Georgia-born Carrie Preston is both a filmmaker and an actress. Her most recent directing gig, the feature film THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, is out in theatres this Friday. Fans of TRUE BLOOD know Preston as outspoken Bon Temps waitress Arlene Fowler, she has a recurring role on THE GOOD WIFE and it looks likely that she may reprise her character Grace, who’s the love interest for Finch (Michael Emerson, Preston’s real-life spouse) on PERSON OF INTEREST.
Speaking by phone,Prestontalks about her parallel careers.
ASSIGNMENT X: What is THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID about?
CARRIE PRESTON: It is about two best friends. One of them is getting ready for a big date and she wants her best friend to be there by her side while she has a day of beauty, and the best friend, who is played by Anne Heche, is having a bad day. So the day goes from good to bad to worse, and it’s about how their friendship survives all the madness that comes at them, including a total stranger who gloms onto them and has a very bad habit. It’s a comedy – I like to call it a “womance” instead of a “bromance.” It’s all females and it’s about how women relate to each other by talking about relationships.
AX: The film screened at Outfest, so is there a gay component to it?
PRESTON: One of the couples in the film is lesbian, but I wouldn’t call it a gay film, I wouldn’t call it a straight film, I would just call it a chick flick that’s not for pussies [laughs].
AX: You had produced and starred in but not directed READY? OK! …
PRESTON: I produced and starred in READY? OK!, and then our [production company’s] first film, which is called 29th AND GAY, I directed and produced. And THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID I directed and produced. Kellie Overbey wrote it.
AX: Why did you direct THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID and not direct READY? OK!?
PRESTON: READY? OK! was written by my producing partner James Vasquez. We have a production company – it’s called Daisy 3 Pictures, and there are three of us – there’s James Vasquez, myself and Mark Holmes. We trade off the directing duties. It’s not really about taking turns, it’s whoever has a project that they’re inspired to take the lead on, and there’s not ever a debate over who’s going to do that. James wrote and starred in 29th AND GAY and he didn’t feel like he should also direct it; he wasn’t ready to do that yet. So I directed it. And then the second film, he wrote the lead for me, and I felt the same way. He wanted to direct because he wrote and I wouldn’t have felt like I could have done a great job acting as the lead and directing and producing. We are already a very small production company, so we try to share the workload. And THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID – we were going to shoot that in New York City, and James and Mark are based in San Diego. I live in New York half the year, so it made sense that I would direct it. Also, it’s just a project that I’d been shepherding for about eight years, so it was something that I had definitely put a lot of time and energy into.
AX: So this was your baby that you’d been nurturing for a long time and you wanted to get it to college.
PRESTON: Exactly. I always say, “I raised a child and then it got into Harvard,” which is, in the indie world, Sundance [laughs]. And then it went to Harvard and now it’s graduated Harvard and it’s got a really nice job, and it’s out on its own. So we got distribution with Phase 4 Films out of Sundance, and so it feels like it’s mine but it also belongs to everybody who worked on it. It takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes several villages to make an independent film, or any film for that matter, so we’re very excited that we were able to launch it and it’s going to be seen by audiences. So it’s everything we could have hoped for.
AX: Are there insights that you as a director that come from your acting experiences?
PRESTON: Oh, definitely. Because I have been acting for so long, I’ve had the great fortune of working with a lot of different directors, so I get to learn from them and borrow from them and watch all the different techniques of directing and use what I can from that and get inspired. And it’s been very helpful. Whereas somebody who has only been a director, they really only know their style, or maybe a few people that mentored them. So I feel kind of like I got an education in filmmaking by being in front of the camera.
If there’s one thing that I feel is a strength in my directing – and I have many weaknesses, there are problems that I’m still learning about – it’s talking to actors. I understand the language, obviously, and I’m very understanding. And so in THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, which is a character piece, a very dialogue-heavy film, although it does go out into the city of New York and is filmic in that way, it was very important to be able to talk to the actors and get specific with them. So definitely, that was one of the most rewarding things about directing the movie, was the camaraderie and the dialogue between myself and the actors.
AX: When did you actually shoot this?
PRESTON: We shot it in October of 2010, a year-and-a-half ago, in twenty days. We shot it on my hiatus from TRUE BLOOD. So eight years of preparation and twenty days of shooting [laughs].
AX: Regarding TRUE BLOOD, has Arlene ended up where you expected, or did you foresee her going somewhere else, or were you worried she’d get killed?
PRESTON: I guess we always have that understanding that any of the characters can go at any point. It is a thriller, action-packed show, and it is about supernatural characters, some of whom have the ability to kill. However, I do feel like the show needs to be grounded in some kind of reality and so the characters that are not supernatural are very necessary to create a context for the rest of the characters. If we didn’t have the community and the town that the vampires are trying to mainstream in, then it wouldn’t have the impact. So I feel like Arlene is a great representative of the town. So far, it’s been working out and I’m having a great time playing her.
AX: Did you feel there immediate chemistry between you and Todd Lowe, who plays Arlene’s now-husband Terry, where you thought they’d eventually hook up, or was that a surprise?
PRESTON: Well, they did it quite gradually, which I thought was really nice. Arlene taking care of Terry in the first season when he’s having that PTSD moment, and then him complimenting her on her hair or something like that. And so we saw, “Okay, this one’s going to go somewhere,” and I love Todd Lowe. I think he’s a tremendous actor and also just a really fun, lovely, funny person. So I was very excited when they paired us together, because our acting styles are similar, we get along and I needed that, because we would be spending a lot of time together, so I was very happy that he was the one.
They balance each other in their neuroses. Somehow they take care of each other’s vulnerabilities, and I think that’s what’s so nice. Both of them are extremely loyal people, and once they made that decision to be together, they’ve really got a lovely relationship, and the only relationship that has lasted on the show.
AX: At least between two living humans.
AX: Arlene certainly stepped up to protect Terry from his old Army buddy this past season …
PRESTON: Well, going back to the quality of Terry and Arlene’s relationship being based in loyalty, Arlene is not one to sit by and let something threaten her relationship of her family.
AX: And how is it playing a mom, especially with the kids played by Alec Gray and Laurel Weber recurring over the five years that TRUE BLOOD has been on?
PRESTON: They are great kids, and it’s been very interesting watching them mature into these little actors. When we first got there, they were very young and hadn’t done a lot, and now they come in and I hear them talking about auditions. It’s so funny to see how quickly they grow [laughs], but they’re total pros. They love being there and they’re extremely well-behaved, so that’s a testament to the parents. I really like playing a mother. I’m not a mother in real life, but I have nephews and nieces and I think of my dog as a member of the family.
AX: Is there any kind of a different atmosphere on TRUE BLOOD this year, with Alan Ball stepping down as show runner?
PRESTON: There [was] no change in tone [during Season 5]. I’m sure [in Season 6] everyone will feel the change, but pretty much all the writers have been there since the beginning, so they’re consistent there and our new show runner, Mark Hudis, came from the writers room, so he’s wonderful and everybody really likes him. Obviously, we’re all going to miss Alan, but it has the potential to create some new ideas and fresh energy into the show.
AX: You have a couple of other projects in the pipeline as an actress. VINO VERITAS …
PRESTON: That was a film I shot in Lincoln,Nebraska last July on my hiatus and it’s a four-character movie. It’s about two couples who get together on Halloween night and drink a mysterious wine that turns out to be a truth serum. It has a lot of dark undertones, but it’s also really funny. My character dresses for Halloween as Queen Elizabeth the First. So I was in Lincoln,Nebraska in July in a sometimes a hundred and five degrees in full Elizabethan garb. So that was a challenge [laughs]. But we had such a good time despite that.
AX: I’M AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
PRESTON: That was an independent film that I just shot here in Los Angeles that is written by Anna Margarita Albelo. In the movie she is directing [an all-female] version of VIRGINIA WOOLF. I play one of her friends who is playing the Honey character. So it’s a movie within a movie, and it’s really fun and funny and I really love all the women that are involved in it.
AX: And will you be back as Elsbeth Tascioni on THE GOOD WIFE?
PRESTON: I’m looking forward to coming back to THE GOOD WIFE – [she is] a recurring character, I was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award [for the performance], so it’s been such a gift I wasn’t expecting to receive [laughs] and it’s turned into a character that people really respond to and that’s been very satisfying, so they’re probably going to be bringing me back for a couple more episodes.
AX: Do you have any other filmmaking projects on the horizon?
PRESTON: I’ve been developing a Web series that I’ve been doing some shooting on called THE DODY SHOW, and that’s a character that I created and is just a funny look at how I think perverse reality TV has become. And then I’m attached to a pilot that I’ve been trying to shop around to star in and produce. And some of my producing partners are writing scripts, so we’ve got a lot of stuff in development right now.
AX: A lot of your work as a filmmaker has gay themes. Do you feel that the advances in gay rights are creating more opportunities for gay-themed film or are making specifically gay-themed films less necessary?
PRESTON: Well, I often think that we’re going to come to a point where it’s just going to be film, that it’s not going to be gay films or straight films, that we won’t have to categorize them by sexual preference, and I think we’re getting closer to that. Our production company’s slogan is, “We make gay films you can take your mother to,” and women’s films with a quote-unquote “broad” appeal. A lot of the films that are for the gay audience are overly sexual and there’s absolutely a place for that, and that’s great, but we like to offer something that is a little more family-friendly or films that the characters just happen to be gay, it’s not about [specific LGBT issues]. In READY? OK!, we wanted to deal with being a mother dealing with the fact that he child might, maybe, turn out to be gay and how she’s dealing with that, but we very specifically never even said the word “gay,” because I don’t think you should sexualize an eleven-year-old. So it was a very rewarding experience making that film. In the case of THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, one of the couples just happens to be lesbian. It’s never even addressed, it’s just there. So we’re getting to that point where characters who are gay are just going to happen to be in a film.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with TRUE BLOOD star Carrie Preston on THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID