If while watching Mamma Mia! (airing on Showtime, starting March 2), you find yourself zeroing in on the actor who plays Tanya Chesham-Leigh — the three-time divorcee and best friend to Donna and Rosie — it wouldn’t be a surprise. Christine Baranski is one well-known face, after all, and it’s actually more likely you don’t wonder why Tanya looks so familiar, but are saying something like “That’s Maryann!” or “That’s Leonard’s mom!” or “Diane Lockhart!”
Baranski has indeed brought to life some memorable characters, especially on TV, and to critical acclaim. As of 2021, she has collected 15 Emmy nominations, winning once (so far) in 1995 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of best friend Maryann Thorpe on Cybill (via the Television Academy). For her work on the mid-’90s sitcom, she also picked up two Golden Globe nominations and one win from the American Comedy Awards. Cybill, which aired from 1995-98, was actually Baranski’s first regular role on television; it was the start of something hugely successful for the Juilliard-trained stage actor.
Baranski's dream was to be a theater actress
Christine Baranski, who is perhaps best known now as lawyer Diane Lockhart of The Good Fight and prior to it, The Good Wife, told NPR in 2020 that she was always going to realize her acting dream, no matter what. “I was a passionate acting student and nothing was going to stop me,” she said. Finding success in TV and film, however, was not something Baranski could predict. She explained to Elle that when she enrolled in Julliard in 1970, her only “dream was to be a theater actress.” And she was a successful one to be sure, going on to win two Tony Awards for Best Featured Actress in a Play for 1984’s The Real and 1989’s Rumors.
Baranski said she never imagined herself as making films in Hollywood though, and as she pointed out, she actually didn’t make it to Tinseltown until she was in her forties (per Elle). But make it she did, and in addition to her success on TV, she’s also made a number of movies, such as The Birdcage, Chicago, and Trolls (voice), and of course 2008’s Mamma Mia!, playing Tanya, one part of the best-friend trio with Meryl Streep’s Donna and Julie Walters’ Rosie (via IMDb).
So again no surprise that Tanya from Mamma Mia! looks so familiar to you, and she will definitely look familiar now — now that Christine Baranski has played characters like Dr. Beverly Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory and again, Diane Lockhart, a character The Guardian called “one of TV’s greatest.”
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