Christine Baranski, 57, has had a long and successful acting career on the stage (including The Real Thing, Nick and Nora, Sweeny Todd, and Mame) and on TV (Cybil, Frasier, and The Ghost Whisperer) as well as in a number of movies (including 9 ½ Weeks, Chicago, and Mamma Mia!). Recently she talked to WebMD the Magazine about her acting, her family, and her approach to healthy living.
You're busy: You're calling us from the set of your most recent show, The Good Wife, on CBS and you're also reprising your comedic role on the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. In March, you'll hit the big screen as Jennifer Aniston's mother in The Bounty. How do you stay in such good shape with so much set food around?
Actually, they serve healthy food on the set. For instance, I just had salmon with olive tapenade, summer squash, and some scalloped potatoes. We're also a green set. We don't have plastic bottles, and we try to get most of our script material online.
Are you trying to go green in your personal life as well?
Absolutely. We live in the country [in Connecticut] where we have a well. Once your well goes dry, you become terribly aware that water is a precious resource. We do many simple things to conserve it, like not staying in the shower too long and turning the tap off when brushing our teeth. We use products that are eco-friendly, and I'm always going to the dump to recycle. And I don't drive an SUV. I love Subarus and I'm waiting for them to come out with a hybrid because that's my next move.
You have two daughters. How did you instill lessons of healthy living in them?
One of the reasons we raised them in the country was so they would grow up living in their senses, with a healthy feeling for nature. They rode horses and we had a lot of pets, which is an excellent way of instilling a respect for other living beings that are not human. We had a garden and we always bought produce and dairy products at the local farms. I'm very proud of both of them. They have a very healthy respect for the natural world. One of my daughters has a blog called Bread and Courage, which is about food, community, and the environment.
Did you do a lot of healthy cooking while the girls were growing up?
I did as much as I could as a working actress. One thing that I did do was require the children to eat at the table as a family. And there was no television or other distractions. That communal cooking and eating really instills a sense of family. It's still very precious to us as a family. We love getting together to cook in the kitchen and sit around the table and eat and talk.
Speaking of family, The Good Wife is about a woman who has to rebuild her life following her husband's very public scandals. In contrast, you've been married to your husband, actor Matthew Cowles, for 26 years. How have you made it work?
Well, first of all I'm married to a wonderful man. He was very serious about marriage. And when he took me off on his motorcycle, I got this sense of destiny that this was the guy. Then we created these beautiful children, and once you've introduced children to the world, the commitment just rises exponentially. Both Matthew and I grew up without fathers around, and we suffered because of it. Marriages are always challenging, but we wanted to get through no matter what. We wanted our children to have the wholeness that comes with two parents in the household. I really love my husband for putting up with me, and he loves me for putting up with him.
You've done Broadway, television, movies. Do you find it hard to move among all of them?
No, I find it refreshing. I haven't done too many heavy, dramatic roles, so it's a great thing for me to be learning something new. I think women like to see well-educated, dignified, grown-up women portrayed on television, which is why I think The Good Wife is such a huge contribution to the medium. There are millions of women out there now who are running Ivy League institutions; we have a brilliant first lady and a brilliant secretary of state (who also ran for president). We need to have television shows that reflect the complexity of their lives and not just present them as stereotypes.
Do you make New Year's resolutions?
This year I'm going to commit myself further with women's issues: women's education and maybe the issue of sex trafficking. I took my daughter to India with the Catholic Relief Services and we visited places where women were being rehabilitated after having been sold into sex slavery or sold into marriage at an early age. We would solve so many of the world's problems if we would just properly educate women, who would then teach their sons how to behave properly. It would be so good for the planet for women to be empowered, and honestly, women are still just suffering terrible, enormous injustice.
You're doing drama now, but you're brilliant in comedy. Did your comic timing always come naturally?
I think it did. My forte as a performer is my sense of rhythm. I also grew up watching all those great shows like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show and I think I learned by osmosis.
You've danced in movies as well. Do you have any formal training?
Yes, when I was little girl I studied ballet for many years, and then I started doing a bit of jazz and tap, and later I did modern dance. I've just recently gone back to doing ballroom dancing, which I love.
Speaking of exercise, how do you manage to get it in when you're working so many long hours?
Well, when you're working long-hour days, you don't exercise, but I often have light episodes or days off. When I do, I either take a Pilates class or I do yoga. I also absolutely love to power walk in the countryside where I live.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
I love chocolate ice cream cones. They make me feel like a little girl. We have a great ice cream place in Connecticut, and when I was pregnant with my second child, I would literally go every single night, and my husband had to drive me.
I see why you've stayed married to him!
And he still loved me.