Julianna Marguiles: Smart Move
There are movie stars and there are TV stars. Every now and then, an actor will cross over from one medium to the other, but more often than not TV stars struggle with the transition from the small screen to the big one. In the late 90’s Julianna Margulies was part of the ensemble cast on the highest-rated drama on television. She was also the only member of the cast to have won an Emmy. As expected, movie offers came her way, but Margulies knew not to jeopardize her day job by lunging at the brass ring. It’s a strategy that paid off in the form of the lead role in another highly successful TV drama, The Good Wife. In this profile from the April 1997 issue of Movieline magazine, Margulies talks about balancing her commitment to ER with movie roles, what she thinks of former costar Steven Seagal and which celebs made her earn her tips as a waitress.
Julianna Margulies, who plays Nurse Hathaway on TV’s highest-rated drama series, ER, is one of the most-wanted new stars on the Hollywood block, but she’s asking me for a ride around town–her clunker ’91 Saab is in the shop. To make up for it, she offers me the free beverage that she’s earned from her 12-coffee punch card at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Wait a minute. Coffee coupons? A junker car? Is this any way for an of-the-moment star to live it up? “You have to do it slowly and smartly,” Margulies says, raising her decaf nonfat mocha for a toast. “I’m not going to burn out now and dry up by the time I’m 30. I want a long career.”
DENNIS HENSLEY: One of your first films was Out for Justice with Steven Seagal. Did you two swap hair accessories?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: We didn’t swap much at all. I just did my job and left. His trailer is around the corner from mine on the Warner Bros. lot and I was walking by recently and he said, “Margulies, come over here and show me some respect.” He’s not someone I keep in touch with.
Q: Have you had to turn down roles because you’re busy with ER?
A: I was offered this John Woo film called Face/Off and I really wanted to work with Nic Cage and John Travolta, but the producers of ER said I wouldn’t get a story line if I did it. The part wasn’t important enough in Face/Off, so I said, “Thank you, I can’t.”
Q: Isn’t that frustrating?
A: Yeah, but I have to keep reminding myself, “You wouldn’t be getting these offers without ER.”
Q: Well, you’ve squeezed in Bruce Beresford’s Paradise Road with Glenn Close and Frances McDormand. What’s it about?
A: It’s based on a true story about the women who were leaving Singapore when the Japanese invaded and were taken to prison camps. I play an American socialite.
Q: Do you get to wear fabulous clothes?
A: Well, she’s in her evening gown throughout a lot of the film because that’s what she’s captured in.
Q: She’s Ginger, basically.
A: Exactly. So I literally took off my peach scrubs at ER and flew to Malaysia, and guess what color the gown is.
Q: I don’t know, peach?
Q: Did you have any stunts?
A: In one scene I have to jump off a boat 15 feet above the water. I’m afraid of heights and they said, “Does anyone want a body double?” I called my boyfriend [Ron Eldard of ER, plus Sleepers and Bastard Out of Carolina] and he said,“If Glenn Close is doing it, you have to do it.”
I did it.
Q: What’s it like working with George Clooney on ER?
A: It sounds kind of corny, but I feel like I have a big brother watching out for me. I go to him for advice. He’s also one of the smartest businessmen I know. He knows that all this goes away in a snap.
Q: Quentin Tarantino directed an episode of ER last year. What’s your take on him?
A: Either Anthony [Edwards] or George said Quentin’s “like Barney on speed,” because he’s like a kid and he always wants to play. Then suddenly you realize he’s amazingly talented.
Q: Did you get teased for being the only actor on the show to win an Emmy?
A: A little bit. I’d walk on the set and George would say, “Oh, she’s strapped her Emmy to the hood of her car,” and everyone would laugh. But the night I won, I really felt like Cinderella.
Q: Tell me about your film Traveller.
A: Bill Paxton plays a con artist and I’ the country girl who’s run away from he husband. We fall in love, but then he does this one big [con] job and that’s when the shit hits the fan.
Q: Have you been following how the Friends are doing in their transition from TV to movies?
A: I worry for them. I think you really have to be careful, you know, starring in your own movie and then suddenly becoming a vehicle that Hollywood uses to make money. It’s just a different path than the path I’m trying to take. For me, it’s who I want to work with. I’m doing Price Below Rubies with Boaz Yakin because I thought his film Fresh was fantastic. I’d rather be working for scale–because I can, I have a day job–than trying to cash in and then have someone say, “You failed!” Well, fuck you, I’ve never done this before. Maybe I’m just slower than other people, but it’s how I’ve been my whole life.
Q: You waitressed in New York before breaking into acting. Which famous person most impressed you?
A: Joel Schumacher. After Flatliners he came in with Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Barry Diller, who were all prima donnas. Schumacher came back and gave me $150 because I handled them beautifully.
Q: What kind of role would you love to play?
A: A drinkin’, smokin’, raspy talkin’ dame. I’m also dying to do an 18th-century love story. I grew up in England and worked hard on my American accent. I tested for this film last year that Helena Bonham Carter got, but I tell you, during the two hours I spent in that corset with my little English accent I had the best time of my life.
Q: Have your exotic looks ever worked against you?
A: I was told by both an agent and a casting director that I’d never work in television. They said, “People don’t know what to do with you. What are you?” I said, “I’m an American.”
Q: Wouldn’t you love to run into them now?
A: I’m sure I don’t need to.
Dennis Hensley interviewed Jada Pinkett for the December issue of Movieline.