From the time Carrie Preston was a child, she was an actress. When most children growing up in Georgia were playing with toys, Preston was creating her own backyard theater troupe, making the neighborhood children act in her productions. Acting and directing have been her passions all of her life, and she has the diploma from Juilliard and an Emmy to prove it. From our favorite waitress at Merlotte’s on True Blood, to the flighty lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni on The Good Wife, Preston has made us laugh and cry.
In 2004, Preston took a chance and co-founded Daisy 3 Pictures with film producer Mark Holmes, and writer/director James Vasquez. Daisy 3 has since produced three feature films. The company allows Preston to stretch her creativity beyond working in front of a camera.
The sweet and unsuspecting Polly on TNT’s Claws is Preston’s newest adventure. The show follows a nail salon run by some unusual women, with Preston playing your not so typical housewife/identity thief. The ladies enter the traditionally male world of organized crime to launder money. Preston took some time between filming to talk to us about her path to acting, Claws, and what winning an Emmy meant to her.
Do you remember at what age you knew that acting was what you wanted to do in life?
I started doing plays when I was in the fourth grade. I grew up in Macon, Georgia, and my older brother John was doing plays and I wanted to be like him. So I started doing them as well, community theatre and school plays. The bug bit me and I knew it was going to be for life after that. I started my own little backyard theatre company. By the time I was 12, I was directing and acting and doing skits with the neighborhood kids. I just kept staying with it and started the drama club with my brother in our high school. Then went on to study it in college and grad school. I’ve just been blessed to make my living doing it.
Are there any actresses that have inspired you to continue working in entertainment?
I’ve always been a fan of the big greats like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren. Even more recently, Allison Janney and Edie Falco. I like women who are willing to take chances, make bold choices and do the character work that I’m drawn to. Those are the ones that really inspire me.
Many actors and actresses say the audition process is grueling. Do you remember what your first audition was like?
Not really. I mean, I was auditioning for community theatre, even when I was a little kid. So my first professional audition, I don’t remember exactly what it was. It takes scores and scores and scores of auditions to finally get the job so you just get very good at practicing. I remember my first movie gig was a little straight to video that was being cast out of Atlanta. I was probably 18 years old, maybe 17 even, and I remember being so nervous. Going up to the big city, Atlanta, and auditioning, then getting the role and getting cast. I think I got paid a whopping maybe $400 but I was so excited because that was a lot of money for me. To be able to be on a set and then to see it edited together, I was very proud of that. I don’t even remember what the name of it was, but it was definitely a great experience. Made me realize that I could maybe make a living doing this.
And you’ve done just that. Your work on The Good Wife earned you an Emmy. That must have been gratifying.
It was one of the most affirming events in my life. I was so honored just to be nominated and I know everyone says that, but when you’re in the Best Actress in a Drama category there are hundreds of people that are being considered for that honor. So, to have it be narrowed down to that small number of people was extraordinary. Then to actually win it, it was an out of body experience. You have such a finite amount of time to get up there and thank everyone. I don’t know who was driving that bus or how I got through that speech, but I was happy to have gotten everything out that I wanted to say. It remains a real honor and like I said an affirmation that what I’m doing must be quite right.
You play Polly on the new TNT series Claws. What’s Polly’s story?
Well, the show is about five nail artists in a nail salon in west Florida and Polly has just walked out of prison for identity theft on seniors. She’s a pretty complicated character. She presents herself as this sweet suburban housewife type and yet she wears an ankle monitor. It’s fun to play an identity thief who maybe also steals identities in a metaphoric way as well.
Is it exciting to drive into a role like this?
I find it to be really fun, challenging and creative. I always as an actor like to make interesting and unpredictable choices. I think it’s more fun as an actor and also more fun for the audience to not really know what to expect from you. Keep them guessing. This role is tailor-made for that because you don’t know who you’re gonna get, or how she’s gonna get out of a situation, or even what persona she’s gonna be. You can do things to manipulate a situation. So it’s kind of an actor’s dream.
You mentioned when you were a child you had taken on both director and acting roles in your backyard. I assume that’s something you’ve always wanted to do since you recently became part owner in a production company.
Yes, definitely. I directed in high school even, and like I said, my little theatre company when I was a kid. I directed when I was at Juilliard, a couple of little productions, and then I started getting into filmmaking after I got out of Juilliard. Now I have a little production company and we’ve done three feature films, a couple of web series, music videos, and some shorts. I’m trying to move up into television currently. We’re in this world now where people can create their own projects, and I think that’s thrilling. There’s a lot of stuff out there to see and watch, but it’s also easier for independent movies and television to create work for this hungry audience.