With “The Good Fight,” Cush Jumbo Becomes A Name To Remember

Thanks to some seriously shoddy green-screen work, every fan of The Good Wife now knows about the still-mysterious bad blood between stars Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi. It was an offscreen drama that culminated in Panjabi leaving the series at the end of Season 6, which made room for Cush Jumbo to join at the start of Season 7 as probate court lawyer Lucca Quinn. While the show’s creators repeatedly stressed that Jumbo wasn’t “replacing” Panjabi, nearly every story announcing her casting made that connection, which gave Jumbo an early taste of the show’s passionate fandom.

“There were a lot of people who were like, ‘So that woman of color has left and you’re replacing her with another woman of color,’” Jumbo told BuzzFeed News at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January. If the actor felt slight trepidation in joining The Good Wife, it was understandable as fans were still reeling from Panjabi’s departure, and Lucca Quinn’s purpose in the world of The Good Wife had yet to be fleshed out.

Show creators Robert and Michelle King originally cast Jumbo in their series after they were blown away by her turn as the titular characters in Josephine and I at Joe’s Pub at New York’s Public Theater in the spring of 2015. The husband–wife duo stopped by her dressing room after the show — which caused the self-described Good Wife superfan to momentarily lose her cool. “I’m not sure they knew I was such a big fan,” she gleefully recalled while curled up in an oversized love seat at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California. “I’m telling them how much I love [The Good Wife] and they’re just sitting there grinning at me.” The three talked about the fact Panjabi was leaving the series and that they were looking for a new female character. “I was just nodding along thinking, Oooh, who is it going to be? I have some suggestions. Really not quite clocking what they were saying.” With a deep laugh, “It was a Saturday night and we’d all had a glass of wine, so anything anybody says on a Saturday night after a glass of wine, expect nothing to come of it.”

But something did come of it, and two days later Jumbo was offered a role on her favorite TV show without an audition. “They’re insane,” she said of her bosses’ leap of faith.

Jumbo on The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. CBS

By May 2015, the Kings said they’d decided that Jumbo would “fill that same interesting dynamic” that Panjabi’s character Kalinda Sharma had, “without doing the same thing” — meaning Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) needed a friend. Initially introduced as an adversary for Alicia, the two women quickly bonded, becoming professional partners and de facto BFFs. Simultaneously, Jumbo’s worries about fan backlash were rendered nil.

“OH DAMNNNNNNNN LUCCA SAVES THE DAY I like her so much,” tweeted one fan the night her character debuted. Another wrote, “Lucca is already fucking amazing.” The enthusiastic feelings were mutual: Jumbo couldn’t quite believe she was getting paid to co-star on her favorite television show. “It was one of those shows where whenever people would ask me what I wanted to do, I would say The Good Wife because … they covered issues I was interested in and could make me cry and also laugh in the same episode,” she said. “But I never actually thought I would end up on it, otherwise I wouldn’t have geeked out on it so much.”

As show’s seventh season progressed, Lucca (and Jumbo) emerged as fan favorites. Viewers quickly locked in on what the Kings had likely seen that night at the theater: Jumbo exhibits tremendous acting chops (she trained on stages in London), but she also exudes an infectious energy that meshed with any Good Wife character the writers paired her with, from her flirtmance with Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry), to her fiery court battles with Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), to bringing out the best in Alicia.

Then, in February 2016, CBS announced The Good Wife would come to an end — much to Jumbo’s dismay. “I was just figuring her out when the show ended,” she said of her effervescent character. And, as it turned out, the Kings weren’t done with Lucca — or Jumbo — yet either. So it was no surprise that when they began to conceptualize a spinoff series, Cush Jumbo was an essential part of that plan from the very beginning.

“She’s such a strong actress and she inhabits the role so perfectly,” Michelle King told BuzzFeed News at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January. “She can do comedy, she can do drama. There’s a tremendous authenticity she brings.”

Beginning Feb. 19, Lucca Quinn’s story continues alongside Diane Lockhart’s on the new CBS All Access show The Good Fight, which brings back lots of Good Wife alumni (Sarah Steele co-stars, and Carrie Preston, Zach Grenier, Jerry Adler, Matthew Perry, Denis O’Hare, John Benjamin Hickey, Michael Boatman, and Rita Wilson return for guest spots) on top of a handful of new characters. The premise of the show is that before Diane Lockhart could retire from law, a Ponzi scheme wipes out her life savings and she’s forced back into practice. Her former partner David Lee (Zach Grenier) won’t take her back — at the firm formerly dubbed Lockhart & Lee — so, instead, Diane joins an all-black firm run by Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel).

On being offered the chance to keep playing Lucca, Jumbo’s megawatt smile previewed her enthusiasm. “I was ecstatic,” she said. “Selfishly, I wasn’t done with the world, but I appreciated they thought it was time for Alicia’s storyline to end.”

When viewers reconnect with Lucca, the emotional walls that came down thanks to her friendship with Alicia throughout Good Wife’s Season 7 have been built back up — and reinforced with steel. “She’d worked really hard to come out of herself and form a friendship and then it got taken away,” Jumbo said of Lucca losing Alicia, who is not part of the spinoff, but whose presence is felt. “Now she’s kind of back to square one and wants to put that mask up again of just doing the work because she doesn’t have that partner in crime any longer. She doesn’t trust anybody at the firm, she doesn’t drink with any of the other associates — and it’s commented on that she’s not hanging with anybody else. She’s pretty lonely.”

One character Lucca connects with is Colin Morrello (Justin Bartha), a lawyer for the state attorney’s office who becomes one of her love interests; she’s also seen in the trailer cozying up to a half-naked gentleman (one of the “adult” perks now that The Good Fight is a series on a streaming-only network). For Jumbo, the elements that initially attracted her to The Good Wife as a fan are exactly the same reasons why she’s excited about starring on The Good Fight: refreshing depictions of professionally driven women, unapologetic conversations about female sexuality, and the opportunity to bring life to an empowered character she relishes watching.

“I think there is a stigma about successful women,” she said. “It’s really interesting to play somebody who is as ambitious as [I am]. There’s a slight guilty-pleasure thrill I get from playing somebody who says, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to do it my way,’ because most of us don’t do that in real life. I feel like a lot of young men tell me that’s why they love the show — they’re not women, but they’re seeing bits of themselves in these women.”

Also like The Good Wife, The Good Fight will continue to tell fictional stories that have roots in the real world. For example, the original pilot script referred to Hillary Clinton as the president-elect and featured Lockhart leaving law behind after Clinton’s win inspired her to make a change. And, according to Jumbo, that might not be the last time the show touches on topics that might be sensitive subjects to President Donald Trump. “Some of the things [Lucca says], it’s like, ‘Can I be deported?’” Jumbo said, releasing a laugh infused with more than a little genuine sadness. “Like for real. Can I say, ‘I’m just a vessel for the work’? But that’s just another reason the show is so exciting.”

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!