Christine Baranski brings sophistication to The Good Fight and The Gilded Age : It's Been a Minute If you ask people to describe Christine Baranski, one word rises to the top: sophisticated. That's no accident; the actress has spent a lifetime refining her image and her craft.

For the past 13 years, Baranski has played Diane Lockhart, a savvy and assertive attorney on the CBS television series The Good Wife and its spin-off The Good Fight. And just like her character, Baranski is a trailblazer herself. With women making up only 3% of major TV characters 60 and over, she's carved out a path for other actresses to follow.

In this episode, host Brittany Luse talks with Baranski about The Good Fight for women in Hollywood.

Follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin or email us at ibam@npr.org.

Sophistication and sexuality at 70 with Christine Baranski

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BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:

Hello, Christine. It's so great to meet you.

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Hi. Hi, Brittany.

LUSE: Hi. How are you doing?

BARANSKI: Good to meet you.

LUSE: You look incredibly chic right now. I have to tell you. I have to tell you.

BARANSKI: Well, I'm at the Cafe Carlyle, darling, so...

LUSE: (Laughter) It really doesn't get more chic than that.

BARANSKI: No, it really - I have it all to myself. I'm just here alone at the Cafe Carlyle, talking about myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: What a dream life. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse, and I'm here with one of the chicest women alive - my words - Christine Baranski. You may know her for her leading roles in "The Good Wife," "The Good Fight," "The Gilded Age" or "Mamma Mia," "The Birdcage," "Cruel Intentions" and - OK, I'll stop. You get it. But her peers in Hollywood know her for other reasons.

Meryl Streep has described your posture as being like that of a queen's. Cher called you a high-kicking bitch - her words, not mine. And in observing how people talk about you online, there's one word that has consistently popped up about you. Do you know what that word is?

BARANSKI: No. I don't follow social media precisely because I don't want to know what people are saying about me.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Well, it's honestly, I'll say, overwhelmingly good things, but the word that specifically pops up again and again is sophisticated, which - I think if there's any word to be known for, that's a good one, I'd say.

BARANSKI: I'll take sophisticated. I will take it, particularly since, you know, if you've read about me, you know I'm from a blue-collar neighborhood in Cheektowaga, N.Y. I didn't grow up on the Upper East. And here I am in the Cafe Carlyle. It kind of amuses me to have this reputation for being so sophisticated. But I - let me just say this. I aspire to sophistication, whether or not I've achieved it...

LUSE: You aspire to it.

BARANSKI: I aspire to it because it doesn't just have to do with wearing fancy clothes or having an attitude. It's a kind of refined way about you, a refined way of thinking or being in the world. And I like the idea of feeling that my sensibilities or my behavior is somewhat refined. That would please me. That - I would aspire to that.

LUSE: I think a major key to people having that impression of you is the way that you speak. It's easy to imagine you being from someplace like the Upper East Side. And also I read that in high school, you began experimenting with a different manner of speaking, almost like a British accent, because, at the time, you didn't want to sound like a Buffalo girl - your words. And when you made that choice, were you modeling yourself after anyone in particular or any vision of yourself that you wanted to achieve?

BARANSKI: First of all, I can't remember it being a conscious choice - oh, I don't want to speak like a Buffalo girl - because I can assure you when I got to Juilliard, they did early recordings of me, and (imitating younger self) I kind of sounded like a girl from the Midwest with a very nasal voice. I hardly sounded like this. And when I say that (imitating younger self) when I came to Juilliard, I had, like, really hard Rs, like, really Midwest - like, because Buffalo is the beginning of the prairie. Let's face it. It's the beginning of the Midwest. We learned the kind of classical speech for theater, let me put it that way. And so what you're hearing now is the result of many years of training and refining my way of speaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Christine's sophistication is on full display in her career-highlight role as Diane Lockhart in "The Good Wife" and its spinoff, "The Good Fight."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) I want you to think of me as a mentor, Alicia. It's the closest thing we have to an old boys' network in this town - women helping women, OK?

JULIANNA MARGULIES: (As Alicia Florrick) OK.

LUSE: If you haven't seen the show, one, you should. And two, you should know that Diane Lockhart is sophisticated but tough. She had to be to rise to the top and become one of the few female name partners in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) When I was starting out, I got one great piece of advice. Men can be lazy; women can't. And I think that goes double for you. Not only are you coming back to the workplace fairly late, but you have some very prominent baggage.

LUSE: In this scene, Diane points to a picture of Hillary Clinton on her desk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD WIFE")

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) If she can do it, so can you.

LUSE: For me, the lines between Diane Lockhart and Christine Baranski have always been blurry. They're both trailblazers combating misogyny - Diane in a fictional legal workplace that mirrors the real world and Christine in Hollywood, where only 3% of roles are given to women over 60.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: "The Good Fight" concludes its run on November 11, and after 13 years, Christine Baranski is saying goodbye to a character who helped change representation for women on TV. Today, we're looking at the good fight both Christine and her character Diane have waged on behalf of women after a quick break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: OK. So "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight" writers, Michelle and Robert King, were known for ripping stories straight from the headlines for their characters to respond to.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD FIGHT")

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) I've spent the last few months feeling [expletive] deranged, like I'm living in some bad reality show, going numb, all Trump all the time. What's real? What's fake? Well, you know what? I just woke up.

LUSE: In 2018, "The Good Fight" found Diane working at a majority-Black law firm, reconciling with many of the questions the country would wrestle in 2020. And at the core of that was Diane's marriage to a Sarah Palin-loving gun-toting conservative Kurt McVeigh, played by Gary Cole.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOOD FIGHT")

BARANSKI: (As Diane Lockhart) Thank you for the Sarah Palin biography.

GARY COLE: (As Kurt McVeigh) Why? I thought you'd like it.

BARANSKI: (As Diane) The chapter where she brings big oil to heel, just gripping.

COLE: (As Kurt) I bought a Hillary bio for $0.50 on eBay.

BARANSKI: (As Diane) Well, I just wanted to say hello.

COLE: (As Kurt) Hello.

BARANSKI: (As Diane) You betcha.

LUSE: There have been times, especially last season, where Diane has frustrated me (laughter) what with, you know, her relationship with Kurt and how, you know, her conservative husband - ex-husband and how that ends up playing into the politics at the firm and how they deal with their clients. Diane has frustrated me at times (laughter).

BARANSKI: Oh, I think she's meant to...

LUSE: Has Diane ever pissed you off?

BARANSKI: Yes, well, she's - you know, she's always trying to figure it out. I think the Kings did not, you know, ever want to write her as Joan of Arc or some liberal heroine who just - you know, here she is, the enlightened feminist who has all the answers. It's - that's not an interesting journey. And yeah, that's a troublesome marriage. By the final season, I did say to the Kings, hey, they just got back from a vacation in Italy. What did these two people talk about? Because...

LUSE: (Laughter).

BARANSKI: ...At this point, he's still working for the NRA, and schoolchildren are being shot up.

LUSE: Right.

BARANSKI: And he had some complicity in January 6, and I got him out of trouble. And so we decided to take that marriage down a very bumpy road in the final season, where she does actually break off the marriage and say, you know, I've reached a point where I can't continue. I don't know who you are if this is your belief system, how we can continue, you know, in the way that people are in the country reaching a real impasse in relationships. I had dinner with a friend recently, and I was like, really? Oh, OK, that's your politics? Ooh, OK. You know?

LUSE: You know, Diane - we're obviously talking about her relationships. We're talking about her being this top lawyer in Chicago. She's very driven. She's very driven and exacting in her professional life. But in her personal life, which we slightly touched on, she's sleek and sexy. What's your approach to portraying Diane's sexuality?

BARANSKI: I just think she's a sexual woman. I think it started during "The Good Wife" when Gary Cole wasn't supposed to be a recurring character. It was this ballistics expert comes in, and...

LUSE: Really?

BARANSKI: ...You have it - I don't think he was ever meant to be recurring, no. He came in and - but there was this chemistry with Kurt. And then next thing you know, we're kind of flirting.

LUSE: (Laughter).

BARANSKI: And then I'm really turned on by the fact that this guy is like - he's a real guy guy. And I think the writers wrote - because they were seeing aspects of me come out that they thought, well, gosh, Christine comes alive when she's, like, working (laughter) with Gary.

LUSE: (Laughter).

BARANSKI: They often write according to where the actor takes them because it's, oh, this is a strong suit of the actor. And I always thought, Diane - I mean, I think she has such a great relationship with her male colleagues. Or she has healthy relationships with men, but she's really very womanly, very female. She's got, you know - she's got a healthy sex - I always love that, you know, she and Kurt obviously had something going, you know? And they...

LUSE: (Laughter) That's a way of putting it.

BARANSKI: And she tried to keep him interested. I mean, who would - anyone who's tried to put on a latex bodysuit knows that's a lot of work to do that, to put on a latex catsuit.

LUSE: And Diane did that (laughter).

BARANSKI: Yes, she did it in about three minutes. She did it. Little did anyone know because of editing that that took about 15 or 20 minutes with about four people helping me into it.

LUSE: Oh, my gosh.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: That's the magic of television.

BARANSKI: It really is. But no, I love that - playing a role of a woman well over 50, and by the time we did some of those scenes, I was in my 60s and still, like...

LUSE: Wow.

BARANSKI: Yeah, still a sexual being, still flirtatious by the final season. You're seeing her flirt and get turned on by her doctor.

LUSE: Oh, (laughter) yeah.

BARANSKI: Who's administering...

LUSE: Y'all did a lot with - there was just, like, a little hand touch.

BARANSKI: Oh, yeah.

LUSE: Oh, my gosh, it was electric. You just...

BARANSKI: I know. Who says that...

LUSE: ...Like, grabbed the doctor's hand, caressed it. Oh.

BARANSKI: Yeah. Who says that can't happen? I mean, it's...

LUSE: (Laughter).

BARANSKI: We broke a lot of stereotypes. And I think yeah, there's a lot of women out there in the world who are, you know, well over 50 who are, you know, very interesting, very vital human beings. And there's - we don't write enough about them. We don't know their stories. So I think in that regard, Diane was somewhat groundbreaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: All right. We are going to take a quick break. But when we return, more from my conversation with the ever-sophisticated Christine Baranski.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: I'm glad you bring that up because a recent study from the University of San Diego shows that women in speaking roles on television jumped from 45% to 47% in 2021, which - it's not quite 50%, but it's a net positive (laughter). But of those women, only 3% are women over the age of 60, which...

BARANSKI: Are you kidding?

LUSE: No. I wish I was. I wish I was. I mean, it's not just disappointing, but it also just seems out of sync with reality.

BARANSKI: And what - are you saying 2021?

LUSE: Yes.

BARANSKI: Yeah, it's - that's a depressing statistic. But in that regard, I think we made a huge contribution. And I just hope - well, I just hope there will - there are so many great actresses...

LUSE: Yeah.

BARANSKI: ...Whose talents are not used and who have so much experience, as I do, life experience, and experience as actors, who have so much to give.

LUSE: That makes me wonder, like, what do we lose out on when we don't see depictions of women over 60 on our TV screens as regularly as we should?

BARANSKI: We lose out on the opportunity to perceive women as people who can participate in a major way in government, in institutions and be leaders. We don't think enough about women in those terms. And if they were more present in our media, in our storytelling, we would get used to the fact that actually women are invaluable in these institutions precisely because of their age and their experience. They should be more represented because they're, you know - oh, my God. There's - it's a very messed up world. And women could contribute so much if they were given more positions of power.

LUSE: I'm also glad you bring that up because, I mean, your career has actually defied that pattern of ageism in Hollywood. I mean, you really broke through in your 30s, and your career has had many, many peaks since then, both on stage and screen. You're now 70, and you recently described yourself as busier than ever before.

BARANSKI: It's true.

LUSE: I wonder, how have your decades of experience - experience as an actress but also life experience, as you mention - how have they affected your craft?

BARANSKI: Oh, I mean, it affected it in the deepest, possible way. That's what I mean. If you can remain a healthy performer well into your 50s, 60s and 70s, you have so much to offer actors and actresses because of your life experience. But certainly as an actress, what I loved about the Diane character - and I will forever be grateful to Robert and Michelle - is they never made her age an issue. It was never like she was a victim because of how old she was. They never made me feel bad about it. If anything, she became more interesting. She became, in some ways, a braver character later on and more intrepid and more curious.

But yeah, I just think I've beaten the odds, and I only would like to be an example and a reason for actresses to have faith because I didn't even get my first break on Broadway until I was in my 30s. And I didn't go to Hollywood to do any television until I was in my early 40s. That's a long time to wait before, you know, knocking on the door of a Hollywood career. And then it opened up my career, and I did television and film. And honestly, I did not get to be No. 1 on a call sheet until I was 65 years old. And now I'm - in this last few years been No. 1 on a call sheet of two shows.

And that's not bragging. That's just to say this is a result of time spent and consistent hard work, as well as, you know, a good enough reputation that people wanted to keep working with me. And my life is actually richer and more enjoyable than ever. Although I loved raising my children, those years of raising children and working are - for any woman who does it, especially actresses - it's really, really hard. I raised my children. Now I have three beautiful grandsons, but I'm free of the burden of being an active mother. And I'm so enjoying my life, and I'm so enjoying - I've never enjoyed my work as an actress more.

LUSE: You know, now "The Good Fight" is ending, which means that after 13 years - 13 years combined - you're leaving Diane behind. What do you hope people are left with as they say goodbye to this character who has represented so much for so long?

BARANSKI: I would hope that they saw a woman who was idealistic and whose priority was to stay balanced and clearheaded and even when she made the wrong choices, tried to learn from those choices and try to self-correct; that Diane - she wasn't a heroine so much. She was a flawed heroine. But she - you know, she was never a victim. She was always a fighter. And I would like people to think of her as someone - a woman who was strong and just walked out the door, head held high.

LUSE: Christine Baranski, thank you so much for coming on our show. It has been an honor.

BARANSKI: Oh, thank you, Brittany. Thank you for your wonderful questions.

LUSE: And enjoy The Carlyle.

BARANSKI: Oh, I will. I think I'll sing a few songs.

LUSE: All right. Oh, good luck. Break a leg, rather.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: That was Christine Baranski, the lead of CBS' "The Good Fight," which concludes November 11. This episode was produced by Barton Girdwood. Our editor is Jessica Placzek and engineering support from Carleigh Strange. I'm your host, Brittney Luse. And thank you for listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

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