“The first thing that went through my mind is, Oh dear God, how are we going to film this?” she says. “Then, Oh God, my father’s going to watch the show. But I love it. Michelle King is so prim and proper to look at, and she’s one of the raunchiest—the strong Alicia voice, that’s Michelle saying, ‘Enough of this bullshit. Alicia needs to have oral sex performed on her.’ I truly believe she’s instigating a sexual revolt for network television. I think it’s brave, and I love to try things people haven’t tried before.
“But you also have to look at what we’re competing against,” she adds. “We’re constantly put in the same category as cable shows. It’s incredibly flattering but incredibly unfair, because we’re not allowed to do half of what they do.”
The Good Wife season also involves twice as many episodes as a cable show. “I get high from it,” Margulies says of what many would consider a taxing job. “Keith will say, ‘You just worked another 16-hour day!’ I’ll say, ‘I know, but can I tell you who I was working with? [Guest star] F. Murray Abraham!’ I remember the first time Michael J. Fox [who plays a rival lawyer] and I worked together. We both said it—we fell into each other’s eyes. Or Christine, Josh and I will have this incredible scene together where literally a pin could drop. Who gets that? It’s thrilling.”
“Sometimes Julianna’s so tired, she’s hanging on by her fingernails,” Baranski says of her pal the actress-wife-mother. “You get a stiff neck, juggling all the balls you have in the air. Only another woman who’s lived through it can say, ‘Take deep breaths. You’ve got to ride this wave in.’ ”
Margulies knows this is her time, and she intends to make the most of it. After all, she’s been working for it her whole life. Her father, an advertising copywriter (he came up with Alka-Seltzer’s famous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle), and her mother, a dancer, divorced when she was young, and Margulies and her two sisters moved a lot, even doing stints in England and France. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she landed a few small film and TV roles. Then, in 1994, she was cast as Nurse Carol Hathaway on ER. Her character was supposed to die in the pilot; instead, she grew into the moral compass of the show and brought Margulies fame, awards (she was the only regular cast member to win an Emmy) and friendships, including one with George Clooney that’s still going strong. (“We just e-mailed. All the accolades—it’s been a good year for both of us.”) With another actor on the show, Ron Eldard, she had a romantic relationship that lasted nearly a decade. But after six seasons, she felt Hathaway’s story had come to its logical end, and she was homesick for New York. Despite an extraordinary offer—$27 million for two more seasons—she left the show.
Outsiders were stunned, wondering what was going on in her head and how anything could be better than that. And for the first few years, with only the miniseries The Mists of Avalon and a few minor projects on her plate, it looked as if Margulies had committed something close to career suicide.
The actress never saw it that way. “I’m a smart girl,” she says. “I had a year’s worth of work waiting and a mortgage completely paid at age 32. I was under no illusion that I was going to be some big movie star. My dad said, ‘If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, were you living your life truthfully, or were you waiting to get rich?’ If I died and my soul started leaving my body, would I be looking down going, ‘You idiot. You could have gone to Prague, you could have been on Broadway’? Those are the things I wanted to do.”