The Emmy-winning actress looks back at some of her most memorable roles, including Lost, Sex and the City, Person of Interest, Emeril, and more.
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Carrie Preston has pretty much done it all.

The Georgia native and Julliard graduate has made a name for herself as an actor able to melt into any kind of role — a feat she pulls off on a single episode of Claws alone. "I'm a character actor. And when I got the [Claws] script, I thought, 'This is going to be an opportunity to really stretch myself and play a bunch of different characters within this one character,' " Preston, 54, says of stepping into the many different shoes of con artist Polly on the TNT drama (which also begins its final season Sunday at 9 p.m. ET). "How could I resist that chance?"

There is one thing that Preston likely won't do these days, though: forgo her signature red hair. You'll find out why that is — and a whole lot more — as Preston looks back at her diverse résumé below.

Where to start among her 80-plus projects, including True Blood, My Best Friend's Wedding, Lost, Sex and the City, and so much more? "Should we start at the very beginning," Preston asks, "a very good place to start?"

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The Tempest (1995)

"I'm really, really fascinated by and excited by the classics," Preston says of why she "jumped" at the chance to audition for a Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest. Director George C. Wolfe apparently took a liking to her "tomboy" interpretation of traditionally "girly" Miranda, and he cast her opposite Patrick Stewart, Aunjanue Ellis, Rainn Wilson, Mario Cantone, and more famous and soon-to-be famous names. The production was so well-received that it was moved to the Broadhurst Theatre. "So many of us were making our Broadway debuts — including Patrick. We were pinching ourselves the whole time."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

After The Tempest, Preston says she moved to Los Angeles and crashed on the couch of pal Malcolm Gets (Caroline in the City), attending "70 or 80 auditions" with no success. Then came one with director P. J. Hogan for My Best Friend's Wedding. "He was young and very excited, and didn't seem to be falling to the pressures of having to fill the roles of the sisters with stars," Preston says of being cast opposite Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths as two memorable wedding attendees. "He wanted to make sure that at least one of us was an authentic southerner since the characters were, and luckily I'm southern." The sisters' most infamous moment, in which an entire restaurant breaks out into "I Say a Little Prayer," "wasn't originally how that scene was going to play out," says Preston. "P.J. really wanted it to be something special and elevated — something that conjured up movies from a earlier era where it would be justified that people burst out into song and the screwball comedies. And so they got the rights to all this Burt Bacharach music and so..." Filming the number took two days, "because there was so much coverage P.J. wanted to do. We were all singing to our own playback, and they were walking around with lobsters. It was summertime in Chicago, so you can only imagine what the room smelled like by the end of day two."

Carrie Preston (Madeline Dunn)
Credit: HBO

Sex and the City (1999)

"Luckily I was in the second season, before they started doing a lot of stunt casting," Preston humbly says of being cast on the HBO series as interior designer Madeline Preston, who marries Miranda's (Cynthia Nixon) friend at the Plaza Hotel just two weeks after meeting him. "I'm wearing this Vera Wang gown, and they essentially put on a wedding in arguably one of the most expensive and opulent hotels in New York City, so that was pretty exciting. And Stephen Barker, who was playing the groom, was in my class at Julliard. It was kind of like marrying my brother, but it was a delight to have somebody who shared my history there." Years later, she is was thrilled to realize that — after learning Mr. Big's real name (John Preston) — Carrie Bradshaw's married name was Carrie Preston: "I don't think anybody else would have put that together, but I got really excited about it."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: Everett Collection

Emeril (2001)

"Emeril had never acted though, so he really leaned on all of us around him," Preston says of being cast on chef Emeril Lagasse's NBC sitcom alongside Robert Urich, Lisa Ann Walter, and Sherry Shepherd. "And he would come in and be stressed out, and he would say, 'Oh, I couldn't sleep last night, so I made you guys some gumbo.' And then he would haul this huge vat of gumbo in front of us, and we would all get to eat." Sadly the series premiered just a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001 and only lasted seven episodes. "It just was totally not the right time for a show about a chef," says Preston. "It just didn't hit the right."

Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2003, '04, '06)

Most New York-based actors have a Law & Order role on their résumé — but Preston has three on just one of the NBC franchise's series alone: "The [Law & Order: Criminal Intent] showrunner, Warren Light, is also a playwright and I had done a play of his at Baltimore Center Stage. He's very loyal to people who've worked for him, and I think that might be the reason why I got to be on that show three times," she says of playing a victim and two killers over a three-year span. "Usually, they want to wait five years before they let you play another part. But mine came  pretty fast, one upon the other." She also played the wife of a child rapist on Special Victims Unit, but "I never did the mothership though, what we call the original Law & Order," she says. "I auditioned for it a million times, but I never got cast on that one." (There is a reboot coming, Carrie...)

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: ABC

Lost (2007)

Preston's husband, Michael Emerson, started on the ABC drama in season 2. "It was supposed to be just a couple of episodes — but then he turned into the main villain," says Preston. "So I thought of Hawaii as the place that stole my husband. Of course, nobody can stay mad at Hawaii, so I thought, 'I've got to figure out how I can spend more time out there.' I used to joke, 'Wouldn't it be hilarious if I played your mom in a flashback?' Michael shared that joke [with] the producers, and the next week, there was a phone call to my agents: 'Can Carrie play Michael's mother in a flashback [on a season 3 episode]?' We were howling. We thought, 'This is insane and a little freaky, but the fans are gonna love it.' Sure enough, I've gotten many Oedipal jokes, jokes [like], 'I've always mothered him, but now I get to really do it on television.' I got to go out in the jungle and simulate giving birth to my husband. Not many people get to say that."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

True Blood (2008-14)

"When I think about True Blood, I think about that bar, because I felt like I was on a show about a bar and everybody else was on a vampire show," Preston says of being cast as waitress Arlene on the HBO adaptation of Charlaine Harris' supernatural novels. "When I was shooting it, I had been working on another projects as my little blonde self, and the character is talked about in the books about being decidedly redheaded, so I wore this red wig," she explains. "The show became a phenomenon — it changed my life — but nobody knew I was on it because they didn't recognize me. And so I wore the wig for two or three seasons or so, and then I thought, 'Well, this is silly to be on a hit show and not be able to spin it into anything else because nobody really knows that's me.' So I dyed my hair red — and after that, every role since, pretty much, I've been a redhead."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: David M. Russell/CBS

The Good Wife (2010-16)/The Good Fight (2017-present)

"I feel like I was the luckiest girl in the world that they came to me with that role," Preston says of being approached by Good universe masterminds Robert King, Michelle King to play eccentric lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni on Wife and, later, Fight. "I got on the phone with Robert King, and he was saying, 'She's like a female Columbo,' and I didn't ever really watch Columbo, and so I was just like, 'Oh, okay. Got it.' I didn't quite know," she explains. "I knew that Columbo was unorthodox in the way he did his work, and so I thought, 'Okay, so she's unorthodox. All right, so let me figure out what that is and what makes her tick.' " Doing a one-off guest role was fine, but when the Kings invited her back for a full arc Preston says she had to go through a lot of "red tape" before HBO would allow her to appear on the CBS series at the same time: "I'm forever grateful they said yes, because it turned into one of the most delicious and quirkiest and most unique characters that I've ever gotten to play. And then of course I was blessed with an Emmy award for it — and even in my Emmy acceptance speech I thanked the HBO because they lent me out to the show."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: Vivian Zink/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Crowded (2016)

"Getting back into that four camera universe really fed my theater hunger," Preston says of starring with Patrick Warburton as empty nesters whose adult daughters (Mia Serafino and Miranda Cosgrove) and in-laws (Stacy Keach and Carlease Burke) suddenly move in. "We only got to do the one season, but it was certainly something that I'm grateful for because it brought me into the world of playing the leading lady. I had definitely been working towards that, and hoping for something like that — and it's not that I hadn't auditioned for many of those, but this one came along and it just was a really good fit for what I had to offer and for what they were looking for."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: John Paul Filo/CBS

Person of Interest (2012-16)

A year after Lost, Preston's husband was cast as one of the stars on this CBS crime drama — and once again there was desire to have Preston join in on the fun, this time in a recurring role playing her husband's on-screen wife. "It was fascinating to watch Michael work," she says. "He's very concentrated and he likes to keep quiet. I can be a little more social on set, and so I was just chatting with him, and then I realized, 'Oh, that's not my husband. That's Harold Finch.' He had gotten into character and I didn't realize it." The couple made it even more of a family affair, with their poodle-Maltese mix, Chumley, being written into an episode. "We were doing a scene outdoors by this lake, and I'm walking the dog, and Michael's character comes over and hands me an ice cream cone, and we walk along the path there," says Preston. "And we were worried because Chumley is a little spoiled and we thought, 'Oh gosh, he's not going to be able to do this.' And we started the scene, and he was hitting his mark, and he would stop, and he'd look up at us, and we thought, 'Oh my God, this dog. He's a star. We've got this incredible show dog.' And then we realized it was because the ice cream cone was dripping."

Carrie Preston Role Call
Credit: WILSON WEBB/TNT

Claws (2017-2022)

Preston's diverse "Polly Personas" were not necessarily written into the script when she started working on this TNT drama. "The script indicated that Polly was pretending to be someone else, but it wasn't prescriptive about changing my voice, or clothes, or any of those things," she says. "Luckily, the first time it presented itself, which was early on in season one, someone comes in and recognizes Polly from a former life and calls her by a different name. And so, I thought it would be really fun if, on a dime, Polly just completely turns around and changes her body language, her voice, her accent. I thought, 'Let's just go for this,' " adds Preston, who often chose to model the personas on real celebrities she thought Polly might have been a fan of, like Judge Judy and Martha Graham. As for Preston's costars Niecy Nash, Judy Reyes, Karrueche Tran, and Jenn Lyon? "We have such a great chemistry. Our capacity for being completely and utterly silly with each other was limitless," Preston says. "We have a pretty solid 24/7 text thread going with a core group of us from the show to this day. So it's a show that I think is — even though it's over — going to stay with me for a long time, which I'm very grateful for."

Claws airs Sundays and 9 p.m. on TNT.

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