Julianna Margulies had a decision to make after her six-year contract on ER was up: walk away or sign on for more two more years for $27 million. She chose the former, but not before having a spiritual awakening by way of a timely trip to a local bookstore in Los Angeles, Margulies writes in her newly released memoir, Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life, out Tuesday.
The actress, who later went on to star in the critical darling The Good Wife, recalled getting "a lot of flack" for leaving the long-running NBC medical drama, where she played head nurse Carol Hathaway. By the time 2000 rolled around, Margulies was ready to move back to New York City and begin a new chapter in her life and career, and she was eyeing a Jon Robin Baitz play to sign onto. But then the enticing two-year contract came across her lap, complicating her decision. "My decision to leave was not an easy one; it was perhaps the hardest one I’ve ever had to make," Margulies writes in her book.
Seeking advice from friends and peers, nearly all told her she would be "nuts to turn down that amount of money." Still unclear on what to do, she turned to her father, Paul, for guidance. He advised her to go with her heart and not her bank account, which led her to visit Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood, California, and a chance encounter with a spiritual book by Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das that confirmed that she needed to let go of ER and side with her initial gut instinct.
"I felt confident in my choice; this was my decision, no one else’s. After months of harrowing soul-searching, I decided the right choice for me was to go with my heart," Margulies writes. "The next day, with supreme clarity, I politely turned down the offer from ER, called Robbie, and signed on to do the play."
What Margulies wasn't expecting was the backlash to her controversial decision to leave. She specifically recalls a moment at the gym where she found herself watching the ladies of The View, including Barbara Walters and Joy Behar demeaning her decision to leave millions on the table.
"One day I was at the gym, the TV was tuned in to the daily talk show The View, and I was mortified to find that I was their topic of conversation. Barbara Walters held up the cover of the New York Post, or the Daily News, I forget which one, with the headline, 'ER Actress Turns Down $27,000,000!!,'" Margulies remembers. Seeds of doubt seeped into Margulies' head and she recalls calling her father after witnessing their commentary about her decision. He advised her that her decision was not a popular one and one they likely would've never made, so of course they wouldn't understand it.
Margulies writes that the backlash to her decision to depart ER helped her grow "thicker skin." "In time I learned not to care what others thought. This was my life, my decision, and I know for certain had I stayed those two extra years, I wouldn’t have the life I have now, and there is no place else I would rather be," she says.
Other topics addressed in Sunshine Girl include her time as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife; how she met her husband, lawyer Keith Lieberthal, at a chance birthday party; and shuffling around various homes during her childhood as a product of divorce.
Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life is available now. For more, watch below.
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