How they got their start: Julianna Margulies

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: December 11, 2018, 4:38PM

Image: Warner Bros.

Julianna Margulies is the kind of actress who commands attention, even when she's just a bit player in a scene. It's how she went from being cast as an expendable guest star on ER to one of its highest paid cast members. Her character was never meant to live that long, and every ER fan knows, the actress impressed so much in the role that in the end, it was Margulies who made the choice to leave the show, not the writers and their cruel pens. But why'd she do it? Leave her show at perhaps the height of her popularity on it? Her words are so inspirational, it's no wonder the actress has also been named among TIME's most influential people:

I was under no illusion that I was going to be some big movie star. My dad said, 'If you got hit by a bus tomorrow, were you living your life truthfully, or were you waiting to get rich?' If I died and my soul started leaving my body, would I be looking down going, 'You idiot. You could have gone to Prague, you could have been on Broadway'? Those are the things I wanted to do.

And while most TV viewers know what happened next - the actress was immediately cast in her most award-winning role on The Good Wife - it's likely not many are aware of how Margulies got from disillusioned young actress to having her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For Margulies, it all began with her first role, a very bit part in the 1991 Steven Seagal action movie Out for Justice.

Out for Justice was the third Steven Seagal movie to break out as No. 1 at the U.S. box office, and although the movie was not a critical success, it was by design as intense as possible, intended to be brutal enough in its violence to warrant an NC-17 rating (it came close but did not). It's about a veteran cop who swears vengeance on the mafia boss who kills his partner. Margulies played a former prostitute-turned-video store clerk, trying her best to escape the blood bath Seagal has planned. As you'd expect from Margulies, her scene provides high drama, as the camera zooms in on her first close-up to catch a tense attempt not to cringe as the actress attempts to sweet talk her way out of a tight spot.

Margulies would continue to work through the 1990s, with guest roles on dramas like Law & Order and Murder, She Wrote, but we also saw her in sitcoms like The Larry Sanders Show and Ellen. Next, she got back on the big screen, including voicework in the 2000 animated Disney movie Dinosaur. Margulies' work kept turning heads throughout the 2000s, with another attempt at creating a series around the actress in Canterbury's Law, as well as a recurring role on The Sopranos and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a memorable appearance on Sesame Street

In 2018, Margulies played a recurring role on Dietland, and up ahead, the actress will feature in the TV mini-series adaptation of The Hot Zone, a 1995 nonfiction thriller that tracked diseases with high-fatality risks. In her choice of projects, the actress continues to do the things she wants to do, regardless of what people think about the choice of role or the money involved, which is, oddly enough, very similar to how the actress recently summed up her character on The Good Wife: "I think her biggest change was not caring what people thought. Which enabled her to forge ahead." 

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