63rd Monte-Carlo TV Festival: Carrie Preston on Her Journey from 'The Good Wife' to 'Elsbeth'
BY Yako Molhov
Carrie Preston, the star of CBS' hit drama 'Elsbeth', attended The 63rd Monte-Carlo Television Festival which took place last month. 'Elsbeth' was part of the official selection for the Golden Nymph Awards this year. CBS has renewed the freshman series for the 2024-2025 season which will premiere this fall, with 20 episodes for S2. The series is a spin-off of 'The Good Wife' (2009–2016) and 'The Good Fight' (2017–2022), from which Carrie Preston originated the role of Elsbeth Tascioni, an unconventional attorney who ends up working as a de facto detective. Robert and Michelle King are the creators and executive producers of the series, via King Size Productions. Jonathan Tolins is the showrunner and EP alongside Liz Glotzer, Erica Shelton Kodish and Bryan Goluboff. The show is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution.
Carrie Preston
'Elsbeth' follows Elsbeth Tascioni, a whip-smart and unconventional attorney who moves from Chicago to work with the NYPD. She utilizes her singular point of view to make unique observations, and corner criminals alongside the NYPD. She is assigned to oversee a monitorship or consent decree after some controversial arrests. Viewers get to see the killer at the start of each weekly case. The format had weekly guest stars like Keegan-Michael Key, Elizabeth Lail, and Laura Benati among those in season one.

Preston talked to international journalists at the Festival, revealing details about her character, the storyline, working with the creative team and the guests stars in the show. The actress shared that playing the lead in the series "is such an honor. I've been doing this a long time, and I've played the leads in movies before. I love doing TV, I love watching TV and I've been on a lot of great series, but I've always been in supporting roles, happily. I've always thought, hey, I wonder what it would feel like to do that because I would want to maybe do it differently than some other people... if I ever got in that position what I would do... but not thinking that would ever really happen, certainly at this point in my career, because I've been doing it for a long time, and these opportunities just don't come along that much. So, it's pretty profound, if I'm being honest, it really is."

Talking about getting her own show and jumping from 'The Good Wife' and 'The Good Fight', Preston noted that "'Elsbeth' is a police procedural, not a law, political show in this respect it's already tonally different, it feels like a new show. So, in a way, it's the same character, she's consistently her, but it also feels new, because I'm playing things that I would never get to play in 'The Good Wife', 'The Good Fight'. I'm not in a courtroom, I'm doing different things. It has a lighter tone than those two shows, so I get to lean into more of some of the comedy that I love doing, but also finding the heart of the character, the vibe of the character, and in this situation, it's been fun to sustain it, to be living in the skin of the character for a whole episode as opposed to one or two scenes. It just feels exciting." The actress added that "there was a time when the little awkward characters were never the main characters"

In terms of how her character changes throughout the years and also the way she plays her, Preston said: "when I first started playing it 14 years ago, I was learning, discovering the character with everybody else. And also, I was there to serve that show, that tone of that show, to serve those characters, just to be there to get Peter Florrick out of jail. But the writing is so strong and so specific. I knew that there was something special and different about that character. They even had described her to me as being a female Columbo, even back then. So it is fun and interesting now that 14 years later they built a whole show and they've structured it the same way that 'Columbo' was structured. So they kept the genesis of that, and they just ran with it, with her being unconventional and people don't expect her to be as smart as she is because of the way she is. There's a tradition that Monk, he was idiosyncratic. Even Columbo was not normal... No one expects Elisabeth to come in solve the crime and this is what she's doing. No one probably expected Carey Preston to lead a TV show on the network, and here I am. So I kind of relate to all of it."

When asked by TVBIZZ whether she will be directing episodes of 'Elsbeth' (Preston directed two episodes of 'The Good Fight'), the actress that for the time being this is not in the plans. "I'm still getting used to the workload, which is epic. I'm there every day. I've been blessed to be on shows like 'True Blood' and 'Claws' and 'First Adventures' where I just don't have to carry the show and now I do. So I want to make sure that I'm doing that. That's my first job. Got to do that as well as I can. Maybe down the line if we're lucky enough to do more than a couple of seasons, I'll direct. The main challenge is prepping one script and shooting another simultaneously with the amount of material that I have so I'm holding two episodes in my brain at once, and that can be a little challenging. But luckily I'm a pretty good multitasker."

Preston also shared details on working with some of her co-stars. Stephen Moyer who played with her in 'True Blood' also guest starred on 'Elsbeth' and it was actually her idea to cast him. "We had this history together, and we were able to just tap into that immediately and really make those scenes crackle that were already great on the page". Preston has played alongside her husband Michael Emerson in many series and movies and the actress commented that she would love to work with him on the show. "He's been working on Robert and Michelle King's other show, 'Evil.' So that's over now I think they're hopefully going to find something for him. We're going to do 20 episodes. I'm sure they've got to find something."

On working with the two creators, Robert and Michelle King, Preston commented that "they're very collaborative and they're also great leaders, that's a very uncommon combo - usually it's one or the other, all of their shows are so different but yet the common denominator is them and their brilliant minds. They surround themselves with incredible talent, and they keep coming back to it... For example, one of their main writers throughout 'The Good Fight' was Jonathan Tolins and he's now our showrunner, and they turned the reins over to him. So it's his show, he runs the writers room, picks the writers, has the final say on things. They trust the creative process, and they know what it means to surround themselves with people and they let them do their work... I've worked with them as a director as well, to see what it's like from that side of things." As far as giving creative output to the scriptwriters, Preston said "I really love what they give me. I feel like it's our job as actors to do everything we can to make the script that we've been given work. I don't think it's our job to give script notes - some actors would disagree with me but I think that's our first job. Sometimes they've had to write things fast, and maybe it's not as detailed as you want and then you can go and say 'hey, I'm feeling like maybe this doesn't feel quite right in my mouth, can I say this?' Or 'oh, I have an idea' - you can share it, but if it's not received or this is not how we're seeing it for the big picture then okay, that's fine - they have a bigger picture in their head than I do and I know this because I'm also a director and so I know the prep that goes in before we ever even show up. Some actors don't know that so I try to be respectful of all the work that they've done before I come up and show up. I want to hear what the director and the writer's ideas were because they've been spending months on that or the directors have been spending a couple of weeks thinking about that scene way more than I have."

The 'Elsbeth' lead also revealed details about the 'Columbo' elements in the show and parallels to 'Poker Face' which borrowed similar elements: "It's so funny because they had already come up with 'Elsbeth' and this this whole idea to borrow the 'Columbo' structure and we were already in deep talks about that and then 'Poker Face' came out, and we were like 'shoot - well, we were already doing it, I promise'. I think it must be in the zeitgeist. People want to lean on that old-school structure because it's comforting and we've had all these really wonderful prestige TV kind of dark, long arc shows and I think now people's attention span is so fractured with social media and also just with the challenges of the day... I think to give something for someone to watch that's cathartic, they can watch it, they can have a beginning, middle, end, they can have some joy and see some delights and positivity in the world and then go to sleep and not have nightmares. And also to not have the stress of who's the killer going to be... There's something great about our show - it's all dealing with upper-crust criminals who are trying to get away with murder and on our show they don't..."

Preston does not worry that viewers may associate her only with her character in the series. "I love this character and I love that people recognize me from it but I've also been blessed with 30 years of playing everybody but Elsbeth. I've played so many different characters, I was even on a show called 'Claws' where I played a character who played 10 characters. So, I've had the chameleon career, the illusionist career, and I feel grateful that I'm playing something that people recognize. A lot of times people don't know my name, but they know Elsbeth - I have a name, maybe it's not always Carrie Preston, it's Elsbeth, but I'm fine with that." Describing her character Preston noted that "Elsbeth is not worried about glamour. She has a very specific, fun way of dressing because it makes her feel good. She loves wearing these things because they delight her, she's not wearing a bunch of make-up, she's not doing plastic surgery, she's not worried about that. Elsbeth admires beauty in other people. She doesn't do anything crazy with her hair, she's just herself and not worried about how the world perceives her. And so I think it's a good message to be putting out in the world for all women and I'm trying to do that as an actor myself."
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