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The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi on Playing a Sexy Investigator Who May or May Not Be a Lesbian

On CBS’s The Good Wife, Archie Panjabi steals scenes as Kalinda Sharma, the in-house investigator at the law firm where wronged political wife Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) works. Probably best known for her roles in Bend It Like Beckham and A Mighty Heart, Panjabi moved from London to New York for her role as Kalinda, a tough, sexy, but also enigmatic character. We spoke with Panjabi about wearing sexy clothes to the job, playing someone whose race is besides the point, and what Kalinda’s actually up to.

The Good Wife, which just got renewed for a second season, is both a critical and ratings success. Why do you think it resonates?
If you watch the show, you’ll see that the characters are really more like normal people than you generally see on TV — they behave differently when they’re with different people, and you can’t really figure out some people’s minds until certain actions have confirmed it. People are hard to predict, and I think that’s what the show captures really well. I get the feeling that the audience, on some subliminal level, is relating to that.

You character is especially hard to predict.
Someone like Kalinda will convince herself in the moment that what she's saying she actually believes, and that’s something we all do as human beings. Some people are like, "Oh my God, what’s on her mind?" She’s mysterious, which is why there’s that fascination with her. I think people want to pigeonhole the world, but you can’t do that with her.

It's refreshing that The Good Wife focuses on the professional life of women.
And it's very now, isn’t it? Women in their 30s are very happy and content with their work, and it's nice to see that on TV — women succeeding at the workplace rather than just having personal problems. It's interesting that they have a different set of issues to deal with.

Though I have to say, your work wardrobe is a little unbelievably sexy.
Kalinda’s style has certainly evolved. In the pilot, she actually wore jeans, but the costume designer wanted to get a little more of her personality tied up in her looks, so now her clothes are very fitted. Usually, if a character wears sexy clothes to feel confident, they get accused of being cheap or tacky. So I love that with Kalinda, we get a balance. She’s not dressing like that to seduce men; she feels like her clothes are in vogue, and she wants to wear them. And she’s not afraid of that.

It’s also interesting that it’s never addressed that you’re Indian.
Yeah, I really like that they’ve accepted me as an investigative attorney who dresses the way she does, and there’s never any mention about my race. She’s accepted for her job, and it's quite nice that they haven’t tackled that. You don’t even know where I’m from, which is also quite interesting. I’m sure in time you’ll see a few cracks in the characters, you get a window into each of their lives, but just enough to continue to guess.

And at this point in the show, Kalinda’s working for both Florrick and his enemy, the new state attorney. We still don’t know if you’re good or bad!
You assume she’s good, right? But now she’s in a situation where she’s torn between telling the truth and hurting Alicia or protecting herself. There’s an upcoming moral dilemma. It doesn’t necessarily make her good or bad, but I think in the next couple of episodes we’ll learn a lot more. She’ll give us a little bit of an insight of what’s going on in that mind.

There are also hints that maybe she’s a lesbian.
That’s all going to be a slow, gradual release rather than one big surprise. I think the more time you spend with a person in life, the more you actually get to know about them.

How was your move from London to New York?
You have this impression from England that New Yorkers can be quite aggressive, but certainly the people that I’ve bumped into and the friends I’ve made here don’t seem that way. Just walking down the street and asking for directions, people seem to be very helpful and happy to help.

Well, you are an actress, don’t forget.
I guess that’s true.

Julianna Margulies recently won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress. You all must have been thrilled.
It was amazing. She was so shocked when she won it. I think all the cast and the crew were in tears watching it.

And her speech in which she thanked CBS for believing in the prime-time drama — that was kind of a great, veiled insult of NBC.
It took me awhile to get that. I’m not really from here. But I got it finally.

Photo: Claire Greenway/Getty Images