By Gianna Sobol
I’m sorry you fell in love with a serial
killer, but honestly, who here hasn’t?
- Arlene Fowler
It all started with Alan Ball’s indie film Towelhead. Carrie Preston came in to read for Mrs. Vuoso, and as it turns out, both she and Alan hail from Georgia. And if you’re from the South, you’re basically family, right? It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. One day on the movie’s Chino set, Alan told Carrie he was working on a vampire pilot for HBO and there might be something in there for her. “When I read it,” Carrie admitted, “I didn’t know which character he was talking about. My agent told me, it’s Arlene, the waitress. And I’m like, you mean the fortysomething divorcee mother of two? Okay, I’ll read for that.”
Little did she know she’d soon be wearing Gwyneth Paltrow’s Iron Man wig. By the time she was offered the role, Carrie was shooting another film and had been established with her short blond hair, so dying her locks was not an option. After a few failed wigs, costume designer Danny Glicker put his foot down. He was going for a very specific look: high heels, push-up bras, a trashy lower-class aesthetic, but still sexy as hell. He knew the hair would be the final touch. So they found a piece that was initially built for the superhero flick, but never actually worn. True Blood had the wig dyed, and that was that. “The outside was going to start matching what I wanted to do with the inside. The fake nails, the fake tan, the drag queen make-up,” Carrie was building the layers that we’ve all come to know as Arlene Fowler. “I love going to set and seeing Carrie fully Arlene’d,” divulges Audrey Fisher, our new costume designer, “it’s a total transformation.”
Physical alterations aside, how does a True Blood character get from the page onto the screen? When the first draft of each episode is published, an office PA hand delivers a copy to each cast member. True Blood juggles twenty series regulars; it’s nearly impossible to squeeze every character into every episode. Those that are in the episode pack their bags and head to our offices for the table read, which can often feel like a family reunion, “I’m on the show about the bar,” Carries says. “Everyone else is on a vampire show. It’s fun to go to the read-through and see what the other creatures are up to.”
After the read, while producers and cast mingle, postponing returns to offices and set, Carrie and Todd Lowe, who plays Arlene’s main squeeze Terry Bellefleur, talk about their scenes and begin learning their lines. Todd recognizes that their scenes involve a lot of yelling, melodrama, and confusion, “We’ve joked about how many times Arlene has to leave the room in hysterics,” he says. “Yet she finds a new fresh and funny way to do it each time… Plus she’s cute as can be, so it’s quite easy to become smitten with her.”
When Carrie arrives on set, transformation complete and lines learned, she rehearses with the director to nail down the blocking and pace of a scene. On a show as technically demanding as True Blood, sometimes the actors have to work around the camera or visual effects. “I might think I would hug him here, or sit down because this is a really intense thing that I’m hearing, but sometimes a director will have to say if you can, I need you to find a way to stand here because I need to shoot it like this. And that can be really exciting.” After working these things out with the director, the actors rehearse once more for the crew. Their marks are taped down, the scene is lit, and then, action.
There’s something inherently funny (and sad) about a neurotic, skinny waitress in platform cork wedges, who overreacts to just about everything and who falls for the wrong guy every time. Carrie is well aware that she’s responsible for serving up some of the humor in the show. “We get a lot of mileage out of Arlene’s histrionics,” Carrie concedes, “but I try not to make fun of her or the type of woman she represents. She’s designed to be ridiculed because she’s white trash, narrow-minded, conservative and racist. I try to find a way to ground her in the realities of her situation. She’s a single mother, a woman with a boyfriend, and most importantly, she’s responsible for raising her children on a waitress’ salary in a small town that’s been infiltrated by dangerous vampires.” What single mother can’t relate to that?