Julianna Margulies: Why I Turned Down $27 Million to Stay on ‘ER’

Kathleen Perricone
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After 12 years, Julianna Margulies has finally broken her silence on her decision to leave "ER" at the height of her career — and a $27 million payday. "The Good Wife" star reveals in the April issue of More that although everyone said it would be "career suicide" not to return to the medical drama she had starred on for six years, she was never concerned of the consequences. "I'm a smart girl," Margulies, 45, tells the magazine. "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."

And after realizing all those dreams, Margulies made her triumphant return to TV in 2009 on CBS' "The Good Wife," as a scorned woman who decides to stay with her cheating politician husband (played by Chris Noth) after his indiscretions are made public. And it was a role she didn't initially identify with. Regarding the models for her character, Silda Spitzer and Dina McGreevy, who stood by their husbands' sides as the men admitted their wrong-doing at press conferences, "I remember thinking, 'Get off the stage!'" Margulies says. "I couldn't believe the women were gullible enough to get up there, and I couldn't believe that the men could be such a**holes as to ask."

But since the first season, her character, Alicia Florrick, has really blazed her own trail: not only did she return to her career as a litigator, she even had an affair of her own. Despite the long days on the set of "The Good Wife," the actress says she'd have it no other way. "I get high from it," she jokes. "Keith [Lieberthal, her husband] will say, 'You just worked another 16-hour day!' I'll say, 'I know, but can I tell you who I was working with?' … Christine [Baranski], Josh [Charles] and I will have this incredible scene together where literally a pin could drop. Who gets that? It's thrilling."

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Not only has love been challenging for her character, but also for Margulies, who, as a child of divorce, rejected the idea of marriage — until she met her Mr. Right, Keith Lieberthal, whom she wed in 2007. "I always struggled with finding the right mate," she tells More. "It's one of those things where if you live long enough with a man who has a cold, you're going to catch the cold. Why would it be any different if you live with someone who's angry all the time or depressed all the time?" But that hasn't been the case with Lieberthal, a New York-based lawyer. The two welcomed a son, Kieran, in January 2008, and are open to the blessing of another child, she says. "It's not for lack of trying. But we always say, if it happens, great, if not, great. There's no pressure."

There's also no real burden for Margulies when it comes to clinging to her youthful looks. The Emmy-winning actress credits the sage advice her mother gave her regarding plastic surgery on her 30th birthday, which still resonates 15 years later. "Honey, if I only knew how young I was at 60," she shares. "When you look in the mirror and see one more line, do you say, Oh God, or do you say, Wow, I've lived? That's the choice you have. I'm not going to blank out my face. I want people to know what I'm feeling. But I eat well, I work out, I don't go in the sun. I try to maintain what I have with dignity. Every now and then I'll see a rerun of 'ER' and think, Oh my God, what happened to my face?"

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