Julianna Margulies, age 44, is cheated-on political wife Alicia Florrick in the CBS legal drama The Good Wife. While Margulies famously departed ER after six seasons in 2000 to pursue a film career that never caught fire, she’s never been too far away from the small screen — whether on The Sopranos or the short-lived Canterbury’s Law. She received Golden Globe and SAG awards for her work in Good Wife and faces off in Emmy’s lead drama series actress category against Glenn Close (Damages), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) and January Jones (Mad Men). Margulies spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood about the Emmys, the grind of starring in an hour-long network drama series, and working close to home in New York City:

Deadline Hollywood: You’ve already won the Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and honors from the Television Critics of America for your Good Wife role. The Emmy is in the bag, right?

Julianna Margulies: [laughing] Oh, not a chance. The Emmys are honestly very unpredictable. I mean, have you looked at my Emmy record? I was nominated 6 times for ER and won once. So you never know at all. But my God, it’s all icing at this point anyway. The fact our show is being watched and I’m winning accolades for my performance is already beyond my wildest expectations.

DH: Really? Your wildest expectations?

JM: Yes, honestly. Just look at the category I’m in and the nominees. There isn’t one of them I wouldn’t vote for. They’re all just so amazing. To be included in that group with women like Glenn Close and Kyra Sedgwick is a little bit astonishing to me. To even be mentioned in the same sentence as Glenn Close is just ridiculous.

DH: Isn’t it apples and oranges with these awards, that it’s all wholly subjective?

JM: You know, I really do. It’s a little bit silly to pit us all against each other as if we were running a race. Just think about the fact that Richard Burton never won an Oscar. I remember the first year ER was up and I won the Emmy, I went to this party afterward and John Goodman was there. He said to me, ‘It’s your first year of eligibility and you won. Enjoy it. I’ve been nominated seven straight times and never won.’ [Goodman finally won in 2007 on his 10th nomination for a guest acting stint on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.] That kind of put it all into perspective.

DH: So now The Good Wife is nominated against cable competition like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and Dexter.

JM: It is. But in a lot of ways it’s not a fair measure. We’re thrilled to be in the Outstanding Drama category, but we’re the only nominated show that put out 23 episodes while the ones on cable did 13. We don’t get that same six-month reprieve to wax and ponder. Our writers got only three weeks off between seasons. The actors had two months. When I was first nominated for ER, cable wasn’t even eligible for Emmys. They still had the CableACE Awards for that until I think ‘97.

DH: Is starring in a network drama the grind that we hear it is?

JM: I have to say yes. When I first took the show, I said to my husband, ‘The first year, you’re not going to see me.’ By the second season, other storylines have to evolve to make the central story more interesting. They’ve promised me that I’ll have a day off here and there. So I get to have a life now a little bit. I’ve actually seen my child.

DH: Was there awkwardness launching a series whose storyline so closely matches the real-life one of Eliot Spitzer and his wife?

JM: Not really. I viewed it mostly as a fictitious, but really interesting, blending of the personal and the political. We’re all so fascinated by politicians. I’m thrilled that this show has not just a legal backdrop but a political one as well. Every time I read a new script, I’m intrigued with the development. What’s written for Alicia is so interesting and challenging to play.

DH: Some people have thought your performance in the show too subtle. But obviously awards voters and most critics don’t agree.

JM: I’m comfortable with the way I’ve chosen to play the character. But I’m always aware that there’s a trick to television to prevent an actor from becoming too lazy. Once you become too familiar with a character, it can stifle the adrenalin from flowing through in the performance. The secret is to have great writing, and I’m amazingly fortunate that I do. I’m really fortunate all around here, to tell you the truth, to have this exciting piece of work in a show I love, working at home in New York, with people giving me trophies. It’s kind of a dream.

DH: How is it to be the rare series shooting in Manhattan?

JM: What’s so terrific is these people are all grateful to have a job. The crew guys on other shows that left New York City are now with us, and it’s like walking into this world of thankfulness every day. They’re happy to be employed – as are we all – and that satisfaction infuses the work.

DH: You departed ER leaving millions on the table. Any regrets now that it’s a decade later?

JM: What I love about the journey is to keep moving forward and never look back with anything but good feelings. I needed to forge my way through and do my thing. What I love about what I’ve been given – and luck has a lot to do with it – is that if you follow your heart you’ll wind up doing exactly what you want to do. I was fortunate enough to have enough of a foundation with people behind me to do what was in my heart. And it’s all worked out.