If you want to talk to actress and director Carrie Preston about her work, you'll have to be specific; not only is the "True Blood" star about to begin filming her sixth season as Merlotte's waitress Arlene Fowler, but she's also returning to "The Good Wife" as quirky fan-favorite attorney Elsbeth Tascioni early next year, and she just directed her first film, the New York City-set comedy "That's What She Said."
And this week, Preston returns to the CBS drama "Person of Interest," playing the love interest of her real-life husband, "Person" star Michael Emerson. Preston's Grace appeared in an episode earlier this month as the show began to unfold the story of Grace and Finch's courtship, and the very in-demand actress talked to Yahoo! TV about what's ahead for Grace and Finch, Elsbeth and Arlene, and, of course, Michael and Carrie.
How did the role on "Person of Interest" come about? When you guest-starred on "Lost" with your husband, that sparked from a suggestion you made about his Ben Linus character, right?
Yes. In that case, we were literally joking around. I said to Michael, "I know they're going to do your flashback at some point. Wouldn't it be hilarious if I played your mother?" Michael just jokingly mentioned it to the ("Lost") producers, and then the next thing I knew, I was in a jungle giving birth to him! (Laughing.) That came about very quickly, just out of some kind of light joke that I made.
For "Person of Interest," I had no idea that they were even considering doing something like that … the producers just presented it as an opportunity, and luckily I was available to do it, so that was really fun. Then, this season we got to play scenes together. That has been really fun for us, because obviously on "Lost," I couldn't play scenes with him, playing his mother. Just doing these flashbacks with him playing Mr. Finch has been really fun.
More flashbacks! Did you know when you first signed on last season that you would eventually be in flashback scenes with Finch?
I didn't. I didn't know, because last season they just had me in the one episode, where Reese finds out that Finch had this woman in his life, and she thinks that he is dead. So that was a big moment, a revelation about a very private man. I wasn't sure if they were going to continue to keep Finch very private or … if he was going to catch up with her in the present day somehow. So no, I had no idea that it was going to be these flashbacks, (revealing) how their relationship started.
In this week's episode, "'Til Death," we find out more about Grace's relationship with Finch. Is it going to be a heartbreaking episode? Is this the last time we'll see Grace?
No, there's still at least one more episode (after "'Til Death") that I haven't shot yet. And I think fans are going to be very interested in what happens in ["'Til Death"]. I wouldn't say it's heartbreaking. I would say it's more touching.
There are definitely some surprises in there, and then I think that the [next] episode that I'm going to do will be even more surprising. I would assume they haven't really told me what is happening there -- but I know that they're building up to something interesting.
Playing the romantic interest of a character played by your real-life husband might initially sound like a pretty easy gig, but is it more complicated than playing opposite a stranger?
It's a very interesting alchemy there. I'm very comfortable, obviously, with Michael, as a person; I'm very trusting of him and he of me. That is something that you definitely have to have when you're acting with someone. Sometimes, when you're acting with a stranger, you are taking a leap of faith that this is going to be a trustworthy person to work with. So that was all taken care of. What was really interesting for me, in this particular case, was I was stepping into a show that he'd been living with for one and a half seasons. So he's very comfortable in that character, in that role, and in that world, and on that set. I was very much a visitor to that, as an actor.
I'd gone maybe one or two times just to say hi to him while he's on set. We try to stay out of each other's way. It takes a lot of concentration to do what we do, so we don't visit each other much on set, because it can be distracting. So I was stepping on set as a guest. Then, when we started to rehearse the first scene that we had together we didn't rehearse at home or anything like that -- but I walked in and I saw him. I realized that I was not in the room with Michael Emerson. I was in the room with Mr. Finch.
It was a very interesting thing because, as you know, Mr. Finch is a pretty intense guy. He definitely has a different energy than Michael. So it was kind of a moment like, "Ohhhh, right. OK." It made me behave differently, which I think was very helpful.
Now you've played your husband's mom and his wife to be. It seems only fair that he should come on your show, on "True Blood," and play some role, don't you think?
(Laughing.) I know! Wouldn't that be funny? I mean, it would be fun if he came on and did some scenes with Arlene. It would be cool to see him come into Merlotte's. I don't know what he would play. I don't think he's interested in playing any of the supernaturals, but if he came on in some way connected to Arlene, that would be very interesting.
Do the two of you have a dream project that you would want to do together, a movie or a show on Broadway?
People ask us that a lot, and if we were to pick something from the canon, we're both fans of classical theater, and so it would be fun to do some Shakespeare together. We definitely mesh. We've done a production of "Hamlet," and we have done other classics together … "Measure for Measure." We actually did a second production of "Hamlet" together, too. But we're also big fans of Ibsen, so I think it would be really fun to do something like that with him -- "A Doll's House" or some kind of Ibsen. We're eager to get back on the stage at some point.
Finding time must be a challenge, especially since you're on three TV shows right now. You're coming back to "The Good Wife" in January?
Yes, I'm shooting it now. We're shooting the arc right now. There's going to be three episodes. I'm not sure exactly when they're going to start airing, but yeah, it probably won't be until January or February, I think.
Can you give us any hints on what our beloved attorney Elsbeth Tascioni will be up to this time?
Well, I can't really give you any hints, but I can guarantee that you'll be getting a healthy dose of her dizzy and brilliant behavior and mind! (Laughing.) I really love playing her.
[Related: Read our latest "Good Wife" recap]
You've already earned such a devoted fan base for that character! "The Good Wife" has a habit of creating these great characters for its guest stars, but still, it's rare to have, in just a few appearances, such support for a guest role. Why do you think people are connecting to Elsbeth so much?
I think there's something about her that is on the one hand very surprising and then on the other hand recognizable. You know, I've had people say, "I know people like her. I know people like her who have a million different things going on in their minds all at once." So I think that there's something that delights people about that. I'm just very grateful that the writers created her first and foremost, but also that they trusted me with it, you know? That they saw something in me as an actor that they thought would be a real good fit for the part.
I remember when I first read it back in Season 1, when I first introduced the character, and I remember reading it going, "Oh, wow! This is a little nugget of gold that I can get, and I just hope that I can rise up to it." Because I just, you know, sometimes you just read things and you get goosebumps going, "Oh, I know what to do with this one. I can't wait to sink my teeth into it."
Will we get to know a little more about Elsbeth in the upcoming episodes? That's the best thing about "The Good Wife" guest casting, that they spend time developing even the guest characters.
Yes, I think you will. I haven't read all three of the episodes, just the one that we're shooting right now. In this one, it's a fun journey that we get to see her go on. We get to see her outside of the normal courtroom.
I don't want to spoil where we first find her, but it is very fun. The writers have done a beautiful job of giving her some fun challenges.
Do you feel like you get to bring a little more to the character, to the role, every time you come back?
Yes, I do, and it's funny you say that. Last season, when I was shooting one of the four episodes I did, I remember the director came up to me and said, "Could you just give a little bit more of 'the Tascioni'?" And I was like, "The Tascioni? I created 'The Tascioni'? What are you talking about?" There's like a vocabulary now. There's "The Tascioni." (Laughing.) I thought, "Well, that's wonderful that I've made an impression so much that there's actually a name for it." But I knew exactly what he was talking about. We were laughing about it. I think it's a good marriage between the writing and whatever quirks that I have that fits with it. It's like putting on a glove that fits.
And now your regular TV role, "True Blood" -- have you started on Season 6 yet?
We haven't started. We probably won't start until right after the new year.
Have there been any preliminary discussions with the new showrunner, Mark Hudis, about the general direction for the new season or any big changes?
No, I haven't heard a peep. I have no idea. I'm pretty sure the writers are back at it, but I haven't heard anything about what's coming up. It's always exciting to show up. It's like showing up on the first day of school. They send us the scripts ahead of time, but it's, you know, only just maybe the week before. And so, it's always very exciting to come back … "What did you do on your summer break?" with your 50 million cast members. I'm very excited to see what the impact of having a new showrunner will be and also curious to see what is going to be going on in Bon Temps next. I'm sure we'll pick up where we left off, but that's just the beginning.
Do you have a wish list for what you would like to see Arlene or Arlene and Terry up to in the new season?
I think it would be really fun to have Sam come out to Arlene. I think that would be very interesting to see how Arlene would deal with having a shapeshifter as her boss.
I just love that Arlene's rather conservative mind or her narrow-mindedness keeps getting challenged, and she keeps having to open her mind up more. It gives the character a nice arc. It gives her an interesting journey. I think it would be really fun to have Arlene and Terry interact a little bit more with the vampires or the shapeshifters, instead of being completely separate.
Although I think it is good that Arlene and Terry are still human, because there just aren't very many of us left. If there's no context for the vampires, then it just doesn't work as well, I don't think. We have to always be reminded that these vampires are in this small town, this small town in the South, but small-town America, and that they are infiltrating themselves into human society, not humans infiltrating themselves into vampire society.
Plus, it's not like she has these attitudes randomly. These are dangerous people.
Right. Yes. She makes a good point. We maybe ought to be a little cautious about people who might, you know, eat our children.
"Person of Interest" airs Thursdays at 9 PM on CBS.