EDITORIAL - The Personalities of Carrie Preston
No one will deny that Carrie Preston takes on complicated characters from a fierce waitress in True Blood, to an extremely intelligent quirky lawyer in The Good Wife/The Good Fight, and currently an identity thief manicurist in Claws, just to name a few of our favorites. Her current role of Polly on Claws is very exciting in that we are seeing a cast of all women, of different backgrounds, given real personalities. These women are bad asses and holding roles that would normally be given to men. This progressive show will have you on your seat laughing and cheering along with these tough ladies as they take on the world together the only why they know how: friendship, criminal activity, and having the best nails in town.
In addition to Carrie being a talented actress, she is also a wonderful director. She is very passionate about focusing on creating pieces that give a voice to the LGBTQ world and women. Please read our exclusive interview below to learn about the many exciting projects Carrie Preston has coming up.
Where are you based?
I’m based in New York City.
What inspired you to get into acting?
I grew up in the Macon, Georgia, a place I am still proud holds my history. I started doing plays when I was 9 years old, following in the footsteps of my older brother John G. Preston, who is also a professional actor. I got bit by the bug, so to speak. I loved pretending to be other people, but I always wanted to play the more interesting characters. I wasn’t Alice in Wonderland or Snow White or Cinderella. I was the Mock Turtle, Maid Dim Witty, and the kooky FGM (Fairy God Mother), complete with ass pad and glasses. I loved getting lost inside the skin of someone else, and I found out early on that being an actor made me feel out of control in an extremely controlled environment, which I love to this day.
Over the years you always seem to find yourself playing multidimensional characters. Do you look for these roles, are they brought to you, or do you make them into these fascinating people?
I feel fortunate in that people trust me to play the unusual or off-beat characters. I spent many years in acting schools (University of Evansville and The Juilliard School) learning how to transform. I am grateful that I have those tools to fall back on. But I always start with the script. In the theater they say, ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage!’ So it starts with the writing. If I love the role and feel like I can do something interesting with it, I will audition for it. Or if it comes as an offer, I will consider what it would be like to live with the character for a potentially long time. And I go from there… As for making them interesting, I really do spend a lot of time on the text, making sure that it is so ingrained in my brain that I can forget about it when I get on set and just let the character take over. I map out beforehand where I think all the twists and turns are in the character’s brain. I don’t really set it, but I have a general road map. When I get on set and I see what the other actors are doing and I see what the director wants, then I can take a free ride and see where it’s going to go. That’s the thrill of acting.
Speaking of interesting roles, you are currently playing Polly in TNT’s Claws. Can you tell us a little bit about Polly, and what inspires you about her?
At the beginning of the series, Polly just got out of prison for stealing the identities of seniors. But what makes her most interesting is that she also steals personalities. So although in real life I am definitely not inspired by identity thieves, I am inspired by the opportunity to play multiple roles within the same character. Polly is the illusionist, the trickster, the chameleon. What a gift for someone like me, who loves to transform.
While Polly is a con artist/identity thief and a personality thief, she also seems to suffer from at least one mental disorder. Do you feel she is Schizophrenic or do you think there is a little Dissociative Identity Disorder at play as well?
I would guess the closest diagnosis for her would be Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it isn’t persistent. I honestly don't think we know who the real Polly is, and I sometimes wonder if she herself even knows. The most evident mental breakdown was when her twin sister started visiting her, but we later found out that her sister died when they were kids. Polly had been creating this life for her twin in her mind for all these years. And she has an incredible amount of guilt about her own culpability in her sister's death. Dissociative Identity Disorders are sometimes thought to come from childhood traumas, so this was definitely one of Polly’s original wounds. But there were probably wounds that happened way before that and many that have happened since. On the other hand, Polly also very consciously assumes other personalities just to get her needs, or other peoples' needs, met. She’s complicated, to say the least.
Polly’s character has developed a lot over the show. She started out as a sweet loyal friend to now a complicated bad ass. Is the real Polly somewhere between those or something else all together?
I feel like Polly is somewhere between a fierce warrior and a wounded angel. There is a dark side under that shining exterior, and as an actor that’s just delicious to play. I wanted to make sure that the audience got a glimpse into what Polly was like in prison. And let's just say Polly did just fine! She is a fighter, and she especially fights for the people that she loves the most and those are the ladies at the nail salon.
Claws is a big deal. It is exciting to see a show that highlights fierce women from all different backgrounds, ages, and body types. Can you talk a little bit about how people are responding to this and how it makes you feel?
This show is definitely about female friendship, and I think it's special because for the most part it's about women supporting each other and not tearing each other down. All of these women are flawed and faced with extremely challenging circumstances, not unlike a lot of women in this country. And they rely on one another to get through these challenges. I think the audience is really relating to and inspired by that. I am really proud to be a part of it. I go out in the world and all these different women (and men, too) tell me how much this show means to them. And that makes me feel so humbled and blessed.
Not only are these women diversified, but they are far from damsels in distress. If a man comes into their life, it is of their own deciding. Polly certainly has her mixed feelings on relationships for herself, but is also sexually free. Can you talk about why it is important that a character like Polly exists, who is sexually free, but also not needing of a man.
All the female characters in the show are behaving how male characters traditionally behave. The women of “Claws” are not the standard Hollywood issue: preternaturally gorgeous women who only exist in relation to men, or are subservient to men. Ours are real women who are wrestling with the very expectations of womanhood that Hollywood propagates. All of the women on the show are comfortable with their own sexual appetite, and I think that is a beautiful thing to watch. I think it's important, especially at a time in our country when women are fighting to maintain control of their own bodies, that a show like this is putting these themes front and center. I hope we get to the place where it's no longer considered noteworthy when women take charge of their bodies and their sexuality in the same way that men do.
Ironically, the sweetest love story is between Dean, Desna’s autistic brother, and Virginia. Do you think this is done intentionally?
I think it was important to Eliot Laurence (the creator of our show) and Janine Sherman Barrois (our show runner) that they portray a character with autism with authenticity and respect and also give him a fully adult life. That relationship is a great way to do it. Virginia really blossoms as a character when she gets together with Dean. Within him she finally finds a supporting and loving male. Coming from the male chauvinistic world of strip clubs, she probably never had a man treat her with the respect that she is due. Plus, Harold Perrineau and Karrueche Tran are just transcendent in those roles, so I am sure they wanted to give those actors great material, too.
So, you are a super talented lady. Not only are you a wonderful actress, but you also direct. Can you please tell us about your experience directing for a Claws episode?
Directing the “Claws” episode was one of the most rewarding and challenging directing experiences of my career. The way the assignments lined up for directors, I ended up with the 8th episode of the season. Typically, the episodes get more action packed as the season goes on, but when the script came in for my episode, I couldn’t believe how large it was in scope! But I dove right in. The cast and crew really brought their A-game. They were rooting for me, and they were there for me. We accomplished an extraordinary amount of material in a really short amount of time, and I am thrilled with the way it all turned out.
Speaking of directing, you have been directing for a little while now, even winning some awards through your production company Daisy 3 Pictures, which describes its films as “gay films you can take your Mother to, and women’s films with a ‘broad’ appeal”. Basically, more of what we need in our media! How did you get involved with Daisy 3 Pictures?
I studied acting at Juilliard. I became very close with one of my classmates, James Vasquez. When we got out of school, we both wanted to start creating our own work. James came to me with a script he wrote shortly after I had gotten a grant to take a filmmaking course. So we decided to produce it ourselves, and I directed it. They say the best way to learn is taking matters into your own hands and learn from both your mistakes and successes. Together with Mark Holmes, we built upon that first film and just kept reinvesting in more and more projects, learning and growing as we went along. We strive to tell stories about, and for, audiences that we feel are underserved.
How do you decide what films you want to work on?
As a director, I am someone who takes on projects that speak loudly and clearly to me and won't let me go until I pay attention to them. But it has to be a story I feel compelled to tell. As an actor, if I feel I have an interesting take on a role, I will choose to do it. That said, making a living as an actor is a bit like being a gypsy. So sometimes I end up doing projects that I might not have originally imagined for myself. But that’s what keeps things exciting.
Why is it so important that you are focusing on LGBTQ+ and women focused movies?
It's getting better, but the LGBTQ+ audiences are still underserved and underrepresented. So I want to create stories for, and about, those audiences. Representation matters, and stories have the power to change the world. I believe that the more diversity we see in the media, the more open-minded the world will become. As for women, well, we make up more than 50% of the population. So I feel like the stories Hollywood is telling should be representative of that percentage.
In addition to producing and directing LGBTQ+ projects, you were also in When We Rise. Can you please speak about your experience with this docudrama miniseries?
I had worked with the brilliant Dustin Lance Black on a film that he wrote and directed called Virginia. I was very grateful to work with him again when he brought me into his opus about the LGBTQ+ movement. It is an extremely important story to tell, and the fact that he was able to do it so accurately for a wide audience on a major network was unprecedented and important. I was blessed with the opportunity to play Sally Miller Gearhart, who was an American teacher, feminist, and activist. It was really fascinating to play a character that was based on a real person. I loved studying her mannerisms, watching videos of her and reading things that she had written.
More on your empowering directing: you are directing Buzz at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which is about one of the first female Shakespeare directors. Can you please tell us about this show and why it is important to you?
In the 1970s, Buzz Goodbody was the first female director at The Royal Shakespeare Company (The RSC) and one of only a handful of directors in all of the UK. She directed a famous production of “Hamlet" starring a then unknown Ben Kingsley, and four days after the first performance she decided to take her own life. But “Buzz” by Susan Ferrara isn't a play about why Buzz choose to leave this world as much as it is about celebrating the creative process while shining a light on what it means to be a woman in a man's world - something that today is more relevant that ever. In the same way that Shakespeare used his history plays to make allegorical comments about his own times, Susan is inspired by Buzz’s story to make allegorical comments about our own times. And to me, that’s what makes a great play.
We saw you made Pride, 50 year anniversary of Stone Wall, this year! Any fun experiences you want to share?
The “Claws” cast was invited to be on the Warner Media float in the gay pride parade. Jenn Lyon, Suleka Matthew, Rebecca Creskoff and I spent all morning getting ourselves gussied up, complete with face glitter and rainbow everything. Pride was so huge this year that things were really behind in the parade, so we just walked the crowded streets and ended up spending most of the day at Oscar Wilde’s, a bar/restaurant right by where our float was waiting to take off. Just being out in the streets with so many people from all over the world was thrilling and moving.
What is your motto in life?
Don’t give your power away!!