What You Never Knew About Christine Baranski

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Whether you know her as Tanya from "Mamma Mia!," Maryann from "Cybill," Diane from "The Good Fight," or Agnes from the new HBO show "The Gilded Age," you've probably come across Christine Baranski at least once before. A titan of the stage and screen, Baranski's resume is long and impressively varied. With her sharp, almost bird-like features, Baranski is known for playing witty, strong women who invariably steal the show.

After training for four years at Juilliard, Baranski's career began with a series of stage roles in regional productions and later in New York. Throughout the '80s, she continued acting on stage, appearing in plays such as "Company," "Sunday in the Park with George," "The Real Thing," and "Hurlyburly," picking up two Tonys on the way. Since then, Baranski has become a household name thanks to her television and film roles. But, even though Baranski has appeared in numerous famed stage and screen roles over the past few decades, there are probably a few things you still don't know about her. Here is what you never knew about Christine Baranski.

She's idolized Maggie Smith since she was a young girl

Even the most famous actors and actresses are fans just like the rest of us. In Christine Baranski's case, she grew up idolizing Maggie Smith. "I aspired to be Maggie Smith," she once told NPR. And, as she told Town & Country, "She is my favorite actress. She has been forever." In fact, she was so honored to lose to Smith at the 2012 Emmys, Baranski called it a "major career achievement."

For Baranski, her dream of becoming Smith finally came true in 2022 when she starred as Agnes in "The Gilded Age." The Julian Fellowes HBO show has been widely described as an American version of "Downton Abbey." And, as the snobbish, brash Agnes, Baranski is essentially taking on the American version of the Dowager Countess — who was, of course, played by Smith on "Downton Abbey." Clearly, this show is a dream come true for Baranski in more ways than one.

The actress isn't keen on social media

These days, most celebrities know that social media can be an important part of self-promotion. However, not all celebs like the idea of splattering details about their personal lives all over the internet. For Christine Baranski, social media has never been appealing. "We live in an age where we're just all giving ourselves away. And we don't know the consequences of that yet," she told Elle. "Once you give yourself away, or you give your information away, or expose your personal life, or even your thoughts, you can't put it back in a box."

Baranski went on to explain that social media has created an atmosphere of chaos and noise rather than one of nuanced discussion. Plus, she added, as an actress, she prefers to remain fairly anonymous so that her fans can believe in her characters. "I don't want a Christine Baranski brand," she said. "I'm still protective of my life — it's nice to be somewhat mysterious."

Christine Baranski grew up in a poor, but artistic, Polish family

Christine Baranski has developed a reputation for playing posh, well-to-do characters — Tanya in "Mamma Mia," Maryann in "Cybill," Martha May in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and Agnes in "The Gilded Age" are just a few examples. Most people would probably assume that Baranski grew up in a privileged, well-off family. However, Baranski had a somewhat different upbringing.

She grew up in Buffalo, New York, with her Polish parents. Although her family didn't have much money — she even called herself a "latchkey kid" to The Guardian — she was always surrounded by the performing arts. "My grandparents were actors in the Polish theatre," she told The New Yorker, adding, "My parents were also singers in an amateur Polish singing group. So I would go and hear my parents and my grandparents sing at concerts, and music was very much a part of our life."

The actress got teeth caps to get into drama school

Christine Baranski has a deep, sophisticated voice that is instantly recognizable. But, it turns out, she didn't always sound this way. In fact, as a child, Baranski had a tooth gap which gave her a slight lisp when she pronounced 'S' words. When she first auditioned for Juilliard drama school, she was waitlisted because of it.

Unfettered, Baranski found a way around the problem. "I had my teeth capped and would do a series of syllable and 'S' exercises," she explained to The New Yorker. "Then I returned to New York for an audition and did nothing but pages of 'S' words, and they let me in."

As Baranski told CBS Watch Magazine, the procedure cost $500. Her mother scraped the money together for her daughter, and, luckily, it paid off in the end. After Baranski got into the school, she and her mother even celebrated by drinking some Manhattans together!

Christine Baranski is a huge Buffalo Bills fan

Christine Baranski may not initially strike you as a sports fan. However, it turns out she is passionate about her hometown NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. "Everybody thinks this is, you know, this sophisticated lady, this New York type, these characters that I play, they think that's me," Baranski told Stephen Colbert. "They should be in a room alone with me when I watch the Buffalo Bills. It is loud!"

Apparently, Baranski has always loved watching her team play. She remembers watching four consecutive Super Bowl losses. She has a shirt that reads "Buffalo: A drinking town with a football problem" — not exactly the look we've come to expect from Baranski! She even let out a cry of "Go Bills!" as she finished talking about her beloved team. It's pretty clear that Baranski is not exactly the woman we thought she was — in fact, she's even better.

She was a nervous singer until her 20s

As fans of Christine Baranski will know, she's done her fair share of musical theater over the years. On stage, she's appeared in musicals like "Company," "Sweeney Todd," "Assassins," and "Sunday and in the Park with George." On screen, she's leant her voice to musicals like "Into the Woods" and "Mamma Mia!"

It's hard to imagine her being shy about singing. However, when she was younger, Baranski was anything but a confident singer. "For many years I fought off the fear of singing," she told the Chicago Tribune in 2008. Although Baranski was trained in acting, she hadn't taken singing lessons until her 20s. "Singing, to me ... it was an emotional journey, as it is for a lot of people," she explained to NPR.

Eventually, Baranski got past her fear of singing and learned to embrace her singing voice and focus on how she could use it to emote in character. Now, her whole outlook on singing has changed. "When I have had an opportunity to just sing, it's the greatest high for me," she told NPR. "It's the greatest form of expression."

Christine Baranski was a friend of and frequent collaborator with Steven Sondheim

Steven Sondheim was a legendary composer known for musicals like "Into the Woods," "Company," and "Follies," to name a few. Christine Baranski didn't only work with Sondheim, but she was also a close friend. "I've had the privilege of doing a lot of Sondheim musicals," she told Pocketmags. In fact, because she appeared in "Sunday in the Park with George," "A Little Night Music," and "Sweeney Todd," she feels she's already had the chance to do all of her dream roles.

After Sondheim died in 2022, Baranski told Stephen Colbert that her relationship with Sondheim had become much closer after she worked with him on the film "Into the Woods." Apparently, she and Meryl Streep got into the habit of taking Sondheim out for spontaneous dinners in Connecticut after making the film together.

In another interview with The Guardian, Baranski recalled how Sondheim had turned up to her 50th birthday party. "He said: 'I never miss a 50th,' and he drank glass after glass of wine, talking about what it was like to be part of 'West Side Story'. I thought: 'Who gets a birthday like this?'" she said.

The star has mixed feelings about her looks

Christine Baranski has an incredibly distinctive look — in an interview with Pocketmags, she opened up about how she feels about it. First of all, Baranski is pretty proud of her legs. "The joke I make about my legs is that, 'If the cinematographer could only shoot me from the waist down I wouldn't need lighting,'" she said. While her legs are her favorite feature, she has more mixed feelings about her face. "I have an odd face," she mused. "At certain angles I can look quite glamorous and at other angles I look quite odd, but maybe that's made for versatility."

Baranski went on to explain that she used to have "bad skin," which meant she didn't always feel great about her looks. But, her skin — and her confidence — have improved with time. "In many ways I feel better about myself than I ever have," she said.

She has an odd family connection to the world of The Gilded Age

In HBO's "The Gilded Age," Christine Baranski plays Agnes, a widow who comes from "old New York" money. Even though Baranski grew up in a family of Polish immigrants, she does have a surprising family connection to the luxurious world of 19th century New York wealth.

Her late husband, actor Matthew Cowles, was part of an "old New York family" called the Drexels — a fact that surprised Baranski when she first met him. "When I met my late husband, he was this dashing actor," she said to Town & Country, recalling his leather jacket and "shaggy blonde hair." "It was only slowly that I got to know him as someone who was actually raised on Park Avenue and 72nd Street," she went on.

When Baranski researched old New York in preparation for the show, she discovered that her husband's family had been right in the heart of New York society at the time. In fact, the Drexels are even characters on the show!

The actress auctioned off her designer clothes during COVID

During the pandemic, most of us found ourselves trying new things — whether working from home or picking up new hobbies. Christine Baranski used her newly found free time to declutter her home — namely her closet. "It was my idea last spring when I came out of the closet, meaning my own closet, thinking, 'Gee, two weeks off from work, why not clean some closets?'" she told Seth Meyers.

When COVID hit, Baranski realized it was the perfect time to get her friends together to sell some of their old red carpet outfits. "I realized I had these beautiful hand-beaded gowns," she explained. So, she and her celebrity friends, including Meryl Streep, Patti LuPone, Cher, Bernadette Peters, Audra Macdonald, and Dolly Parton, all donated some of their old designer clothing. When COVID hit, the auction became even bigger and turned into a fundraiser for the theater community in New York. What an amazing event!

She terrified her co-star in The Gilded Age

If you've ever seen interviews with Christine Baranski, you'll know that she's personable, kind, and funny. However, in "The Gilded Age," her character is very different. As Agnes, Baranski is austere, superior, and a little scary. Apparently, her performance in the role was so convincing, she even scared one of her younger co-stars on set.

Louisa Jacobson, who just so happens to be the daughter of Meryl Streep, plays Marian, Agnes' niece, on the show. Because Jacobson is fairly new to acting, it took her a while to separate Baranski from her formidable character. Baranski even told Vogue that Jacobson was so scared of her that her mother, Streep, even wrote to Baranski and told her!

So, Baranski tried to reassure the young actress. "I would say, 'Louisa, that's my character. Me, Christine, I support you, and I adore you. This is who I have to be on camera, but please, don't be frightened. Please, don't think that's me,'" Baranski told Harper's Bazaar. Eventually, Jacobson and Baranski became close friends. However, we can hardly blame Jacobson — Agnes is certainly pretty terrifying!

Christine Baranski started out in a time way different from the #MeToo era

These days, gender equality has become an important, widely discussed part of the film and theater industry. However, when Christine Baranski first started out, things were very different. And she even saw and experienced a few questionable things when she was young. "This is a particularly messy moment in history," she told Elle. "And it'll be messy for a long time."

Luckily, Baranski was never, as she put it, "forced or coerced," but she certainly noticed that men treated women differently a few decades ago. "Did men make passes at me? Yeah. It was the age," she explained to the magazine. She and her friends, however, didn't see the behavior as predatory. Instead, they considered it to be part of the sexual liberation movement of the '70s and '80s. "I think that so much of the culture encouraged that behavior," she said. It's a good reminder of just how much has changed!

The star took several summer courses at Oxford University

In 2016 and 2017, Christine Baranski went back to school. Even though she studied for four years at Juilliard after graduating from high school, Baranski never got an academic degree. So, she signed up for summer courses at Oxford University. "The first was in TE Lawrence [of Arabia] and last summer I did Oscar Wilde," she told The Guardian.

As Baranski explained to Hollywood.com, she had first thought about studying at Oxford after her daughter, Lily, did a graduate degree there. "They have adult courses in the summer, but I could never take one because 'The Good Wife' was always starting [to film during the summer]," she said. When the show wrapped for the last time, she finally got her chance. By the sounds of things, Baranski had a typical university experience. She even slept in a student dorm and ate dinner in the student dining hall. We have to say, we're super impressed! 

Christine Baranski is a big reader and writer, too

It should come as no great surprise to learn that Christine Baranski is just as intelligent as she appears. As the actress told Time, she absolutely loves to read. Her favorite books? Any written about women. "My all-time favorite is 'The Portrait of a Lady' by Henry James, a novel I reread every few years," she said. "And, as I play a tough feminist lawyer on 'The Good Wife,' I read 'Living History' by Hillary Clinton this summer." Baranski also mentioned the books "The Wilder Shores of Love," which she called a "classic" and "West with the Night," which she apparently read to her daughters when they were young.

In fact, Baranski loves books about women so much, she even contributed her own essay to one in 2016. The essay, which describes how a fall from a horse helped teach her daughter a lesson about letting go of pride, appears in the book "What I Told My Daughter: Lessons From Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of Empowered Women" (via Variety). It seems that Baranski isn't just an avid reader — she's a pretty talented writer, too!