This Sunday’s episode of The Good Wife reveals something even 18-year-old actor Graham Phillips, who plays Alicia and Peter’s son Zach, didn’t know about his character: He’s been dating Nisa (guest star Rachel Hilson) all this time. Sorry, Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele)! Both Alicia and Jackie will grow concerned that Zach has been spending too much time with Nisa and suggest the teens slow down. “He reminds me a lot of Peter in this episode, in the way that he’s very manipulative,” Phillips says. “He pits Jackie and Alicia against each other, and he uses their mutual hatred. You get a glimpse of his sort of Machiavellian way of getting his way. It’s kinda fun to see Zach play the system.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Zach never dated Eli’s daughter? I liked them together.
GRAHAM PHILLIPS: Me, too. It was two funny, witty people playing off each other. I was interested to see where it would go. She didn’t want anything out of the relationship, she just looked like someone who would just want to have fun. And that’s the opposite of what any of his other relationships were. Becca was conniving and trying to get a taste of fame. Nisa, she’s extremely sweet, but, I don’t want to say is a bore, but she’s what every mom would say is the perfect girlfriend. … It’s kinda funny, Zach seems to have a lot of romantic encounters for the show. He seems to have more than anyone. This is coming from someone who’s basically had the same girlfriend for, like, the last three years.
Maybe you’ll find out next season he was dating both Nisa and Marissa secretly?
Exactly. He was covering it up really well, but the only reason why he was covering it up so well was because the actor playing him didn’t even know. [Laughs]
Are there any story lines you’d like to see happen for Zach?
I’d say a full-fledged romance between him and Kalinda would be preferred, but I don’t know if that’s gonna work out. [Laughs] No, I think that he does have a political ambition somewhere in him, so at a certain point he has to go to college, as I do. [Laughs] I was talking to the Kings about it, and they said that he definitely has that same political fire that his father does. So it would be nice if they nurtured that. The early, early stages of a politician would be interesting to see, asking his dad for help pulling strings. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite parts of the show, when you see Peter at full force pulling strings. Not corrupt, but on the verge of corruption, like when he’s getting us into the private school by threatening to screw up the teachers’ lives with background checks.
In your mind, what is Zach aware of in terms of Alicia and Will?
I’m still struggling with that, but I did get some insight in that scene when Will walks in while Zach is working on the computer. Will tries to buddy up to him, and Zach just won’t have it. I played it two ways: I played it like I don’t know who this person is, why is he acting like such a dork? And then I also gave them a colder [take], like I have a suspicion about you and my mom. I played it like he’s an emotional scapegoat for me — you’re the reason why my family’s screwed up, which is isn’t true, but you know. They ended up using that take. It seems like Grace, for the first half of the season, knew more than Zach did. And then little by little, I think Zach started piecing it together.
I feel like there has to be more to that computer story line than it being a cute way for Zach to meet Will and Marissa.
There’s definitely something that’s going to happen. I’m not exactly sure when it’s going to happen. You never know what happens with a story line. You think it’s dead, and then it just reappears, like what happened with Nisa and me. I would have bet hundreds of dollars that that story line wasn’t coming back, because I hadn’t heard her name mentioned in over a year. And then suddenly she’s back, and we’ve been dating the whole time.
Tell me about Goats, the film you have premiering at Sundance on Jan. 24. It’s based on the Mark Jude Poirier novel, and you star as a 15-year-old who leaves his mother (Vera Farmiga) and eccentric pool man-landscaper father figure (David Duchovny) in Arizona to attend an East Coast prep school and reconnect with his estranged dad (Ty Burrell).
I fell in love with the script the first time that I read it. I immediately went and read the book, before I even auditioned. It’s really difficult for someone my age to find roles that are substantial, that you can really sink your teeth into. The arc that this character goes through is unlike anything that I’ve ever been able to do. The Good Wife is a great experience because I do, on a certain level, have an arc, but it’s over two or three years because I get a scene or two an episode. This was a two-month experience, and every single day it was a totally different dynamic. You’re filming 10 pages a day, all sorts of different scenes out-of-order. I literally made note cards for each scene to organize my thoughts and talk about where I was with every person, place, and object in the scene. So it really was a great learning experience for me. I’m really excited to see it. The cinematography is beautiful. It’s a first-time film director, Christopher Neil, but he’s done a ton of commercials and has been an acting coach for a long time, and he’s the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.
So you have most of your scenes with David Duchovny?
Exactly. Then Vera Farmiga and Ty Burrell are tied. And then the rest of the scenes are with all my roommates and classmates at Gates Academy. We filmed in New Mexico and in Connecticut, which has a very Dead Poets Society feel to it.
Had you ever talked to Josh Charles about Dead Poets Society?
[Laughs] I hadn’t. I actually watched it for the first time a little while ago. What was so weird: I was watching it, and I had no idea who was in it, and he looked EXACTLY THE SAME. I was like, ohmygod, you’ve gotta be kidding me. If only he was tossing a baseball and talking about law, it would have been perfect. He’s also one of my favorite guys on set. He could not be a cooler guy, couldn’t be more down to earth. When I see him on the street in New York, we talk for like 15, 20 minutes. He’s an extremely kind guy, and he’s super young at heart.
What was the best part about working with Duchovny?
I was kind of struggling with the whole college thing. If I know I want to be actor and a director and write screenplays, what approach do I take when I’m in college? Julianna [Margulies] actually helped me out a lot with that. She went to Sarah Lawrence, and she talked me through her experience. David Duchovny went to Princeton, and he thought he was going to be a writer, but he told me about how his experience as an English major really helped him out as an actor and as a filmmaker. That really helped me making my choice of college. We got to a level where he felt comfortable writing me a letter of recommendation for Princeton. And that’s where I’m going. I’ll start this fall.
What does that mean for your future on The Good Wife?
One of the reasons I chose Princeton over some other Ivies was its proximity to Brooklyn [where the show films]. Columbia was an obvious choice, but my sister went to Princeton. I grew up there a lot, I fell in love with the campus, and I love the professor list. The train ride is like an hour and 20 minutes. When my sister was at Princeton, all of her classes were done at 2 p.m., and the producers of The Good Wife are extremely flexible with schedules. That’s why you get so many interesting [guest stars]: Producers make it work. So say my classes are done at 2 p.m., I’d be able to go in and film at night.
And this will be your first trip to Sundance, right?
I’ve always been skiing and seeing the festival going on, but I’ve never actually attended. So I’m really excited to not only attend, but to be able to showcase my film and answer questions afterward and get a whole experience. I’m an avid watcher of Entourage, and it looks like a lot of fun. [Laughs] I don’t know if they’re gonna change my movie to black-and-white and then change it back again. If they decide to, I’ll know what to say. I’ll just copy Vince’s speech.