Director, producer, writer, and actress Carrie Preston is all over the map. From playing sassy Southern belle Arlene on HBO’s True Blood, a guest starring role on husband Michael Emerson’s NBC thriller Person of Interest, stints on the stage, co-owning her own production company, Daisy 3 Pictures, and a reprisal of her role on the Emmy-award winning CBS procedural drama The Good Wife, Preston shows no signs of slowing down. To find out more details on her plucky character Elsbeth Tascioni’s return to The Good Wife, Buzzine’s Jesse Livingston asked Preston all about her role in the show, her collaborations with her husband, and the many projects she’s got in the works.
Jesse Livingston: The Good Wife has been getting quite a bit of praise, not to mention winning a Peabody Award and multiple Emmys – and CBS has renewed it for a fourth season. When you joined the cast in Season One, did you already know the show was going to be a hit, or did you have a strong feeling about it?
Carrie Preston: I was a fan of it from day one. I know Julianna Margulies – we did a play together about seven years ago. So, she was a friend, and I started watching it for her. I liked it immediately. I had wanted and hoped to go on the show in some capacity. At the end of the first season, when they asked me to play this incredible role, I was really excited. At that point, the show had found its audience and was turning into a hit. I didn't do any of the second season at all, so I thought, “All right, that was it. I had a great time. I played a fun part," and then when they came back and asked me to do those episodes last season, I was just thrilled.
JL: Your character Elsbeth Tascioni has been described as “quirky.” Do you see her that way, or would you use a different word to describe her?
CP: I guess maybe I would use the word “dizzy.” I would say that she's brilliant; her mind works very quickly – like quicksilver – and her mouth and her body are always trying to keep up with her mind. That's what makes her so fun to play.
JL: Had you played a lawyer before, and did aspects of your previous roles influence your portrayal of Elsbeth?
CP: No, I've never played a character quite like her. I've never even really seen a character like that. She's pretty singular, which makes it more exciting – and I think it's fun for the writers, too, to add that spice to the mix. I'm trying to think if I've ever played a lawyer... I did, yes. I played one on Arrested Development in one of their last episodes, but that was a totally different character from Elsbeth. I don't imagine there are very many lawyers like her on any of your typical lawyer shows. That's what makes The Good Wife so interesting: they give all the judges and lawyers and defendants and guest stars very specific characters. You get the sense that they have whole lives outside of these circumstances. That's a wonderful and amazing thing to be able to achieve in such a small number of scenes. I think that's why so many actors are scrambling to try to be on the show.
JL: Do you know yet if Elsbeth will be returning for Season Four?
CP: Yes, actually I'm shooting right now. I'm going to be doing three episodes, I think.
JL: You and your husband Michael [Emerson] have appeared in several projects together. You played his mother on Lost and his ex-fiance on Person of Interest. Plus, you were both in Straight-Jacket; Ready? OK!; and a stage production of A. R. Gurney's Love Letters, if I'm not mistaken?
CP: We did, yeah. That was just a one-off benefit reading of Love Letters. But we met doing a production of Hamlet eighteen years ago at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Since then we've done a production of Measure for Measure, another totally different production of Hamlet, an independent film called The Journey – so, we've done a lot of things together over the years. Plus, I've just recently done a couple more episodes of Person of Interest.
JL: It sounds like the two of you try to work together as much as possible?
CP: If it works out, yeah. A lot of times, it's not up to us – you know, it's up to whoever is producing and directing. But we enjoy it very much. I have a production company, and I've put him in movies that I've produced or directed. [laughs] I like to take advantage of his talents and his visibility.
JL: His portrayal of Ben Linus on Lost was famously creepy and intense. Were you ever disturbed by it? Did he surprise you in that role?
CP: He surprised me in the sense that he's nothing like that... The first thing he did on TV that got a lot of notice was on The Practice where he was playing this horrible serial killer who cuts off the heads of women. Obviously, he's nothing like that, but I remember watching one of those episodes way back when and saying, “Don't you ever look at me like that!” [laughs] It's just a testament to his skill. Michael is extremely skilled as an actor, and he has a way of making you believe that he is that person. I think it's been extraordinary seeing how he's made people completely forget about Benjamin Linus on Person of Interest... When people watch that show, they're watching Harold Finch, not Benjamin Linus.
JL: Do you see Person of Interest as highly relevant to the current social and political environment, or does it strike you more as pure fantasy?
CP: A lot of it is very much based in truth. We do have cameras all over every street corner in New York City for sure, if not everywhere else. There are satellites up in the air that can pinpoint where you are based on your cell phone... It can be a little bit disconcerting when you think about that. The writers are not that far off with the technology they use on the show. So, I think it's very relevant in that way. At the same time, it's just a fun show that's episodic. You get the crime-of-the-week – or you get to see them try to prevent the crime-of-the-week, rather – but at the same time, they have this long arc they're working on that sets up a mythology. That's something I think all the Bad Robot shows are very good at doing.
JL: You mentioned your theater work earlier. Do you have a favorite role that you've played onstage?
CP: People always ask that, and I always say that my favorite role tends to be the one that I'm playing at the moment. You really do put all of your energy into fleshing out this character, bringing it off the page, and making it into a real person. But looking back... I made my Broadway debut doing The Tempest with Patrick Stewart. I was playing Miranda. That was a pretty extraordinary way to make a Broadway debut – doing Shakespeare with an American company. It just doesn't happen that much. So, I guess I would say that one stands out as one of my faves.
JL: Do you have a preference between stage, film, and TV work?
CP: Well, right now, I'm really enjoying the TV and film work. I haven't done a play in seven years now, so there must be something about doing work for the camera that I'm really enjoying. I think part of it was that I did theater for so long. I started doing plays in my hometown – community theater plays when I was eight or nine years old. Once I started getting the opportunity to do film and TV, I found that it was very fulfilling and also something that I had – and still have – a lot to learn about and from. I think that's what keeps me wanting to go back to it. That's certainly what's kept me behind the camera as a director and producer: figuring out how this huge jigsaw puzzle works. There are so many moving pieces that are utilized to create this thing that we watch on TV and so blithely click on and off or change channels from one to the other. The more work I do behind the camera, the more I realize how much work goes into every single thing that's being flipped through your remote control as you're sitting in front of the TV...
JL: At what point did you start directing?
CP: I took a filmmaking course – a five-week intensive – about twelve years ago now. That was when I started getting interested in it and messing around with it. I directed my first feature in 2003. My producing partner wrote the script and starred in it. There are three of us in my production company. We basically crewed it ourselves, lit it ourselves, shot it ourselves, edited it ourselves. It was a good crash course in how to make movies. We've been trying to slowly build on that. Our latest effort just came out in theaters. It's called That's What She Said.
JL: It stars Alia Shawkat and Anne Heche, right?
CP: That's correct, yeah.
JL: I'm guessing you met Alia when you worked on Arrested Development?
CP: No, I didn't meet her then, actually! She wasn't in any of the scenes I was in. We got to work with her because of Anne. We cast Anne as one of the three leads in the movie, and Marcia DeBonis is our other lead actress – she played the same role when I directed the play. It was a stage play first. We were still casting the third lead role [for the film], and Anne was the one who said, “Do you know Alia Shawkat? I just did Cedar Rapids with her. She's wonderful. You should contact her.” So, we just took a big leap of faith, and she turned out to be such a gem. We got very lucky with her.
JL: Do you think you'll be directing a lot more in the future?
CP: Absolutely, yeah. I'm just now prepping for a couple episodes of a web series that some friends have written that I'm gonna be directing next weekend. So, I'm already back in the saddle. I also have a web series that I wrote and act in, the pilot of which just premiered at the New York Television Festival a couple of weeks ago. Our production company is very much alive and well and moving on to other things.
JL: What are the web series called?
CP: The one that I'm directing that my friends wrote is called Darwin's Tree. The one that I wrote and am starring in is called The Dody Show. Neither one of them has premiered online yet, but they will after the new year.
Carrie Preston can be seen in 'The Good Wife', airing Sundays at 9/8c on CBS, as well as in the next season of "True Blood', premiering next June.
Header photo by Shawn Blint Flair.