A gifted actress, director and producer, Carrie Preston has made a name for herself by playing pivotal roles in some of television and film’s most memorable projects. Most recently known for her roles as Arlene, the sassy redhead waitress in HBO’s True Blood, and quirky lawyer, Elsbeth Tascioni in the Emmy Winning The Good Wife, Preston has appeared in several episodes of CBS’ Person of Interest. Playing alongside real-life husband Michael Emerson, Preston reprised her role as Grace Hendricks, the former fiancée of Harold Finch. In this one-on-one interview, Preston shares some insights into what it’s like playing a courtship role with her husband.
Besides working with your husband, what do you like about playing Grace in Person of Interest?
Carrie Preston: It’s fun to play a character that is closer to me than some of the other characters I’ve been playing recently. So that’s been a real treat. Obviously, working with Michael comes quite naturally. There’s no pretending to be in love with him. So that’s been exciting. And the show’s just been really fun. I would definitely be watching the show even if I weren’t doing these guest appearances with Michael.
Do you and Michael sometimes ad-lib lines or do you always follow the script?
CP: We follow the script in this show. The writers are really good, so there’s no need to do any improv work.
Is it difficult to play characters that are just getting to know each other when you’ve known each other for so long?
CP: It’s interesting because when you’re doing something like that, you do forget you know the other person, and you really do get into the mind and the rhythms of the character that you’re playing. What’s nice is obviously having a comfort level with the other actor. But once the camera starts rolling and you’re saying these words that aren’t really your words and you’re playing a scene that is not from your own real life, you just forget all those things. You get caught up in the moment and in the story, and your responsibilities in pushing that story forward.
The proposal scene in last week’s episode was very romantic. Was Michael’s real proposal even more so?
CP: It was fun to shoot that proposal and to remember when we got engaged. It was a Sunday, and we were out having brunch at our favorite place in the East Village. It was a total surprise. I had no idea it was coming, and the next thing I know, Michael is talking about taking our relationship to the next level and he brings out this family ring and suddenly I was sobbing and laughing. We were thrilled and it was a beautiful day in June in New York City. In Person of Interest, the day we shot that scene, it was very cold, so we were basically freezing and trying to not to think about how cold we were. I was very happy to see how they edited that together. The whole thing was pretty much the POV of the machine, which I thought was very clever and cool. They shot it in several different ways, and I didn’t know how they were going to piece it together. Finch’s whole life is the machine so it also witnessed it. The machine had been responsible for us getting together, so the machine is really the matchmaker.
Was your real first date as charming as the coffee shop scene in Person of Interest?
CP: It was. We were both doing a production of Hamlet at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. We had met during rehearsals and some of the social get-togethers with the cast. Then he asked me to join him for a Christmas party, which was basically for the company of Alabama Shakespeare Festival. When you’re in a small company like that, it sends ripples through the room with people wondering, “…did they come together?” From that moment on, we were smitten, in love and not looking back.
Is Michael really a computer wiz? Or are you?
CP (laughs): Michael can barely turn a computer on. He’d be the first to admit it. I’m definitely the tech person in the family. It is kind of ironic that he’s playing this computer expert.
Do you think the show says something about where we’re headed in terms of personal privacy?
CP: I do. I think the show is right on target there. There are machines already in place. They’re not as sophisticated, but look how quickly they caught the Boston bombers with everyone recording in the area. Big Brother is definitely watching and we are participating. All of us have our phones and we’re documenting things. In a way, it provides a safety net but it could also be a little intrusive. It makes you wonder.
What’s the real Carrie Preston like–Grace, Arlene, or Elsbeth? Are you none of the above or leaning towards one?
CP: You have to find the character within yourself, so I draw on my own personal life and experiences. I would say, I’m very far from Arlene and Elsbeth. Grace, I guess, would be a little close to who I am, but even she is probably a little more shy and intellectual than I am as a person. I’m a Gemini. I have a lot of characters inside me.
Your mother was an artist and you studied fine arts in college. Did you paint those renderings we see on the show?
CP: No. The things I’m painting are created by the prop department. Then I go in and do my sad little squiggles of paint over the painting. They have to restore it so it can be used at the beginning of each take.
Will we be seeing more of you in the Season 3? If so, will Grace and Harold get back together? Will Grace be in danger?
CP: I don’t know. I haven’t seen the scripts. I’m sure if they can work it out, they would want to continue on that story because it shows such a great side of Finch that we don’t get to see anywhere else. In this past episode, Finch saw that Root (Amy Acker) knows who Grace is and might in some way try to harm her, so he’s willing to do whatever he can to prevent that from happening, which is very romantic and sweet.
What else are you doing in terms of film and TV?
CP: I recently finished Beneath the Harvest Sky, a wonderful indie film that I had a supporting role in. It was shot in the very northern part of Maine, near Van Buren on the Canadian border. The place where we were shooting was very remote with no hotels. It’s a part of the country that I don’t think has ever been depicted in film. The filmmakers are documentarians and even though it had a very well written script, they wanted the film to feel like a documentary, so we were encouraged to do a great deal of improv work.
You also just finished Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf. What can you tell us about that one?
CP: It’s about a woman filmmaker who’s creating a version of Virginia Wolf. It’s kind of a movie within a movie. I play Honey in the film. I got to play two different characters in that. The film is just now starting the festival circuit.
What about Vino Veritas?
CP: That’s a great script. It’s about two couples on Halloween night, and one of the women has this special wine that has a truth telling property. Ironically, it also has a Virginia Wolf kind of feel to it. There’s sadness and madness and hilarity.