True Blood’s Carrie Preston on Her True Love
Whether you care to credit Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series for the spawning of all things vampire-crazed or instead believe Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is responsible, there’s one thing we can all agree on. Blood sucking is alive and well in Hollywood. Since 2008, vampire fans looking to sink their teeth into a high caliber episodic television drama in a more on-going way have flocked to Alan Ball’s True Blood on HBO, based on author Charlaine Harris’ literary series The Southern Vampire Mysteries. In its five-year-thus-far run, viewers have come to feel passionately connected to their much-loved cast favourites. One friend, upon learning I would be chatting with Carrie Preston—the woman who brings True Blood’s waitress and four-time divorcee Arlene Fowler Bellefleur to life—asked if I’d be okay letting Carrie know that True Blood vampire Eric Northman would one day be my friend’s husband. Not having the heart to tell my friend that a) Eric is a fictitious character and that b) he sucks human blood, I nonetheless could appreciate just how close she felt to the believability and authenticity of the hit show’s characters. After all, it didn’t take me long to get a sense of that overall feeling of genuine authenticity when I caught up with Carrie over the phone. True Blood success aside, this Juilliard grad boasts an impressive background which includes thespian credits ranging from Shakespearean plays to guests stints on programs like Desperate Housewives and various Law & Order offshoots to recurring roles on The Good Wife and Person of Interest, not to mention a host of appearances on the big screen as well. Yet, it doesn’t stop there. For as busy as she keeps herself professionally, she always makes time for a lucky little dude called Chumley.
MD: Congratulations on your recent Emmy win for your role as Elsbeth Tascioni in The Good Wife. How rewarding an experience was that?
CP: Well, it was so unexpected. I certainly wasn’t thinking I would be nominated much less win the thing. When you consider every episode of every TV show has at least five or 10 guest actors on it, the category is quite vast. So for it to be narrowed down to six people, it was quite an honour. I felt like I’d already won just by being nominated. Then to actually hear my name called… it was quite extraordinary. I went into an out-of-body experience… and I don’t think my feet have touched the ground since.
MD: Where are you based today, and where are you from originally? CP: I’m originally from Macon, Georgia. I have lived in New York City for 23 years now and I also live in LA. But I still consider myself a southerner. I definitely feel like I’m from there and I’m proud of it.
MD: Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
CP: Yes, I did. I was one of those kids who started doing community theatre when I was very young. My older brother, John Preston, is an actor and he started doing plays and I wanted to be like him. Once I got bitten by the bug, I knew I was hooked.
MD: You’ve appeared in a number of big name films (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Doubt, Vicky Christina Barcelona), and yet you are achieving huge success on the small screen as well. Do you prefer being able to dig into these more regular, on-going roles?
CP: I wouldn’t say I prefer it. I prefer to be working. I don’t have any judgment when it comes to what medium I’m doing it in. I certainly spent a great amount of time on stage. And both in front of the camera and behind it. I’m a filmmaker, so I obviously have a great amount of respect for storytelling and all its avenues. Television is a medium I love to watch and I love having a consistent job—that’s a gift. But yes, I like to create a role and sustain it for a while to see how it evolves…
MD: What do you love most about your character, the very sassy Arlene Fowler Bellefleur?
CP: I love the mixture between the comedy and the drama that the writers give me. It’s always a fun challenge to find that balance and make it work. It’s a necessary alchemy. It’s what makes the show work.
MD: Have you always been an animal lover?
CP: Yes, growing up in the south we spent a lot of time romping around the back woods. We had all kinds of pets growing up. Frogs, hamsters, mice, and even rats at some points, and certainly we had cats. And we had one beloved dog that had the great fortune of living for a long time. That was when I definitely fell in love with dogs.
MD: Who was that dog?
CP: She was Tess. We named her after (the Thomas Hardy novel) Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
MD: Rumour has it that you and your husband, actor Michael Emerson—best known for his roles on Person of Interest and Lost have a pretty special fur-kid. How did Chumley come into your life?
CP: It was something we’d been dreaming about for a long time. We really wanted to get a dog. But we were unable to work it out because Michael was shooting Lost, which shot in Hawaii and is challenging when it comes to travelling with dogs. We’d been planning for it for a long time, logistically. We would talk about it and dream about it. One day we were walking in the West Village, past the old speakeasy called Chumley’s. Michael said: “You know what would be great a name for our dog? Chumley!” I would wake up on various days and randomly ask him: “So, where’s Chumley?” When we knew he was going to be finishing Lost and when we knew his actual end day… well, I would go on PetFinder.com for years and torture myself with all the dogs I wanted to adopt… and then when I knew it was finally going to happen, I knew I needed something small that didn’t shed because I’m slightly allergic. I saw all of these adorable dogs and this picture of this little guy just lifted itself off the page. I wish I had that picture. He had these little squinty eyes. Like a little old man. The description written up by A Dog’s Life Rescue just made it sound like this is the dog for me. I started calling and trying to convince them that I was the one for this dog. When I met him, it was love at first sight. Thanks to A Dog’s Life, we have the love of our life.
MD: A Dogs Life Rescue? They’re based in New York?
CP: No, LA actually. They’re an incredible group.
MD: I love that when you were ready, you adopted a dog rather than bought a dog.
CP: We really wanted to make sure we were adopting a dog that needed a home.
MD: So, what kind of dog is Chumley? And I don’t just mean breed. I mean, personality.
CP: We think he’s a mix of poodle and Maltese. Just by his looks and behaviour. He’s very serious, very smart, very loving and cuddly but also fiercely protective, of me in particular. He sits by the door so I know when anyone is coming. He’s not yappy, thank goodness. And he’s a great traveller, which is good because I take him everywhere with me.
MD: As the baby of a bi-coastal couple, I suppose Chumley has a fair share of his own frequent flyer points. Any tips for people who may be debating whether or not they should fly with their dog?
CP: Get the dog used to the travel case. Make it a place they actually want to go… make it a safe place. We started early—before we took him on the plane—getting him used to the bag. We would put him in and give him a treat then we would drive to a park. So he would know there’s fun to be had. Now, he knows he’s going with us. We put the bag down and he jumps in it. He got it really quickly.
MD: And how old is this little traveller?
CP: We think he’s four. He was around eight or nine months old when we met him.
MD: Given that yours is perhaps a business that can be perceived as being somewhat superficial, how does Chumley help keep you and your husband grounded?
CP: You really nailed it on the head. In our profession there’s a real mercurial nature to everything. A lot of unknowns. It’s very erratic. There’s nothing steady about it. And having a pet is very steadying. It gives our day a focus. He gets four walks a day. And it’s us doing it—well, sometimes a dog walker depending on our schedules. It’s a way to get yourself out of the work and onto the ground. To focus on something that needs your attention…. He gets us out of our heads and into our hearts.
MD: Having two such busy television stars as a mom and dad, is it safe to assume Chumley knows his way around a set?
CP: Yeah, he does. He’s gotten used to the trailer. As long as we bring his bed. Sometimes it’s better for him, if both of us are working, if he’s at home and the dog walker comes. But if we have a light day on set, it’s so wonderful to have him in the trailer. Everyone loves him at work. They all fight over him… “Oh, can I walk him?”
MD: What have you learned about life from Chumley?
CP: I didn’t realize how big my heart could get. I feel it’s expanded tens of thousands of times. It reminds you that there are creatures in the world that need us. And I am pleased to know that I am there for him. It gives me a real sense of pride and love and purpose. We don’t have kids and we understand that he’s not a baby, but he’s a creature who can’t do things for himself and he needs us just the same. I’m glad he chose me.