Christine Baranski isn’t exactly feeling “good” about saying goodbye to Diane Lockhart.
The actress, 70, has been playing the outspoken lawyer for 13 years now — first for seven consecutive seasons on the CBS series The Good Wife, and then again for six years on its spinoff The Good Fight, which dropped its final episode on Paramount+ Thursday.
Looking back on her journey at the drama’s finale party earlier this month, Baranski exclusively told PEOPLE that leaving the show is “bittersweet.”
“I’ll sort of miss her,” Baranski said on the red carpet at the Museum of Art and Design Theater in New York City. “She took us through a lot, didn’t she? This liberal feminist, who is passionate and witty. I’ll miss living in her mind; through my writers I got to live in a first class brain. And of course, I’ll miss her wonderful high heels and clothes — those were always a delight.”
Lockhart has been on a journey throughout the decade-plus that viewers have been watching her, starting first as partner in her own Chicago law firm before a sudden financial crisis post-retirement landed her at a Black majority Chicago law firm.
Along the way there’s been rivals, friendships, love interests, and plenty of legal battles. But in the end, Baranski says she’s “definitely” happy with where Lockhart ended up.
“I’ve been playing this character for so long and what I love about [writers and creators Michelle and Robert King] is that they’ve let this character go places women on TV rarely get to go,” Baranski says. “”Diane, for the past six years, had just been trying to stay awake through all the craziness of our times. She’s tried to stay awake and keep fighting. She’s a bit of a heroine. But you saw a lighter aspect of her as she went on, certainly in our final season where there’s all this darkness around her and because she’s altering her consciousness, she’s this woman in red, giggling and handing out sunflowers. It’s a wonderful way to end.”
“Usually when you’re doing a job for this amount of time, you’re phoning it in somewhat. But I’ve never enjoyed playing a character more than I have Diane,” she adds. “It’s been a thrill and I’m not sure it’s hit me yet just how much I’ll miss doing this show. I think when it comes time to when we’d typically be filming the show, that’s when it’ll sink in.”
Baranski isn’t the only one dreading leaving The Good Fight behind.
Audra McDonald, who joined the show in season 2 as partner Liz Reddick, also tells PEOPLE she has mixed emotions about moving on, talking to the strength of the show’s cast. “I mean, if you got to hang out with Christine Baranski every day, wouldn’t you miss that too?” she jokes.
But for McDonald, 52, it was also about the strength of The Good Wife‘s stories, which primarily focused on the political fallout and personal impact of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“The stories we got to tell were unlike anything I’ve seen on television,” says McDonald. “I enjoyed the fact that, I’m not as brave as Liz, but the way that she was so passionately fighting the good fight was very cathartic to me, especially the past six years of what was going on politically. I got to say some of the words Audra thought and fight some of the fights Audra wants to fight through Liz. There was a joy to that.”
Sarah Steele, known to audiences as investigator-turned-lawyer Marissa Gold on the show, was equally nostalgic.
“I started this show when I was 21 — I’m 34 now — and honestly, I don’t know if in my career I will work with writers who truly get to know me like the Kings did and write to my strengths” she tells PEOPLE. “Early on in my career I was pigeonholed as these sad, sobbing character and they saw this power inside of me and brought it out with Marissa, who turned out so much cooler than I’ll ever be.”
“I’m very grateful to them for that,” she adds. “They are just lovely, wonderful collaborators and I’d work with them again any chance I get.”
It was a feeling repeated down the press line by every actor speaking to PEOPLE — from Andre Braugher and Alan Cumming, to Nyambi Nyambi and Michael Boatman.
“I loved the experience,” says Braugher. “The cast is jam-packed with lovely people; they’re all keepers. And more important than anything else, the stories the Kings have come up with are so great that I wish it had been three or four more!”
Boatman agrees. “The show had a great run, longer than we anticipated, and it told the stories that were out there to tell and are still out there to tell. But there’s still crazy things to tell,” he says. “The greatest thing I’ve always said about this show is they seem to have a crystal ball about what’s happening in the world. So I don’t know what the Kings are up to, but I’ll be there if they call me.”
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All episodes of The Good Fight (and The Good Wife) are now streaming on Paramount+.