'The Good Wife': Carrie Preston on the Trick to Playing One of TV's Quirkiest Lawyers

The Good Wife Carrie Preston Alan Cumming - H 2013
David M. Russell/CBS

Over four seasons of The Good Wife, Elsbeth Tascioni has made her mark.

From speaking fluent French in "Je Ne Sais What?" to being her usual scatterbrained self, one of television's quirkiest lawyers is in a category all her own. "In a lot of ways, she's married to her brain and is highly entertained by it," actress Carrie Preston explains to The Hollywood Reporter.

Has Preston perfected a method to portraying a woman with hundreds of thoughts flowing at any given moment? "I always start out with the writing," Preston says. "I spend a lot of time on that and map out the twists and turns that are happening within the text and also within her thoughts."

Even Preston has trouble pinpointing exactly what makes Elsbeth tick: "It's more of a feeling."

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In a chat with THR, Preston discusses diving into her singular role, going up against Kyle MacLachlan and what romance looks like for a woman with Elsbeth's unique perspective.

The Hollywood Reporter: Elsbeth has popped in and out of the Good Wife world for the past few seasons. How has she evolved since the first time we saw her back in season one?

Carrie Preston: It's a treat to have a role like this that is so delicious and idiosyncratic and singular. When I first got offered the role, [creators] Robert and Michelle King offered me the part based on some of my other work they had seen. They had seen Duplicity, with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, and they thought the work I did in that was enough to make them want to take a chance on me. I got to figure out how to make this woman, who on the page was all over the place, connect the dots for myself and make herself a specific being; The Good Wife in our community is known to create really great roles for guests. They don't just write a talking-head lawyer. They always flesh out the characters.

THR: She is a very singular character. I don't think we've seen that type of lawyer on TV. 

Preston: When she first came on, they definitely had that in the writing, but just getting underneath her skin and inside her skin -- and really for me, the thing that gelled was when I decided to approach her as someone who is thinking so many thoughts so quickly that her body is just trying to catch up. To play those two different things is what makes her so specific and what makes her so fun for me to play. She is very nimble in her mind, and the rest of her is just catching up to that at all times. The amount of energy she spends focusing on the case, she will also spend focusing on someone's Tahari dress and also on what conversation is going on behind her. She's one of these scatterbrained geniuses. I actually think there are a lot of people like that in the world, and that might be why people are really liking her -- because she is reminiscent of people in their lives.

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THR: Is there an aspect to Elsbeth's character that intrigues you or that you find amusing?

Preston: Playing the two things of figuring out what she's thinking and then figuring out what physically she's doing to enhance that thinking. There is this real tension between those two things. That is where the comedy comes from. The writing really highlights that. The challenge for me is walking that fine line is her function on the show, which is to add a little levity to the proceedings, but also making sure that that's coming from a place of truth.

THR: Have you perfected a method to balance those two opposing sides that make up who she is?

Preston: I don't really have any tricks. I always start out with the writing. I spend a lot of time on that and map out the twists and turns that are happening within the text and also within her thoughts. I feel like I know how to get into her mind, and it's not something that I can actually put a finger on. It's more of a feeling. I get into her way of thinking. Sometimes on the day I'm shooting that, I'm a little bit scatterbrained myself. [Laughs]

THR: Elsbeth is taking on Kyle MacLachlan's Josh Perrotti. What will take place over the course of the episode between the two?

Preston: She's definitely met a kindred spirit in him, but she's also got her guard up as well, because she intends to win. She certainly likes a challenge, and so we're going to see them dealing with each other's weapons. There are definitely some sparks between them.

THR: How would you describe their dynamic?

Preston: They're both not like the other kids. They see similarities. They see each other in each other. I think that is very attractive and, at the same time, very scary, because with both of them, and this is important, you aren't sure if it's all an act or if that's really how these people are. That's fun to play with, and that's a question that should never be answered. There's a sense of play, banter, power dynamics going on and attraction that on his side is being more outwardly pursued than on Elsbeth's side.

THR: What does romance look like from Elsbeth's perspective?

Preston: She's been married before, and we found out in the first season that she has a son, so she has definitely had a fully fleshed-out romantic life. But she's not married now. It's probably the last thing on her mind. In a lot of ways, she's married to her brain and is highly entertained by it. [Laughs] She is very frequently seduced by the next thought in her brain. To then throw a courtship in front of her is the same as throwing another case in front of her or a nice set of jewelry or a pretty painting. [Laughs] She handles everything in the moment as it comes her way, and it's delightful to watch her navigate.

THR: Is there a moment from the episode that stands out?

Preston: There is a scene in a restaurant between me and Kyle MacLachlan's character. We had a wonderful time shooting it. 

THR: You were also on Person of Interest. What was that like, working alongside your husband Michael Emerson?

Preston: It was really good casting to play the love of his life. [Laughs] He and I, we keep our work at work, so both of us didn't really rehearse together. We did it the way you'd do any other show. It was fun to come in as a guest into his world that he's been living in for almost two seasons now, and to be welcomed by his crew and to see how the crew and producers really treasure him. I was proud of him and, of course, I agree [that] they should treasure him. To go on set and rehearse the scenes, I realized early on that I was not standing there with my husband, I was standing there was Mr. Finch. It was slightly unnerving to be standing there -- not to get spiritual, but I did feel there was a shift in him. That made it very helpful for me to get into a role that I was learning about for the first time. The best part was when we sat and watched the episode. [Laughs] There's something quite strange, sitting on the couch with your husband watching yourself on television playing another character talking to your husband playing another character. When we had that first kiss, we just started giggling like a couple of school kids. That was a first for us.

The Good Wife airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on CBS.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com
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