[caption id="attachment_1415" align="aligncenter" width="215" caption="Carrie Preston chats about her work on the hit HBO vampire-themed drama True Blood. Photo copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
People say that you can choose your friends but not your family, and in most cases the latter applies to your neighbors as well. In the HBO series True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlaine Harris, both humans and vampires live side-by-side. Thanks to the development of synthetic blood, these legendary nocturnal creatures no longer have the need to feed on human blood, but that does not necessarily mean all is well in the small fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps. A number of women are strangled throughout the show's first year, with the finger of guilt pointing at more than one local, including waitress Arlene Fowler. Although innocent, Arlene subsequently learns that she has a very personal connection to the killer. This proved, of course, disturbing to her, but allowed the actress who plays her, Carrie Preston, to deliver a multi-layered performance.
"When Arlene started out, you would just get a little taste of her here and there, "says the actress. "She then became a bit of a red herring because no one was sure who the murderer was, and because Arlene had such strong opinions, I think some viewers thought that maybe she was the one. So it was kind of cool to have people wondering about that side of my character. Then, as we know, the killer turned out to be the man who Arlene was involved with. That allowed them [the show's writers] to write some conclusions for my character, including scenes where she was coming to terms with what happened and all the guilt as well as sadness that accompanied it.
"All that was a nice departure from the sort of comedy that I had been doing last season. Ultimately, I think Arlene is a comedic character, which I love playing, but it's also nice when they give me matrial with some more gravitas well. The character is such a joy to play because she's so different from who I am as a person, starting with, of course, the way Arlene looks. I'm a petite blonde and she's a buxom redhead. That's quite a departure and one that you generally don't get to do on TV. So I was very pleased to have been given that opportunity by Alan Ball [series creator/executive producer], who likes to cast who he likes, and then lets the actor together with all the creative people around them create the character. I'm truly fond of Arlene and I look forward to the days that I do get to work because it's like putting on a mask. It's rather freeing playing her because she's so outspoken, opinionated and firm in her beliefs, not to mention a lot of fun."
In True Blood, Arlene works with Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) at the local eatery, Merlotte's Bar and Grill. Sookie is secretly a telepath and is romantically involved with Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a handsome 173-year-old vampire who moved to Bon Temps at the start of season one. Besides Sookie, Arlene's other main relationships last year were with Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), a shapeshifter and the owner of Merlotte's, and Rene Lenier (Michael Raymond-James) a.k.a. Drew Marshall, her Cajun fiance who worked on the road crew with Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten). Unfortunately, things between them ended tragically when he was exposed as the killer and beheaded by Sookie.
"It's interesting because in the [Sookie Stackhouse] books, Arlene is a bit more of a girlfriend or maternal friend to Sookie. With the series, that role end up being played out by Tara [Rutina Wesley]," notes Preston. "As a result, my character became, in kind of a weird way, a voice of reason and a foil of sorts because of her anti-vampire beliefs and fears. I mean, when Arlene says that vampires shouldn't be around children, she's probably right, given their weakness for human blood. Despite the development of synthetic blood, there's no guarantee, as we've seen, that they're going to stick with that. At the same time, I do feel like Arlene and Sookie had their girlfriend moments during the first season.
"Work-wise, I think Arlene is kind of the center of Merlotte's and makes it her business to know everything that goes on there, so her relationship with Sam is neat in that she doesn't take anything from him. Yes, he's definitely her boss and Arlene gives him a little bit of the power to make him feel good, but in my eyes she's the one making all the decisions when it comes to the wait-staff.
[caption id="attachment_1416" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Who's that putting the "bite" on True's Blood's Carrie Preston? Photo copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
"And then, of course, there was her relationship with Rene. With him, Arlene felt like she had finally found the right guy, and that's what makes it so sad because she says that she has gone through this four times before. My character's life was looking up and she saw Rene as a way to help her take care of her kids and have love in her life. Obviously, he and Arlene were very attracted to each other, so it was unfortunate for her to discover that she has absolutely no barometer when it comes to the character of men."
Season two of True Blood premieres tonight (June 14th) on HBO at 9 p.m. EST/PST with the episode Nothing But The Blood. In it, Sookie is hired by Dallas vampires to use her telepathic powers to locate one of their own, while her relationship with Bill hits a rough patch when she finds out about his involvement in her Uncle Barlett's (Cheyenne Wilson) death. Starting back to work on season two was exciting for Preston and the rest of the show's cast and crew in more ways than one.
"Between the time we finished shooting the first season and started shooting the second, the show became a hit," says the actress. "The thing is, we weren't together when that happened, so it was amazing coming together for the second year because we were a little more relaxed and even more excited about where this season was going to go now that we have such a loyal following.
"In our first read-through, Alan Ball said, 'Your characters are going to be doing things that you [as actors] might not understand or agree with this season. If you have any problems just come talk with us, but it [the story] is going to go to some crazy places. This is what he said before we sat down to read the first script. So we were all looking around at each other going, 'Oh, my God, what does that mean?' Then, of course, the first thought that goes through your mind is, 'Is my character going to die?'
"So there was a bit of the unknown jumping back into the show because all we had was the first script," continues Preston. "Yes, we have the books, but as you saw in season one, the show does depart a bit from the books. That's true again this year, which means you can't actually use the books as a blueprint for the trajectory of the season. As such, it's been fun getting the scripts, reading them and thinking, 'OK, there's where they're going with that.' The writing is fresh and dynamic and you're always in good hands with our writers.
[caption id="attachment_1425" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="This photo of Carrie Preston is part of a special True Blood-themed photo shoot. Photo copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
"Again, all the characters, including Arlene, start to do things that are unexpected for them and they might not always even be aware of what they're doing. So the [acting] challenge with that is why is my character doing this and what are the consequences of her actions? I wish I could be more specific about this season, but I don't want to give anything away. One of the things I can say about playing a supporting character is that I'm not always given the same amount of screen-time or text to create a full character, like, for example Sookie or Bill. I have a shorter amount of time and words to get across an entire human being, but that's the sort of challenge that I enjoy. I find that my theater training comes in handy for that.
"It's interesting in that a number of people on this show have a similar background. I went to Julliard, as did Nelsan Ellis, who plays Lafayette, as well as Rutina Wesley and Lynn Collins, who played Dawn. We went at different times, but it's not that often that you have that many people with the same training on a set. It's a testament, though, to the type of actors that Alan likes to cast, as opposed to those who might be fresh off the boat, so to speak. It's a great company here. Everyone gets along really well and we all trust each other."
Despite how things ended with Rene, will Arlene become involved in another relationship during season two of True Blood? "Well, let me just put it this way - Arlene is never long without a man," chuckles Preston. "She's one of those women who does best when she has a man in her life and she will do anything to make that happen. There are a lot of women like that who don't feel fully complete unless they have a man, and in Arlene's case maybe it's because of her being from the South and also her socioeconomic background. Again, I don't want to spoil thngs for anyone, so I won't say more about Arlene and a man this season. Viewers will just have to wait and see," teases the actress.
Besides True Blood, Preston can be seen in the newly released DVD of the feature film Ready? OK! which she executive produced as well as stars in. The actress also has another movie coming out called Lovely by Surprise, and a third film, That Evening Sun, which is currently doing the film festival circuit and has already won several awards. Preston also made quite an impression with audiences and critics with her role in Duplicity, starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. She plays Barbara Bofferd, an office worker who is seduced by corporate spy Ray Koval (Owen).
[caption id="attachment_1426" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="The lovely, talented and always gracious Carrie Preston. Photo copyright of JSquared Photography"][/caption]
"That role was a real treat because it was one of those situations where it's only about three scenes in the movie, but the character really stands out," she says. "Once again, I seem to be given these tasks of making a whole life out of a small amount of material, and, like I said, I really enjoy that.
"I had worked with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding many years ago, and I've run into her a couple of times over the years and she's always been so friendly and excited to see me. Having that little bit of history with her was quite helpful when I had to do that difficult scene with her where I basically had to sob uncontrollably for a couple of hours. And then to also be able to work with Clive Owen, who every woman I know has a crush on, including me, so it was pretty easy to do that bar scene where my character is supposed to sort of become giddy around him.
"I was thrilled with the way the movie was cut together and how people responded to my character. It was an amazing opportunity and one that is not lost on me, believe me. I've been at this long enough to know that this type of thing doesn't come along all the time, so I've tried to enjoy every moment of it, especially the work, which was really rewarding."
Steve EramoAs stated above, all photos copyright of JSquared Photography, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!