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10 Quick Questions for Carrie Preston

Emmy-winning actress stars in new CBS series ‘Elsbeth’

spinner image carrie preston on green ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Shawn Flint Blair)

Carrie Preston’s quirky character Elsbeth Tascioni — from The Good Wife and The Good Fight — takes the lead in a new CBS series, Elsbeth, premiering Feb. 29. The character transitions from lawyer to investigator, and, “We will see what it’s like to watch the attorney, Elsbeth, become a police detective. That’ll be a fun thing,” says Preston, 56, who also stars as charismatic office administrator Lydia Crane in the Oscar-nominated film, The Holdovers. She shares how she’s taking care of herself in her 50s, how Carol Burnett inspired her and how she loves spending time with her husband, actor Michael Emerson (best known for his TV roles on Lost and Person of Interest) and their rescue dog, Chumley.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s it been like playing Elsbeth off and on for the past 14 years?

I love this character so much, and every time I’ve played her in the past, I always treat it like this is the last time — and so I relish every moment of it. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. I get to play it again and deepen the character. It’s always a little bit like being shot out of a cannon because she’s not like the other kids, and it’s always exciting to figure how she is going to meet whatever challenge comes her way.

Elsbeth is quirky and unconventional. Do you find any part of her in you?

All of my characters have a little bit of me in them, for sure. I am nowhere near as genius as she is. I like to think I’m creative like she is, and I also like to think that I am a positive person, and she is a very positive person. She’s not ruled by any kind of frustration or anger — she’s ruled by eagerness and excitement and passion and a desire to learn or to embrace something new. So that always makes it infinitely fun.

spinner image carrie preston in front of police officers in a still from elsbeth
Preston's quirky character Elsbeth Tascioni takes the lead in the new CBS show, “Elsbeth.”
Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

Her sense of style is also unique. What’s your style?

I do like a mixed pattern. I’m not afraid of color. ... If we have to wear these things called clothes, let’s do something interesting with them. So I take chances sometimes with clothes, and I have a very eclectic closet, and whatever I’m seeing on the day is what I try to put together. I just don’t wear as many bows as [Elsbeth] does.

How was your experience filming The Holdovers?

Alexander Payne is one of our finest directors, so I knew being a part of one of his films was going to be a treasured experience, and it most definitely was. Working with him on David Hemingson’s gorgeous script with the stellar cast — Paul [Giamatti], Da’Vine [Joy Randolph] and Dominic [Sessa] — was perfect. And the overwhelmingly positive reception of the movie has surpassed anything I could have imagined. I feel so proud to be a part of something so special.

Who has inspired you in your acting journey?

Carol Burnett definitely was who I wanted to be when I would watch her show. I was just completely blown away by her, not just as [an actor, but] also as a person. She just seemed so down to earth. And then her versatility, and her ability to make people laugh — I really wanted to be that and do that. Also, when I was about 12 years old, there was a national tour of Annie. And my mom took me up to Atlanta to see that, and I remember seeing all those little girls up there [on stage] and thinking, Wow, they’re my age, and they get to do it. I asked my mom, “Do you think I could do that for a living?" She said, “Well, honey, somebody’s gotta do it. I don’t know why it can’t be you.” So I had encouragement from my parents.

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Is being married to another actor ever competitive?

No, no, gosh, no, no. We’re very supportive of each other. We met almost 30 years ago doing a production of Hamlet at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. So we started off in theater, and I think that is a great way to keep yourself grounded and to understand what goes into making something. It takes a lot of training and it’s a lot of work to do it, and it’s not a lot of money. We both had a similar love for it. And then we both kind of made our way into the television and film world simultaneously. So that was something that we could support each other [doing] as we went along.

What’s the secret to being married for 25 years?

It takes acceptance of each other for who we are. And sometimes being apart helps you appreciate the times when you’re together. And in our profession, we’re constantly working out of town and having to spend time apart. It just makes us really appreciate the time that we have together.

How do you spend your time together?

Well, we have our dog, Chumley. He’s a little rescue. We’ve had him for 14 years, and I feel like that’s our project that we do together, because dogs take a lot of time and energy, and they also just keep you so grounded. I love that. I love gardening. We have a little place up in the Hudson Valley. So we both get out into nature. We do a lot of hiking together.

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Have you found yourself changing up your health and fitness routine in your 50s?

I find that I’m more mindful of what I put in my body and how that affects my body. It’s making sure that I stay healthy and hydrated and take my supplements. I do Pilates at least two, three times a week. I used to jog — I can’t do that anymore. The body just doesn’t want to do that. It hurts the knees. So I do the lower impact things [like] hiking [and] a lot of walking. I’m constantly aware of [the fact that] we only have this body, so you’ve got to take care of it. Luckily, it’s working out — the investment that I put in my body, starting when I was young. I’m glad that I invested in my body that way, because it’s a habit now.

Are you keeping a bucket list?

I’m not. I’m definitely somebody who either lives in the present moment or in the past. But I try to live every moment as fully as I can. I’m a big meditator. I meditate every day, and so much about meditation is being here and being present and gratitude and compassion and acceptance and the understanding that everything is impermanent. Everything. And so, enjoy the moment now, because that’s all you have. So I really, really strive to do that. Am I always successful? No, but it’s definitely something I try to be mindful of.

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