“I feel with The Good Wife, I was really spoiled in terms of the love and affection from the critics and the audience,” Archie Panjabi tells ET over the phone about her Emmy-winning role as private investigator Kalinda Sharma on the CBS drama. She left the show at the end of season six, amid rumors of feuds between her and co-star Julianna Margulies and just one season before the show itself drew to an unexpected close.
Now, Panjabi is set to make her debut as Nas Kamal, head of a secret branch of the NSA, on NBC’s Blindspot when the series returns with season two on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 10 p.m. ET. It’s her first major U.S. television role since leaving The Good Wife, following a guest spot on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a small recurring role on the BBC crime series The Fall and a supporting role in Dwayne Johnson’s San Andreas. “So it would be really great to get that same kind of response. But, you know, I'll accept what my fate is on that,” she says.
In fact, it was playing a news reporter in the disaster flick that whet her appetite for more action. “I had a little taste of it when I did San Andreas and I really did like it,” Panjabi says. “There are so many things involved. You've got stunt people there, you're handling weapons and you have to be completely immersed in the scene.”
“It’s almost like flexing a new muscle that everybody has but it hasn’t been used for some time,” she says of the physical and mental demands of acting on a show like Blindspot.
Even though the nature of the series -- about a mysterious, tattooed woman (Jaimie Alexander) who lost her memory and whose tattoos help the FBI solve certain crimes -- is far different from the legal drama of The Good Wife, Nas will have a familiar look.
When Nas first appears onscreen, jumping out of a helicopter, she’s wearing a jacket, short skirt and knee-high boots. While Panjabi says the look is not intentionally Kalinda-like, “they had decided it was appropriate for the first episode … It just so happens that the boots seemed to go the best with that particular dress.”
But Panjabi is quick to point out the distinct differences: “Even though they are knee-high, they are suede. Kalinda wore leather. They are not stiletto heels and they’re brown, not black.”
If there are any other similarities between Blindspot, The Good Wife and even The Fall, it’s a strong female dynamic, which the actress is naturally drawn to.
“I really like strong female friendships,” Panjabi says. “I don’t feel they’re shown enough on TV as much as they should be. Often, it’s nice to see two women looking out for each other.”
“There was a really good energy match with both Jaimie [Alexander] and I,” Panjabi says of the first scene the two actresses filmed together on Blindspot. “I hope they develop that further because I certainly found it when we were working together.”
And when that energy matches up, it creates magic onscreen, as seen when Panjabi appeared opposite Margulies -- before the latter half of the series found the two actresses no longer sharing any scenes -- and alongside Gillian Anderson on The Fall.
It was that role as Reed Smith, who shares a kiss with Anderson’s Stella Gibson, that reportedly prompted Panjabi to close the chapter on Kalinda. “When I was kissing her, Allan Cubitt, the show’s creator and director, had to say, ‘Archie, can you hold back?,’ because Gillian was supposed to take me by complete surprise. I didn’t think that I was very forward in [the scene], but obviously after a while a character starts to affect you. I thought, ‘OK, I think it’s time to go now,’” she told Radio Times Magazine in January 2015, leading to headlines such as “Archie Panjabi Says She Decided to Leave The Good Wife After Kissing Gillian Anderson.”
Panjabi admits it was “said in tongue-in-cheek,” but “different countries interpreted it in different ways.”
Sadly, though, when The Fall returns to the BBC for season three, Panjabi will not be seen. Due to scheduling conflicts, she could not commit to its final season. “I will definitely be there in spirit,” she says. “Gillian’s a good of friend of mine … I’m looking forward to seeing that.”
While Panjabi won’t speak to whatever drama may have prompted her exit from The Good Wife (“In terms of anything that happened on The Good Wife, I think it’s only respectful to leave it on The Good Wife,” she told a room full of reporters in August), she does offer a lesson learned from her time on the series: “I learned that you could put in all the time and effort, and everybody wants to do their best with the project, but ultimately, how good it is is completely in the hands of the critics and the audiences.” It’s a lesson that will likely be put to the test when fans finally see her in a new light -- even if she’s in a similar outfit.