Christine Baranski has earned five consecutive Emmy noms as legal eagle Diane Lockhart on CBS’ “The Good Wife.” But before she joined the drama, she was better known to smallscreen auds as a crack comedienne. She had already scored Emmy attention for guest turns on “The Big Bang Theory” and “Frasier,” and garnered her first four noms for the breakout role of wisecracking socialite Maryann Thorpe on “Cybill.” Variety spoke with Baranski about that first win, the subsequent losses and why the reliably excellent “Good Wife” doesn’t get more Emmy love.
“Cybill” was your first TV series. Were you surprised to win the Emmy right away?
We were a midseason replacement. After 13 weeks, I didn’t know from Emmy nominations. I had just come in from a vacation and was jet-lagged and getting some sleep when I got a call about having gotten an Emmy nomination. That was like wow. Wow.
What do you remember about the night you won?
I was sitting behind David Letterman and over to the left was Barbra Streisand — oh my God. I was wearing a leather bustier — I remember looking down to see my cleavage was in place. Then I look up and there’s Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, both guys I had worked with in the theater. It was like, “Oh, my old pals.” I remember when they announced the nominees and said my name I think David Hyde Pierce muttered “Oh, I love her,” and then they said my name (as the winner).
What happens then?
It was an out-of-body experience. It all happened so fast that suddenly I was up on the stage thanking everybody and then you get whisked off. On my way backstage I stopped to look at what was happening during the show, and who was also winning? Julianna Margulies. We won for the first time the same year. If you look at our pictures, just check out the hairstyles is all I’m gonna say. Check out the hair and see how we’ve evolved.
Did you see her backstage?
I never saw her backstage but I remember being backstage and my husband joined me, God bless him, and I said, “Matthew, I just won an Emmy” and he said, “Of course you did.” It was so sweet. I didn’t expect it. I certainly didn’t think I was entitled. Since that year I have not won. But I go and I lose and I think, “Yeah, but I know what it’s like.” With “Cybill” I’d only been on the air for 13 episodes, I was really the new girl in town. At age 40, the new girl in town.
“The Good Wife” has only been nominated as best drama twice, which seems wrong considering its ongoing quality. What’s your take on Emmy nominations for the show?
I look at the work Josh (Charles) did last season, he was very subtle on the show. We’re never going to have those scenes of screaming, the big dramatic stuff that can really win you awards. I happen to think the more subtle acting is just as difficult if not more difficult. The same way our writers write the show, it’s not flashy but boy is it sophisticated and complicated and true and intellectually stimulating. But it often escapes attention. The more out-there dramatic stuff captures attention. But who’s gonna complain? These are what you call champagne problems.
Since you won you’ve been nominated 11 more times. What’s it like when you don’t win?
I’m so, so happy once they announce my award. I’ve taken to getting so nervous about the whole thing because the hype is so great about winning. Forgive me, it sounds so sacrilegious, but I’m actually kind of relieved [when I don’t win]. Once they announce my award, I kick off my high heels. The year Alan (Cumming) was nominated we all sat in a little cluster. After he lost and I lost, he passed me a little vial of vodka, we all took some sips. It all gets easier once you lose.