I’ve enjoyed the performances of Christine Baranski for many years. She was the best thing in the sitcom Cybill (1995-1998) as the sophisticated Maryann Thorpe. But I, and most people, know her as the smart and calculating Diane Lockhart in The Good Wife and its successor series, The Good Fight.
In a CBS Sunday Morning interview from January 2022, “Correspondent Mo Rocca asked Baranski, ‘Why do you think so often you’ve been cast as intellectual, sophisticated, high-status characters?’
“‘Because I’m sophisticated and intellectual!’ she laughed. ‘I don’t know! It makes me laugh, because when… people really look up… Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills, and where I come from?’
“Yes, Baranski is a proud Buffalonian, the daughter of Virginia and Lucien Baranski, who grew up steeped in her family’s Polish culture.”
That’s it. Even when she’s the snarky friend in Mamma Mia or the haughty reporter in Chicago – “Understandable! Understandable!” – she has that upstate New York rootedness. Her father died when she was eight. She attended Catholic school for 12 years, including an all-girls high school.
In Town and Country, she described sharing a room with her grandmother, “who had been an actress in the Polish theater. ‘I grew up with an Auntie Mame kind of personality. She was vivacious,’” and she passed on a love of the stage to her granddaughter…
“‘By the time I was 17 or 18, I was acting in not only plays in high school, but I got into this workshop and was doing street theater and performing with kids from all over the city. I was from a very insular kind of life. And suddenly, I was performing with Black kids and Jewish kids and it blew my world wide open.’
“Around that time, she read about the Juilliard School, and pinned the article to her wall, thinking: ‘This is where I want to go.'” But as she noted in the New Yorker, she was initially waitlisted. “I had my teeth capped and would do a series of syllable and ‘S’ exercises. Then I returned to New York for an audition and did nothing but pages of ‘S’ words, and they let me in. So I would say I got in by the skin of my teeth.”
Nathan Lane spoke of his “the Birdcage” co-star, “She is a consummate actress and professional and a great deal of fun.” He only regrets that they didn’t have more scenes together in their new project The Gilded Age. Christine once again plays that upper-crust role, the moneyed Agnes Van Rhijn.
I think she is quite centered, not just because of her background. Probably it’s because she was a working stage performer before her television career started in her forties. Though she had been encouraged early on to change her name to something less ethnic, she never did.
Christine Baranski turns 70 on May 2.