WATCH! TURNS THE TABLES AND INVESTIGATES THE GOOD WIFE’S MOST PRIVATE OF INVESTIGATORS, EMMY WINNER ARCHIE PANJABI
Photos by Jeff Lipsky
Styling by Angelique O’Neil
Photographed at The Peninsula Chicago
What exactly did we just order?”Archie Panjabi asks with a bemused laugh. The actress is sitting at a coveted corner table in Avenues, the elegant eatery tucked inside The Peninsula Chicago, preparing herself for what will be a dinner she won’t soon forget. The four-star restaurant is renowned for its adventurous cuisine and cutting-edge techniques, and an intrigued Panjabi, a first-time visitor to the Windy City, has asked to hold on to her menu for the duration of the evening to read up on each of the eight tasting courses along the way.
“Wow,” she says as the first dish—a citrus-poached confection of Alaskan king crab, golden brook trout and cucumber— arrives displayed in what looks like a shot glass. She pauses for a moment to appreciate its delicate artistry before taking a bite. “OK, here we go!” That combination of careful attention to detail and soulful abandon permeates every frame of Panjabi’s perfectly calibrated performance on CBS’ critically acclaimed drama The Good Wife. As feisty private investigator Kalinda Sharma, Panjabi is sexy, smart and every bit as enigmatic as any dish she’ll sample on this night. A fan favorite since the show’s premiere, she’s also a respected Hollywood A-lister—and she has the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress back home in her New York apartment to prove it. “One of the things I love about Kalinda is that she’s an extremely complex creature,” Panjabi says, “which is how people really are in life.”
The actress—soft-spoken but opinionated and robust in spirit—is no exception. Inspired by the fearless private eye she plays, Watch! launched its own investigation into TV’s most alluring scene-stealer. The contents of The Panjabi Dossier will surprise you.
She’s got a work ethic that even the tenacious Kalinda would appreciate. The Good Wife co-creators and executive producers Robert and Michelle King “gave birth to the character,” Panjabi says, “but I’ve tried to nurture her.” And how: As soon as she landed the role, the actress began working with the show’s styling team to create a signature look for Kalinda, who prefers to keep everything from her background to her bisexuality private. It was Panjabi’s idea that the character wear her now-trademark stiletto boots (“They gave me a certain walk that felt right for her”) and thatshe wear her hair up. “It sort of symbolizes the things she holds back,”Panjabi explains. “Putting my hair down feels like it would be revealing too much.”
The London-born Panjabi also enlisted dialect coach Leigh Dillon to help her nail Kalinda’s unique accent, a combination of British and American that reflects the character’s hard-to-pinpoint origins. “There’s not a complacent bone in her body,” reports Dillon, who still works with Panjabi for several hours each week. “She’s always driving to go deeper, to find more layers. She’ll dig until she finds a place from within that feels truthful.”
Panjabi’s so committed to her gig that it’s been known to keep her up at night. “One time I woke up at 3 in the morning thinking, ‘Why can’t I drink something in that scene? What would I drink? I’d drink milk because milk is unexpected,’ ” she says with a laugh.
The producers took her up on the suggestion; it’s clear they value her input. “She loves talking about the nitty-gritty of acting,” says Robert King. “How do you find this performance? Who is this character at this moment? What is she thinking? Archie brings feature-like actorly attention to a TV schedule. It’s amazing.”
Such focus may be, in part, Panjabi’s way of repaying the executives who made it possible to occupy such a plum role. “I am very grateful to [CBS Corporation President and CEO] Les Moonves and [Entertainment President] Nina Tassler for giving me the opportunity to play Kalinda Sharma,” the actress says. And she’s not about to slack off on the case just because she walked away with the Emmy last August. “I don’t think I ever come home saying, ‘Oh my God, that was such a great take,’ ” Panjabi says. “And actually, in a weird way, that’s a really good feeling. It keeps me on my feet.”
She was born to act. Long before Panjabi co-starred with Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham and Russell Crowe in A Good Year—a film directed by Ridley Scott, an executive producer on The Good Wife—her mother sensed that her youngest child was extraordinary. “She was going to call me one name but when I was born, she decided to change it to Archana”—Panjabi’s full first name, and a Hindi word meaning “worship.” “She felt there was just something about me,” Panjabi says. “From the moment I [arrived], she was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what’s gonna happen with this one!’ ”
Her penchant for performing was apparent from a young age. One of her earliest memories is playing in the garden of her childhood home in London, “creating my own little worlds,” she says. “Even if I was alone, I would create. I was very content entertaining myself.”
When her parents, who’d emigrated from India before Panjabi and her brother were born, expressed concerns about her forgoing higher education to embark on an acting career, she compromised and first enrolled in London’s Brunel University, where she majored in management. Surprisingly, her degree has come in handy in Hollywood. “Acting is ultimately a business,” she says. “You have to make the right selections and think long-term. And management also [includes] things like psychology and sociology, and I think that’s pretty relevant. You have to understand how to work with people, how to deal with differences. I’ve found it incredibly valuable.”
An agent once told her to lose the baby fat—and gained her respect. Hollywood is littered with horror stories from starlets who were told to slim down if they expected their careers to heat up. But when Panjabi was given that advice by a former agent, she didn’t take offense. She viewed it as constructive criticism. “It was very good advice,” she says matter-of-factly. “I was getting called for a lot of roles and I’d get down to the final [audition] and not get the job. It was [presented] as, ‘This will probably help.’
“I don’t look at it as being something bad,” continues Panjabi, who dropped 10 pounds. “It wasn’t like I went from being huge to being thin. It was just trimming up a little bit. That same agent also gave me encouragement and support, and I felt [losing weight] was just a way to improve myself.”
She’s got mad love for Angelina Jolie. Panjabi first befriended Brad Pitt’s better half during their seven-week shoot for the film A Mighty Heart, and she remembered the actress fondly during her Emmy acceptance speech. “She’s been such a huge inspiration to me. She’s just an incredible woman [in] the way she treats people, [whether it’s] crew, cast or people who come up to her on the street. To see that somebody that incredibly famous can be so down-to-earth, so decent,
so calm—she’s such a good role model.” Turns out, Jolie has some mad love of her own for her former co-star: After the Emmy win, reports Panjabi, “she sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers.”
She’s game for just about anything. “People sometimes liken Kalinda to a superhero but let me tell you—Kalinda has nothing on Archie,” says Good Wife co-star and close friend Matt Czuchry. “She seems 7 feet tall because her spirit is so massive and bold. And she has a laugh that’s just so beautiful and bright. Archie’s the real badass.”
That was clear during Panjabi’s whirlwind weekend in Chicago. Not only did she readily dive into each innovative dish prepared by the Avenues chef, but she also went to impressive lengths to get the killer shots on these pages at the photo shoot the next day. She climbed atop The Peninsula’s concierge desk in 6-inch heels and a voluminous designer gown while hotel patrons looked on. She listened to Eminem’s Recovery album, a current fave, to keep her energy up—and to keep her from cracking up. (“I can laugh a lot and his lyrics bring out a more serious quality.”) She braved 40-degree weather in little more than a strapless sequined mini and, without hesitation, ventured perilously close to the edge of the hotel roof to pose before the city’s famed John Hancock Center. (Wasn’t she nervous the fierce Windy City winds would cause her to lose her balance? “I’m stronger than I look,” she said with a throaty giggle.)
And, at the end of the nearly nine-hour shoot, she joined the crew for a celebratory dinner of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. “This has been really, really good fun,” she said, before marveling at the hard-earned success she’s found with The Good Wife. “I never take any of it for granted, you know. Life is very short, and when you have moments like this, it’s important to savor them.” One exquisite bite at a time.
As dueling private investigators Kalinda and Blake on The Good Wife, Archie Panjabi and Scott Porter have so much chemistry they’re about to combust. Each week, their verbal sparring and will-they-or-won’t-they banter has got everyone buzzing around the water cooler—wondering if the rivals are going to fight furiously, fall madly in love, or better yet, both. In an outstanding ensemble cast led by Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Alan Cumming and Christine Baranski, Panjabi and Porter have not only managed to hold their own, they’ve also become one of the most intriguing—and ruthless—duos on TV.
Porter, who joined the cast as a guest star at the beginning of the show’s second season, isn’t surprised. “Blake and Kalinda have developed a really interesting, really volatile relationship,” he says. “At this point, there’s this need to explore it.”
It’s funny to think that Porter’s coming aboard was a matter of some last-minute scrambling.“I got a call at 11 a.m. in Los Angeles, and they said, ‘We’re gonna send you this script. If you want it, the role is yours. But you start tomorrow in New York City. We need an answer by 5 p.m.’ ” Porter, who played Jason Street, the quarterback-turned-paraplegic on the hit show Friday Night Lights from 2006 to 2010, had never seen The Good Wife, but his family was hooked. “Everyone in my family loves it,” he says. “So I called my mom and grandma and they said, ‘You’d be crazy not to do this show!’ I loved the script, and that was it.”
The chemistry between Blake and Kalinda was instantly evident, and the showrunners knew they were onto something. “I signed on for two episodes, and then they were like, ‘We’re gonna keep you around for five.’ Then they said, ‘We’re gonna keep you for eight. … We’re gonna keep you a little longer.’ ”
Although Porter is not sure how everything will turn out, he has his theories. “[Co-creators] Robert and Michelle King see what’s happening on the show, and what’s interesting, and they play into that. As long as there are good stories to tell between the two of us, I think Blake will be around. Although I don’t know if it’s going to end well for either of them …” We’ll be glued to our seats, waiting to find out.
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