In the journey of Alicia Florrick, Will Gardner's death will be just a moment…a large, heartbreaking moment, but just because his fictional life ended doesn't mean it's the end of the road for The Good Wife. Actually, far from it.
"Of course there's gonna be this hole in her life, but how she fills it and how she starts to question her choices—‘Why am I doing this? Why am I representing these a--holes?'—suddenly it's black and white. There's no gray area," Julianna Margulies said about her character, Alicia Florrick, on The Good Wife. "A death, I think—anything important that happens in someone's life is a game-changer, and it makes you hopefully a better person for it. You'll see this tremendous loss for her, but the choices she makes from them on are incredibly careful, and they're mostly about her."
Margulies, Josh Charles, Robert King and Michelle King gathered at a screening of "The Last Call," the follow-up episode to Will's death in "Dramatics, Your Honor," and were then interviewed by Charlie Rose. Charles' exit came as a shock to viewers thanks to the great secret-keeping skills of people behind The Good Wife.
Margulies revealed she knew Charles wanted out back in March 2013.
"I got a call from Michelle and Robert and they said, ‘We need to tell you something. Josh is going to be leaving the show.' I said, ‘Why?' and they said, ‘Well, his contract is up and he doesn't want to renew,'" Margulies said on Wednesday evening in New York City. "My head just started spinning. I said, ‘Wait, did you see if he could do less episodes? Maybe offer him more directing gigs.' I became the Alicia lawyer trying to figure out how to negotiate this contract."
Margulies said she called Charles and gave him "terrible Jew guilt" and started talking to the actor about starting a family with his new wife. "I said, 'Josh, how about this: 15—wait, think about it—money in the bank for 15 episodes. Do you know how expensive it is to have a baby?...I went into this whole thing about kids and family and he was like, 'Fifteen? Let me think about that.' I said, ‘And two directing spots!'" Charles said he made it clear to the Kings and Margulies that he'd do whatever he could to help the show.
The rest? TV history.
Charles hailed the writing on The Good Wife. "I'm afraid going out into the world. You don't see that every day," he said of the show. "That's not something that I take lightly, I know that's been a real gift. And to do it 22 times a year—where maybe we can't always hit a home run, but I tell you what: We hit a lot more triples and we get those home runs in there! That's incredible to me that we've been able to do that."
The Kings said they looked at how ER handled George Clooneys exit (which Margulies was also a part of) and how Breaking Bad structured its seasons in plotting Charles' exit and the character's death.
"It felt like anything else would've been too easy and would've stayed out there. We all wouldn't wanted Alicia to have Will if he was across the country or disbarred," Michelle King said. "What this also gave us is something more interesting for Alicia. To see the next step for Alicia, which is really what the show is always about."
But for some viewers, the show was about Will and Alicia and the Will-Alicia-Peter triangle. Not to the Kings.
"One of the things we played into is the audience's expectation of the completion of a character arc…We want the sense that Alicia and Will, that the arc of the year was that they were going to get back together. We break them up so we can get back together," Robert King said. "So much of the show is seen as the love triangle. We don't—the love triangle is one of many tools in the show. It's playing reality, but in the terminology of TV."
And after all this, Michelle King said she couldn't be more proud. "I feel like we are telling the story we wanted to tell," she said.
"I feel like I landed in a pot of gold. It's such a rare thing to get a second chance at such a great role and with such an amazing group of people," Margulies said. "I'm playing a character and I truly love her."
"It's been a real transformation for me as an actor because I'm growing with her. It's peeling these layers off of her that's so exciting to play," she said. "I can honestly say in season five, as sad as I am, this has been horribly sad for both of us; I'm so excited to see where she goes."
The Good Wife airs Sundays, 9 p.m. on CBS.