by Lisa McGarry

Emmy Award-winner Julianna Margulies stars in a new critically acclaimed legal drama. Alicia Florrick (Margulies) is a wife and mother whose life is turned upside down when her husband Peter (Chris Noth) is involved in a very public sex and political corruption scandal that lands him in jail. Pushing aside the betrayal and crushing public humiliation, Alicia boldly accepts full responsibility for her family and goes back to work as a defence attorney. But starting over again isn’t easy…

What attracted you to the role of Alicia?
For me, I loved how complicated she is. This is a woman who thought her life was going one way for many, many years and trusted that life and that world that she lived in. And then everything crumbles. So as an actor, I felt like, well there’s so many places to go. I mean, we’re going to be able to peel her like an onion for years to come because how do you react (in that situation)? I was so quick to judge all those women that I saw standing up and standing by their man. In my head I kept thinking, “Well, why are you standing there?” So for me, the pilot had me from the beginning. From that opening scene where you see her standing there, I was so taken by that scene. And I feel like these women really don’t get their due – they’re supposed to have the children, support the husband. These are smart women. Look at Hillary Clinton. It’s not like these are silly little wallflowers that are waiting for their husband to come home. Most of them have two degrees, at least, and they’re incredibly accomplished. So I found it fascinating, a fascinating role to play.

In the first episode there is a pivotal moment when Alicia stands by her husband in public and then in private slaps him – what was that like to film with Chris Noth?
I did really whack him. There was no other way to do it. And Chris Noth is so great. He’s like, “Oh, please, I’ve been hit so many times.” So we did it three times. The first time I didn’t hit him hard enough, apparently. The second time was good, but the camera was off. And the third time was perfect. And I left a red welt, so we couldn’t shoot again.

There are so many stories in the US about women who ‘stand by their man’ in public (e.g. Silda Spitzer and Elizabeth Edwards, etc) – did you feel you had to delve into real life stories, or was it pretty much in the script for you?

Well, both, actually. It’s a good question, because I think it gave me a tremendous amount of respect for them because I was so quick to judge them until I stood in Alicia’s shoes. And we just don’t know what’s going on in the bedroom or at home. You know, we all assume that when you see the scandal, he’s a bad man and she’s a good woman. And we don’t know what their deal is at home. We don’t know what they’ve been going through in their own marriage. Most of these scandals happen after years of marriage. Not to say that anyone should ever cheat, but we’re all human beings. And I think we’re all so quick to judge these people without knowing the facts. And that’s what I loved about this. I’ve had friends whose husbands have cheated on them, and they’re still together because they have three children and they see their fault in it too. And life shifts and changes, and I think it’s a great way to explore human nature.

You’ve played confident characters in the past, now to play someone who’s finding her feet again – is that a challenge for you?
It is different for me and it’s hard. My instincts are to be a little stronger, because that’s just who I am in my own personal life. But I love it. Every time I think of how Alicia would react, I have to take myself out of it, and it’s getting to start all over again. I feel like it’s fresh and new and different. It’s a challenge. It’s a good challenge.

It’s an all star cast – had you worked with the supporting actors (Noth, Baranski etc) before?
Josh Charles, I have known forever, and I actually had suggested him for the role. And all these – Christine Baranski – they’re New Yorkers. They live in New York. When I signed on to do the pilot, New York had lost its tax incentives, and a lot of the TV shows that were shooting there ran to Canada. But New York has such a bevy of unbelievable talent to draw from. And when Christine and Josh heard that we were going to stay in New York, it was a no-brainer, because usually actors like to stay in their hometown.

One of the things that really stands out is the relationship between Alicia and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) – do you agree?
Yes I think Kalinda’s character was very judgmental in the beginning of her character. She says in the pilot, “I would have stuck a knife in his heart.” I think she really judges Alicia to be a weak woman, and that’s a great balance, because Kalinda’s so strong but you know there’s got to be something going on under there eventually.

Did you imagine yourself working on a legal TV drama?
Well, legal dramas are incredibly difficult in the shooting process, learning the language of it. And one of my main concerns when I met with Michelle and Robert (King), I kept saying, “I don’t want to do a legal show. We have great legal shows on air. Why would we put another one on?” But I found Alicia incredibly different to other characters. And the court room is a great backdrop for her development, and that’s how I see it. So I also think it’s a great way for her to discover who she is as a woman. Because being in the law, I know a little bit about it. I’m married to a lawyer, and that really helps with the dialogue. But it’s a man’s world. And there she is coming out of this cocoon.

ER was a huge hit – has much changed in television since then?
Yeah. Well, I’ve had a great ten years away from ER. I’ve been able to do a lot of theatre and films and miniseries, and I’ve never stopped working. I took almost a year off after I had my baby. What is different now is that I’m a mom and a wife and I need to stay in one place. And I love working. And for me, television is the medium for women. The richest characters I can find are on television, for me, where I’m at in my career. And it’s a lovely entry back, now being a mom and being able to play this role from a very different point of view, I never would have known the things that I know now, it’s a different phase of life. And I’m embracing the change.

Tell us about your return to the finale of ER?
It was really fun to go back, and George and I had a great three days. We had to keep it quiet and we couldn’t say that we were doing it because of George’s hype in the world. So I never said a word, even to my parents. I flew out there; no one knew what I was doing. And it wasn’t until afterwards that of course, the word got out. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to a great era.