It’s fitting that Carrie Preston’s latest role is in a film called Vino Veritas (“In wine, the truth”), as she appears to be making a career out of characters who prefer to keep it real—and who don’t always need a special truth serum to do it. From her work on True Blood and The Good Wife to her 2012 directorial feature debut, That’s What She Said, Preston is all about portraying and presenting a particular, more realistic female character. Or as she puts it, she’s all about “messing up the hair” of the prototypical women we have grown accustomed to seeing on the big and small screens. Vino Veritas follows a group of friends who have a wild night in after drinking a special wine that renders them more honest than is socially acceptable. Preston delivers a strong performance as Claire, the first victim of this truth serum. Paste caught up with Preston to talk Vino, her life as a triple threat (actor/director/producer), and her upcoming movie with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.
: We actually spoke last year when That’s What She Said was coming out.
Preston: I totally remember!
: That’s still one of my favorite movies, so it’s great to talk to you again.
Preston: Oh thank you!
: How has it been, transitioning from being behind the camera on your last film, and getting back in front of it with Vino Veritas and your work on The Good Wife?
Preston: I go back and forth so frequently now—and with relish—but sometimes it’s hard logistically to juggle those things because I tend to pile my plate higher than anyone’s plate should be piled. So sometimes I’m just walking around trying to make sure that plate doesn’t tip over. It’s only those details that overwhelm, certainly not the creative aspect. I’m always able to rise to those things, and I really enjoy creating and building things from the ground up, which is what directing and producing really is. Most of the time as actors, we’re brought in towards the end of that process.
: I think it’s interesting that your character in Vino Veritas experiences a sort of stripping down or stripping off of her social mask. Claire kind of reminds me of your character Elsbeth on The Good Wife and even Arlene on True Blood. Then the women in That’s What She Said have this similar quality of just being really bare-faced and out there about who they are and what they want. Do you find yourself wanting to create space for this very particular kind of woman on the screen?
Preston: I definitely am an actor and director who is interested in messing up the hair of the traditionally perfect Hollywood portrayal of women. And I find that it’s much more permissive for male characters to be that way—messy. When I watch things—in movies or on stage—the characters that I am drawn to are the ones who are vulnerable and flawed.
: I know you’ve been busy this year but did you get to see any film in particular where a character really struck you?
Preston: I haven’t taken a look at a lot of films this year but one that I did see that I loved, loved, loved was Enough Said, with Julia Louise Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini.
: Ah, yes!
Preston: So good! And it’s exactly what I’m talking about as far as those characters who are messy and flawed and a little bit dangerous. I think that Nicole Holofcener handled it brilliantly. She is actually quite an inspiration to me as a director, as well.
: There are a lot of great conversations that happen in Vino Veritas and I love the scene where you explain the many different types of “no” that you might give your husband in response to sex and what they all mean. And there’s all sorts of great talk about children and religion. Was there one particular scene that you read when you first got the script that made you say, “I have to do this movie”?
Preston: (laughs) I think where it really grabbed me as an actor was the Winnie the Pooh speech. It’s right after I just had the wine, and suddenly all of the other characters realize the wine is working. I just thought it really had the potential to be so fun, and it would allow me to really unleash from my own inhibitions as an actor.
: That was a great scene. And, as a parent, when you watch it you flash back to all the Nick Jr. shows you’ve sat through, where you find yourself doing what Claire does—psychoanalyzing these cartoon characters. It’s nuts.
Preston: (laughs) Yeah, exactly.
: This was a really small cast, and I know you shot the film in a matter of days. Can you talk a little about this experience on set?
Preston: Well Sarah Knight, the director, did an amazing job. As far as casting, she didn’t make any of us audition. She knew all of our work and really trusted that we were going to be able to dive in. And it was a really wonderful chemistry lesson. We immediately hit it off, all four of us, and we were able to rehearse, which was crucial because it’s such a dialogue-driven piece. So by the time we got to shooting, we were able to run with it and do large chunks of it at a time without cutting.
We were also shooting in Lincoln, Neb., in July, in the middle of a heatwave. And I was in that [Victorian] dress.
: That’s intense.
Preston: It was pretty brutal. They had to bring in those industrial air conditioners that come in those big aluminum things, and I would literally stick that tube up under my skirt in between takes.
: Oh, that had to be fun!
Preston: But we were so taken by the script and the circumstances of the film, that we ourselves would get a little giddy sometimes. I don’t know if it was the heat or what, but we were able to sustain a sense of freedom and delight throughout.
: That’s great. You’ve gotta love what you’re doing to be able to make it through those kind of things—like heat waves. I saw that you have an upcoming movie with Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. Can you talk about that a little?
Preston: Yes it’s called Life Itself, and I play this real estate agent who’s representing an apartment that Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman’s characters are considering buying. So I had a good time. Well it’s fun any time to shoot a movie in New York, which is my home base, and I’m a fan of both of those actors, particularly Diane Keaton. When I first got the offer, I wasn’t available on the dates that they needed and I thought, ‘I gotta figure this out! I have got to work with Diane Keaton.’ Luckily, it did work out. It was just a really great time to be on set with her, gabbing about apartments and mothering, and whether or not to have children—all these great conversations that were so personal and fun.
(laughs) One of my favorite moments on that shoot—Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton and myself were getting on an elevator. We were shooting in an apartment building in NYC, Morgan Freeman walked out a little bit ahead of us, and one of the doormen who worked in the building turned to Diane Keaton and asked, “Is that guy an actor?” She was like, “Yes.Yes, he is.” And we kept walking. It was just so cute. He’s asking the Diane Keaton if that guy is an actor!
: Okay, I have one more question—please tell me that you’re directing something else soon because I really, really loved That’s What She Said.
Preston: Oh, I’m so glad you loved it! I direct a web series called Darwin: The Series. It’s about a life coach whose life is falling apart. It’s really delightful. The first two episodes are up, so that’s what I’ve been up to lately.
: Great. Well it’s always a pleasure.
Preston: So nice to talk you again.