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‘The Good Wife’: Matt Czuchry previews Cary’s biggest episode in ’emotionally taxing’ season

Cary (Matt Czuchry) in “The Trial,” the midseason finale of “The Good Wife.” (Jeff Neumann/CBS)
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Cary Agos has had quite a year.

The approximately 11 million people who tune in every week to watch “The Good Wife”  — the gripping CBS drama that’s also possibly the best show on television — know this very well. After all, it’s been a long road for the character. He started as the nemesis of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) but worked his way up to friend and business partner, as the two pulled off a thrilling coup last season and started their own law firm.

Now, Season Six has really put Cary (played by Matt Czuchry) in the spotlight, as he was arrested for conspiracy to transport $1.3 million worth of heroin. Given that he was only charged so the state’s attorney could try to take down Cary’s client, notorious Chicago drug dealer Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), Cary is essentially the scapegoat. Pawn or not, it’s been a rough — though incredibly exciting — run of episodes as Cary awaits trial and potentially 15 years in prison.

We talked to Czuchry, 37, about the unique challenge of anchoring such a tough storyline; his character’s tortured relationship with investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi); and what to expect from this Sunday’s midseason finale, which will feature Cary’s long-awaited trial and the biggest decision of his life.

[This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and length.]

Just want to say congratulations on making People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive list yesterday — pretty exciting!

(Somewhat embarrassed laughter) Thank you so much. I really appreciate that, thank you very much. I think my mom’s probably most excited about that, so I’m happy I made the list.

So, this season has been insane. Where does it rank for you compared to what it’s been like over the past five seasons?

Yeah, every season has been very different. From the outside perspective, it may look like, okay, here’s “The Good Wife” as a whole. But certainly for me, personally and professionally, every season has been very different. This has been the most emotionally taxing season for me. Living in that head space for 10, 11, 12, 13 episodes has been incredibly emotionally taxing.

What was your reaction when you first heard this season would be so Cary-centric?

I got that script for the first episode with Cary going to jail, and it was just immediately trying to find the reality and the believability in the situation, and trying to research that, and diving full-head into it. One thing that is different about this season is it is serialized, moreso in that we follow one case over multiple episodes; in Seasons One through Five, we used to follow one case per episode.

So I knew that there was going to be an overarching kind of theme that [show creators] Robert and Michelle King had told me about, and that was “The Education of Cary Agos.” So I had a general sense. But when I read that first episode and he was going to jail, I knew I was going to be in for quite a ride.

It feels like the show just had this huge game changer last season with Cary and Alicia starting this new firm — and now there’s yet another game changer. Does it feel like a lot to you, or are you just not surprised by anything anymore?

I guess I would just say that I felt the same, in that each of these moments have been heightened moments and then game changers. Like at the end of Season Four, when Cary goes to Alicia and Alicia says “I’m in” at the door [to start a new law firm]. Or splitting the firms in “Hitting the Fan” in Season Five. Will Gardner’s death. Or even going back to Season One, an episode called “Hi,” that’s the one that Archie won the Emmy for.

The show is known as pushing these storylines and changing these characters and making them grow. So it really feels like each time that happens, there’s movement forward with these characters; and as an actor, that’s really exciting. And certainly, specifically for me with this storyline this season.

Cary’s been so sad all season, I imagine that takes a toll to be so miserable in every scene as all the craziness is unfolding.

It is. And as an actor, trying to make that believable so the audience is invested in these characters and believing that these stories are actually happening, it’s an incredible challenge and incredibly rewarding. But certainly this particular storyline, when it goes away, I’ll have a huge weight that’s lifted off my shoulders. Because you do have to carry around that emotional weight as an actor in your daily life as you are working through it so much on set.

It’s interesting to me that Cary is so territorial over Kalinda in these last few episodes when it’s always seemed pretty clear she’s never going to be faithful to one person. What do you think of that whole relationship this season?

I think that’s a product of just where Cary is mentally, and again, the emotionally taxing aspect that he’s been going through. He’s been dealing with an incredible amount of trauma: Being thrown in jail; having bail restrictions; only being able to be 30, 40, 50 feet away from Kalinda. He’s lost clients over this period of time. Bishop threatened his life in the last episode. So I don’t think he’s thinking clearly in terms of his relationship with Kalinda at this point.

You’re right, they have always had an open relationship and he understood those parameters. But when you go through big, traumatic events where, literally, he’s trying to figure out his life and what his path is — whether he’s going to jail for 15 years, or flip on Bishop, or take a plea. He’s not mentally thinking in the right place about any of these decisions and that also includes Kalinda.

Is it different on set these days knowing that Archie Panjabi is leaving the show after this season?

It probably was for the first couple days at work for me, but then you get refocused on the material. We’ve had some great stuff together: The stuff that you’ve got to see already and what’s upcoming as well. So that material is really, really exciting. I think probably for the first couple days it was a bit of a shock, but now we’re focused on the work again, which is what we’ve both enjoyed for the past six seasons. And those two characters, their relationship has really ebbed and flowed. We’ve had a lot of work together, so it’s been great working with her. Now it kind of feels like, okay, we know there’s a limited time with Archie — and with Kalinda the character — so now you can appreciate it that much more.

This week’s episode is very ominously called “The Trial.” What can we expect besides, obviously, the trial?

It is the midseason finale, it is the climax of this serialized aspect of the show that’s been different this season, so everything has been building to this trial. You’re going to see Bishop pull out a few tricks with Cary and Kalinda. It’s certainly at a volatile point right now for Bishop as well, because he doesn’t know what Kalinda’s going to do. He doesn’t know what Cary’s going to do. His life is in jeopardy as well, so we’re going to see those relationships and how they’re all intertwined.

And Cary — it’s not an exaggeration to say he has the biggest decisions of his life to make in this episode. Whether he will go away for 15 years, whether he accepts the plea, whether he flips on Bishop. All those things are coming to a head with the trial. He’s in a mentally fragile place and he’s been strong and he’s going to maintain that strength, but there is a measure of him that breaks in this episode.

Well, I’m bracing for a crazy cliffhanger. And what’s it like acting opposite Mike Colter (as Lemond Bishop) so much this season? Those scenes are incredibly stressful for me to watch, so I can only imagine what it’s like to film.

(Laughs) Thank you, thank you very much. Yeah, he’s been on the show since Season One, and “The Good Wife” writers have done a great job building different worlds with the guest stars we have. Michael J. Fox, Mike Colter, David Hyde Pierce — these worlds that have kind of been going back and forth. Throughout the whole existence of the show, you have Mike Colter and that Bishop character.

This season, it’s obviously ratcheted up a different level, like when Cary goes to Bishop in his kitchen and says “I am not a threat to you.” He’s also saying, “Look, I’ve represented you for a long time, you had somebody cut my hand [in prison during the season premiere] to test my loyalty…and  I didn’t flip.” So there’s a lot history between those two characters and there’s a lot of history between Mike and I, which I think makes those scenes extra special for the audience to watch.

So, what do people recognize you more these days from — from “The Good Wife” or “Gilmore Girls”? It’s been in the news lately.

(Laughs) It is more for “The Good Wife.” But for “Gilmore Girls,” there’s kind of been a little bit of a resurgence because it’s on Netflix now. At the same time, it’s also been on ABC Family, so it’s been consistent where people have recognized me for that. But now, it certainly is “The Good Wife” more than “Gilmore Girls.”