Television’s full commitment to the reboot-revival-remake-repackaging way of life means that audiences have the chance to spend even more time with their favorite characters.
Actresses from Candice Bergen (CBS’ “Murphy Brown”) to Sara Gilbert (ABC’s “The Conners”) to Christine Baranski (CBS All Access’s “The Good Fight”) have had the opportunity to step back into roles originally created for one show and one time, in another one. And the experience of playing the same role for so long or returning to it after a prolonged absence can result in some interesting opportunities for the actresses who embody them.
For starters, these moves often come with jumping up a few rungs on the call sheets. Gilbert and Baranski both went from stealing scenes as supporting actresses on original series “Roseanne” and “The Good Wife,” respectively, to being bumped up to lead in their new shows. But it also gave them opportunities to find new facets of the characters. Baranski, in particular, has been excited to continue to explore how articulate Diane Lockhart is and that she and her character get to share the same “gutsy laugh.”
“I’m always surprised and delighted by her resiliency,” Baranski says of her character, who started the sequel reeling both from the shock of President Trump’s election and from suddenly finding herself swindled and penniless, forced to join a new law firm instead of enjoying a beach-side retirement.
“I’d like to think that she inspires other women. [Although] she’s certainly not written to be some great feminist role model, she’s an example of a kind of a woman who is emerging as a very cool woman to be. She has professional experience, a great education, is politically active and is maybe well over the age of 40. If you think about it, we have women running for Congress now and running for president who are those types of ladies.”
After all this time, the character still manages to shock the actress upon occasion. One example: A third season arc wherein Diane joins a resistance group that had plans to hack the next election, which meant putting aside her own love of the law and ethical mindset.
Similarly, Bergen says she learned new things about her titular journalist character in the 2018 revival of the classic sitcom from the late-1980s to late-1990s.
“You learn she is capable of this maternal feeling, but that she’s not any kind of model mother,” Bergen says. “And you learn that she’s still a contender. That no matter how old she is, she’s hanging on by her fingernails and that she wants to stay in the game.”
The way the actors work on the revivals can sometimes change despite the consistency of character. In the original “Murphy Brown,” for instance, Bergen memorized “pages and pages of monologues,” but for the revival, she says, “they took it a bit easier on me.” Despite a slightly different delivery system, what was important to her was the writing was as “sharp and smart” as ever.
The nature of these new versions also means that audiences don’t just get to see characters grow emotionally on screen, but sometimes also physically. Yara Shahidi broke out as the eldest child on Kenya Barris’ ABC family comedy, “Black-ish.” She eventually landed her own Freeform show, “Grown-ish,” which tracks her and her friends’ lives as college students. Meanwhile, Cierra Ramirez and Maia Mitchell originated their parts as adopted teenage sisters on five years of “The Fosters” before landing their own series “Good Trouble,” also on Freeform. The spinoff takes place five years after the original’s end, with them as 20-something college graduates navigating love and new careers in downtown Los Angeles.
“The biggest thing is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable” in the role, Mitchell says, because “it’s easy to fall into habits and it’s easy to get stale.” She breaks up her routine by doing indie films on her hiatus, which also helps her young fans know her as more than just the buttoned-up Callie — particularly when they hear her native Australian accent. “If you are going to be on a show for so long — which is such a blessing — you have to be really strategic about what you’re setting up or where you’re putting yourself for when the show is done.”
Ramirez was actually the same age as her character, Mariana, when she started both “The Fosters” and “Good Trouble.” “I feel like I kind of grew up with the character,” she says, and that makes it easier to relate to “all the trials and tribulations that she goes through.” Plus, she likes that she depicts a role model to younger viewers because the character is a Latina who works in technology.
“Good Trouble” also offers unusual acting choices for both actresses. Their characters are products of the foster-care system, something that’s not as readily apparent to others in this universe as it was in the first show. There has to be a sense of vulnerability or hidden meanings in some scenes that the audience would catch onto, but new characters would not.
“I think as she’s grown, I’ve been able to explore different topics,” Ramirez says, be it taking a coding class during her down time or learning industry jargon.
But, she says, there are still times when “Baby Mariana” will appear. The actress cites cringe-worthy moments as when her character is talking to a guy she likes or spilling coffee all over her boss when they’re both working late at the office as examples.
“It’s been really fun to grow with her, but still have that sense of home with the Mariana that I know.”
The longer time spent with these characters, the more fully fleshed out they may feel on-screen, but also the more connected the performers feel to different parts of their own lives and careers.
But, after so many seasons and such long days on set, is it hard to always remember everything that has happened to your character?
“It’s not just nostalgia, but [as a way to] research and track the history of this character. I definitely think she’s gotten more fierce in the way that you can either become more accepting as you get older or you get more fierce,” says Baranski of Lockhart.
Danielle Turchiano contributed to this report.