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Cara Robbins/Contour by Getty Images
For Christine Baranski, the road to Diane Lockhart — the fiercely liberal, impeccably dressed Chicago attorney she's played for over a decade — began way back in 1994, years before she first stepped foot on the set of The Good Wife.
"The night before I was supposed to go and read for the network for Cybill, I said, 'I can't do this. It would mean leaving my children, and I don't want to move to LA,'" recalls Baranski, a die-hard East Coaster. "I mean, one foot was out the door of the airplane. I couldn't conceive of finally making the move."
But she did make the move, which launched the Broadway actress into TV stardom with her Emmy-winning performance as Maryann on Chuck Lorre's CBS sitcom. More importantly — for the purposes of this story, at least — Baranski's decision to do Cybill ultimately led her to be in Los Angeles on March 12, 2009, just in time for a meeting with Robert and Michelle King about a role on their new legal drama, The Good Wife.
"Because of my relationship with CBS, they were very interested in me," says the actress. "I just happened to be flying to LA to, believe it or not, speak at Chuck Lorre's induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [My reps] said, 'Look, on your way back to the airport, would you just go and meet with the Kings and with the director and with the producers? They'll wait for you.' I remember pulling up, going into the bathroom to make sure I looked okay, walking into this meeting, and having a lovely discussion. I think the car never stopped running. Little did I know that it would change my fate for years."
CBS via Getty Images Christine Baranski and Julianna Margulies on 'The Good Wife'
Thirteen years to be exact. Since striding onto our TV screens on September 22, 2009, Diane Lockhart has owned every scene she's been in. Poised and sophisticated, brilliant and passionately devoted to the law, Diane spent seven seasons as a name partner at The Good Wife's Lockhart & Gardner law firm, alternately litigating and sparring with fellow attorneys Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). In 2017 she graduated from supporting player to star with the 2017 spin-off The Good Fight, which will wage its final battle on Thursday, November 10 after six stellar and surreal seasons.
Along the way, Diane Lockhart fell in love with strong-and-silent ballistics expert Kurt McVeigh (Gary Cole); buried a best friend (damn you, Kings, for killing off Will!); lost her savings in a Ponzi scheme; took a job at a predominantly Black law firm alongside Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald); joined a secret society determined to take down Donald Trump; and this season, started a ketamine-type therapy to cope with the increasingly ominous protests rumbling outside her office building.
Baranski, too, experienced a plenitude of milestone moments while playing her signature role. She racked up 10 more Emmy nominations (six for Good Wife and four for her turn as Dr. Beverly Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory) and solidified her status as one of the most meme-able LGBTQ+ icons of the social media age. She lost her beloved husband of 31 years, actor and playwright Matthew Cowles; joined another high-profile TV series (as the gloriously snooty 19th-century socialite Agnes Van Rhijn in HBO's The Gilded Age); and became a doting grandmother to three. After all this, saying goodbye to Diane Lockhart — and all the people who helped bring her to life, on and off-screen — felt like bidding farewell to a part of herself.
"Already there was so much that had happened to me as Christine, that I just brought it into the character — the richness of life, the depth of emotion, God," says Baranski, 70, zooming in from her lake house in Connecticut and embodying Coastal Grandma perfection in a chic striped button-down and tinted tortoise-shell frames. "When it was a series wrap for me, I didn't really have time to craft a speech. I remember saying, 'You can't conceive of what it is to say goodbye to your family, because you can't really say goodbye to your family, can you? They live in your heart forever.' I was just so proud of what we had achieved."
In a way, Christine Baranski willed Diane Lockhart into existence. Back in early 2009, fresh off an eight-month run in the Tony-winning revival of the French farce Boeing-Boeing, the actress decided it was time to start showing off her dramatic bona fides. "I remember saying to my representation, 'I think would be really great for me to play a dramatic role, like a well-dressed, powerful woman who is intelligent and articulate,'" she recalls. "I didn't want to play someone's aunt or grandmother or mother. So, I just put it out there and I also said, 'In a perfect world, it would shoot on the East Coast.'"
Spooky, right? The Good Wife's pilot script described Diane Lockhart as "a tough, smart feminist. Dresses like a million bucks. The top litigator at the firm, and in town." And when Baranski showed up to that first meeting with the Kings wearing a sharp pantsuit and looking "statuesque," as Robert puts it, the writers knew they had found their woman. "She was someone who definitely seemed like a boss," he says. "Julianna was supposed to be like 10 people down on the totem pole at the law office, looking up [at] the real lawyers. What we got with Christine is someone who does suggest that kind of intimidation."
Baranski, a woman who nearly evaporated billionaire Elon Musk with the power of her death glare at this year's Met Gala, had no problem playing an intimidating woman. Her only concern as she and The Good Wife cast headed into production was that Diane Lockhart would be more than just a C-suite shrew. "I did not want her to be the angry, unfulfilled, single woman who goes home alone or possibly has a drinking problem," she says. "I did not want her to fall into the stereotypical bitch boss [category]."
David M. Russell/CBS via Getty Images Josh Charles and Christine Baranski in 'The Good Wife'
Of course, there was no way Diane Lockhart would ever turn into a catty cliché — not when the woman playing her was so darn delightful. "I first met Christine at a rehearsal for The Good Wife pilot," recalls Josh Charles via email. "We were all talking about whatever actors talk about when we all first meet each other, and for some reason I was talking about being left-handed, but that I also do quite a few things right-handed as well, like golf, batting, tennis, etc. CB cut me off and made a good-natured (slightly naughty) joke about my ambidextrous self. We all laughed, and that was the exact moment my love for Christine Baranski began."
As shooting progressed, the Kings found themselves adapting the character of Diane to incorporate more of Baranski's chandelier charisma. "Within the first season, our understanding of Diane Lockhart changed," says Robert. "It was going to be a bossy woman who said, 'I'm going to be your mentor,' but then is always either betraying you or sabotaging you in some way. But Christine — just by the nature of her personality and how she was playing the role — was just fun. So, we completely turned [the character] around, and found this chemistry that she had with Josh Charles. That was one where the actor did change the creators' conception of the role."
There was only one thing about Diane Lockhart that didn't make it past the pilot: Her dog, Justice. The shaggy pooch, who sat on Diane's lap during her first conversation with Alicia, turned out to be a real diva. "The dog was not obeying," explains Baranski in her unmistakable Mid-Atlantic drawl. "The dog only responded to beeps [from a device the trainer used]. But I had a mouthful of dialogue about what Alicia was going to be doing. I was handing over a case to her and explaining the case, but I was in a hurry, so I was talking very fast and meanwhile, I have this" — she pauses and closes her eyes in a moment tortured reflection — "undisciplined dog, and I kept hearing the beeps while I was acting. They said, 'Oh, don't worry. We'll remove the beeps.' The dog was short-lived. Fortunately, I got Gary Cole instead."
The Good Wife ran for seven years — a notable achievement for a CBS drama that doesn't have the letters "NCIS" in the title — and rumblings about some kind of spin-off began months before it wrapped in 2016. As the series finale neared, Baranski had options: A possible job with the Kings in a Good Wife spin-off that still didn't even have a concept let alone a script, or a firm offer for the lead role in The Blacklist: Redemption, an extension of NBC's hit espionage thriller. "I'd never been offered a lead in a show before on television, and the money was way more than I had gotten as a supporting actress," she says. Still, "My heart was with the Kings."
Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+ Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald in 'The Good Fight'
The prospect of losing their potential leading lady to another network spurred CBS and the Kings into action, and on May 12, 2016, the news broke: Diane Lockhart and The Good Wife's Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) would live on in The Good Fight, a new drama streaming on CBS All Access (now Paramount+). By that fall, shooting was underway on the pilot, which set up Diane Lockhart's new path: Having reached a career apex and lived to see a woman win the White House at long last, Diane decides to retire to the South of France. Only then does she discover that all her money is gone — mon dieu! — lost in a wide-ranging financial scam. Unemployed and radioactive with scandal, Diane takes a job at Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad, a prestigious African American firm.
Midway through the production on the pilot, however, voters called for a rewrite. "In between setups, we learned that Donald Trump had won the presidency," says Baranski. "Suddenly, The Good Fight became about the years of the Trump era and this liberal feminist, Diane Lockhart, trying to cope."
A lot of things changed drastically for Diane in The Good Fight — her financial status, faith in American democracy, and interest in psychotropic drugs, for starters. But her core qualities have remained constant since we met her in 2009: That exquisite fashion sense; her regal leitmotif of a laugh; and how comfortable she is in the male-dominated world of the law. "It was one of Diane's gifts — she kind of dug men," says Baranski. "She was always comfortable drinking at the end of the day or laughing or joking, or [having] a form of intimacy that wasn't sexual."
From her affectionate on-screen partnership with Will Gardner on Good Wife, to her deep bond with Adrian Boseman on Good Fight, Diane always maintained "great professional relationships with men," notes Baranski. The same is true for the woman who played her. "There was such humor, intimacy, and trust between Will and Diane. I felt all of that personally with Christine and it naturally flowed over into our work together," says Charles. "She would often lovingly say to me, 'You were the cub who didn't get licked enough.' We would talk football all the time and her love for all things Bills."
CBS Christine Baranski and Delroy Lindo on 'The Good Fight'
Whether or at work or at home, Diane "loved real guys," says Baranski. "I mean, look who she married! A cowboy, a gun-slinging ballistic expert. She was turned on. As sophisticated as Diane was, there was her guy in his jeans and his plaid shirt, and it was just fine. She preferred that to some fancy, slick lawyer."
And that palpable, opposites-attract chemistry between Diane and Kurt wasn't a stretch for Baranski to play. The love of her life, Matthew Cowles, was himself a man of swagger, a passionate writer and actor with a bushy mustache and an adventurous spirit. "He reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia," she says. "He had that shock of blonde hair and he'd go on the motorcycle and go camping. I remember when we were dating, he told me he was going down to Mexico to look for an undiscovered Mayan temple. And I thought, 'What kind of guy goes down to look for a temple?' Not your typical kind of metrosexual, that's for sure." When she married Cowles in 1983, he whisked her away after the ceremony on a motorcycle named Lucifer.
Historians generally agree that the Queen Baranski Era began around the summer of 2008 with the release of Mamma Mia, a camp treasure that unleashed the actress' riotously sexy performance of ABBA's "Does Your Mother Know" into our collective consciousness. By the following year, with the birth of Diane Lockhart and the continued proliferation of social media, Baranski's pop culture sovereignty was undeniable. Of course, the Good Fight star is famously offline, and so she must rely on the kindness of more digitally connected friends to inform her when she's gone viral for her vociferous support of gay riiiiiights or for giving Elon Musk the stink-eye.
"I have no social media accounts. I was doing some press for CBS, and they said, 'Do you want to say anything to all of these young women who call you Queen Baranski?' I teared up," remembers Baranski. "I got very moved by the thought that I had all these people, especially young women, who were inspired by me. I didn't even know about the meme with what's-his-name, the billionaire. I had no idea until my daughter told me."
Nor was Baranski aware that she's also a big hit on TikTok, where videos hashtagged "Christine Baranski" and "Queen Baranski" have racked up more than 62 million views as of this writing. She gamely agrees to watch one such tribute from user @forever_baranski entitled simply "Let me show you Christine displaying her back." Baranski leans forward to watch the 14-second clip — a montage of photos of her on the red carpet in backless evening wear, set to the throbbing chorus of Megan Thee Stallion's "Body" — and lets out a delighted gasp. "Oh, where do I get that?" she inquires. "I can send that to my friends when they're in trouble. I could say, 'I have your back' and I'll send that."
But she demurs when asked to speculate what it is about her that's engendered such adoration from younger fans. "That would require something of an egocentric response," she muses. "I'm deeply grateful to all of the people who love my work. I've been lucky enough to play characters who are high-spirited. I'm really not very good at playing the victim. The idea of playing a victim just doesn't appeal to me. My characters, dare I say it, have been fun characters. And with Diane, you couldn't help but admire the fact that she was always picking herself up and getting back on the surfboard to ride the next wave that was going to come crashing down."
Those waves will become a tsunami in season six. Just back from a rejuvenating vacation overseas, Diane finds a Chicago that is on high alert — streets shut down, riot police forming human walls on every corner — as protests mushroom around the city. Is it Antifa? The Proud Boys? Something else entirely? No one knows for sure, but the violence outside continues to get louder and closer. With unrest brewing and her liberal values under attack, Diane is beset with an overwhelming and unpleasant sense of déjà vu. "Roe v. Wade. Voting rights," she frets in the season premiere. "Like the last 50 years never happened."
Desperate, Diane seeks out the services of Dr. Lyle Bettencourt (John Slattery), a physician whose new drug therapy allows stressed out patients to tune in and chill out, at least for a few hours. The drug, PT-108, helps soothe Diane's nerves, but Dr. Lyle, with his soothing-silver-fox bedside manner, gets her pulse racing. "She takes a real liking to him and feels very open and liberated by his male presence and his sensitivity," says Baranski. Adds Robert King, "I think Christine's acting is pulled out even more by handsome men. There's this massive amount of flirtatiousness, this real sense of bringing out the sexiness of this character, which is really fun."
Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+ A blissed out Diane imagines Dr. Lyle (John Slattery) in her marital bed with her and husband Kurt (Gary Cole) in 'The Good Fight'
Well sure, it's all fun and games until an actual civil war breaks out. "The lead up to the series finale is quite dramatic," warns the star. "One of the episodes that I love most is the second-to-last episode of the series, where I talk about what happened to the Democratic party and why, why didn't we see this coming? It's an impassioned speech given to Neil Gross, the billionaire played by John Benjamin Hickey. There's a lot of really rich work near the end."
Wonderful! Perhaps 2023 will be the year that the Emmy voters finally get back to recognizing Baranski's superlative run as Diane Lockhart. (You voted for her six years in a row during The Good Wife, people.) "Watching the episodes of this final season of Good Fight, there are performances she gives that I've never seen her do before," marvels Michelle King. "And it doesn't seem possible that to have watched someone play scenes for 13 years that they should still be able to surprise you in a wonderful way. And yet, that's the case with Christine."
Though it's been weeks since The Good Fight wrapped, Baranski still hasn't processed that the show is over. She's been too busy with her other full-time TV job.
"My Good Fight series wrap was on a Wednesday. Thursday was a wrap party, which I attended, but had to leave early because I had a 5:30 a.m. pickup for The Gilded Age," she says. "And The Gilded Age was three big scenes all day Friday, and then the following week. I had about a week off before I had to go to Troy, New York for a location work, which I did last week in the heat, with the corsets and the wigs and crowds and horses and carriages, creating this incredible Easter Sunday tableau that we did. And in about an hour and a half I leave for Albany again, where I'm going to be doing scenes in an opera house all day."
Alison Rosa/HBO Christine Baranski in 'The Gilded Age'
She can see a break on the horizon, when Gilded finishes season 2. And then: Travel (Africa, Italy), quality time with loved ones, and perhaps a deep dive into Proust. "It will be nice to read a nice big, fat book instead of learning lines all the time," says Baranski. "One of the reasons why I want to [read Proust] is I want to live in slow time. When you read these writers — Henry James, Wharton, Proust — they make you slow down because their world was much slower. I want to get drawn into a slower way of thinking, because let's face it, we're just on some hyperkinetic, crazy breaking-news sensibility. I want to get away from that."
Much like Diane returning from vacation to find an America in crisis, Baranski knows that when she emerges from her "slow time" break, her life won't look the same. "We all said to each other as The Good Fight was ending, 'This show was our stability for six years,'" she explains. "Somehow, the insanity of life in this country was assuaged by the consistency of our having this show. I loved the crew, and I loved the people involved. I loved working with the Kings. I loved my fittings with [costume designer] Dan Lawson and all the beautiful clothes. I loved the producers. I loved my cameramen. I loved the family that we were."
Sorry, can we backtrack to the clothes for a minute? Even post-financial crisis, Diane Lockhart had a wardrobe full of sparkling couture. Now that the show is over, whither the Fendi, Gucci, Armani, and Dolce? "I did bring a few jackets home that I plan to wear for publicity," says Baranski. But she won't be adding any of Diane's looks to her personal collection. "A lot of her stuff was just too fancy for my style. I'm not likely to wear some dazzling brocade," she explains. "I called them Elton John jackets — I needed a piano in front of me."
Those jackets and "a few pieces of furniture" from Diane and Kurt's apartment are the only mementos Baranski kept from her time on The Good Fight — well, that and 13 years of memories. "I didn't even take that photoshopped photo of me and Hillary Clinton, and I really should have," she says. "I know Audra had all these pictures of her with the Obamas and they were real, but mine was fake. Mine was photoshopped from the pilot, and it just always reminded me how much I hated my hair in the pilot."
CBS From left: Justice, the disobedient dog, Diane Lockhart, Hillary Clinton
For those of us unwilling to live in a world without Diane Lockhart, the happy news is that Baranski isn't opposed to reprising her role someday. Perhaps, she suggests, Diane could be a supporting character in a spin-off of the spin-off, following Diane's younger colleagues, like investigator-turned-lawyer Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) and unflappable first-year associate Carmen Moyo (Charmaine Bingwa).
"Give it to the next generation," says Baranski. "We can be the supporting players and show up occasionally. Sarah and Charmaine and all of the young women and men who were part of our show, let them carry the torch in the way that they need to carry the torch in our country. They have a hell of a job to do. If there's any spin-off, it should be a spin-off of young women fighting the good fight."