April 07, 2014 12:00 PM

First and foremost, Josh Charles would like his fans to know one thing: “It’s going to be okay,” he says with a laugh. “We’re all going to be okay.” But the morning after the brutal death of his Good Wife alter ego, the swaggeringly sexy lawyer Will Gardner, not everyone had such a sunny disposition. The plot twist – in the episode’s final 20 minutes, Will is shot and killed by an unhinged client – devastated viewers, who quickly headed online (see next page) to express their outrage, shock and despair. Critics were equally stunned that the show’s creators, husband and wife team Robert and Michelle King, would kill off their male lead and romantic sparring partner for heroine Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies. Even Charles’s neighbors were reeling. “I woke up the next morning, and the people who live across the street, who I don’t even know that well, had left me a letter,” Charles says. “It said that they felt like they’d lost a member of their family, and that it might seem strange to me, but that they really felt like they were in mourning.” As for keeping the twist under wraps? “We didn’t go to any extreme measures, but I only told my family and some close friends,” says Charles. “People who I knew could keep a secret.”

It was a secret he’s been hiding since last year, when he made the decision to leave. His costar Christine Baranski was less than thrilled: “It was like my husband telling me he was going to leave. I didn’t want to hear it. I’m still sad.” But Charles hopes even the most bereft will come to understand his reasons. “It wasn’t about my wanting to be let out of a contract or wanting more money or anything like that,” he says. “I had always wanted to leave the show in a good place, and when my contract ended, it felt like a good time to move on and explore new things.” But even with advance notice, “knowing that it was happening for so long affected me a great deal,” he says. “It made this past year that much more special. The last time I ever said lines as Will, I found myself, by the fourth or fifth take, getting more and more emotional.”

The Baltimore native, 43, first choked up viewers as the lovesick prep school student Knox Overstreet in 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society. A two- season stint on the cult favorite Sports Night was his biggest network TV gig until Margulies, a longtime friend, suggested him for The Good Wife. “This was the longest job I’ve ever had, and there’s been ups and downs, but it’s been overwhelmingly a blessed opportunity,” Charles says. “Just getting to work with Julianna and everyone on the show, I am so tremendously grateful.”

He’s also tremendously busy. In addition to appearing on several upcoming episodes of Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central, Charles has two feature films, Bird People and Brother’s Keeper, due later this year. And while viewers may not see Will and Alicia in any more elevators (sob!), Charles will still be a presence on the set. Having directed two episodes of The Good Wife to air later this season, he says, “I’m excited about the next chapter, but that doesn’t mean there’s been anything wrong with this chapter. I’m still a part of the show’s family.” And family is very much on his mind these days. Married last September to writer Sophie Flack, 30, the pair recently finished renovating their New York City home, which they share with their dog Zeus. “We hopefully want to have kids,” Charles says. “We’re really still basking in the glow of our wedding and honeymoon. We’re in a really good place right now. Everything is all good.”

Those still grieving will have to take his word for it.

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