Josh Charles on ‘Bird People,’ Leaving ‘The Good Wife’ and Remembering Robin Williams
Josh Charles left 'The Good Wife,' then went on to star in 'Bird People' (which is playing this week at the Toronto International Film Festival) as Gary, an American in Paris who suddenly quits his job after a late night panic attack. Yes, for someone like me, this is a fun parallel narrative. Oh, it's a totally fake narrative -- 'Bird People' was filmed before Charles left 'The Good Wife' -- but it's still fun. And, as even Charles admits, despite it being a completely fake narrative, it's still true. Because here we are.
When you meet Josh Charles for an interview, he's unnecessarily apologetic for his answers. My only theory is that he's so used to television interviews -- which usually focus much more on where the popular character is headed next -- as opposed to an interview in which the subject at hand is Josh Charles and not Will Gardner or Dan Rydell. Regardless, Charles is wrong; he's a much more fascinating interview subject than he gives himself credit for. And, here, we do explore a bit of the fake narrative of why he left 'The Good Wife,' compared to his character motivations -- and Charles speaks a little bit about the late Robin Williams, who Charles starred with in one of Charles' first films, 'Dead Poets Society.'
I realize it's probably unintentional, but it is interesting that you left your job on 'The Good Wife,' now here you're playing a guy who quits his job.
Yeah. I guess narratively, that makes a good story. But, to me, it’s different. I mean, I understand it. I’m not dismissing it.
I know it’s fake, but it’s real. It still happened.
The timing doesn’t work, but there’s a lot more cruelty that Gary’s sort of performing in his life. I don’t necessarily think that anything I did was particularly cruel; I just decided to kind of not renew a contract. Because that’s different than uprooting your entire life. I don’t feel like that’s happening. My life is pretty grounded. I have a great wife.
Well, technically, you quit your job.
No, I didn’t quit my job. My job was over. And when a contract is up, is that quitting? I don’t know. If you choose not to renew something, I don’t know if you’re quitting. I mean, quitting, to me, sounds like you’re leaving something.
That’s fair. But if they want you to stay and you don’t want to renew a contract, it’s certainly leaving.
Leaving. I think that’s just leaving, I would say. Yeah, sure. Or whatever word you want to put on it. Quitting, I mean.
It's not my word, I’m not going to do a false narrative with this interview...
Well, look, it’s a strange thing because I feel like if you want to leave something, it’s important to let people know that love the show that I love the show -- that the show’s been great to me.
I think you’ve been really clear about that.
I think I have, but I feel like I have to keep stressing, because you want people to know. Listen, choosing to leave doesn’t mean that I’m not incredibly grateful and feel lucky to have had that job.
I don’t think anyone thinks that.
I hope not.
But I think when they see this movie, they’re going to go, “Huh, interesting," because this is the first movie coming out after you left...
Yeah, I guess. So, hopefully, we can get some people to see it. So, I’m excited. What I was most excited about was kind of doing something that was so different.
It’s definitely different.
This is a movie that’s different and it’s so cinematic.
When you left 'The Good Wife,' I was just hoping you'd do something interesting. I would be upset if the first thing to come out was like an 'Air Bud' movie, or something like that. This is different.
It’s different. And so is working on Amy Schumer’s show last year was different, and things that I’m looking at now that I want to do...
What do you want to do?
Just projects that I feel like excite me. I mean, it’s hard -- because you want to balance it with working, But, at the same time, I don’t want to work right now just to work. I want to do things that scare me a little bit, that are different.
Were you scared by this movie?
Yeah. Because, look, working in a foreign country with a director who doesn’t speak your language...
And half of this movie is pretty much just you on camera.
Yeah, going through a major crisis and emotionally going to some very scary places ... but you can see, some people, if they don’t like it could say, “Well, oh, you left the show for this.” Well, A) I didn’t -- and that’s a sort of easy sort of cheap shot. Then the flip side of that would be like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So I guess either way, it’s not really a true narrative. But in some sense, it is.
I find your career fascinating.
Oh God, really? That’s nice to hear.
You’ve had an incredible run on television: 'The Good Wife' and 'Sports Night'...
And 'In Treatment,' which is how I got this film.
It feels like people have forgotten that you were in movies before 'Sports Night,' like 'Dead Poets Society' or 'Threesome'...
I started young and made movies. I made a couple good ones, some that I feel like --
You’re being modest.
No, I don’t think I am. I mean, I made some good ones and I’m eager to sort of -- you know, to me, having this sort of run, this glorious five years of having the security and structure of 'The Good Wife' and working with such brilliant writing... I mean, look, I had no sort of fantasy that I’m going to like walk out there and immediately like everything’s going to be, oh, here’s my dream job. But it’s really about just wanting to do different characters and I’m hoping that continues in all mediums and I can’t wait to find the next television show ... and the good news is, there’s a lot going on in my life personally right now...
You seem happy.
I do, because I’m absolutely miserable [laughs].
Maybe this is you sad, because I’ve never met you before.
I’m so sad. I’m starting to cry right now. No, I’m just, I’m good at faking it. [Laughs]
Now you’re laughing, but you’re crying on the inside.
Crying. Laughing, crying on the inside. Yeah, absolutely. I’m literally like dying right now inside, because I laugh.
I tried watching 'Dead Poets Society' the other night and I found it difficult.
Yeah, it totally makes sense. I mean, I haven’t seen the movie in years, and I wouldn’t attempt to right now. But, no, what you’re saying makes sense.
Why does losing Robin Williams feel like losing someone you know, even for people who didn't know him?
Any good actor, I think, can make you feel like that -- make you feel like you know them, right? Listen, people reached out to me because I worked with him, but the reality is I didn’t know Robin super well. I mean, I’ve seen him a few times since 'Dead Poets' -- most recently a couple years ago -- but he was an incredibly important person for me to work with as a young actor. He was the first bona fide star I ever worked with -- was absolutely so struck by just how kind he was. I think, you know, obviously, the humor you expected, and it was there.
But there was a seriousness to him and a gentleness and a kindness that he treated all of us young kids so thoughtfully and really, while he was the sort of star of the film, really worked hard and with a great effort to sort of be a part of the team. I just felt that instantly. And I remember making him laugh one time, doing a Richard Pryor impersonation -- and I made him laugh, and that was a huge thing for me. And I was sort of just incredibly flooded with memories by it after hearing the sad news. But, just really sad. I feel the same way, like anybody, like a fan. A fan who happened to have worked with him many years ago, but still a fan. He touched all of our lives, he was so funny, he was so talented. And I’m just so sort of heartbroken to know that he was in such pain.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.