Julianna Margulies returns to series TV with ‘Canterbury’s Law’

[11 March 2008]

By Luaine Lee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—When Julianna Margulies hung up her thermometer as the head nurse on “ER,” she vowed she wouldn’t do series television again. But she’s ba-a-a-ck. This time she’s carrying a lawyer’s brief and breaking all the rules.

The defense attorney that Margulies plays on Fox’s “Canterbury’s Law,” premiering this week, is no bleeding heart champion of the downtrodden. This is one tough cookie who doesn’t mind committing a felony or two to get her client off.

It’s a refreshingly dark look at jurisprudence, a part that Margulies accepted because of a typographical error.

She had the flu when she got the script and the cover letter said the show was coming from FX, the cable network—the O in Fox had been omitted. “I was incredibly excited to do cable. I had been looking to do a cable show,” she says. “And when I read the character, I was like, `Finally a character I can play on television. But, of course, it’s cable, so she’s dark and it’s complicated and she’s complex and she’s an adult and ... ` I thought she was sexy. And 12, 13 episodes a year, it was a shoo-in. I was very excited,” she recalls.

“So I called and I said, `I’m in. I’m in. This is FX.’ They’re like, `FX? It’s FOX.’ And then, I went—`Ooh,’ because 22 episodes a year (on networks) is brutal for everyone, but especially actors need to replenish ... And when everyone else’s day ends, yours goes on for another four hours in preparation for the next day. So I thought very long and hard, and I kept saying `No’ because of the 22.”

Margulies met with the creators of the show and finally with Peter Liguori, chairman of Fox Entertainment. “He took me out to a great dinner and we had a few martinis, and I said, `You know what, I’m in.’ It was too good to pass up.”

Margulies is adept at passing up great deals. She forsook an offer of $27 million to continue administering on “ER” and has resisted scores of tantalizing TV offers since.

“I was very gun-shy,” she confesses. “I was on the best show at the time, and I had six amazing years. And I played an incredible character, and I needed to step away from it for a while. And then, the last three years, I said, `I’m open to scripts, please send them.’ And most of them shot here (in Los Angeles.) And I live in New York, and I didn’t want to disrupt my life for a series. It’s one thing to go away for a movie for three months, but for a series it’s a different thing, so this all fit into place.”

Margulies seems uniquely qualified for the role. Not only is she married to a lawyer, her grandmother was one of the first female attorneys in New York State. “She graduated NYU Law School in 1924, and when she and my great-aunt, Marly, who was my grandfather’s sister, graduated, they couldn’t take the bar because there was no women’s bar association in New York,” says Margulies.

“And my grandmother started with a whole bunch of other women, the Women’s Bar Association in the Bronx. They went up to the Bronx, and that’s where she practiced. And it sort of started a whole movement, and women lawyers eventually—through that movement—were able to join the bar.”

Though Margulies spent much of her childhood in Europe, she says she got to know her grandmother when she attended Sarah Lawrence. “I knew her a lot more than I had as a child, and she was, at that point, deteriorating, but there are great stories about her. And she was a force of nature and couldn’t boil an egg. But she was an amazing attorney and ended up being a judge.”

Margulies, 41, seems to be conspiring with a trend in television to feature strong and unconventional women. Shows like “Prime Suspect,” “The Closer,” “Damages,” “Lipstick Jungle” and “Saving Grace” feature flawed females who manage to cope with high stress and even higher stakes. “I am so sick of every script I get for a film, it’s the girlfriend of, the wife of. It’s always the shadow,” she says.

“And, you know, `it takes a strong woman to support a strong man.’ Whatever ... And women aren’t seen for their full potential in film the way they are in television. So to be in the company of Holly Hunter and Glenn Close, I get why they’re doing their shows. They’re not getting offered that in film.

“And I knew that when I was 26 years old doing `ER.’ That character I went, `Oh, my God, I get to play—I’m my own person. I’m not attached to anything.’ So I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled that Dave (Erickson) wrote this character. I’m thrilled that Fox is supporting it. And I’m thrilled that women are taking over in television in a beautiful way—not to take away from men. I love them, but it should be equal. And I think it finally is happening.”

“Canterbury’s Law” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EDT.

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TNT has lined up the likes of Steven Bochco for a new legal show set to premiere sometime this year. “Raising the Bar” is only a working title, but it’s about two young lawyers who’ve known each other since law school and now are on opposing sides of the courtroom. Mark-Paul Gosselaar stars with Gloria Reuben (who’s come in from the cold of a singing career) as his boss and Malcolm’s frazzled mom, Jane Kaczmarek, as the judge.

Bochco, who brought us top notch shows from “L.A. Law” to “NYPD Blue,” says he loves his calling. “This is the best job there is because it beats working for a living. I love my job; love all of it, the challenges of it. Probably the most fun I have is when I come up with something new and am kind of nurturing that and getting it up on its feet. There’s no part I don’t like. The tough part is when you’re half way in the tunnel of a season and too far in to see the daylight behind you and not far enough to see the daylight ahead of you. That’s a tough time you have to power your way through that because it’s a marathon.”

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Joe Pistone, the former FBI agent who infiltrated the mob and became the real Donnie Brasco, spends his time these days producing TV shows. His latest is “Wisegal,” premiering on Lifetime on March 15. It’s based on a true story of a woman who became a trusted confidante of the Mafia.

Pistone says the power of the Mafia has been greatly diminished in recent years. “Drugs have been a big downfall of the Mafia. There was a time when the Mafia wouldn’t deal in drugs,” he says.

“That’s still a no-no. But there were main bosses that were very involved. But their involvement was the importation and distribution. They never used and never distributed in their neighborhoods. Whereas the younger generation, they don’t care where they distribute it—plus they became users – the cocaine generation. And there’s nothing worse than a drug addict when it comes to making an arrest and who’s going to squeal.”

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Rose McGowan joins Robert Osborne as co-host of TCM’s “The Essentials” every Saturday night. The pair will offer insight and little-known facts about the classic movies that air without interruption on the channel. Osborne has shared the dais with co-hosts before including Carrie Fisher and Molly Haskell. Hopefully the outspoken McGowan will have a chance to speak her mind, as she always has an interesting take on things.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/julianna-margulies-returns-to-series-tv-with-canterburys-law/