'The Good Fight': Hugh Dancy Has a Lot to Say About Liz and Caleb's 'Sexy' Secret Love Affair (Exclusive)

Hugh Dancy on The Good Fight
Patrick Harbron/CBS

The actor says the characters' surprising season 4 romance is meant to raise questions about Caleb: 'Is it just titillation?'

Warning: This story contains mild spoilers from the first five episodes of CBS All Access' The Good Fight.

When The Good Fight newbie Hugh Dancy joined season 4, he had never seen an episode of the show or its predecessor, The Good Wife. The hook for Dancy was the evocative writing by creators Robert and Michelle King. Oh, and the fact that he'll play a character -- charming attorney Caleb Garlin -- who's a little bit more decent than Homeland villain John Zabel.

"That was quite appealing, not that I was particularly thinking about the Homeland character that way. But certainly, for a while, almost increasingly the characters I’ve been playing have gone from gray area to gray area with a bit of dark to, like, full dark," Dancy tells ET. "It was a really nice change to feel like I was going to play someone who still had something not immediately obvious, but seemed like a benevolent figure. The emphasis on 'probably,' because that’s what keeps it interesting."

There's an air of mystery surrounding Caleb, who is put into the center of the madness of Reddick Boseman & Lockhart by his boss at STR Laurie, the conglomerate that now owns the law firm. But one thing that isn't complicated is the sexual tension between him and his boss, Liz (Audra McDonald), which, as Thursday's episode reveals through the military case they're partnered up on, adds even more fuel to their secret love affair. Dancy talks to ET about joining the Good Fight universe, the "ridiculous" but "sexy" Liz and Caleb scene he can't quite get out of his head and more. 

ET: Before we get into The Good Fight, how is quarantine life treating you?

Hugh Dancy: Quarantine life for us is fine and completely normal and completely weird at the same time. I think, like most people who are not on the front lines, that's the reality, is the weird mixture of normality and anxiety and boredom and confusion. But we’ve got nothing to complain about, and in terms of keeping busy, nobody's filming anything right now, but we’ve got a couple of kids, and one of them’s been in school remotely. So just carrying on like that.

You’re coming from Homeland, where you're playing a pretty despicable character, John Zabel, to The Good Fight, where Caleb Garlin seems to be the complete opposite. What was that transition like?

That was quite appealing, not that I was particularly thinking about the Homeland character that way. But certainly, for a while, almost increasingly the characters I’ve been playing have gone from gray area to gray area with a bit of dark to, like, full dark. I think it was a really nice change to feel like I was going to play someone who still had something not immediately obvious, but seemed like a benevolent figure. The emphasis on "probably," because that’s what keeps it interesting.

Patrick Harbron/CBS

How did this role come to you? Was it a matter of the Kings reaching out?

Yeah, exactly that. This was pretty last minute, so I was able to do, in the time I had, was read the script that they were working on at the time, which was the one that Caleb pops up at the end -- episode 3. And you’d think you’d be jumping ahead to find, "OK, where is my guy? Where’s my guy? Bulls**t, bulls**t... [here are] my lines," that kind of thing. But actually, it was more a writer's sample because I wasn’t, at that point, a fan of the show just because I had not seen it. I wasn’t familiar. It was like a sudden jump in at the deep end, and as much as being drawn in by the character, I was really drawn by the ambition of the show and the writing.

The show has really leaned into wacky, outside-the-box, unconventional storytelling devices. Was that intriguing to you, having not seen the show before?

Yeah, because I wasn’t familiar with it, I wasn’t thinking, "Wow, this is wackier than usual." Not anything like that. I can see that they seemed to be trying to do, and succeeding at doing, an awful lot of things at the same time, including talking about race, politics and history of America in a way that was really quite nuanced. And at the same time, with a lot of comedy and also a completely separate procedural element. It’s like some kind of game where you sort things into a hat almost, and it was really surprising to me. I’m sure that it exists, but I personally had not seen anything like that. So that’s what made me want to be a part of it.

Did you know the full arc of your character before you signed on?

I knew enough that the thrust of it was going to be what developed between him and Liz, Audra's character. The Kings kind of broke it down a little bit how that would happen through the play that they were working on in the previous episode, and the racial element of that, the taboo element of that. And I thought all that was really funny and timely and cool. Obviously, headlining that is the fact that it's going to be with Audra. I was delighted, thrilled to be able to work with her.

One of my favorite episodes of the season is episode 4, which is the satirical play about the firm's characters and inspired by Broadway's Slave Play. What was your initial reaction to reading that particular script?

The jumping-off point of that was the actual play, Slave Play, which, at the point that they were putting the season together, was a huge hit on Broadway and really was maybe not as divisive and certainly not legally challenged in the same way, but still provocative. That play was about racial dynamics, so in that respect it [made sense for] the show to take that on, and I love the fact that they were like, “Well, we’re just writing it in!” We’ll put on the characters in the play. I love that, and I love that they would take and then literally have the characters read it out loud, which is what Audra and I are doing. I just thought that was so smart and so funny, and I think it’s sexy and ridiculous and all those things.

You’re essentially reading a version of fan fiction.

(Laughs.) No, that's right. I mean, it's absurd and it’s very meta and also kind of embarrassing. And I hope it’s also done in such a way that you could actually imagine those two people in that situation.

Patrick Harbron/CBS

Let's talk about Caleb and Liz. What is going on with them? Is there a mutual attraction there? We know Caleb is supposed to be the eyes and ears for STR Laurie...

I don’t think he’s allowing the thing to develop with Liz nefariously because he’s been cast to spy. I think it’s real, and the question is, how much of it is real and how much of it is based on initial attraction? Then, in turn, how much of that initial attraction is because of the war with taboo topics -- the fact that she’s his boss primarily that they literally should not be doing what they’re doing. There’s also the fact that they come to it through the play, which is all about the racial dynamics, and that that's a first for both of them. Is it just titillation or because they shouldn’t be doing it? That's where it’s headed, to find out the answer to that.

If things reach a point where their secret extracurricular activities get out, how messy do you anticipate things will get?

For it not to be trouble, they have to have the most perfectly amicable secret ending or separation, or they’re going to have to fully commit and go public, and even then I don’t know whether that would be safe. The Kings are a couple in a working relationship, right? They know about this stuff, not that I’ve had long conversations with them about that, but I think they’re perfectly placed to write an interesting take on it.

What is Caleb’s modus operandi? We don’t know much about him, outside of the fact that he's been added to the Reddick Boseman & Lockhart ranks by the big boss. What's his end game, and should we fully trust him?

Caleb is somebody who's been tasked with this -- not really a double-agent role -- but a go-between role, right? And the way he’s chosen to tackle it is by being completely up front with everybody, which I think is really, really admirable because of two reasons. First of all, he takes the law seriously and he's ambitious, but I don't think he takes office politics seriously. And he’s maybe a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, and maybe that's also why he’s jumping into bed with his boss. But maybe down the line he’s going to have to pick a side.

Sarah Steele mentioned earlier this season that Marissa may be harboring a crush on Caleb. Is there something going on there too?

First of all, working with Sarah is a big highlight too, and I think that's an interesting question. I think some of it was deliberate misdirection. Like, here’s this new guy in the office, what’s his role going to be? What’s the role of his presence going to be? It seems like it’s going to be something with Marissa and, obviously, veers off sharply into something else completely with Liz. Also, that could complicate matters. Honestly, where we are now, that hasn’t been explored yet. But I'm sure the writers surely will make the most of it.

Was there something you got to do as Caleb that you haven’t been able to do in previous roles?

That scene with with him and Liz sitting, reading that play. It was kind of outlandish that they arrived at that, and it was such a weird and kinky way to address burgeoning attraction between two people. If I had read that scene alone up front, I would’ve signed on.

Switching gears a little bit, there’s been a lot of virtual cast reunions. Have you connected with Bryan Fuller at all about a Hannibal reunion?

Actually, no, we haven’t. I have spoken to Bryan, but not about that. It’s true they seem to be happening more and more. But that's a good question. I am in contact with him regularly.

The Good Fight drops new episodes every Thursday on CBS All Access.

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