Emmy-winner Archie Panjabi Shows Off Her Range In Two HBO Series — One's A Serious Drama, The Other A Comedy

She co-stars in two very different HBO shows, 'I Know This Much Is True' and 'Run'.

Archie Panjabi claims that ‘seeing’ a therapist has helped her cope with life under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s not much you can do in a situation like this,” the 48-year-old British-Indian actress, best known for her Emmy-winning turn as the knee-high boots-wearing, badass investigator Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife, tells a group of journos over the phone over the phone. 

“What can you do? You can only make the most of the time you have — help people, talk to people, reflect on life, and look to the future,” she continues. “I think my sessions with Dr Patel may have helped me.”

The Dr Patel Panjabi is referring to is the therapist she plays in the six-part HBO mini-series I Know This Much is True — based on Wally Lamb’s 1998 novel — where her character is assigned to counsel  Mark Ruffalo’s downtrodden Dominick and his paranoid schizophrenic-stricken twin brother Thomas (also played by Ruffalo).

Panjabi says Dr Patel and Dominick’s one-to-ones were tough to shoot. One scene in particular — where Dominick opened up about a family tragedy — was so raw and emotional that it moved her to tears, a candid moment that ended up in the final cut.

Real-life counsellors Panjabi spoke to said they get upset from listening to their patients and struggle to keep their composure. “And that’s what I love about [director] Derek [Cianfrance]," she says. “He wanted to capture a moment of Patel being emotionally affected [and] show the human side to this counsellor.”

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In treatment: Archie Panjabi with Mark Ruffalo in 'I Know This Much Is True'.. Panjabi said, “Derek [Cianfrance], the director, was very keen to have an energy on set that is very calm, very relaxed. All the actors he chose were very humble, hardworking [and they] just got on well with everybody. That’s a fantastic environment for creativity to flourish. Derek likes his actors to improvise and you can only improvise when you are with a group of people who you feel very relaxed with. This was a very special job for me.”

For a show that deals with unrelenting trauma, misery and grief, I Know This Much is True, while driven by compelling performances, is not what one would call ‘comfort TV. Then again, that’s not what art is about.

“Life is not always about neat packages — it’s a river full of challenges,” Panjabi explains. "[Derek] is unafraid to explore that darkness, ugly side of life which at some point we have gone through it or will go through it.”  

She hopes the show does what the book did in shedding light on mental illness and its impact on families: “Wally Lamb mentioned that so many people went up to him and thanked him for writing about a subject which exposes what they were going through so that other people can understand.”

Given the serious nature of I Know This Much is True, Panjabi was relieved that her next job, in another HBO series, was a comedic role, a first for her. In Run, she plays Fiona Hatwal, “a delicious character” who’s determined break up two ex-lovers — played by Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson — who are reunited after 17 years.

“I’ve worked with Merritt before and with Domnhall, and the three of us had so much fun on set that it was very easy to have that chemistry,” Panjabi recalls. “When you have great people who are open to connecting to your energy, you can create a great chemistry with your characters.”

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Two for the road: Panjabi with Domhnall Gleeson in ‘Run’. “The director and creator gave me a lot of pretty wide notes on this [show],” Panjabi says. “But one of the things that came out of our discussions, which I’m a big supporter of, is that I love when we see two women actually getting on. And irrespective of Fiona’s motives, she genuinely does like [Merritt’s] character. And I think that’s what’s so bizarre. She’s there to break them up but you can’t help but like this character.”

Whether it’s a drama or a comedy, Panjabi is always grateful for every single job she gets. “Because I know how scarce the jobs are for somebody like me [of Indian descent] in Hollywood,” says Panjabi, who’s waiting to resume work on Departure, a conspiracy series where she plays an aviation investigator looking into the disappearance of passenger airliner.

“So when you get these opportunities like Run and I Know This Much is True, people value your work and they want to work with you, you just want to do your best,” she adds. “Each job in its way has a special moment; I can’t say which one is my favourite. It’s the journey of exploring a character that’s nourishing for me.”

I Know This Much is True and Run are streaming on HBO Go.

Photos: TPG News/Click Photos (Main Pic), HBO Asia

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