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"For the most part it seems to that people are letting me do it, so I'm going to keep on doing it until I can't anymore!"
"It's something that I continue to learn from. It's a lifelong process. A 'real' craft."
"The last 4 years, I've really been more taken with the film and television world."
"I tend to fall in love with all the parts. Just because you bring who you are to the part and you become a little attached to it!"
"To make a Broadway debut doing Shakespeare is an exciting thing!"
"Acting is also very much about imagination, empathy, and finding a way to relate to a character even if they are 100% different than you are."
"I haven't been married four times with two kids. And I don't have red hair or that bust line!"
"I really just have to turn it over to the universe because the only thing I can do is go in and show them what I would do with it."
"Being a part of the entire 'birthing' of a project is pretty phenomenal."
Carrie Preston  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
July 2009

Childhood career ambitions rarely turn into adult realities. But for Carrie Preston, classically trained actress and star of the HBO hit series "True Blood," acting was always her passion. At the tender age of 12, she began her own front yard theater group and dedicated her life to the art. Says Preston, "I was bitten by the bug the first little community theatre play I did and that was it. I became what you would call a lifer!"

Her dedication never wavered. After picking up a Fine Arts degree from the University of Evansville, she elevated to the prestigious Julliard school of acting, where she continued to hone her craft. Afterwards, she teamed with Patrick Stewart in productions of "The Tempest" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And expanded her curriculum vitae by picking up roles in popular films like My Best Friend's Wedding, Mercury Rising, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. More supporting roles would follow. And in 2005, she ventured into directing and producing with 29th and Gay. And the short, Feet of Clay (2007).

Over the past year, Carrie's work has taken off, with key roles opposite Meryl Streep in Doubt, Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and alongside Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in Duplicity. More importantly, her star continues to shine brightly in recurring fashion as the fiery red headed everywoman, Arlene Fowler, on "True Blood." And she shows absolutely no signs of slowing down either. "For the most part it seems to that people are letting me do it, so I'm going to keep on doing it until I can't anymore!"

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

Where did your love for theatre come from?

Well, my mother is a visual artist, and she instilled in my brother and sister and I a real passion for the arts. My brother started doing plays when we were in grade school and I just wanted to do what he was doing. I was bitten by the bug the first little community theatre play I did, and that was it. I became what you would call 'a lifer!'

Was there a particular production that inspired you?

One of the first plays I did was this little children's theater treatment of Cinderella. An hour long kind of thing. They had taken the role of the Fairy Godmother and the writer had turned it into a comedic character. And that was the part that I liked. It was when I first realized that I could really change myself. I was only 11, but I remember thinking that if I'm playing a different person, I'm going to need to walk differently and talk differently and make myself look different. I got into the whole costume thing and found this amazing escape. I was really taken with it.

Many kids go through phases as a child where they want to be a cowboy one minute, an astronaut the next. Even in college, a lot of kids change majors many times. But you always wanted to be an actress from day one. What is it that keeps the candle burning and has kept it burning over the years?

I think, for me, it's something that I continue to learn from. It's a lifelong process. A 'real' craft. Something you can spend your whole life refining. And it's my way of expressing myself.

For whatever reason, I have been encouraged over the years by the fact that people tend to like what I'm doing. So, it seems to be working. Not all the time, obviously. But for the most part, people are letting me do it. So, I'm going to keep on doing it until I can't anymore!

A couple of years I ago I had the pleasure of talking with your husband (Michael Emerson). You've worked with him before on Straight Jacket, 29th and Gay, and most recently on "Lost." How did you guys meet?

We met at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival almost 15 years ago. My brother continues to act as well and he was down there as a resident actor for a long time. When I first got out of grad school at Julliard, my brother told me I should come down there and work with him. So, I did. And got cast in "Hamlet." And Michael was in the production.

We had met even before rehearsal began because Michael was doing a production of "A Christmas Carol" that my brother was in and I remember going to see it. And there was this guy running around, playing 6 different characters. He had his teeth blackened out, a wig on, and this crazy accent. And I remember thinking, "Who is this guy doing such an incredible job?" I was just completely fascinated by him. And thankfully, he felt the same way when he met me.

One of his dreams, particularly later in life, was to continue working in theatre. Do you share the same goals and ambitions?

Michael is little more interested in the routine of doing a play. He really likes the eight shows a week, and is someone that likes that repetition. I love it too, and I've spent my whole life doing it, but the last 4 years, I've really been more taken with the film and television world.

For example, I'm on my hiatus right now and I'm not really pursuing theater where as, I think he's going to find a play because he feels it's been a long time and he really wants to get back into it. We both want to continue acting, but he might be the one the wanting theater more immediately than I do.

On the film side, do you have a favorite role?

I really liked Straight Jacket, which was, in my opinion, a very underappreciated indie film. I had the pleasure of doing it on stage first and that was a real treat. To be able to create the role and then have the writer adapt it, deepen it, and open it up for the film. That was pretty special. And I really loved playing the part.

Also, there's a movie that just came out last week on DVD that I did, called Lovely by Surprise. Again, it's an independent - a very interesting, unique, and poignant little film. And I was very pleased to be able to play that role as well.

I guess I tend to fall in love with all the parts. Just because you bring who you are to the part and you become a little attached to it!

You've worked with some amazing performers - Patrick Stewart, Meryl Streep, Javier Bardem. When working with them, do you have an opportunity to take a step back and watch them work?

I have worked with some amazing people and when you get in a situation and you're creating a piece, whether for theatre, film or television, generally, you get over the 'star struck' thing pretty quickly because you have to. You have to get in there and do the work and then it sort of equalizes. When you get on set or to a rehearsal, there is a sort leveling that happens. You have a shared path, whether to make a scene work or to make a play work. So, I've learned from everyone that I've worked with.

When I worked with Patrick Stewart, it was very interesting for me because I had just gotten out of school and it was my NY debut, which turned into my Broadway debut. He is very adept at Shakespeare and I had been studying Shakespeare for 8 years. I was very excited to be able to work with someone who had been doing it as long as he had.

To make a Broadway debut doing Shakespeare is an exciting thing! Several years later, we both worked together again on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Another mighty piece of literature. But we already had that trust and that experience that we were able to rely on. And it just made everything easy.

Just like working with your husband?

Yes. I feel the same way working with Michael too. We had done this independent film together that I produced called Ready? OK! (cheerleading term). It's about this little boy who wants to be a cheerleader. And I played the boy's mother and Michael was playing the next door neighbor, sort of a role model for the boy. We had this scene together that was quite moving. It's a moment where my character breaks down and opens up in a way that we hadn't seen yet. And it really helped doing that scene with Michael because all I really needed to do to get where I needed was to be with him and look into his eyes and trust that that alone would get me where I needed to go. And it did.

One of the things you always hear is how school is very much theory based and that the real world is more practical. Having spent a lot of time in acting school yourself, did that philosophy hold true?

No, I don't think so. Acting is about experiencing. And when you're in school, you're younger, and so maybe you don't have the life experience to bring to a role. But I think acting is also very much about imagination, empathy, and finding a way to relate to a character even if they are 100% different than you are.

In acting school, you're constantly working on yourself - physically, emotionally, psychologically. Then, when you get out of school and you're not doing it every day, you suddenly realize you have this unstructured life. And that's when I had to learn to how to deal with the fact that I might not have any auditions this week. Or next week. Or for several months. 'What am I going to do with myself? How am I going to keep my passion alive if no one is hiring me to do it?'

With actors, you can't practice by yourself the way writers can. Actors need other people to do it with and do it for.

One of my favorite roles that you portray is that of Arlene in "True Blood." How is that role different from your past television work? And what do you like about playing her?

Arlene is the most different role I've ever had for television because it really is a transformational one. I don't look anything like Arlene. I don't have that accent anymore. I haven't been married four times with two kids. And I don't have red hair or that bust line!

When we were in school, one of the crafts we did was mask work. You put that mask on and it was really interesting to see how free people become. So, when I put on Arlene, I definitely feel like I'm kind of hiding behind that personality. She's strong, very opinionated, a little conservative, and maybe a little judgmental. I really like how liberating it feels! And I have a really great time when I am working on her. She's just a fun character to play, even when she is miserable.

Is there anything you can tell me about her and her development for Season 2?

Well, you can see she is spending time with Terry, the cook - so that is something that develops more as the season goes on. The rest of it, I can't really say. But let's just say that everyone in the show starts doing things that they never thought they were going to do!

You've dabbled in directing, editing and producing. Will we continue to see more of that? Is it something you enjoy?

Yes, definitely. It gives me a great amount of pleasure. I feel it really enhances my acting career. In the times I'm not working on something, I've always got something that I'm trying to put together, either to produce or direct. And I'm starting to write a few things as well, which isn't something I've done before. So, I'm excited about that.

Now that I have a bit of a track record with my production company, it's also exciting and inspiring to get things out in the world. With digital and hi-def and everything, you can really create an independent film and get it to an audience and on DVD. There's just a greater sense of accomplishment and pride that goes into being with something and creating it from the very beginning. It's a little different than when your sole responsibility is just an actor on a project. Being a part of the entire "birthing" of a project is pretty phenomenal. And I'm definitely going to continue to do that.

Some of the films that you have acted in have had really interesting subject material, like Transamerica and Towelhead. Some have had really interesting writer /directors like Woody Allen, John Patrick Shanley, and Tony Gilroy. What do you look for in a particular role or what are your prerequisites?

I need to be able to see my way into it. There have been times when material has been sent to me and I thought, "I'm not really sure that this is right for me or that I know how to find an 'in' to this character," but that doesn't happen that much. I generally try, if I like the material, to go for it. Then, it will be whether or not I'm right for it and if the writers and producers think I'm right to play it.

I really just have to turn it over to the universe because the only thing I can do is go in and show them what I would do with it. A preliminary sketch of what I would do if they were to give me the job. But I don't really have a strict definition of what I look for.

Who or what inspires or motivates you as an actor today?

I know it's really clich?, but I'm a big fan of Meryl Streep. I didn't get to work with her in Doubt, even though we were both in it. But I did get to be in a table read with her and to watch her just read through that role before it began shooting was pretty inspiring. She is truly, the consummate actor.

But I also work with actors all the time, everyday, that inspire me. There are people on my show, like Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason Stackhouse. He is a phenomenal actor, especially when you consider he is from Australia and is playing this Southern character, who I think is one of the hardest roles on the show. Maybe not the smartest character, but he is able to find a balance between the humor and the reality of this guy, which is not easy.

I also get inspired going to a show and seeing a group of actors doing an incredible job as an ensemble. I went to this play here in New York at Lincoln Center 3 called "Stunning," and it was stunning! Just a phenomenal group of actors, a brilliant director, and a really interesting piece of theater. None of the actors were stage actors and people may not know them by name, but they were certainly extraordinary.

I guess I like to find inspiration wherever I can. And, of course, I love watching Michael!

Season 2 of "True Blood" is running now. What other things are you working on today?

Lovely by Surprise, which I told you about, just came out on DVD. I did it a couple years ago and it's exciting that it's out in the world for people to see. I also just got cast in a movie that will be shooting in late August called A Bag of Hammers. I'm excited to work again with Rebecca Hall because I met and worked with her on Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Also Jason Ritter, John Ritter's son, who is a very sweet guy. It's a really interesting script with a very interesting part for me. And I was very pleased they offered it to me.

Hopefully, we'll be getting a Season 3 pickup for "True Blood." And if we get that, we'll go into it sometime in the latter part of the year.

Maybe you could get Michael to guest star?

I know! Everyone always asks that. Alan is such a huge fan of Michael's and when I was doing Towelhead, he found out. Back when Michael was known as Henry Gale. I remember coming onto the set one day and Alan just screamed out loud, "You're married to Henry Gale!?" Turns out, he is a huge "Lost" fan and a fan of Michael's.

I know he would like to find something for him. It's just a matter of timing. But wouldn't that be fun?



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