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Series Mania: Julianna Margulies Reflects on Her Career, George Clooney’s Set Etiquette, Politics

Actress also talks about domestic violence, ‘E.R.,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Good Wife’

The Good Wife
Courtesy of CBS

PARIS — Julianna Margulies was in Paris this week as a key note speaker at the 8th Series Mania.

She wasn’t pulling any punches in talking politics and was quick to defend the arts, advocate for victims of gun violence, and take a swing at the White House.

On protecting the arts: “What we have to remember is that what we are left with, our history as a people, is the arts. It’s so important in America now with the threat of arts funding being cut.”

She was cautious concerning what the future may bring. “Journalists are having to raise money to get paid to report truthfully. This is a frightening moment where our core values as human beings are being challenged.”

It was not all gloom and doom, however, as the actress noted that this is also a time of opportunity. “The beauty is the energy it’s created to overcome that. We can’t only cry about it, we have to get up and do something and it has stirred something inside a lot of people in America.”

Margulies was asked questions spanning the entirety of her prolific career from her most recent project, CBS’s recently-finished “The Good Wife,” back to her days as a “Puerto Rican prostitute with a heart of gold” in her debut feature film “Out for Justice,” in which she starred alongside Steven Segal. “I didn’t know who he was,” admitted the actress. Her initial unawareness would became admiration however: “I am very grateful to him, he got me my SAG card.”

Next, the actress regaled the packed auditorium of international admirers with stories from her time on NBC’s mega-hit “E.R.”, where she had originally auditioned for a different part. “They made me wait for two hours in a room,” she recalled. “Looking back, I’m appalled at my behavior.” Having other auditions later in the day, when her turn came up to read in front of Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton and John Wells, she delivered the lines “with a terse, snide energy because I was pissed.” That energy prevented Margulies from getting the part, but to the benefit of everyone who watched the ‘90s phenomenon it caught the attention of the assembled super producers and she was asked to read for the part of the now beloved Carol Hathaway, a character originally meant to die in the pilot.

After a brief clip from her time on “The Sopranos” and commenting on the absolute quality of the writing of the show, the actress told the crowd the most important lesson she had learned working with James Gandolfini as well as George Clooney. “(Clooney) treated everyone with respect and dignity and he schooled me.” When an actor would hold up production, “He said it’s not us I’m pissed off about, it’s the crew that works harder, is paid less and want to get home to their family. He taught me set etiquette. James Gandolfini was the same way.”

Of her “The Good Wife” character Alicia Florrick Margulies noted: “I think one of the things Alicia suffered from was repressing everything down. As someone who is passionate and who can emote, I don’t.” The future of the series wasn’t always assured for Margulies, “When I saw the pilot I remember thinking it was interesting, and that it wouldn’t get picked up.” In the end though the “The Good Wife” enjoyed not just commercial success but critical acclaim with the actress having won the Prime Time Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2011 and 2014, and the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series in 2010.

As for her future, Margulies played coy. “I told my family I would take a year off, and that year is up in May.” In the meantime, she has been teaching master classes at universities across the U.S. She was offered a chance to revisit the role of Alicia in “The Good Wife” spin-off “The Good Fight” noting “the reason I declined was because I thought it would be a disservice to those women and they will carry that torch.” Audiences in the U.S. and France alike will be waiting to see what happens this May.