TV

Mary Beth Peil loves that fans love to hate her on 'The Good Wife'

Nov. 29, 2013 at 1:16 PM ET

Mary Beth Peil plays the formidable Jackie Florrick on "The Good Wife."
DAVID M. RUSSELL / CBS
Jackie Florrick (Mary Beth Peil) is a force to be reckoned with on "The Good Wife."

Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) may be “The Good Wife” but her mother-in-law, Jackie Florrick, is the formidable one.

As played by Tony-nominated actress Mary Beth Peil, Jackie Florrick is a meddlesome naughty pistol, the kind of mother and grandmother you can always count on — even when you don’t want her around. Whether she’s sneaking behind Alicia’s back to see her grandkids, or trying to school her daughter-in-law on keeping her husband happy, or in a delicious showdown with a woman who had an affair with her husband, Jackie could drive anyone bonkers. Which makes her a delight to watch.

“She just has her own way of doing things,” Peil told TODAY with a laugh. “It’s so interesting, people’s reactions because, in order to make her believable to myself and to the stories, I can justify every single thing she says and she does as being totally for the best reasons possible. It amuses me, and I find it so fun when people say, ‘Oh, she’s so hateful. She’s so devious. She’s so mean.’ I love it.”

In last week’s episode, viewers saw Jackie doing what she does best — taking down her late husband’s former mistress (Mary Stuart Masterson), who had clerked for "The Judge" years earlier. The woman was about to become appointed state Supreme Court justice by Jackie’s son, governor Peter Florick (Chris Noth), and Jackie wasn’t having it. In Sunday’s episode — the series’ 100th — Jackie faces off with Alicia’s mother, Veronica, (Stockard Channing) at a Christmas bash. 

Q. The Judge was a very bad boy.
A. The son does not fall far from the tree. Early on in the series, I asked the writers, what would you think if I referred always to my husband as ‘The Judge?’ We never have a name or anything more personal than 'The Judge' to indicate how powerful he was and how much it was Jackie’s job that everybody understood how powerful he was. I love the fact that they understood why I wanted to do it.

She judges Alicia but now we see how hard she’s worked to keep everything together in her family.
That’s part of the reason she had such a hard time with Alicia from the get-go, because in her time, in her life, in that world before things changed, if your husband was a powerful man and he was the breadwinner, you were the one that kept the family together and kept everything running smoothly so that he could be the one out front, the one with the power. I think Jackie was a very powerful person who sat on her own power. In the time she lived in, she couldn’t have done what Alicia did.

But as a woman, you can understand her not standing for her son appointing her husband’s lover.
Now that she’s older, she’s finally able to stand up for herself. There was something I observed with my own parents, and I’m starting to feel it myself -- when you get to a certain stage in your own life, if you experience a near-death and you’re in that vulnerable place where you’re aware of the fact that your life might end at any minute, you become less afraid to speak the truth. I don’t think Jackie’s stroke was life-threatening but I think she thinks it was. She still lives in a world of manners and how things look but I love the fact that they wrote that scene with the former clerk because it shows she’s able to finally speak up. And not just on behalf of the grandchildren and on behalf of her son, but on behalf of herself, which I don’t think she’s done very much in her life. There’s a woman in the yoga class ahead of me who a couple of times has stopped and said how much she likes the show and she likes Jackie. Today, she came out of the class and said, ‘Thank you so much, watching the show Sunday night gave me such a feeling of my own power.’ Now, this is a woman who’s probably in her 60s. And she got that from the episode because of the way they wrote it. It was so exciting! I’ve never heard anyone react to Jackie that way.

"The Decision Tree" airs Sunday.

Who is a better mom  Jackie or Veronica?
Oh my God, that is a really funny question actually. For myself as a mom, I think I’m probably a little bit of both. But I think they’re both pretty bad! No, I have to vote for Jackie. I like the things that Veronica says, the things she thinks about, the realities of life and everything. She talks a good line, but she doesn’t necessarily set a good example of it.

Do you see the series getting to a point where Alicia and Jackie have more understanding between them?
Yes, I do. I feel that at some point, maybe the last episode, because family is so important to both of them and the children are so important to both of them, and Peter is too. I hope there will come a time when they will either need each other again, or if that doesn’t happen, they can see each other’s choices and understand them. You know, she kicked me out of the house and I literally have only seen her a couple of times since. I’ve laid low.


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