Carrie Preston thought she had blown her chances of returning to "The Good Wife."
Preston got the job playing Elsbeth Tascioni during the CBS drama's first season, then Season 2 came and went and she never got heard from producers.
"I was back at work at 'True Blood' and then they did a whole season and didn't invite me back," Preston told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. "I thought, 'OK, I guess that was a one off.' I just thought that was that."
Then, in Season 3, her agents got the call. "The Good Wife" wanted her back and for multiple episodes. "I just was so excited. When you're an actor, you get a little paranoid that maybe you did something wrong, that they didn't want you back -- we're very neurotic sometimes," she said with a laugh. "I was relieved when I did get the call and just held my breath going, 'Oh gosh, I hope I can do this part justice,' because on the page it's just so delicious. Thankfully, it worked. They continued to invite me back and I feel very blessed about that."
Preston makes her eighth appearance on "The Good Wife" on Sunday, Feb. 17 in "Red Team/Blue Team." On this outing as Elsbeth Tascioni, Preston got to share the majority of her scenes with Alan Cumming and new guest star Kyle MacLachlan. Preston opened up about how she makes the quirky character tick, what's ahead on "The Good Wife" and life with new talent behind the scenes of "True Blood."
What do you think it is about Elsbeth that clicks so well with viewers?
I think she's so unusual, she's just not like the other kids. I think it's just maybe refreshing to come at that show from another angle. She's kind of like a little cayenne pepper, you know? A spice into the show. I think that grabs people's attention, but I also think the writing is quite interesting and different, rather unpredictable. I think anything that is unpredictable is usually something that people want to pay attention to.
How do you get into character?
Well, I always start with any role with the words, the text. In her case, she has such a nimble, mercurial mind, that I start to sort of map out where her mind changes and why. I'm having to think on two different levels, just the logic of what the words on the page are saying and then the crazy twists and turns her mind is making at the same time. That's what makes it really fun to play.
Have you added anything to Elsbeth that wasn't in the script/direction?
I guess it's a real marriage of the actor and the words. It's one of those parts that could be played in many different ways, I think. I try and bring a vulnerability to her that may not be apparent on the page that makes her -- and any character, I think -- more complicated. A lot of people probably don't realize how difficult it is to stick that lawyer speak when you're not a lawyer. [Laughs.] I see everyone on "The Good Wife" -- everyone, people who have been there since day one -- struggling with that language because it is just not how people talk. So trying to make that language sound like it's natural and it's something that you've been speaking for decades or something, it takes a special kind of work. We all try to abide it with as much truth and reality as we can. I think with Elsbeth, because she is so out of the ordinary, I have license to do maybe a few more twists to that dialogue and that way of thinking.
This episode coming up, you have scenes with Alan Cumming and last time you had some with Archie Panjabi. Have you had a favorite scene partner so far?
Oh gosh, I don't have any favorites. They're all amazing. Julianna and I did a play together many years ago on Broadway, so she's a friend and that always makes you feel so much more comfortable. Over on that show, they really don't treat you like a guest -- they really just embrace you as part of the family, which is a nice thing and sets you at ease. When you're a guest star, you're a bit like a pinch hitter: You're just suddenly up at bat and you have to hit a homerun and it can be a little bit unnerving. I don't ever feel that way on that show. I like to be able to work with all the actors on it because I get to know them and get to watch their work. I did get to work more with Alan and he's just so amazingly on top of his work and the 50 million other million things he has going in his life, it's amazing. He's just this incredibly vibrant person and that applies to his work on the show as well.
Is there anybody on the show you haven't had scenes with yet?
I mean, even in Season 1, I worked with Chris Noth. Well, I haven't really worked with Matt [Czuchry]. I had one little scene with him, like a group scene, last season. I love how subtle he is and how you always think he's thinking something wicked. [Laughs.] I think it would be fun to see more of a square-off between Elsbeth and him because I'm sure she could figure out where he's coming from if she spent a little more time with him.
And there's a hint at a possible love interest for Elsbeth in "Red Team/Blue Team" ...
Kyle MacLachlan! It was so fun working with him because I've been a fan of his from "Twin Peaks" on! He could not have been sweeter and more fun to play with. He really got the balance between the comedy and also grounding the character in a specific way and that was a really nice partnership with Elsbeth because she serves that same function on the show. To get both of those quirk monsters together and see how they react together was just truly fun and we really enjoyed playing with the different options that you could go with in these scenes.
Do you have a favorite episode that you've done?
I guess I like "Executive Order 13224," the one with Bob Balaban. It was I think the first time that for me where I really was able to synthesize the character in a way. The first couple of episodes I did, I was still discovering what she was about too, as were the showrunners and the [creators, the] Kings and Brooke Kennedy, who directs some of the episodes. Brooke directed "Executive Order 13224" and she and I really work well together. She was very helpful in a couple of takes, just helping me to rediscover this woman I hadn't really done in a year and a half. That was really thrilling for me. It was like getting on a bike and going downhill at a 100 miles per hour and just going "Wheeee!" [Laughs.] It felt like that!
This is something I would love to happen: Would you consider an Elsbeth spinoff?
Of course, of course. I mean, no one is asking, but of course I would say yes if they were. [Laughs.]
You're still on "True Blood," too. Do you get recognized for different shows depending on which coast you're on?
Yes, I do. Although, It's not coastal per se, but I play this little game with myself when someone comes up and says, "Oh, I love you on the show." I play a little game and I say, "'Good Wife'?" And they'll go, "Yeah, 'Good Wife.' What else would I be talking about?" Or I'll say, "'True Blood'?" "Totally, 'True Blood.' What else?" And then sometimes people will say both, but there's definitely types there. Sometimes I'm wrong, but a lot of times I'm right. [Laughs.]
What can you tell me about the next season of "True Blood"? Probably nothing, but I have to ask.
I know you do. We have a new showrunner because Alan Ball is not running the show anymore. Mark Hudis, who is one of our writers, is our new showrunner. We also have a couple of new writers, so it's interesting. It still has the flavor of "True Blood," as it always will, but it does have something -- a little spring in its step in an interesting way, I think. Everybody is finding the new chemistry between all of that and all those players. And of course, with "True Blood," there's always still a million new characters that are being introduced. I don't know how they keep that many balls in the air and continue to juggle, but they do.
Will you be popping up anywhere else anytime soon?
I did a couple of episodes of "Person of Interest." I play [Michael Emerson's character's] love interest, the love of his life. It was a very easy role to get into! [Editor's note: Emerson is Preston's real-life husband.] I have one more in the can that will air later in the season. It was fun. They were so accommodating of my schedule because they had to shoot everything I was in before I went back to work on "True Blood." They shot scenes from an episode they hadn't even finish writing yet because it's going to be one of the later episodes. We had to shoot these scenes and I think it invigorated everybody to think that far ahead and start fleshing things out before they were maybe fully ready to. It was really fun.
See Carrie Preston in action below. "The Good Wife" airs Sundays, 9 p.m. EST on CBS.