5 questions with...

Audra McDonald Wants You to Keep Fighting the Good Fight

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Liz Fisher/CBS ©2021 Paramount+

For six years, The Good Fight has served as television’s guiding light through the absurdism of the American political climate, giving viewers a fresh, hopeful take on what it was like to live through Donald Trump’s presidency. Now entering its sixth and final season, Good Fight star Audra McDonald says its showrunners, Robert and Michelle King, “throw everything at the wall with extra abandon.” It’s an apt description for a show that previously dedicated an episode on obtaining Trump’s rumored golden shower sex tape, and another investigating the conspiracy surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s mysterious death.

McDonald, a six-time Tony Award winner and Broadway legend, plays Liz Reddick, a no-nonsense lawyer and foil to Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart. The two actors also appear together on the sumptuous HBO period drama The Gilded Age, which is currently filming its second season. In our conversation over Zoom, McDonald gushes when asked about her friendship with Baranski, calling it “the biggest gift” from working on a series together after admiring each other from afar. She also opened up about how playing Liz helped her process the political spectacle of the past few years, and where she plans to take her career next. (Hint: More Broadway performances are on the way.)

What is on your mind as the last season of The Good Fight airs and you bring this chapter of your acting career to a close?
I am glad we’re ending The Good Fight when it’s still a very strong show and has a lot to say. Sometimes you stay too long at the fair, and I think that’s definitely not what’s happening here. We’re riding out on a high. Robert and Michelle throw everything at the wall with extra abandon this season. They really explore what it’s like when everything feels like it’s spinning out of control.

The Good Fight has always been a very topical show that is critical of American politics. Did playing Liz Reddick help you process the past few tumultuous years?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t blame anybody for feeling this way, but there have been times when you want to just bury your head in the sand and not think about what’s going on. In our job, you couldn’t. Anything in the social-justice and political aspect of what was happening in the world, we were facing and exploring on a day-to-day basis with The Good Fight. You were forced to look at it, process it, then critically examine it. Not even just me, as Audra, reacting to what’s happening, but as Liz. In some ways, I was double processing everything.

Do you feel the series brings Liz to a conclusive, satisfying place by the end of this final season?
I do. It’s not necessarily something that people who watch the show and who know my character well would have expected, but I find it very satisfying for Liz. I think she comes into her own with the way her character rides out into the sunset.

What has it been like working so closely with Christine Baranski on two projects at the same time?
I had known Christine for years, but we had never worked together. We knew each other because we were both in the business and admired each other’s work. This show, of course, changed all of that. She’s a confidante; she’s my pal; she’s an incredible acting partner, so it’s been an absolute joy. That’s the biggest gift this show has given me, my relationship with Christine. I’m very grateful for that.

Can we expect any more singing from you onscreen, perhaps a duet with Denée Benton on The Gilded Age?
That would be amazing. Talk to Sir Julian. It has to fit with what’s going on with the characters, obviously. But there’s certainly a lot of singers sitting around on these sets, so … if you give us an inch, we’ll take a mile I imagine.

What’s the most challenging part about being in a period piece like The Gilded Age as opposed to The Good Fight? I imagine Good Fight costumes might be a bit more comfortable …
Oh my gosh, the corsets are killer. A lot of The Gilded Age stuff is shot in Albany because of the 1880s architecture. We filmed in July, August, so … imagine? The heat, the corsets, being outside, running from bees.

Both of my characters — Liz and Dorothy Scott — are women, but they have different challenges regarding how they go about moving in the world. Dorothy is much more restricted by the way she can shape her destiny. She doesn’t have the right to vote; women had to be subservient to their husbands; she’s a Black woman in the 1880s. Even if they’re in New York, there’s still a lot of racism and discrimination to deal with. That takes fortitude, brilliance, and strength.

Is there anything in particular you’ll miss about Liz as a character?
Liz says what’s on her mind; she’s pretty bold. She’s bolder than Audra, I think. She’s made Audra a little bolder, let’s put it that way. Five years of having to portray Liz’s strength and passion has perhaps bled in a little bit to who I am — which I appreciate and love.

What are you envisioning for the next few years of your career?
Oh, I don’t envision anymore. [Laughs]. I’ve got a Broadway show I’m doing this fall. I’m very excited about that. The next couple of years, we’ll see what comes. In this era of every single moment of every single day being a plot twist for all of us, I’m just on the journey with everyone else, and as long as my family is happy and healthy, that’s the biggest wish I have right now. Everything else, I’ll take it as it comes.

Would you ever take on a musical television series?
Oh of course I would, yes, absolutely! If the right thing came along, I would be very interested in that. I still concertize quite a bit, and that helps with the singing bug. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got a race car in the garage and I’m not getting a chance to drive it as much as I’d like. Concertizing helps me get out that bug of being able to go out and make a lot of noise and sing really loud for 2,000 people for a night. So if the two could be combined? That would be amazing.

What else are you reading or watching for pleasure these days?
Because I’ve been doing so much driving back-and-forth to Albany to film The Gilded Age this summer, I’ve been re-listening to all of Toni Morrison’s books on tape, read by Toni Morrison. That has been giving me life. There’s something about listening to an author read their own words that gives you an even deeper understanding of the story and the characters than if you were just reading it yourself or listening to another performer interpreting it. All of her books, which are already so revelatory, are illuminated in a new way.

What do you hope that viewers and fans of The Good Fight take away from this final season?
I hope they take away the idea that we all need to continually stay engaged in the good fight, whatever you think that to be. To stay aware of what is happening in your world around you. And also the preciousness of every moment, that we’re not guaranteed anything past the moment we just had. So revel in that, appreciate and acknowledge that, and be grateful that we’re not promised tomorrow.

Audra McDonald Wants You to Keep Fighting the ‘Good Fight’