Carrie Preston Loves a Good Procedural

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, Everett Collection, Retailer

Carrie Preston has played Elsbeth Tascioni for 14 years, and after being a recurring guest star on both The Good Wife and its spinoff The Good Fight, she now gets to be the center of attention with Elsbeth. The Robert and Michelle King televisual multiverse brings the fan-favorite character to the forefront in a comedic procedural on CBS, and the Emmy-winning actress is loving every second of it. “I approach it with a hefty amount of gratitude every day,” she tells the Cut.

The new series follows Preston’s character’s move to New York as Elsbeth leaves behind the legal world to lend her quirky keen eye to police investigations and murder mysteries. Preston stresses Elsbeth is less of a spinoff and more of a new world with its own eccentricities, though the pilot does name-drop a well-known Good Wife character, hinting at future crossovers.

Playing a recurring character gave Preston a flexible schedule, allowing her to appear in numerous other projects over the years, including the Oscar-nominated film The Holdovers and four seasons of Claws alongside Niecy Nash. But many fans still remember her as Arlene from True Blood, the iconic HBO series she credits as the turning point of her career. Below, Preston discusses the True Blood reboot rumors, the worst advice Elsbeth would have to offer, and the show she can’t watch without her husband, Evil actor Michael Emerson.

You’ve directed quite a bit of television over the last few years. How has that affected the way you approach acting, if at all?

I’ve been directing a very long time, 20-plus years, but directing television is its own beast. Being behind the camera and seeing what goes into the prep in such a short amount of time, before the actors even show up, has been liberating in a way as an actor. I trust that the director has thought about the scene way more than I have as an actor, so I put myself in their hands. It’s a collaborative art form, but I do understand and appreciate all of the many, many details that go into every frame of a TV show.

The True Blood reboot that had been in development was reportedly canceled — was that something you were hoping to be involved in?

I loved playing Arlene. That certainly was such a turning point for me in my career, to be a part of such a popular show that really captured a moment in television. I think Arlene would be somebody who would still be there, working in that bar and in that world, so sure, I would have loved to have revisited that. I’ve heard somebody wanted to make a musical of True Blood? I don’t sing well enough to do something like that, but I would definitely be there on opening night.

Moving into our Taste Test: Where do you get your best culture recommendations from?

Instagram. Also, my best friend is a true pop-culturalist; I trust her. I basically feel like I have my own book club with her because she just tells me what she reads and then I read it. But I live in New York, so I have many friends who are in the arts. I do lean on the word of mouth of it all.

You’re hopping in an Uber XL and can bring five celebrities, dead or alive, with you — who’s coming?

William Shakespeare. Helen Mirren. Probably the Dalai Lama and Pema Chödrön, both Buddhists. And let’s see who would round that out … Annie Lennox. Let’s have that Uber ride.

What’s the last meal you cooked for dinner?

A little twist on the traditional chili for the Super Bowl. We used ground turkey and chicken, with smoky chipotle, garbanzo and kidney beans, with cilantro on top.

What is your pre-filming ritual?

I meditate every day. I try to do some stretching, something to get the body ready to go. I put on the little eye patches, the cooling things that keep your eyes fresh and moisturized. I have dry eyes so I have a routine of drops, a warm compress, then the patches. Then I just try to be as prepared as I can be with all the words.

What’s your comfort rewatch?

The X-Files. I love the big overarching conspiracy theories and the paranormal, and the dynamic between Mulder and Scully is classic. I love the writing on that show, it always kept you guessing. It’s a fun one to drop down into; I think it holds up.

What is something you’ll never, ever watch, no matter what?

I don’t love a lot of really violent horror things — The Babadook or something like that, no thanks. Or The Ring. I watched the American version of it and I wish I could unsee it; it still scares me. Some of those really, truly terrifying things I don’t want to carry around in my psyche.

Favorite game to play?

I don’t play a lot of games, I’m not really like a game-night gal. But I will go out and play badminton with my nephews and Michael, my husband. Oh, and cornhole, too! I like fun summertime things like that.

What music do you listen to when you’re alone?

I listen to Eclectic 24, which is a KCRW L.A. radio station. It’s just 24/7 of their playlists. It’s so good and well-curated; I learn a lot about new music through them. It is what it says: eclectic.

Name a book you couldn’t put down?

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. She spins such a great yarn. It takes her a decade to write a book, and you can tell why: Every detail is worked out. I fell in love with that kid, my heart was going out to him throughout the whole book. More recently, I read Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver; that was so good. Again about a young kid … I don’t know what that says about me, that I’m drawn to kids that go through hardships in some way.

What’s the worst advice Elsbeth would give?

Don’t try to jump in rain puddles in high heels. Like, somebody said that was a good thing to do and she did it. Or don’t try to swim when you’re fully clothed. She’s pretty game. [Laughs.]

What show is your partner not allowed to watch without you?

Slow Horses — we’re loving that and we definitely need to watch it together. I watch a lot more scripted shows than he does. I’ll take my iPad to the gym and watch something, and he’s home watching Antiques Roadshow. We don’t have a lot of shows that we watch together. So when we find one that we’re both into, we try to parse it out one at a time and make it last.

Favorite piece of art you own?

Michael was an illustrator before he was an actor. He always wanted to be an actor, but it took him a minute to find a professional route with it, so in the ’80s he was drawing a lot. We have these amazing drawings that he did, and he doesn’t draw anymore. We have them mounted and framed and they’re incredible.

What would your last meal be?

A southern Thanksgiving. So turkey, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, biscuits, green beans cooked within an inch of their life with as much salt as you can put in there.

Worst thing to do at a dinner party?

Sit next to the person you don’t want to talk to, because you get stuck there!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Carrie Preston Loves a Good Procedural