Interview: Carrie Preston Chats True Blood, A Bag of Hammers and More

Carrie Preston is anxiously waiting for HBO’s True Blood season 4 premiere like the rest of us. Her character, Arlene, enters the season facing a potential close encounter with supernatural forces that may threaten the well being of her unborn child, husband and kids. If only we knew where the story was headed like she does.

In real life, Carrie is as busy as the fiery haired and tempered True Blood waitress at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill that she portrays. When True Blood is on hiatus, she’s wearing many hats working on her own projects as a director or producer, or acting in others to further refine and perfect her art. Her IMDB resume is daunting to scroll through and digest, and Carrie wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our movie reviewer Travis Niblett recently spoke with Carrie about working on True Blood, her new movie A Bag of Hammers, and a recently wrapped indie project that has taken her and her screenwriting partner nearly a decade to get made. She’s a great sport and clearly passionate about her job and working with her famous husband, Michael Emerson, who some of you might better recognize as scheming Benjamin Linus from Lost.

True Blood starts its fourth season in just a couple days. How does it feel to be a part of something that’s been a phenomenon from the start?

I feel extremely lucky. You never know how these things are going to be received and I did, I think, seven pilots over the years before I did the pilot for True Blood. This was the one that hit and I couldn’t have picked a better one because it is such a fun show to be a part of. Obviously it’s doing so well which means I get to have employment for a bit which in an actor’s life is rare and not to be taken for granted.

Your character is depicted as an anti-vampire bigot in the series. What it is like to play the character that goes against the message of the show?

I think it’s important to have that viewpoint in the show. Not because I am an advocate at all for any kind of intolerance. The point that Arlene makes is somewhat valid in that vampires are dangerous and in the past have proven to be killers. She does voice some of the fears of having vampires in the world, especially with children around and especially for her who is a mother. She stands for some kind of “reality check.”

What’s been fun about playing her is seeing her tolerance start to grow as the series has gone on. She’s beginning to accept that not all vampires should be treated the same.

True Blood is a notorious show for killing off main characters. A waitress at Merlotte’s met her demise early in season one. Are you scared that you’ll be handed a script and will be the next one to be killed off?

There’s always that chance on our show and that makes it interesting that no one is safe. The audience should be feeling a little bit uneasy at all times. I don’t think that the show would be exciting as it is if we didn’t have that. I’m grateful that I’ve lasted this long. No matter what the writers decide to do with my character, I feel fortunate that I got to be on the ride as long as I have. It’s up to us as actors to trust that the writers will do what they think is best to keep the story going.

Arlene has grown and become more prevalent as the series has gone on. Saying you stick around and become even more prevalent, if you were to turn into any supernatural being from the series, which one would you most like to play?

I think it would be really fun and funny to be Arlene as a supernatural character because she’s so afraid of them. It would be a good opportunity for the writers to write something funny and interesting.

I guess if I had to pick it would be fun to be a vampire. They seem to have more fun on the show than anyone else in my opinion. It would be really fun to play a vampire.

And probably a great contrast for Arlene anyway.

Right. She would definitely have to accept the world of vampires if she became one.

Carrie Preston

Besides True Blood, you have a new movie coming out called A Bag of Hammers and you also recently wrapped up directing That’s What She Said. What advantages does working on both sides of the camera offer?

I’m someone who likes to be busy and creative at all times. Being behind the camera as well as in front of the camera is a great way to continue to educate myself about the creation of stories and film. It’s advantageous being on the other side of the camera because I really see what it takes to piece together a performance that an actor does. I’m more aware of the technical side of things having been in an editing room weeks and weeks on end editing other actors’ performances together and I see how important things like continuity are. I think that helps me be a stronger actor in front of the camera.

Doing smaller films like A Bag of Hammers or the movie that I directed requires the same bag of tools, but you have much fewer resources when you’re working with a lower budget. I think it forces you to be even more creative in a way and problem-solve situations that might be more easily solved when you have a bigger budget.

I think it’s fun to do these smaller projects because you really do band together with everyone involved no matter what. No matter what the size of the budget is, it’s always a race against time. The stakes are a little bit higher when you have to do an entire film in 18 days which is what most indie movies have to do because of budgetary constraints.

There’s a camaraderie with those things that I find invaluable.

With that busy schedule and your versatility in so many different areas, it is difficult to change from your actress dress into your directing pants?

I definitely do wear a lot of different hats. I’ve even done movies where I’ve produced and acted. I’ll be running around making sure that catering is good and then jump right in front of the camera to do a scene.

Like I said, I’m someone who likes to be busy and I’m a bit mercurial in that way. I don’t know; maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini. I’m someone who actually thrives on juggling a lot of things at once. I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have a bunch of things on my schedule. I kind of become lost when I don’t have a bunch of things to do. I just like exercising all of my creative levels. The more, the better.

You just said the word “Lost” so I’m wanted to ask about your husband, Michael Emerson. You worked with him on several projects and even played his mother on Lost. What’s it like working with your husband? Is there ever any turmoil or is it bliss all the time?

You know what’s wonderful is that we both understand each other. There’s a history there, obviously, and a great amount of trust. A lot of times when you’re acting with other actors you don’t know them very well. You have to build up a trust with them and create an instant history with people. Sometimes that can take a bit of time or maybe talking and getting to know one another.

With Michael, we show up on the set and we prepare the scene. Once the cameras are rolling we just have to put ourselves in each others hand and it’s a magical thing that happens because of all that history. I hope that I continue to work with him and have that experience because it is so rare; you really don’t get that that much.

Carrie Preston

Moving back to That’s What She Said, you worked with Anne Heche and Alia Shawkat – both wonderful actresses in my opinion. You appeared in one episode of Arrested Development which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time…

Yeah that was a great show.

It was. Alia was on that show so how did it feel to work with her again, even if you only had an episode before, and Anne Heche who is already an iconic actress?

I felt extremely blessed, first of all, that both of those actors were excited about the script which was written by Kellie Overbey. I didn’t write the script. She wrote the script and we’ve been trying to get it produced for about seven years. Obviously it was very close to both of us and we just kept coming up against these insurmountable obstacles of trying to get funding. Finally, I have a production company and just said I’m going to shoot this film and I’m going to do it during my hiatus and come hell or high water we’re going to make this film.

We got the script to Anne and Kellie had done a Broadway show with her so she was friendly with her and she just loved it. Anne’s the one who suggested Alia, actually, because they had done Cedar Rapids together. Cedar Rapids hadn’t come out yet but Anne said, “I know she was a kid on Arrested Development but she’s a young woman now and she’s something special.” We offered it to Alia and she jumped on board.

I just feel really, really blessed and they were both extremely game. It’s really a film about three women and the third is Marcia DeBonis who is a character actress who has been around for awhile. She’s a New York actor that Kellie and I have known for years. The chemistry between the three of them was pretty extraordinary and we were able to – because they’re all so good and so professional – jump right into it. We never had a moment where the actors weren’t prepared and game and passionate about what we were doing. So the shoot went extremely well, largely because of their talent.

That’s great to hear. When can we look forward to seeing it? Any ideas?

We have been submitting it to festivals and it’s kind of a waiting game right now to know where we’re going to make our world premiere. We’re putting out a lot of feelers and submissions. We’re hoping we’re going to land somewhere in the fall or the early part of next year. We’re praying obviously for a distribution deal where we can get it out into theaters and into the world for people to see.

A special thanks to Carrie Preston and her publicist for being so wonderful to accommodate us on such short notice.

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