Mike Colter on Playing Good Wife Drug Kingpin Lemond Bishop

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This season of The Good Wife rocketed off to a very promising start, and there’s a familiar face back in the mix — Mike Colter as drug lord, father, businessman, and political action committee founder Lemond Bishop. Bishop is a key player in two of The Good Wife’s core story lines early this season: Alicia’s run for State’s Attorney, and Cary’s arrest for allegedly advising members of Bishop’s crew to move 1.3 million pounds of heroin. We talked to Mike about being a part of The Good Wife’s deep bench of talent, recurring as the same character throughout multiple years, and playing television’s drug kingpin with a heart of gold.

Did you know from the start that there was a possibility for Bishop to recur?
You mean from the very beginning, ever, in time? [Laughs.]

Well, maybe not since the moment of your birth, but since your first appearance on the show?
For the first season, not really, because it was a guest-star, one-time kind of thing. I’d been watching the show before, and there was such a high-profile guest list that you felt like you had to have an established career prior to getting on the show — to even have a shot at it. I didn’t think that they’d work in a character for me that would recur on a show such as this. I just went in thinking, This is a great — this is a nice show, I like the writing, and then it just kind of led to more opportunities.

I always think about, with recurring guest-stars, this story that I heard about Billie Piper from Doctor Who — she was brought back for a recurring role after a while and supposedly had to go back to the DVDs of her early appearances because she couldn’t remember how to play the character.
Well, you have to remember that it’s TV time — when you shoot, when it airs, when the season starts, so there could be more or less time between appearances than it seems. But ultimately, I think when you play a character that you’ve established, there are tricks to revisit it and try to remember what the character is like when you play him. What’s so great about it is we do have some of the same directors that are recurring on the series, so they come back and direct, and I’ve worked with them before. They watch the show; I try to keep up with and watch the show, especially if I’m in an episode (I’ll go back and watch if I can’t watch it live). I don’t watch my own episodes that much because I don’t really like watching myself. But mostly we rely on the director to tweak moments and to change things and to help us to rediscover what the character’s point of view really is. Ultimately, it’s like anything else — once you’ve played a character and done it a few times, it’s like a bicycle. You don’t really forget the character. You might wobble a bit, that’s all.

This might just be another way of asking how you see Bishop, but: How do you think Bishop sees himself? I usually describe him as a “drug kingpin with a heart of gold,” but does he see himself as a businessman who’s trying to get the job done? As a criminal?
What we see on The Good Wife is just a slice of Bishop’s life. When he comes on, it’s because there’s something going on in his life — a reason for him to come to the law firm, or vice versa. And so what we’re seeing is a certain part of Bishop’s life. A couple of seasons ago, [viewers] went to Bishop’s home and saw his home life, where he was making a sandwich for his kid and sending him to school. That’s Bishop in the morning. That was who he was in that moment. He wasn’t even in a suit! He was walking around in whatever he was wearing. Most of the time, we see him approaching someone or at the law firm … For the most part, that’s what the show’s about. It’s about seeing people in the various stages of their day. In Bishop’s case, he’s often in this really serious mode or a mode of getting business done, but that’s just one color. We’ll see more colors from him going forward, because he’s a very complex character. I look at him as being very multi-layered.

There have been some moments this season already where we see those different faces juxtaposed — him at the soccer game with his son, and talking to Kalinda on the sideline. Those have been really interesting.
Yeah, he’s trying to juggle being a single dad — whether or not that’s because of his own doing. As a single parent, it’s never that easy, and he doesn’t seem to have anyone to help him. He’s focused on raising his kid, but at the same time, a person who does what Bishop does obviously is going to draw people’s opinions. And that opinion is usually “the bad guy,” “the cold-hearted killer.” I don’t think that Bishop really wants to have done the things he’s done, but it’s really a matter of survival. It’s either him, or them … but I think we’ll see another side of Bishop going forward. I think that’s important for the character development … People think they know Bishop, but ultimately, I think he’s got a lot more going on than they realize.

Do you think it’s important to Bishop to be intimidating, or is that more a cost of doing business for him?
I think he understands that people who fear him will stay in line. It’s like with a child — you can either be a buddy, or you can be a parent. What are you going to get more out of: being a disciplinarian, or being a buddy? Bishop can’t be both, because he has to come across a certain way to get things done.

You’ve gotten to work with the bulk of The Good Wife’s main cast, and a lot of the guest-stars, too. I definitely don’t want to ask you to pick favorites, but is there a performer you’ve particularly liked working with?
I think I do enjoy working with Julianna the most — Lemond doesn’t worry about her, and he respects her. And ultimately, they share the connection of being parents. He has a son and so does she. They actually have a connection on a personal level, so it’s always more than just what’s on the surface.

I’m bummed that we won’t see any more of Bishop’s relationship with Will — I thought that one was really interesting, too.
Will just wanted the money. He didn’t care. I definitely wish we’d done more scenes together. There was no judgment or moral ambiguity or anything — Will was just like, “You know what? It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to know.” He wants the bottom line and he wants the client list to be strong … There’s a common ground between a guy like Bishop and a guy like Will. They always say if you’re a cop, you have to think like a criminal, and if you’re a criminal, you have to think like a cop. Will and Bishop are so much alike in that way, but they’re playing for opposite sides.

Mike Colter on Playing Good Wife’s Drug Kingpin