“The Good Wife” is renowned for its stellar casting, and this season doesn’t disappoint: Two-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale has joined the lineup as Ruth Eastman, a political operative who’s been hired by Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) to help his campaign to win the vice-presidency (behind presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton).
In just the first episode, Eastman went toe-to-toe with Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), whom she unseated as Peter’s chief of staff, and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), who’s not too happy to be taking orders. Expect more sparks to come in tonight’s episode, as Eli plots his revenge and recruits Alicia as his ally.
Here, Martindale talks to Variety about why she joined the cast, what battles lie ahead, and what she looks for in a role.
First of all, congratulations on your Emmy win for guest actress for “The Americans.”
It was shocking. I certainly didn’t expect to win. Of course you’re always happy, but there are so many people who did lovely jobs. I just received (the trophy) yesterday because I had it shipped, so I put it next to my other one. This one’s prettier because the ball is still on the hands. The other one is broken. I didn’t want to get fixed, though, because it’s the one I carried around all night for the “Justified” win. It was broken because the TSA searched our luggage. I guess they thought something big was in there. And it was! So now it has a younger friend – a younger, prettier model.
Why did you sign on for “The Good Wife”?
It was a really fun character. I think the show is great. It was something fun and different for me to do. And it’s in New York City, so I’m happy to be home.
What do you look for in a role?
Something odd and different. Two people just stopped me on the street about “The Good Wife,” and said, “Oooh, you’re evil again.” I’m not evil! I’m not even evil on “The Americans.” I’m just good at my job. Does that make a person evil? I’m a good politician. I know the ropes. I’m a great strategist. I know how to do it. Claudia in “The Americans” is a really good soldier for her country. Does that make her evil? No.
You’ve certainly had a run of impressive credits.
I’m pretty fortunate, I really am. I count my blessings every day. It’s certainly not where I thought I would be. I’m drawn to complicated. For so many years, I had to not show all my colors so I would fit in a mold. Then one day, someone gave me something, and I said, “What the hell, I’m going to do it the way I want to do it.” And it opened up a whole new world for me.
How would you describe Ruth?
Smart as a whip. Sharp and tough. With a sense of humor. And with a great intuition.
Has she met her match in Eli Gold?
She certainly has. And he has met his match, too. Don’t you worry about Ruth!
Who’s smarter? Who’s more conniving?
I think I’m smarter, and he’s more conniving, but I’m not sure that’s true – I think we’re just about equal.
How much is the Governor aware what’s going on between the two of you?
Not at all. He wants us to get along, that’s for sure. We know how to handle him, both of us. He’s tame compared to what we are.
Describe working with Alan Cumming.
It’s like dancing. It’s like singing. It’s like harmony. (Executive producers Michelle and Robert Kings’) writing is so musical and has so much comedy in the right way that makes it exciting.
You and Alicia got off on the wrong foot. Will you be able to win her over?
She’s sharp and not easily moved by anything. She’s not gullible. She doesn’t suffer fools. She’s a tough cookie. I think she’s always going to be leery of me. We finally found a place where everything was good, and then it went rocky again.
Does Ruth have any allies?
Peter. She has the family in her pocket for a moment. We’ll see how long that holds.
How did you prepare for the part? Did you do any research?
I didn’t, but I did look at some women. There was a time when I thought I was going to make her look different, very scattered, not polished on any level. But that’s not this show. She’s too savvy and too national to not try to fit a mold. So I couldn’t really go down that path. I think she tries to dress up her good old girl stuff a little bit.
How long will the show follow the current political race? What if things change?
We’re only into the ninth episode. (The Kings) are so smart. They’re starting to throw in options if it’s not Hillary, who will it be, what if things go awry. They keep themselves open. I guess we’ll follow the campaign trail. We’ll sniff it out. And keep it on track as far as things go.
What’s coming up next? Can you give us any hints what’s in store?
I don’t know what’s coming up, and I don’t know when I finish. I know I’m here for a little while longer. I’m not privy to where the story is going. I’m learning it as I’m shooting it. That’s what happens on all shows. When I did “Justified,” I didn’t know I was going to die at the end. On “The Americans,” they give me a little head start where I might be going. I don’t even know what’s going to happen with Peter’s campaign. I don’t know if I’m going to get shot by Eli. Which of course is possible!