Spoiler alert: If the July 13 episode of True Blood is still on your DVR, stop reading now. (Or, read our full recap.) We asked Carrie Preston to relive Arlene’s rescue.
And good news: Whether or not she makes it to the Aug. 24 series finale of the show, it’s not the last you’ll see of her on HBO. She’s set to guest star in a season 2 episode of Getting On, playing Denya Thorp, a cancer patient staying at the Billy Barnes Extended Care Facility who’s ready for a quick exit.
What excited you most about Arlene’s (near) death scene when you read the script?
I was most surprised and excited about Terry coming back, because obviously I love Todd [Lowe]. We’ve kept up, but it’s not the same as having him on set. I also thought the episode does a great job of giving Arlene this major obstacle: What makes her want to come back? Because Arlene dies, we definitely decided that—it wasn’t like she was on the brink of death, she actually goes. It’s Terry who encourages her to go back.
The makeup in the scene was phenomenal.
My makeup artist Cyndilee Rice has been with us a long time, and she’s just extremely talented. We had to get the stages of it, you know, because I’ve obviously been in the basement, and I’ve had vampires explode on me, and we had leftover residual of that. We had to add bite marks, and those take a while to go on. They have to keep the blood fresh. They had to keep adding white to my face— like grey white circles under my eyes as I got closer and closer to death.
And the tears pooled in your eyes as you laid there in Sookie’s arms.
Well, there was no problem accessing the emotion for me that day, having Todd there, and Anna [Paquin], who’s a brilliant actress who has an enviable access to a well of emotions that she can tap into and mine on a moment’s notice all day long. We’re all in awe of Anna, and she is such an anchor to any scene that she’s in. Having her hold me while she’s looking into my face saying, “Don’t die! Don’t die!” and then Terry coming—it was definitely not a problem to cry. But I also wanted to play with the actual relief and joy of seeing Terry—he made her able to face her death without fear because she sees him and he’s calling her. I wanted to play the positive of that, so the tears are actually joy more than anything. She’s in her own world, you know. She sees Terry, and he looks great. She’s relieved to be done with all the suffering.
At this point in the season, after having Tara and Alcide ripped away from us, fans needed that moment of comfort, to know things are okay in the afterlife. It’s like the end of Ghost when Patrick Swayze’s character says, “The love inside, you take it with you.”
Exactly, and also to have a moment of closure between Arlene and Terry, because when he died, it was so quick and sudden and tragic that it was really nice to have a little coda between them.
A new vampire, Keith [played by Riley Smith], fed Arlene his blood to save her. Fans are excited about the possibility of Arlene having a sex dream about a vampire. What was your reaction to that twist?
I thought, “Okay, you don’t introduce an entire new vampire without having some kind of follow-up.” I was curious what that was going to be, and I hope that the fans will remain curious. Riley is sweet, and he jumped right in.
So you don’t want to tease what their vibe will be?
I will say that I’m very pleased at the journey that Arlene has taken since the beginning, when you consider how narrow-minded she was when you first met her, intolerant of anything different, certainly vampires. I’m very pleased with her growth as a character.
Can you at least tease what costume Arlene gets to wear next? I’m assuming you were happy to be done with that dress.
[Laughs] Oh my god, four episodes in that dress! Varying degrees of distress with the dress. Actually, it’s five episodes because I wore it in the finale of last season.
Was there a ceremonial burning of the dress?
It’s funny, because they have doubles—you always have to have doubles of the costumes because it gets blood on it. I went into the wardrobe truck, and I saw like six of them sitting there, and I said, “I do not want any of those! Those are all yours.” When Audrey Fisher, our costume designer, put us in those costumes at the end of last season, she didn’t know we were all going to have to wear them for four episodes. Even she was like, “Okay, this is going to have to be it.” It’s a great dress as far as character—it’s the perfect dress for her to be wearing—but yes, in episode 5 there’s definitely a big clean-up. So that’s nice. I got to move into something a little more pristine, more feminine, and less distressed and bloody.
Does Arlene return to work at Bellefleur’s, or where does she go from here?
The town is completely torn apart. It’s not like there’s very many people to come and have a meal or even cook it. We’re only on episode 4. We’ve got six more to go. So there’s a long way to go before this town is going to be back to normal.
You mentioned you weren’t asking to keep that dress. What did you want to keep from the set?
Well, I got a Merlotte’s T-shirt—everyone signed it. It’s hanging in my office. That was definitely what I wanted the most. Then I got the back of my director chair. Then, I’ve asked for the Homemade Pies sign. There’s a sign that hangs in the back of Merlotte’s or Bellefleur’s that they made that says “Homemade Pies” and there’s a slice of pie. There’s so many really great things in the bar that the audience just really doesn’t even see, but we obviously have become very intimate with it over seven years. We haven’t gotten word whether or not we get to keep any of it. They’re archiving a lot of our set. They just have to go through everything before they start giving it away. But I’ve asked for it.
I’m asking everyone I speak with this season about the True Blood musical that’s in early development. Would you be interested in doing it?
I wish I could sing. I have had to sing in my career, but I would never presume to be a musical theater person. That is definitely something that takes a lifetime of work to master, so I would want to have somebody fabulous play Arlene. I would be happy to sit in the audience and watch it.
What kind of song do you imagine Arlene doing?
I would think she would be perfect for country, bluegrass, or Southern rock. I would hope that Arlene has some kickass, Bonnie Raitt-type, Reba McEntire-type songs to sink her teeth into, even though she’s not a vampire.
What’s next for you now that filming of True Blood has wrapped?
I’m going to be doing a guest spot on Getting On. I start shooting that in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping I can get another show. I really love doing TV. I got my fingers crossed that I get a regular gig on another show.
Is there any particular genre that you’re looking for? You’ve done a lot of different kinds of TV.
Yeah, that’s the thing. Luckily, I don’t get typecast. If anything, I’m not sure people know what my type is. [Laughs] I don’t even know what my type is. When you consider Arlene, Elsbeth on The Good Wife, and Grace on Person of Interest, those three characters couldn’t be more different. I just want a juicy role—if it’s in a half-hour, if it’s in an hour. I would never presume to imagine a role. I couldn’t have dreamt up those three women, and look how great they all are. I just trust and have faith that something fabulous will come along and will be a good fit, and I’ll be able to jump into it.
From the EW archives, find out when Carrie Preston yells at the TV, which series she wishes had gone on forever, and what she considers her geekiest possession.