Julianna Margulies reflects on ‘The Good Wife’ legacy, drama surrounding her ‘ER’ departure

You probably don’t think Emmy-winning actress Julianna Margulies and Grammy-winning singer Adele sound anything alike. But then you haven’t heard Margulies speak in a British accent (unless you’ve seen “The Mists of Avalon”). 

“To hear me talk like that was just hilarious,” Margulies says in said accent, eeirly reminiscent of Adele. “The Good Wife” and “ER” star grew up in England, France and the U.S., gifting her with an array of life experience (and accent practice).

“I try very hard to own the accent I have now because all my life I was switching back and forth,” she says.

Find these tidbits and more in Margulies’ memoir “Sunshine Girl” (Ballentine Books, 235 pp.), out Tuesday, which covers everything from her upbringing to an unsettling experience with Steven Seagal to her star turns on “ER” and “The Good Wife.”

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From ‘ER’ to ‘The Good Wife’

Margulies is perhaps best known for her work as nurse Carol Hathaway opposite George Clooney’s Dr. Doug Ross on NBC’s “ER,” which ran from 1994 to 2009 – though she departed after 2000 to pursue other work, despite a two-year contract renewal offer of $27 million. She writes that media eviscerated her at the time.

“In today’s world, where people seem to be much more woke, I would have been able to handle it better in that I wouldn’t have stayed so silent,” she says. 

Margulies went on to headline and produce “The Good Wife” – a series she considers a great piece of art, though a strenuous gig (a one-hour drama, 22 episodes a year). She misses her character, lawyer Alicia Florrick. But does she miss her enough to reprise the role?

“I know there’s a lot of people asking me to revive her, but I’m not going to,” she says. (Margulies planned to reprise her role on spinoff series “The Good Fight” on CBS All Access, though that didn’t pan out over an alleged pay disagreement.)

“What I loved most was that it made people really think,” she adds of the show, which ran for seven seasons on CBS. “It wasn’t just gratifying, tie-it-up-in-a-bow TV. It really made people reflect on their own lives and their own reactions to situations that I think is quite rare to find in television.”

Her grandmother was a lawyer, a pioneer for women in the profession who graduated law school in 1924. Margulies kept a picture from that graduation day in her character’s office for the run of the show.

Even though she feels lucky in life now – she has a son, Kieran, 13,  with husband Keith Lieberthal – acting helps Margulies unleash her angst when it does fly into her orbit.

“I can behave irrationally because that’s how it was written,” she says. “I can behave hysterically. I don’t comport myself in my own life that way. But it is a great conduit to get rid of all those feelings that you have, because they’re going to come up.”

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Julianna Margulies' memoir "Sunshine Girl" covers everything from her upbringing to her disturbing experience working with Steven Seagal to her star turns on "ER" and "The Good Wife." (Photo: Ballantine)

Julianna Margulies opens up about Steven Seagal, Les Moonves

Margulies publicly spoke about her incident with Seagal in the wake of the Me Too movement, and delves into the details in her memoir. She says she was desperate to get her Screen Actors Guild card and hunting for a film or TV role when she made it to the final audition for Seagal film “Out for Justice.” She put mayonnaise in her hair the night before the audition hoping it would be smooth and silky the next day – only to get a call that Seagal wanted her to visit his hotel room that night.

She went – the casting director said she would be there too – and smelled like rotten eggs because of all the mayonnaise. “It was quite comical in a way, even though it was absolutely frightening,” she says. 

The casting director was not there. Margulies went into his hotel room, only to have Seagal show off his “large, black and shiny” handgun and invite her to sit on the bed next to him and study her palms. She ultimately escaped unscathed, got the part and made sure hair and makeup people were always with her. (Seagal has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women and has previously denied any allegations made against him.)

Margulies shared her story because she “wanted to back up these women who were talking about what happened to them, because I had been one of those women fortunately who got out because nothing happened to me sexually. I wasn’t touched, but I understand these situations.”

In 2011, Margulies thanked now disgraced CBS studio head Les Moonves in her Emmys speech when she won best actress in a drama series for “The Good Wife.”

“I met (Moonves) when I was already a television star on ‘ER’ and I never saw any of that,” she says. “I can’t speak to that. I was truly shocked because he’s only shown me graciousness and kindness. It’s not a part of my narrative.”

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Working on ‘The Morning Show’ was like ‘a vacation’

Margulies teased her upcoming gig on Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show,” saying “it was a slice of heaven.”

She calls the series a well-oiled machine and was thankful her character Laura Peterson was fully fleshed-out. Margulies will appear in six out of 10 episodes as fictional network UBA’s  star who has had a one-hour news show for 20 years. Laura is at the top of her game, but wasn’t always: She was outed as gay in the late 1990s and was fired.

“It’s a really intriguing character to play because she’s been through the fire and back, and she’s come out on top,” Margulies says.

She loved working with the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass and reveled in not having everything rest on her shoulders like her 14-hour days on “The Good Wife.”

As she told “The Morning Show”: “I get time to learn my lines. I show up, you all make me look pretty, you put me in gorgeous clothes, then I get to work with great actors and say great lines. It was a vacation.”

Interesting: Jennifer Aniston says it was ‘cathartic’ playing a celebrity on ‘The Morning Show’

When ‘it’s time to leave’ 

“Sunshine Girl” also details several important boyfriends Margulies had throughout her life before meeting Lieberthal, whom she married in 2007. She writes about the good, the not quite right and the bad.

Her best relationship advice now: “When you see a red flag, don’t pretend there won’t be more. Walk out the door.”

A friend also told her: “If you’re only happy 25% of the time, it’s time to leave.”

If you live in New York, you might catch Margulies walking around – she walks everywhere. At crosswalks, she’ll likely be pondering the “what ifs” of life.

“If it’s a green light and you go, and then it’s a red light, take the other block because who knows who you’re going to bump into,” she says. “I always think that way. It makes life a little bit more exciting.” (She clarified, through laughs, that she does not look like Nicole Kidman’s character in “The Undoing.”)

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