bit of both. Earlier this week, I got Charles’ take on his character.
The Will and Alicia plotline has sort of stolen the show this season. Has the enthusiastic response to their relationship surprised you?
You know, in the pilot, Will’s not in it a tremendous amount but from talking to [show creators] Robert and Michelle [King], I know that they definitely wanted to explore the idea that these two had a real bond, and be open to see where it would go. I knew that it would go somewhere but the response has been a wonderful surprise, like everything else about the show, because you never really know how it’s all going to turn out.
Based on the phone call in Tuesday night’s episode, it’s pretty clear these two haven’t resolved the tension between them, as much as they might put on a brave face at the office.
Yeah, I think so. That’s been interesting to explore and I look forward to diving in deeper next year, exploring the complexity of their dynamic. We’ve all had people in our lives, you meet them, you have a bond, your lives go a certain way and you stay in touch a little bit and there’s always a little longing and regret. With Alicia coming back into the legal world, two people who were once very close come back together. It’s kind of reawakened things for Will, professionally and personally. He’s someone who’s spent a lot of time on work and not as much time on himself nurturing his personal life, and the idea of seeing someone he has that kind of connection and bond with from a certain period of time, having Alicia come back into his life really reawakens another part of him.
Is there an aspect to their relationship that you particularly enjoy?
What I like is that like a lot of other things on the show, their relationship is nuanced and not easily explained. Robert and Michelle are not interested in overly simplifying things. That goes into the procedural end, but also into the things that I find more interesting -- the stuff that’s between the characters, their interactions. It’s fun to play the characters who are flawed, complicated, have some ambiguity. It makes for challenging scenes to play. Working with Juliana is a dream, so I really am looking forward to where we end up going with it. Is it a challenge working on a television show, where a character evolves over time, and isn’t set in stone from Day One? You don’t necessarily know everything that is going to happen to Will from week to week before you get the script.
I feel like I know what I need to know. The nature of television -- unlike film or plays where it’s written and you lock in the performance and you go -- is that it’s an evolving medium. “The Good Wife” is in its infancy so it’s still discovering itself, and I think even next year it’ll find itself even more. As the writers see what we do and how we inhabit the characters, that inspires them and that in turn will inspire us, so it’s sort of a give and take. For me it’s been nice, the writer’s room is in L.A. and we shoot the show in New York, but there’s been a fair amount of e-mails, phone calls, discussions about arcs to give you a general sense of what they’re thinking, and for them to hear your response to that -- what’s going on with you as you inhabit the character. From week to week, I don’t know everything that’s going to happen, but as far as the larger road map, we’re in sync. That’s been one of the more rewarding things of the last year -- the give and take between Robert and Michelle and myself, discussing Will. They want to be able to -- to use football terminology -- to change the play if need be. It’s been incredibly collaborative.
Will is a pretty unflappable guy. He doesn’t really lose his cool, or act out out of jealousy the way that Peter does. Now that Peter and Alicia seem to be back together, do you think Will might lose his cool?
We all put on masks. I think that is Will’s persona: He is a sort of alpha male and that’s part of why he’s very successful. In some episodes, we’ve seen some chinks in the armor, both professionally and on a personal level, we’ve seen a little bit more of his emotional life. But I always prefer to see those things through flashes of behavior rather than someone talking about it. If you see it, it’s very quick. You see glimpses of it and then the mask, if you will, gets put back on, because that’s how people are. His situation is very complex, so there are numerous paths the writers could take, all of which could feel organic to each character. He’s a human being and capable of being stoic and five minutes later maybe having a fit of jealousy. It’s all fair game and as long as it feels truthful, it really doesn’t matter to me. I actually welcome any more flaws for him.
You’d like to see him act out a little bit more?
Any more flaws they can write for Will, I welcome them. We had some director at one point who was worried about how mean Will was to Diane in this one fight scene, and it just struck me in that moment: Will’s being an &*%. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re duking it out, their sleeves are rolled up, so let’s have a fight! It’s not about making the characters likable.
Any other examples of how this nuance has played out on the show?
There was an episode awhile back, early in the season, when Alicia meets that one lawyer who is kind of cool and he rides a motorcycle. He tells Alicia, “Hey, watch out for Will,” and it comes out that Will did all these shady things with a family over lead poisoning. Alicia’s feeling insecure about Will, maybe he isn’t who she thought he was. We originally shot a scene where Cary goes to Alicia and says, “Hey it turned out he donated the money anonymously to the victim’s family.” They cut the scene when it aired and I couldn’t have been happier. That’s something people do in television -- explain things away like that -- and that’s something that Robert and Michelle are working hard not to do and their writing staff is not doing. It inspires me. Why make it that easy? Everybody is walking the moral tightrope. And I find it interesting that one of the most morally centered characters is Kalinda. I love that exploring that, and it doesn’t make someone evil or dark in a twirling-your-mustache kind of way. It makes them complex and unique and authentic. At its core I think Alicia and Will are really good friends, and there are other things that go into it. Can I ask you, why do you think that people are responding to it so much?
I think Peter is a big part of it. Alicia was publicly humiliated and now through this job she’s really found herself again, rediscovered her talents and strengths, and Will was instrumental in that. And I think obviously there’s this nostalgia for whatever they had “back at Georgetown.” Will is the one who got away. What do you think?
These characters have a deep -- I use the word and hope it doesn’t sound cheesy -- they have a really deep bond. One of the things that Robert emphasizes is the bad-timing aspect; we’ve explored that a few times. It is a situation where if the timing had been different, maybe these people could have ended up together. Obviously, next season we’ll learn more about them, we’ll dive a little deeper. But if you put that in the backstory, it adds a tremendous amount of textual weight to two characters. You can just see them in a room and project all that history onto them and get a sense that it’s there, even though they’re talking about something work-related. But at the core, there is a deep respect for each other. I think Will brought Alicia on to the firm because he respects her as a lawyer. He believes in her, like you said, but I don’t think he’s some knight in shining armor waiting to sweep her off her feet because a) that’s just not believable and b) it’s just not the world this show is living in, and it’s not as interesting either. He has his own flaws and issues. The guy’s just put a tremendous amount of time to get so successful that he hasn’t made as much of a commitment to the other aspects of his life. If you look at the show, one of things that’s interesting is the inherent loneliness of all the characters.The more I read the scripts, the more I feel that -- that neither Will nor Diane is married or has families, you don’t know if Kalinda has a family or had a family, Cary’s young -- you get the sense where their work takes on a familial quality. I find that interesting -- loneliness in America. These people are work-obsessed. It’s one of the more interesting, unspoken things about the show.
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