‘Good Wife’ actress Sarah Steele speaks her mind in Jerusalem

UNLIKE HER character, Steele had never been to Israel before. While she’s been enjoying herself, she was not prepared for “how young those soldiers are.”

By
August 2, 2019 07:24
SARAH STEELE: More people stop me on the street here [in Israel] than in America

SARAH STEELE: More people stop me on the street here [in Israel] than in America. (photo credit: MATAN KOCHMEISTER)

Sarah Steele is not an IDF veteran, but she plays one – very convincingly – on TV.

Fans of the wildly popular CBS series The Good Wife and The Good Fight know Steele as Marissa Gold, the wisecracking, sometimes outrageous daughter of the cunning political strategist, Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), who comes into her own as an investigator for a law firm.

Steele who, ironically, is not Jewish, came to the Jerusalem Film Festival to give a master class as part of a day of pitching events run by the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund and the Jerusalem Development Authority.

In an interview, Steele, who is so low-key and relaxed she could have passed for a film student spending a day at the festival rather than one of the guests of honor, tried to play down the unexpected stardom that has come with her part on the two Good shows.

“I was working in theater and kind of stumbled into this,” she said.

Told how popular the shows are in Israel, Steele laughed. “More people stop me on the street here than in America,” she said, explaining that she had spent a week traveling around Israel prior to the festival, including visiting some non-touristy spots like Kfar Saba.

“I had no idea how big this would become. Marissa Gold was supposed to be a two-episode arc. I was going to Columbia [University] and I wasn’t looking for anything long-term. I did the episodes over Christmas break.”

But Steele, who embodies the adage that there are no small parts only small actors, was invited back to the show for the sixth season, where Marissa becomes a so-called “bodywoman” to the show’s heroine Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), the political wife who recovers from her husband’s sexual scandal when Alicia is running for state’s attorney.

When Steele got the call from the series creators Robert and Michelle King (who are currently working on a US remake of the Israeli series, Your Honor) in 2014, “They talked to me about a new concept for Marissa, to bring her back with a little more meat to her role.”

She was delighted and returned to make Marissa a key presence in the final two seasons of The Good Wife.

Steele played Marissa as such a refreshing contrast to the always-composed Alicia that the character became a fan favorite in the two final seasons of the show. Marissa is loud, unguarded, fearless and honest to a fault, and has inherited her father’s ability to see 10 moves ahead of everyone else. Marissa’s several-season absence was explained by the fact that she had been in Israel serving in the IDF, and she spoke about her army experiences including carrying a weapon, eating a lot of falafel and guarding the Egyptian border.

UNLIKE HER character, Steele had never been to Israel before. While she’s been enjoying herself, she was not prepared for “how young those soldiers are.”

At the same time she became a regular on The Good Wife, her stage career took off and she appeared in the off-Broadway and Broadway versions of The Country House by Donald Margulies, playing Blythe Danner’s granddaughter. Following this, she was cast in another show, The Humans, also both on and off Broadway.

“At one point, Alan [Cumming] and I were both juggling The Good Wife and appearing in theater and we would share a cab from the studio to our shows,” she said.

For fans who are wondering whether the Scottish Cummings, who made Eli so memorable and funny, stays in character on set – he doesn’t. “As soon as they say, ‘Cut!’ the Scottish brogue comes out.”

When the Kings decided to spin off The Good Wife into the more politically charged series The Good Fight, which opens in the Trump era, Steele happy to be one of the characters to make the move to the new show along with Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo and others.

For the first time, “Television, not theater, became my main gig.”

She is enthusiastic about the process of collaborating with the Kings.

“The fun thing about working with them is that they cast someone, they watch what they’re doing, they see their personality and strengths, and then they expand on them. Marissa was one thing when I started and she’s very different now, as they got to know me and wrote for me.”

Now that she is a regular and not a “guest star,” as she was billed on The Good Wife, she gets to “go to the writers’ room at the beginning of each season and share my ideas for the character. Sometimes they take them and sometimes they don’t.”

In The Good Fight, Marissa finds her bliss working as an investigator for a mostly minority-run law firm.

Asked what would rattle her character, she thought for a minute. “She’s so unflappable... having to keep her mouth shut. That would rattle her,” she said and referenced one of Marissa’s story lines, where she is tasked with looking into the claims of women who say they were sexually harassed by the firm’s late founder, a venerated African-American lawyer.

Eventually, Marissa is told she can’t reveal her findings and can’t interview the women. “This is torture for her, knowing something and not being able to speak out about it.”

The #MeToo movement is just one of the hot-button topics The Good Fight has explored and it’s something Steele has thought a great deal about as a young woman in the entertainment industry. The daughter of two doctors who grew up in Philadelphia, Steele wasn’t brought up in a show business family, but felt driven to act from a young age and was cast as Adam Sandler’s daughter in James L. Brooks’ Spanglish when she was a teenager. Although she doesn’t generally talk about personal experiences, she said, “I think that one of the best things that’s come out of this is that there’s more of an effort to hear women’s voices and represent real women, not just a male fantasy of what women should be.”

Marissa would have put it more bluntly, but the sentiment is pretty much the same.


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