Once picked for a prestigious award by Naomi Watts and Matt Damon, this Perth native is going to make waves in an acclaimed US TV show.
When The Good Fight kicks into its fifth season proper this week, there’s a new face among its illustrious cast.
Joining the ranks of the American legal drama which mixes absurdist humour and with social commentary is Australian actor Charmaine Bingwa.
Hailing from Perth, Bingwa doesn’t have an extensive resume but that didn’t stop her from booking one of the most acclaimed and entertaining shows on American TV – The Good Fight airs and streams on SBS in Australia.
Her character Carmen is a junior associate at the firm of Reddick and Lockhart, barely out of law school and already making waves. The soft-mannered and inscrutable Carmen is a dark horse, someone not to be underestimated.
Bingwa is something of a dark horse herself, having seemingly come out of nowhere to bag this huge role, but she’s much warmer and available than Carmen, even if the actor admitted to being more like her onscreen counterpart than she realised.
“I didn’t think I was similar to her, but I found out that there were ways that I was, which was interesting,” she told news.com.au over zoom. “That’s the beauty of entertainment, is you’re able to reflect these different parts of you but dialled up.
“I don’t think I’m as morally ambiguous as a person in my day-to-day life.
“[The writers] get a sense of you and they write more in that direction. They almost see more of you than you see of you. And they know how to write those quirks.”
The Good Fight’s writers, especially co-creators Robert and Michelle King, are renowned for incorporating aspects of their actors into their characters.
In previous years, actors such as Cush Jumbo and Nyambi Nyambi revealed the writers would frequently sit down with the cast and drill down on what they were thinking about and going through in their own lives.
With covid restrictions, that interaction was more limited.
Even as the new kid in the class, Bingwa said the established cast and crew were incredibly welcoming but said it was odd meeting everyone under covid conditions which dictated mask wearing on set except when acting in scenes.
“You’re meeting people and for half the season, you have your face covered,” she explained. “I went to the wrap party, and we were all tested before we went, and seeing people’s faces for the first time after you’ve worked with them for six months, that’s quite odd.”
But things are different now in New York where she is presently based.
“The city’s gone through it, but everyone seems to be out. It’s summer and people have a new lease on life.”
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Before The Good Fight, Bingwa gained notice for her performance in a stage production of Doubt: A Parable at The Old Fitz and had roles in short films plus features Black Box, The Pitch and Nekrotronic. She also created and starred in a web series called Little Sista.
She was the 2018 winner of the Heath Ledger Scholarship, a prize named after the late actor and whose previous recipients include Bella Heathcote and Cody Fern. Bingwa was chosen by a panel that included Rose Byrne, Matt Damon, Elizabeth Debicki and Naomi Watts.
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in scenes with veteran and celebrated stars such as The Good Fight’s Christine Baranski (Bingwa: “an international treasure), Audra McDonald and Mandy Patinkin, she more than holds her own.
She called them “dream picks for a squad – we’ve got each other’s backs”.
Few shows engage with the current political and social environment as much as The Good Fight does, building stories that directly play into headlines and debates, and Bingwa said her character is plugged right into it.
“I liked that she gives cause to a really relevant ethical and moral debate that’s going on in society right now.
“We’ve seen recently that your politics, the colour of your skin, your wealth influences how you’re treated in the legal system. While Carmen is morally ambiguous, I think it shows us some of the cracks and issues with our society and our systems.
“It broadly asked the question, ‘do we have a legal system, or do we have a justice system?’.”
Bingwa said even before she booked The Good Fight, she was already a “bit of a news watcher” but that was supercharged in 2020.
“I feel like everyone turned into an intense news watcher during 2020.
“It was something crazy going on every two seconds, and I think the Kings really captured that, whether it was the January 6 riots or the election.
“That’s why I think this season is going to resonate so much. Because we all went through those events and it offers a beautifully comedic and dramatic way to process everything. Because a lot of 2020 was nonsensical.”
The Good Fight is on SBS and on SBS On Demand on Thursdays at 8.30pm
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