True Blood’s Carrie Preston Talks To

May 18, 2009 by  

The very talented and multi-dimensional Carrie Preston has appeared in many stage, tv and film productions including Towelhead, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Doubt, Duplicity and currently appears as Arlene Fowler, the red headed bar waitress in Alan Ball‘s hit HBO TV series True Blood. Recently Kasandra Rose and Ollie Chong from had the great pleasure of talking to the vivacious and lovely Carrie Preston about her show business roots, how she got into acting, and, of course, about True Blood.   I hope you all enjoy reading the interview as much as we did doing it.  She had us totally charmed within moments .. which is no mean feat for a vampire eschewing human!
TBN: Hi Carrie!  This is our first time doing a live interview so..
CP:  So here we all are!

TBN:  Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today!
CP:  It’s my pleasure!

TBN: We’d like to start off by asking you, growing up in Macon, GA, how did you decide you wanted to get into acting?
CP: I grew up in a very artistic household.  My mother is a visual artist and my brother, John Preston, is also an actor.  And my sister was always into art and art history so we have a real supportive family.  My brother started doing plays when he was about eight years old and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.  So I started doing plays around the same time.  And, as they say, I was bitten by the bug!  I just thought ‘This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!’ Being from Macon, it’s not like a lot of people wake up and want to be actors or know how to become actors.  But I just sort of ‘felt’ my way through it and I asked my mom one day, ‘Do you think I could do this for a living?” I guess I was about 11.  And she said, “Well Honey, somebody’s got to do it and I don’t know why it can’t be you!”  So I was just what they call a ‘lifer’ from the beginning.

TBN: What was your very first performance and how did you get it?
CP: I was eight years old and it was a community theater production.  Macon Little Theater.  They would do plays based on fairy tales.  The one I was in was Snow White and I played the fairy godmother, but she was a comedic character.  So even then, at the age of eight or nine I was playing these comedy roles.  That was probably one of my first plays.  I was totally taken with it.  It was amazing to be in front of all those people and be able to become a different person.  Even at those early ages, 8, 9 , 10, 11, I instinctually knew that I needed to change the way I walked, and the way I talked and what I looked like.  I think it just made sense to me, that if you’re going to get up on stage and pretend to be someone else then you can’t be yourself.  Funny to fast forward all these years later and I’m playing Arlene,  which is a complete, 100% transformation.  I don’t look anything like her, you know I’m not a redhead.  I don’t keep a year round tan, I don’t have those long nails.  I certainly don’t have that bust-line!  So I definitely learned from my early years, acting when I was a kid that I really liked to transform.

TBN: Following up on what you just mentioned, since you don’t look much like Arlene, and you said at Paley Fest that you don’t get recognized very much.  Is that disappointing for you or is that a benefit that you’re still a bit anonymous?
CP: Sometimes it can be disappointing just because I like to hear what people have to say about the show, and I know there are big fans out there.  But for the most part it doesn’t bother me.  I’m happy for the job and I love doing it.  I also like being able to travel in the world without being scrutinized.  That is a plus.  And you know my husband is very famous, so I see what happens with him.  It can be a little bit stressful.

[For those of you living under a rock, Carrie is married to Michael Emerson who plays Benjamin Linus from LOST and The Practice fame.]

TBN: You told us about your first amateur performance.  What was your first professional performance?
CP: My first professional job was at the Georgia Shakespeare festival.  I was in college, I was, I think, a freshman maybe? Oh.. No that’s not true!  Honey am I going back in time! I did this movie when I was about 19 that was shot in Atlanta, Georgia.  It was shot on video, this was in the eighties and it was very very low budget but I got to play a surly teenager who’s father had just died and she’s dealing with the pain of the death.  I was paid a total of 400 dollars.  It seemed like an incredibly large amount of money when you’re that young.  “Oh I’m getting paid to act!” And then after that I got cast in the Georgia Shakespeare festival, one of their summers and I ended up from about 19 on doing Shakespeare in the summers.  So I’ve done a great deal of the classics over the years.  All during my summer breaks during college and grad school, I would go to one of the various Shakespeare festivals and do Shakespeare.

TBN: If you hadn’t gone into acting what would you have done instead, and why?
CP:  Its’ hard for me to think in those terms just because I’ve always felt that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  But I also have added some things to the acting over the years.  Still in the profession but producing and directing and writing.  I’m sure that somewhere in there, I would have landed.  If I hadn’t been able to make a living as an actor I would have figured out how I could do it as a producer or a development person or production or directing or something along those lines because I definitely feel the need to tell stories!  Either on stage or on film or on the page.

TBN: What attracts you to a particular role?  Are there roles that you have refused and why?
CP: Sometimes I’ll refuse a role if I don’t think I’m going to be able to do something interesting with it or if it doesn’t excite me artistically.  But for the most part, I tend to just go where the work is.  If I have time and it fits in my schedule I try to do it.  If I like the people involved.  If I audition for something, and it gets offered to me, a lot of times I’ll take it.  I’m a working actor, I’m a character actor, so I’m going to go where the roles are.

TBN: Before the large Paley Fest crowd, some of whom had come all the way across country, were you aware of how popular True Blood is?
CP: I guess I hadn’t experienced it!  Like I said, I don’t get to experience it out in the world the way some of the other actors on the show do because they are so easy to recognize.  So it was a treat to see those kinds of crowds and to feel that energy and to hear the excitement and the laughter and the cheering.  It was heartening and fun.  I’m used to seeing that with ‘LOST‘, because my husband’s on ‘LOST‘, so it was interesting to see “Oh! OK! that’s happening for my show too!” I just didn’t really realize it.

TBN: Moving on to True Blood…Are you happy with how the story line is going for season 2 for Arlene?
CP: Well I’ll always wish that Arlene had more to do.  But I understand where I fit in the show and what my contribution is.  I think a lot of it is that I’m there for comedic relief and I’m there to support the other characters.  I like that challenge of having not that much screen time to create an entire world.  You talk to any actor and they’ll say it’s a lot harder to play a character that’s in one scene than a character that’s in every scene because you only have that amount of time to express everything you need to express about the character.  I think this season is really fun.  It’s exciting.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s getting very crazy.  You thought last season was crazy…well it takes it to a whole other level this season.

TBN: So this season has a different feel than season one did?
CP: It does.  Obviously the creators of the show, and the producers and the production designers are all still creating the same world.. but it’s been heightened.

TBN: Do you feel that Arlene gets to grow this season?
CP: Yes, yes I do.  The season takes place over a very short amount of time, calendar time, so Arlene is still dealing with the whole Rene thing.  That’s just happened, really, when we start with season 2.  So there’s some desperation in there.  There’s some sadness in there.  And there’s some need to move on.  So I’ve been given some opportunities to deal with the aftermath of Rene.

TBN: Lots of times actors bring in their real life into roles.  But have you taken any True Blood out of the show.  For instance, has it changed your views of good and evil?
CP: No, not really.  I feel like I understand this woman that I’m playing and that’s really my focus on the show, getting into her mindset and figuring out what she wants.  What she’s trying to get in her life.  All those things.  And I take myself out of the ‘metapicture’ and keep it micro and keep it focused on my task at hand.  I do find it exciting to be in a fantasy/genre show.  That is exciting and certainly what HBO has done with the show has opened up the genre in a really fun and interesting way.  I’m happy to be part of it even though my character is a ‘Realie’ as they call us on the show.   Some of us are real, or ‘Realies’ and the rest are ‘Sups’.  The ‘Supernaturals’ and the ‘Realies’, so I’m a ‘Realie’.

TBN: Arlene is pretty much the only female that’s grounded left in the show.
CP: Yeah!  Right!

TBN: Is there anything unique about working with the True Blood cast and crew?  Or is it similar to other shows you’ve had experiences with?
CP: Well, it’s like the United Colors of Benetton over there.  It’s people from all over the world in the cast.  I mean, they’ve got New Zealand, Australia, England, various parts of the United States.  It is a really eclectic cast.  But it’s been fun for me because three other cast members also went to Julliard, which is where I studied.  Even though we weren’t there at the same time, I recognize that we all had the same work ethic.  Rutina Wesley and Nelsan Ellis and Lynn Collins are all Julliard grads.  Yeah! So that’s been kinda neat and certainly hasn’t happened to me before where there’s been that many of us.. I mean, I’ve had it happen on stage but not in a TV show or on a film.

TBN: So you can reminisce about a particular teacher..?
CP: Yes, we have a kind of short hand.  You know, it’s like we went through Viet Nam together.  Even though we weren’t there at the same time, it’s like, “How many tours did you do?”
TBN: How long does it take you to prepare for a True Blood scene?  And how long does it take on average to shoot a scene?
CP: We get the script pretty long ahead of time.  It’s not like on other shows where you get the script the day before.  We get our scripts sometimes a week or two before, a couple weeks sometimes.  On our show we also have read-throughs of the script before the episode starts shooting.  That’s always good, to get together with everyone and hear the entire script from top to bottom.  You get a very cohesive picture of what the episode is going to look like.  There are so many different story lines.  And then, I’ll spend however much time I need, depending on the length of the scene, working on it on my own.  Then, True Blood, they take their time shooting scenes.  We could spend six hours on one scene, shooting it.  If it’s a big group scene or something like that, we can, if it’s a smaller scene .. generally they tend to spend several hours per scene, with all the different angles.

TBN: Is it unusual for a show to spend that much time on each scene?
CP: It can be. Yeah.  The thing that’s good about True Blood is that you don’t feel the pressure to rush.  The directors and the writers really want to get it right.. and the DP and the ADs , the whole crew, everybody wants to get it right.  Although we are shooting an hours worth of television in ten business days, that’s still an incredibly high amount of pages per day..compared to a film.  Films you could do a quarter of a page in a day.  But compared to some other shows, we really do take our time to get it right.

TBN: Do you have any other projects lined up for when season 2 wraps up?
CP: I’m in a situation where I’ve gotten an offer and I have to see if it’s going to work out, schedule-wise.  Because it does overlap a little bit with True Blood.  That’s a hard thing about being on the show, your time is theirs, and so, even if you are only working a few days, you still have to be on call for them.  So I’m not sure if that film is going to work out.  But I do have some films coming out soon.  One of them is called “Lovely By Surprise” It’s a film I actually did a couple of years ago where I played a lead and it’s finally being released on June 30th.  So I’m very happy about that.

TBN: What’s your character in that film?
CP: I play a writer, a novelist who is dealing with memory and loss and creativity.  And I’m writing a novel and one of my characters gets out of the book.  It’s very fun and it’s very edgy, indie, very quirky, beautifully shot, moving, little film and it won the Grand Jury prize at the Seattle International Film Festival a couple years ago, it won awards in the festival circuit and now it will be out on DVD and for download and I think it might even be in some select theaters June 30th.

And then I’m in this other film called “That Evening Sun” which is a Southern tale about an eighty year old man played by Hal Holbrook.  He’s a farmer and I play…, he’s just broken out of a nursing home at the beginning of the film and he goes back to reclaim his farm, and it has been rented out by his son to this, what he calls, “white trash” family, and I play the wife.  It’s a really gorgeous film and again it’s doing all the festivals right now and it’s been winning several of them.   It’s doing great so I’m hoping that will have a release sometime this year too.

TBN: When you’re not shooting True Blood or pursuing these other projects what do you like to do in your free time?
CP:  We travel a lot, obviously for work but sometimes for pleasure too, and I really like that.  And I’m a very physically active person.  I like to hike.  I like to exercise, jog, yoga.  I try to keep myself busy.  I’m one of those people that’s kind of kinetic, I don’t like to sit still very long.  I just move, move, move. I have been studying meditation for the last couple of years though trying to slow myself down.  I’ve been studying some Buddhism and I really enjoy that.

And we have nephews that I’m very involved with.  My sister has two boys and they live in New York so whenever I get home, because New York is our home, I spend a lot of time with the kids and with my family.

TBN: Do you check the media or the fan sites to read about yourself or True Blood?
CP: I don’t!  I don’t really do that.  You learn that you can read things that are, maybe, not beneficial.  So it’s best to keep yourself focused on the work and every once in a while you can check in.  I like to read interviews that I do to see how they turned out, but I wouldn’t go on any of the chat rooms.  I try not to read reviews too.  Those can be really painful.
: If Arlene died, what would you want to put on her headstone?
CP: That’s hilarious!  Let’s see.  Here lies Arlene Fowler.  Mother, Lover, Truth-teller.

TBN: Do you have a favorite charity?
CP: Oh I have a couple different ones!  I work with a charity in LA. with branches in New York and several other places in the country, called Free Arts for Abused Children.  It’s a wonderful organization which takes arts into ‘at risk’ communities.  They will have arts days, mini art festival days where they bus kids in and create paintings with them, or put on skits with them.  Do all kinds of artistic things with them.  That’s my main one and then I also I’m a big supporter of the Actors fund.  Which is an organization which obviously supports actors when they’re in need.

TBN: Do you Twitter, and if you do, would you like your fans to know what your Twitter name is?
CP:  You know what I don’t Twitter although I wanted to start Twittering as Arlene.  And then I went on and found that there are several people Twittering as Arlene and several different characters from True Blood and I thought, “Oh.. I want to do that!”  But I do have a Twitter account I just haven’t activated it yet.  But I need to.  It seems like it would be fun and it was appealing to me to do it as Arlene, not as Carrie.

: Are there any questions that you would like to ask the fans?
CP: Oh!  What question do I have for them?  Hmmm.. “What would you like to see happen with Arlene?”

TBN: You’ve been keeping yourself very busy.  What’s next for you?  What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
CP: I hope to continue to, obviously, act, but I also have a production company.  I’m very involved with that and I have several projects that I want to see come to fruition.  I’m hoping that I can continue to do that kind of work and grow with that.  Start working with bigger budgets, and expand our production company.

TBN: What role would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
CP: It’s hard to say because I would have never thought I would be playing Arlene!  It’s not the sort of thing I could have dreamt up.  So I like to keep myself open to things that come my way.  And I’m happy doing film and television right now and those are roles that are being created.  They aren’t plays that have been around for a long time.  So, I’m keeping myself open.

TBN: Are there any other projects that you’d like to talk about?
CP: There is the Indie that I produced and starred in called, “Ready? OK!” It just came out on DVD last month.  It’s widely available now and also stars Michael, my husband.

TBN: Do you find working with your husband to be fun, or is it stressful?
CP:  It’s always fun and a treat when we get to do stuff together because it doesn’t happen a lot.  I like to be on a set with him or on stage with him because there’s that history there.  There’s a level of trust that you, obviously, don’t get with people you don’t know that well.  So that’s always great!

TBN: Will any of your moves be premiering at the International Toronto Film Festival this year?
CP: I don’t think so, actually.  No, I think  “That Evening Sun” is doing the festival route but it’s not going to be in Toronto.  It’s not finished.  I’m not sure what’s up next for it.  I think Seattle is up next.

TBN: I’m sure we’ll want to do this again towards the end of the season so we can talk about Season 2!
CP: Sounds good to me!

It’s a shame that we can’t impart the lovely sound of Carrie’s laughter, and wonderfully expressive voice here in the interview.  Suffice it to say that when talking of her family her voice became very soft and warm and when joking about herself we could hear the fun side of Arlene speaking out from behind Carrie’s laughter.  This was our first live interview and she was gracious and patient and intelligent as we worked our way though the technicalities.  A million thanks to HBO and to Carrie Preston for providing us with the opportunity to take a peek behind the cellulose curtain.   We here, at can’t wait till summer to see what our favorite ‘Realie’ will be up to this season!  And be sure to catch her inReady? OK!” (, “Lovely By Surprise” ( and “That Evening Sun” ( because with how charismatic and kinetic Carrie is, you may really want to catch her but your only chance is on the screen.

Kevin Carlin presents in an article for an male perspective of Arlene Fowler in his article entitled “Arlene Fowler, Femme Fatal(no e)” which you can read by clicking here.

Cheri Pierce presents in an article for a female perspective of Arlene Fowler in her article entitled “Carrie Preston is Red-Hot as Arlene: Serving Up Her Own True Blood Flavor with Some Sassy Southern Spice!” which you can read by clicking here.

(Photo credit: Carrie Preston and Kasandra Rose)