‘Good Wife’? Julianna Margulies seems like a good egg

Actress Julianna Margulies is photographed at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, April 29, 2013.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Julianna Margulies is almost too glamorous for television. With that raven hair and those fine-cut cheekbones, the 46-year-old actress seems born for adornment on a 22-foot-high screen. But her career has always revved on a higher level on the small screen, in such long-term roles as her seven-year stint on “ER” and, since 2009 as scorned spouse Alicia Florrick in “The Good Wife.” She’s received Emmys for both shows but, “Wife” comes with a bonus: Once again, Margulies gets to live in New York City, where she happily mingles with the regular folk on the street and subway, and is tickled not to be recognized — because it lets her observe the human condition and be a better actor. “I like to watch,” she says, echoing the Peter Sellers character in her favorite movie, “Being There.” Shortly after “Wife” wrapped its fourth season on CBS, Margulies sat down with The Envelope to talk about Alicia, the act of forgiveness and the importance of silence.

After “ER,” did you ever think you’d have another long run on a TV series?

I truly had no expectations after “ER.” For me, it was more about finding the right roles. Television is such a fantastic medium for women, and in an industry obsessed with youth and celebrity television, it allows actresses to have these interesting characters to have a life, to grow. The privilege of doing television is we get to figure out who Alicia is before you really find out who she’s going to end up with. Ultimately, she has to end up with herself before she can end up with anybody.


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What did you think about Alicia when you first read her character breakdown?

There’s something attractive when you get to play a character who has been so sheltered from the reality of her life, to be able to climb out of that and find herself. Actors shy away from television because they worry about making it mundane and commonplace. But this was a character I could envision 10 years from now.

Alicia is very self-contained. You get a sense she’s got this moral compass, but she’s not loud or flashy about her beliefs.

[Show creators/writers Robert and Michelle King] said to me that they take out lines they’d written for Alicia, because the silences said more than the words. Her true essence is to sit back and watch before she acts, and there’s a tremendous power in a silence. It puts people on edge. Everyone wants to fill a silence. So I love that this network drama has a lead character who doesn’t actually talk that much.

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Still, how can Alicia be attracted to both her law partner Will and her philandering husband, Peter? They’re such polar opposites. I can’t imagine not having a preference.

I don’t think you’re alone. I can’t tell you how many people want me to stay with Peter. I look at them and go, “He slept with hookers! He had her stand by and he ... hookers!” And yet, is there such a thing as redemption and forgiveness and renewing one’s vows and starting on a clean slate? You do believe he thought about his life and he is a changed man. So the question is: Can you as a couple move forward, or does that past haunt you? I don’t know any successful get-back-togethers after a breakup. But I love the idea of forgiveness.

As a country we say we believe in forgiveness — but we don’t practice it very well.

And you want to believe nothing good comes out of bitterness. To go about your life feeling bitter toward someone who is in your life is not a good way to live.

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With my boob falling out? (Laughs)

Right — how do you keep your head on straight?

I have great parents who have a great understanding of the human condition. Nothing makes me more sad than when I see someone treating someone poorly. Cure cancer, AIDS — and you can be the biggest ... to anyone you want. I’ll bow down at your feet. I was a coat check girl, a bartender, a waitress. I stuffed envelopes in a real estate office. I know what it’s like to struggle. At the end of the day I always felt: Were you kind? Were you truthful? Did you solve problems rather than cause problems? I’m not saying I never have a bad day, but it never bothers me. My assistant gets upset if we walk into a store and they don’t know who I am. I love it. It means I’m regular. For me as an actor, the well I draw on is being able to watch human behavior. I had good times in L.A., but I felt lonely that I couldn’t see the world from a different perspective. I don’t want to be locked up in a little bubble.