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DAZZLINGLY SMART AND POWERFUL, DIVINELY WRY, The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart could only have been done full justice by that magician of the patrician, Christine Baranski. Serving up upper-crust dames for nearly four decades, the Tony- and Emmy-winning star doesn’t need a trophy to feel esteemed. “What I love, love, love,” Baranski says, “is when people just say, ‘You’ve made me so happy over the years.’ I think, ‘Well, maybe I do perform a kind of public service—when people watch me, they actually feel better.’ ”
Watch!: Yep, you make us feel grand—it’s like you’re a show business nurse.
Christine Baranski: Or a doctor, I’d like to think.
Watch!: Touché, Miss Lockhart. Diane is so utterly rad; tell us what about her makes you the proudest.
Christine: She’s a highly accomplished woman who pushed her way past the glass ceiling and is comfortable going toe to toe with the guys. And, as you see by how she dresses, I love the way she still inhabits her femininity. That’s true of so many extraordinary women I see in the world today, so that a woman like her would be reflected on TV is, frankly, one of my happiest ever contributions as an actress.
Watch!: What’s virtually revolutionary about Diane is that she’s an authoritative woman on TV who isn’t a “bitch.”
Christine: And it could have easily gone there, but that’s the world’s biggest cliché—this trope that women, after they’re 45 or so, turn into bitter, mean old women who have no private lives and are powerful in the workplace, but then go home and drink and are miserable neurotics. Nonsense!
Watch!: Totally. And Diane has a fab private life with not one, but two suitors [played by Bryan Brown and Gary Cole] hot for her bod. And what a bod it is: Did you know that your gams have been inducted into a website called The Celebrity Legs Hall of Fame?
Christine: No, but I’ll take it! I always joke to my cinematographer, “If you could only photograph me from the waist down, you wouldn’t have to do any lighting.” [Laughs.] I have great legs and always have. But my career was never predicated on my beauty—I always got jobs because of my skill and also because I had a kind of foxiness. I’ve played tons of sexy women with the short skirts and the high heels.
Watch!: Such as Cybill’s Maryann Thorpe, who was everyone’s favorite rich, drunk broad in the 1990s. Haven’t you actually called yourself “the Dean Martin of actresses”?
Christine: Yes, because I think I opened a door to female, martini-swilling characters in American television. The wonderful thing about Maryann was that she was this fortysomething divorcée who had this incredible amount of money to spend on clothes and who drank martinis at lunch and was completely irreverent and witty while playing nasty revenge tricks on her ex-husband [the massively loathed “Dr. Dick”]. Nobody had ever seen such a thing.
Watch!: And though you’d been acting onstage for more than 20 years, she made you an overnight, national TV star.
Christine: Which was great because by then I was in my 40s, and it’s wonderful to be the new girl in town at 40.
Watch!: Maryann and Tanya, your character in the global smash Mamma Mia, have a lot in common, what with the booze and the men, don’t they?
Christine: They do—it was like getting to do Maryann in a musical. And I got to sing that number “Does Your Mother Know?” with the bare-chested boys on the beach and me in a red bathing suit. I mean, puh-leeze … I was in my 50s already!
Watch!: And this May you turn 60. Are you chill with that?
Christine: Curiously, I feel great. But look at the life I have: I have my health, a wonderful show, two gorgeous daughters and a marvelous partner [her husband of 28 years, actor/writer, Matthew Cowles] who still makes me laugh.
Watch!: Fabulous! Last question: You own the market on playing upper-class women, so tell us something that shocks people about the real-life Christine. Is it that you’re a hard-core sports fan?
Christine: Oh, yes, that does shock people. I’ll walk on the set on a Monday morning and talk about the baseball or foot-ball game, and [co-star] Julianna [Margulies] still can’t get over it. People think of me as being so sophisticated, but really, because I’m from blue-collar Buffalo, N.Y., … well, people would be totally shocked to sit in a living room with me listening to me hoot and howl over a football game. I just go right back to being that Buffalo girl.