Carrie Preston Says ‘Elsbeth’ Success Is ‘Really Humbling’: ‘I Didn’t Expect It at This Point’

TheWrap magazine: “It’s like a circus has dropped down in a police procedural,” the actress says of the hit CBS drama series

Carrie Preston in the Season 1 finale of "Elsbeth"
Carrie Preston in the Season 1 finale of "Elsbeth" (CREDIT: CBS)

For the first time in her 30-year-plus career, Carrie Preston is relishing being No. 1 on the call sheet. In the CBS drama “Elsbeth,” she reprises her Emmy-winning guest-starring role from “The Good Wife” as quirky lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni. At 56, the Georgia-born Juilliard graduate finally has the lead.

“It’s just amazing and really humbling,” Preston said. “I didn’t expect it at this point. I’ve had an incredible career that I’m very grateful for. I wasn’t pining for it, but the fact that it has happened at this point in my life makes me appreciate it
more. When you have decades of being on set and being a part of this business, you have a deeper, bigger perspective on the whole thing. It is quite humbling.” 

The series, an extension of Michelle King and Robert King’s “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” universe, transplants the character from Chicago to New York, where she is on a special assignment to shadow the NYPD.

Elsbeth’s new boss, Captain C.W. Wagner (Wendell Pierce), doesn’t know what to make of this garishly dressed outsider, nor do the disapproving detectives whom she eventually shows up in case after case. The “howdunit” drama has been a hit with audiences; the Season 1 finale drew more viewers than the finale of ABC’s wildly popular “9-1-1” the same night. Preston has a theory about why Elsbeth is connecting. 

“It harkens back to Columbo, Sherlock Holmes or even ‘Murder, She Wrote’ tonally,” she said. “But it’s fresh and new as well because we don’t expect a character like Elsbeth to be at the center of a show like that. This is a woman who’s taken herself out of one world and put herself in another, a fish-out-of-water situation. It’s like a circus has dropped down in a police procedural.”

Elsbeth’s colorful, radically off-trend wardrobe is a trademark of the character. (She even inspires her own haute couture fashion line in the season finale.) Her clothing functions as a cloak that gives cops and culprits a false sense of superiority over her. Much like her ostensibly diffident demeanor, the clothes invite people to underestimate her at their own peril.

 Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni in the Season 1 Finale of “Elsbeth" (CREDIT: Michael Parmelee/CBS)
Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni in the Season 1 Finale of “Elsbeth” (CREDIT: Michael Parmelee/CBS)

“People see it as silly or something not to be taken seriously,” she said with a smile. “She can then really turn on them and show her — pun intended — true colors. They don’t see her coming.”

The character’s signature look, which includes bold tones and patterns and maybe a few bows, almost got a makeover for the series. At first, costume designer Dan Lawson, who has always dressed Elsbeth, wanted to make her more of a
traditional leading lady by giving her a more elegant silhouette now that she’s in New York. But the Kings vetoed that, saying, as Preston explained, “‘Absolutely not. We want her to stay exactly the way she is.’”

Part of keeping Elsbeth the same was making sure her often annoying tendency to pry was undimmed. “She knows that she is odd and that can be disconcerting to people,” Preston said. “She is unapologetic in her zeal and her vulnerability and
her flaws and her genius. She doesn’t try to hide it. That’s inspiring.”

The character becomes a friend and a mentor to younger police officer Kaya Blanke (Carra Patterson), one of the few on the force to recognize Elsbeth’s abilities. She’s game to help Elsbeth act out potential murder scenarios, an example of her unorthodox investigation methods.

Like “Columbo,” the juiciest role in each episode is the killer, and in the first season, everyone from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Blair Underwood turned up to bump people off. At times, we even find ourselves rooting for the villain—like Gina Gershon’s diva-esque plastic surgeon or André De Shields sophisticated fashion icon—to get away with it.

For Preston, the caliber of the guest actors “Elsbeth” is attracting has everything to do with the quality of the show’s scripts. “These characters are so fully drawn and we get to do these long dialogue scenes that you just don’t get to do that much on television,” she said. “We’re doing these six, seven pages of dialogue. They get trimmed in the edit, but for us, as actors, it looks like we’re doing a little play each week.”

This story first ran in the Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap
Gary Oldman photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap


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