She’s more than happy, though, to talk up The Good Wife. The show is having a banner season with its engrossing story line and improved ratings. That’s because Michelle and Robert King, the married couple who are the show’s creators and executive producers, audaciously goosed the plot: Alicia and attorney Cary Agos (played by Matt Czuchry) broke away from their established firm, Lockhart/Gardner, to start their own legal shop. Margulies calls the move brilliant. She and her castmates refer to the resulting legal squabbling, client stealing and general nastiness between the two firms as the Civil War.
Even as the show moves forward, with Alicia pitted against her former boss, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), viewers have glimpsed, in flashbacks, the passion that Alicia and Will shared during a brief affair. “What I love about the flashbacks with Will”—many of them steamy sex scenes—“is that you get to see her true happiness in a moment where she’s not thinking about anyone but herself. And that’s not a normal day for Alicia. She’s -always thinking about everyone but herself,” says Margulies.
Charles, whose character feels betrayed by Alicia because of her departure from his firm, echoes her enthusiasm. “Jules is the reason I’m involved in this show,” he says, explaining that she reached out to him to join the cast. “This year has been really special for me because we’ve had so much to do together.”
The Good Wife is an ensemble drama, but Margulies, who’s also one of the show’s producers, is its undisputed star. As she sees it, that makes her responsible for establishing the tone on the set. “I learned from watching George [Clooney on ER] and James [Gandolfini on The Sopranos, in which she guest-starred four times during the 2006–07 season]. I want people to feel welcome, like family. You do your best work when you feel safe.”
Fox says when it takes him three or four tries to figure out a tricky scene and then two takes to nail it, Margulies is always supportive. “She wants to help you get there, to work on it and take a little extra time,” he says. “I’m just crazy about her.”
She also suggests, and even lassoes, actors she admires for parts. “Jules ran into Matthew Perry at a party,” remembers co-creator Robert King, “and he said, ‘I’m a fan of the show.’ And she said, ‘Don’t say that unless you want to be on it.’ ” Within weeks, Perry was slotted into a recurring guest spot as a slimy political rival of Alicia’s husband, Peter Florrick, played by Chris Noth.
Her marriage on the show is problematic, but here art doesn’t imitate life. “I chose the right guy,” she says. “I feel more secure in the world, like there’s this other half of who I am out there who always has my back. There’s never a moment when I feel that either of us would second-guess the other. And that kind of security at home has made me braver as an actress.”
When she was younger, Margulies never saw herself as the marrying kind. Her parents—her father was an ad man, her mother a former ballet dancer—separated when she was two. “There isn’t one moment I remember my parents in the same house except now, at Thanksgiving, when I make them both come,” she says, laughing. “I say, ‘You want to see your grandkid? You all have to come and get along.’ And they do.”
She had a 12-year relationship with ER costar Ron Eldard, but they parted in 2003. A few years later, during a friend’s party at a SoHo restaurant, she spotted the strikingly handsome Lieberthal, and the two began talking. And talking. She ducked out on Lieberthal just long enough to phone her pal Banks to rave about him. “At first she felt like, Oh my God, he’s too good to be true,” says Banks. “But he was true. He really is a special guy.”