Last season, Josh Charles’ Will Gardner joined the inestimable Dead TV Characters Society.
CBS legal drama “The Good Wife” got a shot in the arm in its fifth season, fired up by the decision of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) to break free from Lockhart/Gardner, the central law firm in the series, to start her own enterprise. Pushing much of the tension forward was renegade lawyer Will, played by Charles (“Dead Poets Society,” “Sports Night”), and his anger at what he deemed a betrayal committed by his former flame. Desks were manhandled, clients were fought over, etc.
And then came the bombshell moment that had viewers searching for the rewind button on their remote controls: Will Gardner died. Gunned down by an unhinged client during a court proceeding.
Here, Charles chats about that episode and his time with the show.
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Q: How often are people coming up to you and just saying, “Why?”
A: I guess that’s happened a few times. But more often people just say they really were sad about it, but they’re also really excited about where the show’s going. And that makes me happy because that was the whole intent of this season. We knew going into this season it would be my last. We were able to plan for it and structure it and kind of knew where (the death) would lead the show.
Q: With Will and Alicia, it was more than sex — there was a deep, mutual respect there too. So you get a sense of the betrayal he’s feeling when he finds out she’s leaving, and we see it when he sweeps everything off the desk in anger.
A: I hurt my hand really bad hitting the desk because it just sort of went to too much, too soon. I iced my hand between takes.
Q: But that’s why we felt it.
A: It was a great scene because it was so well written and because of these characters’ history and because it’s Julianna and I and, you know, she and Christine (Baranski) are just two of my favorite people to work with. I have most of my stuff with them, and I love working with her.
Q: How about making this decision of “It’s time for me to move on”?
A: I had a very short-term contract on the show, much shorter than it’s even been discussed in the press. I kept extending it because I love the show so much — it’s been a great job for me. When the opportunity came in year four to extend it another few years, I thought a long time about it and just felt that I was ready to experience new characters. But I wanted to make sure that I left (the show) in as good a spot as I could, so I was always willing to come back and do some this year. And we came up with doing these 15 (episodes), being able to give the character a more proper goodbye and really write something special for him.
It’s a hard thing to articulate when you feel like you want to just have new experiences. You’re working long hours where you’re seeing people on the set more than you’re seeing your family. And sometimes it doesn’t allow you to really have other experiences.
Q: Did you go in knowing that your end would be death, or had that come later?
A: I knew before we finished the fourth season. … Robert King was in town directing the finale of Season 4, so we were discussing a lot about what would happen and how he would do it, and he said, “I think it’s going to be a death. How do you feel about that?” And I said, “I feel good about it.” I mean, what are your options, really? Will leaves and then he’s always kind of still hovering. …
Q: It needed to be final, yeah.
A: And I always told them, “If you want me to do one or two more … “ and that’s how Episode 16 came about, you know. They were in the writers’ room and said, “You know, you asked us if ….”
Q: “We need flashbacks!” Was that weird to do? You’re dead and then to come back?
A: No, because it actually made 15 easier. I knew I was doing these extra few days on 16. So in a way, my real memories of my last moments on set are doing the last scene of 16. Which actually is better, you know, in a way.