The Good Wife director Rosemary Rodriguez Talks About the Show’s End
When The Good Wife premiered in 2009, it was a different type of show. It had many of the elements of a procedural — weekly court cases and stand-alone proceedings — but it also featured a strong premise that helped the show build intriguing long-term storylines, strong relationships and truly memorable characters. Even when cable and premium shows began dominating many of the major Emmy categories, CBS’ The Good Wife stood out and was the last network show to be nominated for best drama at the Emmys (a feat it accomplished in 2011).
Creators Robert and Michelle King were responsible for the show coming to life and executive producer/star Julianna Margulies helped make the show really shine, but one additional person who stood out as an integral member of the show’s core family since season one was Rosemary Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who directed eighteen episodes of the program (more than any other director), has helmed the program every year since the first season. Her last episode —"Party"—the 20th episode of season seven, marked her final time with the program. With the drama coming to an end this Sunday, Rodriguez’s ensemble-driven episode marked the final appearances of some of the show’s beloved characters.
In addition to directing The Good Wife, Rodriguez has directed a variety of acclaimed programs including Netflix’s Jessica Jones, FX’s Rescue Me and FOX’s Empire. She’s set to direct upcoming episodes of FX’s comedy Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll and AMC’s The Walking Dead (a job she noted Jeffrey Dean Morgan “played a big part in helping me get”). In addition to her television work, Rodriguez has directed the features Acts of Worship (2001) and Silver Skies (2016), the latter of which won Best Feature at the Manhattan Film Fest and the Audience Award at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. She’s also the host of the WEplayRADIO podcast, The Director’s Chair.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Rodriguez about her start as a director, her affection for Rescue Me and why she feels such a kinship with the cast and crew of The Good Wife. Below is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation.
L-r: Mike Lombardi, Rosemary Rodrigeuz and Denis Leary on the set of 'Rescue Me.'
How did you originally become a director?
I grew up watching movies. I always watched old Hollywood movies like Marilyn Monroe movies. Robert Mitchum. All the old movies and I just always loved them… I went to school at Brandeis and when I was at Brandeis, there was a film theory class that we took. We would watch a movie twice in a row: once without sound and once with sound, and it was fascinating. That’s when I knew for sure I wanted to be a director because I would watch an entire movie with no sound and I would see the lighting and the editing and all of the elements that went into it without hearing it and it fascinated me, and then I remember having another class — maybe the same class — where we had to read The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, and we had to take to take a scene out of The Book of Daniel and write a treatment [of] how we would see that scene. I remember going to bed and dreaming this whole sequence and getting up and writing it, and I did really well on the paper and so those two experiences were like ‘That’s it. I want to direct.’
Of course it took me many years to actually be a director because I was working a lot and moved to New York after school. I went to NYU and I learned how to make two short films, and then I started working in independent film in New York City and I did that for many years. It took a long time to become a director.
You’ve directed more episodes of The Good Wife than anyone else. How did that relationship start?
I made a feature film called Acts of Worship. After that, I sent it to John Wells Productions — who had ER, Third Watch and West Wing on the air — and he had a fellowship for women and minority directors who had made independent features or made features to transition into television directing. Six months later, I got in and [Wells] put me on Third Watch, which was shot in New York. So I’m on Third Watch shadowing and then I got a chance to direct one [episode] and then direct another, but while I was there, this show called Rescue Me started airing and at the time, I watched Rescue Me and I became obsessed with it.
I kept trying to get meetings with Apostle [Denis Leary’s company], but I never made any headway. I didn’t hear anything from them, but then they had a show called Canterbury’s Law, which Dave Erickson created, and it was about a lawyer played by Julianna Margulies. I did an episode of this new show right before the wrtier's strike. [The show] ran several episodes but it got cancelled, but Julianna and I stayed in touch. Then she was talking about the pilot of The Good Wife with her agents and she said to me, ‘If this show goes, I want you to come’ and I’m like ‘of course!’ So she pushed for me to get in the first twelve episodes.
She's the one that pushed for me and she’s just an amazing, amazing professional and an ally and a friend at this point. I ended up doing three episodes. After that, Apostle — Denis’ company [with] Jim Serpico [and] Tom Sellitti — they’re like ‘All right. You [can] come direct Rescue Me now.’ So I did three episodes of Rescue Me…now, a few years later, here I am on Denis’ new show Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll and my last episode of The Good Wife aired and I just said to both of the producers the other day, ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met Julianna Margulies and I wouldn’t have got to do The Good Wife.' I’m grateful to be working with them right now.
Before I do an episode of a show, I’ve probably watched all of the episodes or as many as possible. I have read all of the scripts up to the episode that I’m doing. I have researched all of the actors, producers and key crew people. I want to know if I’ve worked with anyone on the show before so that I can call or talk to them about the environment on the show: ‘What’s it like? What can I expect? What are the potholes? Anything I need to know about it?’
Can you talk about the schedule of filming an episode?
First day is prep. The prep is generally seven days depending on what type of show it is: an hour or half hour. For an hour show, it’s seven days of prep. Shooting is generally eight days. I’m talking about a one hour episodic drama. It’s seven days of prep and eight days of shooting. In that seven days, you’re working with the producer, the writer, the executive producers…you’re getting the schedule together. You’re casting. You’re location scouting. You’re meeting with wardrobe, with props. All kinds of stuff.
What unique challenges did you find on The Good Wife?
I can tell you that The Good Wife from the pilot was a show that had high standards for production value, for the actors, and for the writing, so I wanted as a director to go in there and really meet and then elevate whatever I could, because I wanted to live up to what they were giving me because it was such great quality.
What there anything tricky about directing an actress like Julianna Margulies, who also serves as executive producer on the show?
The relationship that we have is as an actor-director, so the gift of shooting is that when I’m on set, when we’re all on set and we’re creating something, that's what's paramount. I’m talking about when you’re rehearsing, when you’re blocking, when you’re shooting a scene. It’s not about politics. It’s not about anything other than the best of everyone’s creative ideas and inspirations and preparation. All of it goes into the moments when the camera’s rolling and when that happens, there are no politics. There’s only art and those are the moments we all live for.
Are things changing in the script when you’re filming?
In television in general, that can be true. Things are evolving. On The Good Wife particularly, the scripts are very tight, so there wasn’t a lot of adjusting anything on the fly. There wasn’t really any need. If there was a situation, we would call the creator of the show and run it by him if there was something that came up but that was very few times.
What is the difference for you as a director between doing a feature-length film and doing a television show?
The difference largely is that I’m writing the features and directing them as well so that’s a world that I’m creating. It’s creatively one thousand percent fulfilling to make a movie and television is a thousand percent fulfilling in kind of a different way, because television is very fast. It’s very intense and you create something quickly, and I run on all my adrenaline and all my instincts and it’s done so fast and then it’s seen by millions of people very quickly. Sometimes within a few weeks. It airs and it’s seen by millions of people.
A movie is something that takes endurance. It takes perseverance. It takes creativity in the long term. It’s a journey. I’m not in movies for any kind of quick turnaround. It’s a completely different art form. At the end of the day, with a movie, it’s taken years. It’s taken so much perseverance and so much stick-to-it-iveness that once it’s realized, it’s even that much more magical.
On television shows, do you find a lot of interference from the networks?
One of the reasons that The Good Wife was so special for me was that we did a great prep with the producers and the writers and once we were shooting, I really had no interference at all, and that’s not the case everywhere. We’ll get a production draft and we’ll get a studio network draft that has their notes incorporated but, because I’m not writing it, it will affect me very little.
In terms of the cut, I turn in my director’s cut and then the producers do their cut and then they have a studio network cut. That is the one that will air. I don’t have final cut in television so as a director, that’s always going to be difficult for me. I’m a director that wants final cut in everything, but that’s a dream.
What has The Good Wife meant to you on a personal and professional level?
The Good Wife has become a family for me. Television for a director can be tricky because we are guest directors. Unless we’re a producer/director on a show, we’re guest directors and we go from place to place to place. So for me, The Good Wife has been a home. It’s been a place where I’ve grown creatively. I’ve got to work with actors. Not just the regular cast but the guest actors have been amazing. It has enriched my life on a personal level because I have gotten to get to know people professionally in a way that I haven’t had an opportunity to just from the amount of time we’ve spent together.
There’s a level of trust that I think it’s brought into my life. Trust of myself and trust in the process of directing and working in television that is unmatched. I couldn’t have gotten it anywhere else. I’ve gotten it because I got to work with extraordinary people that trusted me… like Julianna Margulies like Robert and Michelle King like [producer] Brooke Kennedy. I have so much respect for their talent and the fact that they have entrusted me with so many episodes, I can’t help but have grown my confidence and my trust in myself as a director and as a person.
Do you have a highlight of working on the show or episode you particularly loved?
I really loved the episode I did this year called Judged. I loved that one a lot because I felt like creatively I’m so connected to the character that Julianna plays. What is a good wife? What is a good girl?
As a female, sometimes we have in our heads, we want to be good. We want to be liked. We want to be the good girl. We want to make people happy. We want to take care of people. Then watching this character evolve and come into her own and then come out of her husband’s shadow and then make mistakes and then not try to be good.
I felt like Judged was an episode where she was really trying to come into her own as a confident woman who wasn’t connected to pleasing other people, and I just felt like it all culminated in different camera angles — shooting it a way I hadn’t shot before — in a scene where her character broke down and that control that she always tries to exhibit just cracked and fell away. It was a very moving scene for me to watch and to be a part of, and to watch Julianna’s work and have her character just be at that breaking point where she was just willing to let go. For me, I was really happy.
I felt like I could let go of the series after that because I feel like we had accomplished all of the range of human emotions we could and took it to a really great place.