Carrie Preston: “The woman has seen it all. Sam shifting into a rat? No big deal.”

By Diana Band

This week, HBO.com caught up with Carrie Preston, the actress behind Bon Temps’ most resilient barmaid-come-bar owner. Preston dishes on what keeps Arlene going in the face of adversity, her reaction to Sam’s supernatural secret, and whether the undead could stake a claim on her heart.

Arlene has survived so much. How do you think she keeps going?

Well, we almost lost her last night. If it weren’t for Terry I think she would be hanging out with the angels right now. But luckily he persuaded her to stay and to be happy, so I think that’s now Arlene’s mission for the rest of the season. It’s not going to be easy -- her town has been ripped apart and all the people that she loves are dying – she’s facing a huge string of obstacles in her path to happiness. But I think she’s a pretty resilient woman who wants to try to fight for happiness wherever she can.

She’s definitely resilient. She’s already taking shots and offering Sookie some pretty solid advice.

I’m very happy with that scene with Sookie -- it was so beautifully written. Last season and this season, we’re really getting back to Arlene and Sookie being friends. We kind of lost track of that along the way. 

What was it like to film those scenes in Fangtasia? Even pretending to cling to life seems pretty intense. 

It was intense. It was a very long day of shooting because there were so many people and exploding vampires. [Laughs]. It was also really fun because we were all together -- we just don’t have a lot of those big scenes where we’re all together. It was the first time I’ve ever been on the same set as Pam or Eric -- that was a first for all of us in season 7! [Laughs]. And of course, I always love working with Anna. She’s just extraordinary, especially when you have scenes that require a well of emotion. She is seemingly tireless and bottomless when it comes to her ability to reach down in there and act out those feelings. She’s somebody you really look forward to doing any kind of scene with, but especially something as intense as that. It was a really wonderful, creatively fulfilling day, if not a long one and arduous at times. But that’s the price you pay if you want a really great, impactful scene.

It must have been nice to work with Todd Lowe once more.

Yeah! I’ve seen him socially, of course, but not on set since last season. It was so moving to have him come and do that scene. I couldn’t stop crying every time we did it. [Laughs]. That shows you how connected we all are.

There’s one other scene from the previous episode that I thought was great -- Arlene finally sees Sam shift. It hadn’t occurred to me that in seven seasons, she didn’t know his secret.

Yes! It was funny because the writers, they just have so many characters and storylines to keep straight that they didn’t even realize it. When the first draft of the script came in -- I’ve never ever had to say anything to the writers about tracking things, -- but there was no acknowledgement from Arlene. I went up to them and said, “I don’t know if you want to do anything with this, but…Arlene doesn’t know that Sam is a shapeshifter.” [Laughs]. And they’re like “Oh my god! You’re right!” and then they gave me those great lines. Her reaction was better than I could have imagined.

Sam tells her that he’ll explain everything later, so we have to assume that the explanation happened off screen. What do you think her reaction was?

I think at this point she’s just like, whatever. There’s just one big blanket of acceptance of whatever’s going to happen next. You can’t get any crazier than what’s already been going on. And I think that’s what’s expanded her mind, too. She’s had to learn how to open her mind to new things because there’s just no other choice.

She’s already helped birth faerie babies. She’s been through it all.

Oh yeah. She’s seen a smoke monster, a ghost. I mean, come on. The woman has seen it all. Sam shifting into a rat? No big deal.

Speaking of supernaturals, vampire Keith is very interested in Arlene. Do you think he has a shot? 

Arlene’s been through quite a bit lately and I don’t think she’s ready to jump into anything super quick, especially with somebody supernatural. But I will say that she’s grown so much since the pilot. She really is more open-minded and accepting than she ever has been. So, you never know…

Do you think you have anything common with Arlene?

We’re very passionate about our jobs, and we’re both very passionate people in general. I don’t have children, but I would describe myself as maternal in that I like to care for other people -- and I’m certainly maternal towards my dog. [Laughs].

But you’re not sporting her famous fannypack around town or anything?

[Laughs]. No, no, we don’t really have the same fashion sense. 

What will you miss most about ‘True Blood’ -- besides the cast and crew, of course?

I just love how candid Arlene is and I love the writing that I’ve been given over the years -- it’s always delicious. I feel very lucky that they’ve kept me around the whole time so that I could see the evolution of this woman from A to Z. It changed my life, this role. I’m going to miss her!