Minor Spoilers: On screen he plays ‘Zach Florrick’, the sometimes-rebellious son of The Good Wife‘s ‘Alicia and Peter Florrick.’
Off-screen there are real-life parallels for 18 year old Graham Phillips.
“Both my parents are lawyers. My mom stopped being a lawyer when I was born, much like ‘Alicia’, and my Dad used to be a US Attorney, which is funny because ‘Peter’ was a State’s Attorney,” he tells TV Tonight.
But that’s where the similarities end. His parents are nowhere near as distanced as his on-screen parents, played by Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth. In fact his family is currently in Australia, with his father a mad fan of the Australian Open.
While Phillips is a keen golfer and occasional tennis player, this is a family that plays together to stay together.
“I’m not as accomplished at tennis as my father and my sister but I definitely play. Unfortunately squash has temporarily ruined my stroke. I was playing with Rod Eyles, the former #1 squash player, and he’s really cool. He was trying to tell me they can co-exist and they actually help one another once you get them down.
“We’re playing at Royal Melbourne Golf Club and then a private course that’s affiliated with the Crown Metropol.”
Lucky for some. But Phillips has worked hard to achieve success at an early age. His CV includes roles in Crossing Jordan, Judging Amy, The King of Queens, and now three years on The Good Wife.
With its formidable ensemble, Phillips is in good company, even if most of his scenes are with the actors who comprise his on-screen family.
“I get to work with awesome people and I feel like I’ve learned more than almost any acting class by just observing the talented adults around me,” he says.
“Most of my scenes are with (Margulies, Noth and on-screen sister Makenzie Vega) but for the first time in Season Three the gap between ‘Alicia’s’ worklife and domestic life starts to close, so I’ve found myself getting more scenes with ‘Will’ and ‘Kalinda’ and ‘Eli’.
“It’s weird to be in a show for three years with someone and never have a scene with them, so it’s nice to finally be bridging that gap.”
This season, there will be shifts for ‘Zach’s’ mother which are observed by the maturing teenager.
“‘Alicia’ becomes much more rebellious and ‘Zach’ is put off by it. I think it kind of tones him down,” he suggests.
“He’s always been the one having crazy relationships with Machiavellian girls but this is the first season so he calms down in that respect and I think it’s because his mom goes full out on the rebellious scale.
“He’s always idolised his father and this is the first season where he starts to realise that he’s flawed. He’s always been on his father’s side of things and now he realises that his mother has quite the case against him.
“But at the same time ‘Peter’ and ‘Alicia’ seem to be getting on better than ever. They don’t seem to have many arguments since they’ve split up. From what I’ve been seeing ‘Peter’ and ‘Alicia’ getting back together wouldn’t be totally out of the question. I think that’s what ‘Zach’ wants more than anything.”
The Good Wife certainly carries great cachet, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, and with Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards to its name. Phillips also nods to the pedigree of the ensemble cast.
“There’s a lot of theatre-based actors on the show and I think that has a lot to do with the fact it’s filmed in New York. Christine (Barinski), Alan Cumming, Mary Beth Piel is on Follies on Broadway. Chris (Noth) did his show on Broadway while we were filming.
“I started in a show called 13 written by Jason Robert Brown who I absolutely idolise, so becoming friends with him has been terrific.
“Getting to do theatre and singing helps your acting on television and film. It helps you with every single take, to not treat it like its dispensable.”
Occasionally the writing will leave open the interpretation of a scene, allowing actors to deliver the text in alternate scenes with varying tones.
One scene in the third series offers a key moment where ‘Zach’ displays his knowledge of his mother’s affection for ‘Will’ (Josh Charles).
“There’s a scene where ‘Will’ introduces himself to me while I’m working on computers at work and I played it a few different ways. He’s really trying to buddy up to me but he doesn’t know how to act around kids,” he explains.
“I played it two ways. One was a little bit confused, wondering why he’s talking to me so much. But then I also gave a colder version where it was obvious that I had suspicions about him and my mom. They ended up going with that one, which I was happy about.
“I’m giving him absolutely nothing and he’s trying too hard to get on good terms with me.
“But it wasn’t until I saw the episode that I knew ‘Zach’ had suspicions. I didn’t know that the writers and creators would choose, but they ended up choosing that take.
“It’s rare for you to not know which way they want you to go, but in this particular case I didn’t. So you give them a couple of different versions and even when you do know how they want it, if you feel otherwise the beauty of television versus theatre is you can try it a few different ways and they can piece it together.”
I also raise the question of The Good Wife‘s production design with Phillips. Every corner of the screen is dripping in designer clothers and affluent interiors. This is a show about class, empowerment, and wealth.
Phillips agrees it adds to the show’s aspirational qualities.
“In the first season ‘Alicia’ says ‘I like the apartment’ and ‘Peter’ says ‘Our house was 5 times as large’ which is funny to me because that apartment is enormous. So to have a house 5 times as large totally baffles me. But the set designers make everything look totally stunning,” he says.
“My (real) Dad works at a very successful firm and even at their firm it’s not as modern and streamlined as Lockhart & Gardner. But one of the reasons it looks like that is because all the walls are glass and it’s great for photography because you can see everyone doing everything from all points of the office.
“In ‘Alicia’s’ office if you look at the glass that lines her office it’s actually 3 segments of glass on pivots, so they twist. When you’re shooting and there’s a reflection they can twist it so you can’t see it anymore. It’s kind of funky.”
When he finishes his Aussie sojourn, the young actor will return to the US and pursue his musical interests.
“I’m starting a solo album with Humberto Garcia who does Michael Buble and Celine Dion. He was an engineer on We Are the World and then producing with David Foster. Now he has his own label,” he says.
“We’re still working on the sound, but it will have a James Taylor, Cat Stevens feel but with a bigger band like Michael Buble has on Home or Feelin’ Good. Hopefully it comes together really well.”
The Good Wife returns with a double episode 8:30pm Wednesday on TEN.