'The Good Wife': Hunter Parrish on how he became part of the series' most shocking twist (and #hatemail)

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Image Credit: CBS

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t yet watched the March 23 episode of CBS’ The Good Wife (or had it spoiled for you on social media), stop reading now.

Actor Hunter Parrish (Weeds‘ Silas) returned as Jeffrey Grant, a college student whose murder trial took a tragic turn that forever altered the course fans expected the series to take. Speaking to EW a day after the episode aired, Parrish — who is about to wrap the indie film Still Alice with Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, and Kate Bosworth — proved he has a good attitude about shocked fans of Will Gardner (Josh Charles) working through their stages of grief. “#Hatemail has been on my Twitter feed,” Parrish said with a laugh. “People have been saying, ‘I really love Silas, but now it’s really gonna be difficult for me to look at him the same.’ That’s a compliment to the work that you’re putting in, and appreciation for the characters, and writers, and actors on The Good Wife that they have given five years of their lives to watching as fans. It’s a great reception. Even though it’s negative,” he continued, with another laugh, “it’s still supportive in a sense.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your first episode as Jeffrey Grant aired back in November. When you signed on, what did creators Robert and Michelle King tell you?
HUNTER PARRISH: I did another one of Robert and Michelle King’s TV shows eight years ago [ABC's In Justice, which starred future Good Wife guests Jason O'Mara and Kyle MacLachlan as members of an organization that worked to overturn wrongful convictions]. So it’s a very similar character to what I had played so many years ago. I was 17. They were so kind to even remember me. They called and said, “We’ve got this cool role. It’s this kid who gets wrongly accused of something. Over the course of a couple episodes, we find out we can’t get him off. It ends tragically for him.” They sort of alluded to this idea that he would maybe kill himself or something…. That was all I knew. There was really not much in the first episode that led to what this would be at all. I shared an agent with Josh [Charles] at the time, so I knew there was something there with him leaving the show possibly, but I had no idea if I would be a part of that. It wasn’t until they gave me the [second] script, which was actually right before the Christmas holiday, that I knew.

And what was your reaction when you read that Jeffrey has a breakdown in the courtroom, grabs a guard’s gun, empties it, and Will ends up dead?
I was on a TV show [Weeds] for eight years, and it’s always exciting to get a new script. It’s clearly particularly exciting when you know how integral your role will be in something significant for other people and for a huge story line on a revered show. So my heart was pounding. I imagine them visually, that’s how I read scripts, so I’m sorta watching this episode as I’m reading it going, “This. Is. Crazy.” I think my first response was to be entertained, and then my second response was to be completely honored that they thought that I would be the right person to be a part of this story and to be excited about the massiveness of what this meant for the show. They sent out a mass email to the entire cast and crew saying, “By now, you guys have received the next episode, 515….” I’m sure the cast [who work more] intimately with Josh knew, but for the most part, it seemed it was really announced to everybody at the show then. And obviously, they stressed how we want to keep it as secret as possible because it will only be what it ended up being — which is fantastic — if we keep it that secret. Everybody did a really great job of that, and I think that shows by the reaction that we got [when it aired]…. You were more focused on, is Will gonna testify against Peter? Is Kalinda leaving the show? Robert and Michelle wove in those little red herrings, if you will, that distracted you from what we were building up to, and I think it was successful. (Laughs)

Earlier in the episode, Jeffrey had said that being in solitary would be worse than staying in gen pop and he’d kill himself there. It was after Will saw a new bruise on Jeffrey’s face and mentioned solitary again that Jeffrey snapped, as Will and prosecutor Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode) were at the bench arguing over Will’s request for an overnight recess so he could present new evidence.
In the first draft, I didn’t say I’d kill myself. But we wanted to elevate what he’s going through so that you understand what we’re not seeing. When he goes back to jail, he’s getting beaten up and all sorts of things done to him. So this guy is falling apart and something needs to be solved very quickly, or he’s not gonna be alive the next time they come back from recess…. He has a new wound, which says this situation is escalating, and that’s what sends him into I can’t take this anymore. And then he sees this gun, and it’s there for him to take. I don’t think he really thinks about it. It just sorta happens. What we actually filmed was a little more of the shooting and this great moment between Will and Finn Polmar where he kinda saves Will and pulls him behind the wall you end up seeing when Kalinda walks in. Other than that, the entire scene was filmed abstractly. I think it was a great choice to show it from the other characters’ perspectives — what Diane and Kalinda are hearing. I was reading online where someone said that actually built up the suspense even more.

I think a lot of fans are wondering why Jeffrey would shoot his own attorney. Was Jeffrey going for the witness and Will blocked him? Or did Jeffrey just lose it and fire at anyone?
Exactly what you just said is the story line of the next episode that you get to see Alicia go through. “Wait, I’m sorry. What? I don’t understand how this happened.” I don’t know how they’ll edit it together, because I haven’t seen the next episode, but she imagines this whole big thing that I imagine some of the fans are imagining: He takes the gun, he aims it at Will’s head…. But yes, there’s a look between Jeffrey Grant and the witness, that animosity leading up to the shooting scene, and that was his main motivation. I think adrenaline is what surged him beyond that. There’s a shot of him shooting the back of the courtroom and there’s glass that shatters — like, why would he be shooting the back of the courtroom? He’s not really conscious of where he is and what he’s doing. You don’t see a lot of that on-camera in this episode, but I think you’ll see more of it [next episode], and I think it’ll be interesting to see shared ideas that some of the fans have of how it went down along with Alicia’s as she sorta imagines it, and then as the episode goes on, finds out the truth of what happened.

Do you know if it was always scripted that Jeffrey would run out of bullets before he could commit suicide and live?
I’m not sure. But as early as November, that became a part of the plot. I originally was only a part of two episodes. When the first episode aired in November, they called and said, “I think we want to extend it and do one more.” My guess would be that they needed answers to questions, they needed somebody to answer for what happened. I believe if he would have killed himself, it just would have not allowed for anything.

So you’re in the next episode?
I’m in the next episode. So you get to see a slight bit of retribution. I don’t know how much retribution, but there’s something there at the very least.

This March 30 episode will be interesting because if other fans are like me, they didn’t cry watching Sunday’s episode because they didn’t believe it was real until the hour was over. Watching the characters come to terms with it (view the trailer), it’s going to be a sobfest.
Yeah, 100 percent. That was actually what we felt on set as well. This next episode, every single scene centers around what has happened, and there’s a lot of emotions, and there’s a lot of anger, and there’s a lot of confusion. I think the fans will get to finally be real with what they’re experiencing when they see that side of things. Right now, it’s a little too shocking. It won’t sink in until the next episode, which is brilliantly laid out for the fans to understand things and feel things from these characters’ perspectives.

Fans have had such strong reactions to this twist: There are people saying Will and Alicia were the emotional core of the show and it will never be the same, and there are people saying this move from the Kings was fearless and the show is so much more than shipping those two.
So much more. And the truth is, this was a personal decision from Josh Charles. They wanted to put [Will's exit] in where it would be the most impactful for the show and for the other characters that are still telling a really dynamic story. I know that this season for them has been particularly fantastic, and I think now people can really enjoy that and enjoy what is to come. Now, in a weird way, you get to watch Alicia’s journey and Diane’s journey move forward instead of constantly being pulled into the whole Will and Alicia dynamic. I think that’s exciting.

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