A six-time Tony Award winner (including a win in every applicable acting category), Audra McDonald is an unstoppable force on Broadway. But the actress and singer is no stranger to TV, with four seasons on Private Practice and Emmy-nominated roles in adaptations of A Raisin in the Sun and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill under her belt. Now, she’s back onscreen with her first series regular role -- Liz Reddick on The Good Fight -- in seven years since playing Dr. Naomi Bennett on Shonda Rhimes’ medical drama.
The commitment was an easy sell to the New York-based actress and mother of two, because Robert and Michelle King’s Good Wife spinoff tapes in Brooklyn. “I get to sleep in my own bed,” McDonald quips, revealing that traveling to and from Los Angeles during her time on Private Practice became taxing. But she also points to what many of the actors and recurring players often cite when asked about appearing on this show: “I think the Kings are incredible writers. [With] the caliber of work they do, it just seemed like a no-brainer.”
Reprising a guest-starring role she played on a 2013 episode of The Good Wife, McDonald was brought on board for season two of the CBS All Access series. “It was like, omigosh!” McDonald recalls of reading the script that years later finally revealed her character’s backstory and swiftly folded her into the drama at the Chicago-based law firm Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart, where Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Liz’s ex-husband, Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo), both work. “I was fascinated by how she would do in those circumstances and where her new life takes her.”
No sooner than she’s brought in, Liz is navigating both interoffice politics -- finding herself at odds with Diane -- and finding her footing in the legal world, going from being a U.S. Attorney to a defense lawyer. “Liz is a very powerful woman and Diane Lockhart is very powerful, so to put those two women in a small space with each other and see how they navigate and negotiate each other is fascinating,” McDonald says of the two women’s dynamic. But Liz, like everyone on the show, lives in the gray. “It’s not black or white. It’s not good or evil. They’re messy people. I very much enjoy that Liz has got a lot of fight to her. It makes her more fun to play.”
This season, meanwhile, centers on the alarming murder rate of Chicago lawyers who are targeted by disgruntled clients. Each episode also has a political theme tied to the national news cycle, from golden showers to fake news. “It’s like [Robert and Michelle King] have a crystal ball or something -- they are just on top of it,” McDonald says, amazed by their ability to match the show with current events. “This is the world these characters are living in, so you can’t ignore what’s going on. The Kings understand that. Instead of avoiding it and making some alternate universe that doesn’t exist, they’ve headlonged into it -- which makes it all the more exciting and realistic, because people who are watching can identify.”
For McDonald, the episode surrounding a hypothetical presidential impeachment was, in a way, cleansing. The Democratic National Committee asks each of the partners at Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart to come up with a pitch on how to remove President Donald Trump from office. “I felt the episode was very cathartic to have those moments saying why Liz would go for it,” the actress says.
In a standout scene, each lawyer shares their pitch, with Liz staying silent at first, until she shares her stance with a powerful, jaw-dropping pronouncement about how she would bring him down with accusations of rape and a threesome with adult film stars:
“It’s not about choosing one charge or another for impeachment -- it’s about everything,” Liz firmly states to the room. “It’s about who he is. It’s about what the presidency is. Charging him with obstruction; that’s going by the old rules. This isn’t about truth anymore and it’s not about lying. It’s about who’s backtracking and who is attacking.”
“I liked how they were showing it’s a messy idea and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right idea or the right way to do it,” McDonald says of how the plot played out, adding that the Kings do have a contingency plan in case a major political shakeup becomes reality.
As for what’s to come, McDonald is keeping tight-lipped about season three, outside of teasing that the relationship between Diane and Liz will be central to the story. “We’ll continue to see how they negotiate having to live in the same space together, and I think that’s an interesting journey,” she says.
But when asked what kind of story McDonald would like to see The Good Fight explore, it’s decidedly much different than what audiences have seen the show do so far. A musical episode, she jokes, since many of the show’s stars (Baranski, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha) and recurring guest stars (Andrea Martin, Bernadette Peters, Carrie Preston) have theater backgrounds. “[The Kings] pull a lot of guest actors from the theater world, and I feel like every week, when we walk into a new episode, there is a whole pack of actors I’ve worked with before. It feels like a big repertory company.”
It’s also not uncommon to hear co-stars practicing in their dressing rooms. “When Christine was getting ready to go off and do Mamma Mia  for the summer, she was rehearsing her music for that. Sarah Steele recently did a musical workshop on something so you could hear her practicing in her dressing room. You hear the music in there all the time,” McDonald says. She and Baranski sometimes even break out into songs from Stephen Sondheim here and there. “You just have to. You can’t help it.”