14 May 2019 | GILLIAN EDEVANE | AllArts
No one would ever describe Marissa Gold as a shrinking violet. Played with aplomb by Sarah Steele, the character in the “The Good Wife” and its deliciously timely spin-off, “The Good Fight,” has evolved over nearly a decade from a sharp-tongued teen who witnesses her father’s political power plays to an even sharper-tongued young woman who makes deals of her own.
The slow-burning character arc has been integral to the spin-off, which chronicles a progressive, Black-owned Chicago law firm grappling with cases ripped from Trump-era headlines.
And Marissa’s importance has never been more clear than in the show’s third season, which concludes Thursday on CBS All Access. Over the last 10 episodes, fans have seen the character make critical discoveries as an aspiring private investigator and political consultant, hold her own against a lawyer literally inspired by Roy Cohn, and stand up to her bosses in plots involving #MeToo and workplace harassment.
For the first time, viewers have also been privy to a more vulnerable side of Marissa, who dealt with the betrayal of her closest friend in the midst of a high-stakes case in last week’s episode.
Given all that has occurred, it’s understandable if viewers forget that she once bided her time in the show universe by slinging smoothies at the mall. In a recent interview with ALL ARTS, even Steele said it’s occasionally hard to believe the journey she’s been on with the character.
“What’s been so special about this experience for me is that I came in to play this part that was intended to be sort of small,” Steele said. “Marissa grew into something way beyond what I think was intended at the beginning.”
Steele was originally cast for a two-episode stint on “The Good Wife” in 2011, playing the daughter of fan-favorite Eli Gold (Alan Cumming). The 30-year-old actress credits show-runners Michelle and Robert King with recognizing the potential of a young character who has unshakable confidence in both herself and the causes she champions, particularly when it comes to women’s empowerment. In one of the more charming subplots this season, Marissa coaxes her timid friend Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) into confidently sharing legal opinions with male partners at the firm.
“It’s so amazing to play a character like that,” Steele said. “I feel like I’m constantly working to be as strong as she is. She wasn’t just born confident or assertive. That is something that happens because she works, and throws herself into situations where that’s required of you.”
Working with a diverse, women-centered cast — including Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Michael Sheen and Delroy Lindo — has been a rare, kismet-like experience, she added.
“I, for a long time, dealt with Hollywood not knowing what to do with me,” Steele said. “They couldn’t really put me in a box. I was never going to be in a show that wanted to do that, because they don’t want me and I don’t want them. So it makes sense that the show I’ve ended up on is one that makes room for a lot of different kinds of women, and a lot of different kinds of people.”
Asked what type of future she saw for her alter-ego, Steele said it wouldn’t be unrealistic to envision Marissa owning her own business. The character has already proven to be adept at navigating murky partisan divides, and she’s also equipped with a ruthlessness necessary to thrive in a cutthroat legal world where fellow lawyers frame their opponents and laptops are chucked through pristine glass walls in fits of rage.
“I think eventually she is going to be running her own operation,” Steele said. “She already operates in the office like she is her own boss. And she’s in her 20s! That’s wild. She’s very capable.”
Steele, meanwhile, envisions continuing her work in theater. The Columbia University graduate earned rave reviews in the Tony-winning Broadway play “The Humans” in 2017, and she keeps her eyes open for roles that would allow her to continue to push against traditional boundaries. In fact, if she could switch roles with anyone on “The Good Fight” for a day, it would be none other than the blustery Cohn-inspired litigator Roland Blum.
“I’d love to play someone that brazen and crazy,” she said. “I’d love to see a woman character like that. I don’t think the world really allows a character like that to exist, yet. But a really crass, lying cheating woman — that would be fun.”