This article appears in V131, available for purchase on July 1st, 2021
In the early ‘70s, you could find Christine Baranski outside New York’s Lincoln Center, eagerly waiting for the doors to open and the newest show to start. “I remember those years with excitement,” says Baranski, a screen icon and 15-time Emmy award nominee. “Luckily I didn’t get hit by a car, because my head was in the clouds.” Then a student at Juilliard studying drama, Baranski was completely infatuated with the theater. Her obsession began at the age of six when her father brought her to a show by a troupe of Polish dancers and singers. “I remember him having tears running down his cheeks and shouting ‘Bravo!’” says Baranski. “It was embarrassing that my father was behaving in this way, shouting and crying. And then I realized what a feeling he had for it.” The act of performing and theater runs deep in Baranski’s blood: her grandparents were actors at the local Polish theater and her parents were in a Polish singing group.
Growing up in Buffalo, NY, Baranski heavily participated in the arts, bouncing between ballet classes to drumming in the band to acting on stage. After Juilliard, Baranski soon landed roles in playwright Lezley Havard’s Broadway thriller Hide and Seek (1980) and the legendary British screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s infidelity- focused drama The Real Thing (1984). At the age of 42, with two Tonys under her belt, Baranski took the plunge into television, finding a new audience with the satirical CBS sitcom. Her supporting role as the absurdly extravagant, sharp- tongued Maryann Thorpe got her nominated for an Emmy after just 13 episodes.
Baranski’s versatility is on display in virtually every project she takes on, from the romance-filled drama scenes in Cruel Intentions to gamely embracing over-the-top musical numbers in the Mamma Mia! films. In recent years, the actress has won over new generations of fans as she untangles webs of political intrigue with her starring role in The Good Fight, a spinoff of the massively popular drama, The Good Wife. For over a decade, Baranski has been playing Diane Lockhart, a veteran lawyer who is ambitious, smart and incredibly witty, just like the actress who plays her. “It’s great for the world to see a woman like that, who gets up in the morning, puts herself together, and goes out in the world and fights the good fight,” she says in between tapes for the show. Along with The Good Fight, she is also shooting The Gilded Age, an upcoming HBO period drama that documents 1870s New York flushed with new money and on the brink of the modern age.
“I was in my 60s before I was number one on the call sheet,” Baranski says, with no-nonsense candor. “I just continue working and try to be defined by the work that I do. I’m not interested in selling myself or putting myself in quotation marks.” And while Baranski may not consider herself a hero in the industry (she prefers the label of “hard-working actress with a long, versatile career”), she has made an indelible mark on the acting world. Among the accolades above, Baranski also holds three Screen Actor Guild Awards and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award and proves that she continues to exude uncatergorizable brilliance in everything she touches. “It’s been one hell of a ride,” she concludes. And luckily for us, it shows no signs of stopping.
The Good Fight is now streaming on Paramount+