Last week HBO’s “True Blood” premiered its seventh and final season to an audience of 5.8 mln viewers, up 3% from last season’s starter. The show has a huge cult following and will missed by many involved—certainly by season regular Carrie Preston, who plays the sassy, Southern waitress Arlene Fowler. We caught up with Preston to chat about the series’ sunset, her Emmy-award winning work on “The Good Wife,” and how roles calling for strong female characters have evolved over time.
How do you feel about the show ending? Are you ready for a new project?
This has been the job that changed my life, so it has been an extraordinary seven years and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to something that has been the anchor in my life for so long. That said, I feel like the writers knew they had one more season in them and I want to respect them… We want to make sure we go out with a strong story and not keep it going for the sake of keeping it going. Am I happy to see it go? Absolutely not. Am I understanding of it and supportive of it? Of course. We’re seasoned actors, so we’re very used to moving forward on to the next, so I think I’m just seeing what the next thing is going to be for me and I’m looking forward to tackling that.
You’ve been on the show from the beginning, so you have a unique perspective. How has the series evolved over time?
The first season we were all trying to nail down what the tone of the series was—what the characters were… so there was a bit of a courting experience. And then you get into a groove and you go along for seasons and you trust the writers. A lot of our writers have been there since the beginning. So we saw the seasoning and the growing of the storylines and the characters and the motivations. And then daddy left—Alan Ball. He left us on our own, all grown up. And the show took on a different tone under our new showrunner. He, however, has been one of our writers from the beginning so it wasn’t like we had to get used to a whole new father. We were able to just upgrade him. [Laughs] He has been doing a great job on it and we’re really pleased how it’s been going.
You’ve worked on several shows simultaneously—True Blood, The Good Wife and Person of Interest. Are there differences between working in premium cable and broadcast? How do you balance the work?
I don’t think of it in terms of cable and broadcast. It doesn’t really change the way I approach what I do. But obviously the material on cable… can be a little more risqué. But that doesn’t affect me as an actor, really. I approach the work the way I would approach anything… I have had the great benefit of playing three totally different characters for three totally different TV shows. That’s a dream and certainly a goal as an actor, to be able to experience different people and get inside the skin of different characters. And that has been surreal.
And the balancing act? Are there any conflicts?
Logistically, it can be challenging. I never really know what my schedule is going to be—but that’s the nature of the business… you don’t get the schedules until very close to when you’re shooting. When I’m on True Blood I don’t do the other shows. They happen the months that I’m not shooting. However, I do have to get permission from HBO to do the other shows, because contractually they take precedence over everything else. They’re what we call, in the business, in first position. Luckily HBO has been supportive of me playing these other roles and I’m very grateful to them, because if they hadn’t given me the permission to do it I wouldn’t have had those rich experiences and I certainly wouldn’t have an Emmy award sitting on my shelf.
Has that happened often, that a network has not given you permission?
Yes. There are a lot of times when things never work out. I try to have my cake and eat it, too, but sometimes two things are shooting at the exact same time… actors are constantly having to defer to the other parties involved and hope that they’ll be willing to work with your rather unpredictable schedule. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Was it a challenge for to work with a supernatural storyline, or is that something that was easy for you to fall into?
True Blood, for me, is a show about a bar… because all of my material is in the human world. So it hasn’t really felt like I’ve been in a supernatural show except when I want to. What’s been interesting is that this season—right now, the finale episode we’re shooting—I have been following the director around—what we call shadowing. I, myself, am a director of features and shorts and web series, but not television, so I wanted to do a little independent study and learn the soup to nuts journey of the television director. So I’ve really gotten an insight what it takes to shoot a supernatural show—the special effects, in particular. The amount of time and energy and logistics that go into creating just one effect—much less hundreds—is really eye opening.
So your next step is directing TV?
I have never directed episodic. I would like to. I wanted to make sure I understood what that entails and what better show to do that with than True Blood, which is so epic. It’s like jumping in and watching someone play Beethoven or Chopin or something. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. I don’t feel ready just to go in and start directing TV but I am definitely a little step closer and will hopefully continue to study some other directors are some other types of TV shows.
How do think the writing of female characters—and the availability of strong female roles—has evolved in recent years? Is there more opportunity?
I’ve never worked more than I’m working now, so that it’s only an indication that there are more roles available for women—and stronger ones. The Bechdel Test was introduced by this comic, Alison Bechdel. There are a bunch of questions you ask about a script. It has to have at least two women in it. They have to talk to each other and talk about something besides men. And so many, many scripts fail that. But I feel a lot more scripts are passing the test. And I think it’s just the hard work of powerful women in the industry… and now you have television shows that are built around female characters—The Good Wife obviously being one of them.
That said, I think there are still shows, like “True Detective,” for example, that barely pass that test—if at all. And that’s going to sweep all the awards. We still have a long way to go. I’m certainly trying to contribute in every way I can as a producer. My last feature film, “That’s What She Said,” had all women in it, and no men. It was just a film about women and their day together. I have been able to play very diverse women. Certainly my character on The Good Wife is not at all attached to any man. My character on True Blood does always have a man in her life, but she’s pretty strong and opinionated. I feel like it’s getting better, for sure.
Having been raised in the South, how do you view the portrayal of Southern characters in True Blood? Did you have any input into the character? And how important to the story is the southern location?
It’s integral to the story. The author of the books, the inspiration for the whole thing, is Southern and she sets the whole series in the South, so we couldn’t conceive of it any other way. I couldn’t picture it anywhere else geographically. And also I think it’s rich with character and history and style—all of those things are good ingredients to add to an interesting television show. I myself, growing up there, understand the Southern mindset and feeling of the place. A lot of times those roles are given to people who are not from there. Not that they can’t do it, they do—very well. But it’s nice to know that I’m one of the actors that’s able to contribute a little. And also, my character starts off representative of the more narrow-minded… but she’s opened her mind as the series has gone on and I think that that is a wonderful thing. I think sometimes Southern characters are made stereotypes and don’t have an opportunity to do this. I’m glad to see that her character has become more complex.