Christine Baranski doesn’t have to raise her voice to be intimidating: She doesn’t even have to speak.
“Truly powerful people are usually the quiet ones who do nothing while everyone else runs around them,” the actress recently told Vogue. After 12 years portraying cutthroat lawyer Diane Lockhart across two hit series, The Good Wife and The Good Fight, Baranski knows a thing or two about projecting brute confidence.
“Playing powerful people is something I’ve learned to refine throughout my career,” she says, “and there’s a power that comes from stillness and trusting that your words and the way in which you say them will have authority.” For proof, look no further than her turn on HBO’s The Gilded Age, from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
Set in the 19th century, the glossy historical drama follows the clash between pockets of “old” and “new” money as they navigate New York high society. Playing the esteemed Agnes van Rhijn, Baranski is predictably fabulous as the embodiment of “old” New York, a Dutch-American socialite who abhors the mega-mansions and loose morals she associates with the “new” money taking over her neighborhood. It’s the type of role she’s practically cornered the market on in recent years: glamorous, cutting, wickedly smart, and viciously funny.
“Agnes is a very emphatic character—I call her a walking declarative sentence,” Baranski says. “I have a T-shirt that says ‘I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,’ and that’s true for Agnes and a lot of my other characters.”
After graduating from Juilliard in 1974—Mandy Patinkin and Robin Williams were among her classmates—Baranski worked her way up through regional productions, eventually becoming one of New York’s most celebrated theater performers. She won her first Tony Award in 1984 for Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and her second in 1989 for Neil Simon’s Rumors before slowly taking on more screen work, often with former theater collaborators like Mike Nichols (see: The Birdcage). After her Emmy-winning turn on Cybill introduced Baranski to audiences outside of Manhattan, she became the go-to actress for any Hollywood production seeking a dash of theatricality. She may be the fifth or sixth-billed star of How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Mamma Mia!, but Baranski’s characters are the ones that millennials continue making TikToks about.