Fans of CBS’ “The Good Wife” are a passionate lot and preview scenes from Tuesday (May 17) night’s season finale have already been known to cause palpitations and conniptions.
Will and Alicia? It’s on! Or is it?
Even if I knew what happens in the finale, titled “Closing Arguments,” I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, nor would Josh Charles.
I chatted with Charles last week after the season’s penultimate episode, just to get a sense where things are going for Will in the finale and beyond. It was hard not to be struck by the “Sports Night” veteran’s passion for his current project and the though he’s put into his character. This was an interview where maybe I didn’t get to ask as many questions as I might have liked, but when somebody is this exited and this articulate about their work, who’s going to complain?
Click through for my interview with Josh Charles…
HitFix: It looks like we’re heading for another Will/Alicia cliffhanger-type finale. I guess my first question is how would you describe the different place the characters find themselves in this season, as opposed to last season?
Josh Charles: I think there’s a lot more information that has become known to each of them. That’s on one level. But on another level, I just think the dynamic has changed by the nature of other people’s actions and the revelations that we’ve discovered in the series — through the middle of the season with Alicia finding out what Will said on those tapes in the “On Tap” episode, when she hears the wiretaps between Will and the alderman, and then confronting him about it, but enough things have changed and Will doesn’t come clean. I think we’ve seen a lot of push and pull, but we’ve also sorta let it be. I think we felt good about what we did in the first season, but also maybe wanting to make sure that we weren’t hitting the same notes from the same angles all the time. I know the writers, and I think they do an exceptional job of doing this, are always telling these stories, even the case-of-the-week stories, and are always trying to hit it from a different angle, something we haven’t seen, whether it be a satirical twist or whatever. What’s the end? What is it about?
This finale coming up, we’re representing somebody who’s accused of killing this judge and while the jury’s deliberating, we get this piece of evidence sent to us. It lands on Alicia’s desk and it’s a rush to get this included before the jury finishes deliberating. But the episode begins with this sense of, “What do you do in a case where you kinda think you’re going to lose, but you still have to do your job?” Will has to give this closing argument to open the episode and it was a really long closing argument. We don’t usually do that. We don’t usually have these lengthy monologues. There’s stuff cut in-between it, but Robert King, one of our co-creators, directed this episode and he approached me and said, “I really want to see how you feel about this. I know we’re going to cut into this and do different visuals as per the script, but I’d love to try and shoot a lot of this in one whole take if we can.” And that meant me memorizing, in less than 48 hours, about two-and-half pages, close to three pages, of dialogue. It was invigorating and fun and I was up for the challenge. I enjoyed it, because it gave us a certain energy and something new that we hadn’t experienced.
Back to the situation with Will and Alicia, I think this will feel a lot different. I can’t claim that I think that I know what everyone will think about it, about how things progress and about how things have happened, but I think the good news for me is that I always feel like if everybody’s happy with what you’re doing, you’re not doing something right. There has to be a dynamic. Some people need to not be happy with it. That’s my gauge. I’m alright with that. I welcome that. If everybody’s just like, “Yes! Absolutely! 100 percent!”… I think there should be some discourse and discussing. It means you’re pushing buttons. The beauty, to me, of the writing in this show, and I can’t say it enough, is that the last four episodes, to me, could have been season-enders. You know?
HitFix: Lots of Big Moments.
JC: I know I felt that reading them and I know I discussed that with some of my fellow actors, that holy s***, man, these scripts could all be season-enders. When Wylie drops the bomb on Alicia about Leila, that bone-chilling revelation, that reveal and having that end the episode. Jesus, that could be the end of a season, am I wrong?
JC: The showdown between them… All of these different things… I feel like that shows that we have a great lead in our show, a great lead character and a great protagonist in Alicia, and the show’s so much about her education, her evolution, her change, all these things happening, but we also have this great web of all of these other things happening that have been brought out. I think it speaks to the level of the writing and also to the cast. We have an incredible cast, an incredible ensemble and all of these different people can take flight at any time and that’s a great well for them to draw on at any time.
For me, personally, I’m really excited. A lot of people have approached me and asked about… There are a lot of things people say, but a consistent question is, “What’s going on with Will’s backstory with all that stuff with Blake? When are we going to find out what that’s about?” And I think a lot of times, we have a sense and we have these check-in meeting with the creators and producers about where these arcs are going and maybe we don’t know every little detail because they haven’t figured it out yet, but we get the general idea of what they’re thinking, it’s a conversation and there’s a discussion that ensues… And I think the original intention is that we would have found out that stuff by now, but I think that as the season evolves, just like in the first season certain things shifted to the second season, there will be certain things and I think this piece of Will’s backstory will find itself revealing itself in an arc that happens next season. That’s actually really exciting now that I know about it.
Knowing where we’re ending this season and how we’re jumping off, it leads us to a really good spot for our third season. There’s a lot of possibilities. It’s rife with a lot of great conflict and drama and I think they’re really not afraid to take risks and I think everything they do, there are a lot of big things that could be considered risks, but they don’t shy away from that. I have to applaud them for that. To me, I find that commendable.
HitFix: One of the things that has been a risk this season is that you mentioned that the two characters now have more information about each other than they did before and a lot of what we’ve learned about Will this season hasn’t necessarily been that good or flattering per se. We’ve learned a lot about his willingness to cut ethical corners to get the job done. Have you relished that darker side of Will that we’ve seen?
JC: I have. It’s a funny thing, because as an actor, you have to really separate your ego from what you’re playing and people’s perceptions of things. It’s a conversation I’ve often thought about, because we have seen it, but what always makes me scratch my head is that if you go and watch the show — You tell me… I’m not saying this is right or not, but you bring up an interesting question, so I would throw it back at you — and you look at the choices that Will has made and you compare them with other moral decisions that we’ve seen other characters on the show make — Will’s employees or other partners or other lawyers — I don’t see where any of them really rank any worse than what anybody else has done. So I have to question why it is, and I’m fascinated myself, why it sometimes feel as if that’s so dark and sinister. It certainly is morally on the edge and I think that his desire to win the game at all costs for his clients, there’s a drive there, there’s a real drive that comes from that. I think that when we learn more about Will’s backstory, I think that we’re going to understand more about where that comes from, that need to succeed. He doesn’t concern himself with the morality of things at times. When it gets into winning a case, that really is what he sees, at the end of the end of the day. He’ll let other people figure out the reality.
But on a side question, I’ll ask you and I’m curious about it… You watch the show. You’re a student of the show. With stuff like that and you really watch it and you see the choices that he’s made, there isn’t anything that he’s done that other people haven’t done. So you have to ask why people are harder on that character? Why is that?
HitFix: It’s mostly because he was introduced to us as the hero, to some degree, as the alternative to Peter. That’s the way Alicia thought of him at least. So she’s just coming to realize and we’re coming to realize the shades of gray, rather his being only to the good side of black-and-white.
JC: I think so and I think that’s good. They’re very intent to make sure that it’s not so clean-cut, that’s he’s not such an obvious alternative to Peter. And I think that’s smart. Given what he does, I think that is how lawyers behave and I think part of what’s exciting to me is to watch all of the characters have to wrestle with their moral grayness. To me, that’s that’s how I read it and that’s how I feel like I play it. So not only do I not mind it, I welcome it. I think it’s good. I think it’s right.
I guess where I question it is when people talk about it — not that you just did — but when people talk about it in absolutes, like “Oh, you’re a bad guy” or “Oh you’re a good guy.” I feel like it’s more complex than that. I certainly feel that in the writing and I certainly try to do my best to play that at times. I feel like most people do get that, but there are times where I think it’s important to realize that it isn’t a black-and-white thing. I think you’re right. I think a lot of it is that there’s this want for the character to be some sort of hero, particular in his past and in his relationship with Alicia, since we see so much of the show through her eyes. So there’s maybe a different set of standards that they hold him to because we see a lot of it through her.
One of my favorite parts of the show, just myself as a fan of the show, is watching the different characters have to take these strides into the abyss. It’s been fun to watch Alicia’s character get her feet wet. In that case two weeks ago, with Martha Plimpton’s character, she says something like, “You’re being a tough lawyer. When did that happen?” And Alicia looks at her and I forget what she says exactly, but there’s this sense that something is happening with her, that she’s going into this new arena. It’s fun to watch, for me as an audience. I like that they’re not afraid to take all of the characters and put them into that.
HitFix: Changing gears a bit. One of this season’s most talked about episodes was the Facebook episode, with the Aaron Sorkin stand-in, who your character really got to tear into. Having worked with Sorkin as you did, did you have any extra insight or extra pleasure in playing those scenes?
JC: I don’t know. I’m trying to think about that. I wish I could say I thought about it a lot, but I really didn’t. I was impressed with the satirical nature of the episode and I loved playing those scenes with all of those actors in the deposition scene there, but I don’t really have a big comment on that. It didn’t really mean that much to me, I guess. So take that as you will.
HitFix: This is your second long-term TV project, coming after “Sports Night,” which was a show that was always on the verge cancellation or pulling or being tinkered with by the network. Now you’re on this show that the network loves, that presumably is coming back. How does that change the day-to-day of your job?
JC: Well, you forgot “In Treatment,” but that was a shorter commitment. But yeah, as far as network television…
Honestly, there are a couple things I take from it: First of all, the half-hour schedule is much better. Even though you work stupid-long hours, at least when we shot “Sport Night,” we had every fourth week off and the hiatus was longer, so you could fit in another job. The hour-long network schedule is not an enviable schedule. It’s really not. You have a break, but they break’s pretty short. We wrapped end of April and we go back the middle of July and they’ll probably give us stuff a little bit before that. We’re still doing stuff now. We’re doing press. We’re going to the upfronts next week. There’s not a huge break and it’s hard to cram stuff into that. But the flip side, as you said, is that this show has the critical success, as did “Sports Night,” but it also has the ratings. So much of TV is like Vegas. I don’t even understand it. It’s like a crapshoot. If you look at the numbers back on “Sports Night,” I’d be interested to know what they were. I don’t think they were that bad, but comparatively if that show was on a different network at that time, it probably would have stayed on. But on ABC, with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” there was a different set of standards for what people wanted. I think so much of it is time, where you are, where you fall, what network.
I can say this: With that said about the schedule, I’m envious of my friends either in the half-hour world or even more in the cable world, but the beauty of the show is that we get to shoot it in New York, where the majority of the cast is based, not everybody but the majority. And that’s great, to be able to come home after a long day and sleep in your bed. And I absolutely adore our writers. I think Robert and Michelle King are so gifted. While I wish for everybody’s just health that we shot 17 episodes instead of 23, just for the creativity, it’s hard to sustain it, but with that said, I’m just in awe of how they keep these stories going and how they keep the writing at a really premium level and they do it all with a lot grace and a lot of humility. In a lot of ways, it just gets better and better. For me, everything starts with the writing and so, for that, if that stays at the quality it is, everything else is really workable.
It feels really good to have people respond to the show. It’s a nice feeling to be on shows, where just the number of people who watch it, you just get a lot more response from people. So it’s a good feeling and it’s good when you feel good about the show, which I do. I think we all do. I think we’re all really proud of it and know that in the network landscape, it’s hard to carve that out for yourself. I think that we’re all doing that and while it starts with the writing, I feel like we have a bunch of great collaborators on the show and I know that the actors are all really excited about it.
The second season finale of “The Good Wife” airs on Tuesday, May 17 at 10 p.m. on CBS.