‘Elsbeth’s Carrie Preston Wants a Crossover with This ‘Evil’ Character

Mar 10, 2024

The Big Picture

On the CBS series ‘Elsbeth,’ Elsbeth Tascioni is an unconventional attorney who brings her unique perspective to solving crimes with the NYPD.
The procedural focuses more on why crimes are committed rather than whodunit, highlighting Elsbeth’s fun and endearing character.
Carrie Preston discusses her love for the role and the evolution of Elsbeth, sharing insights on crossovers and physical comedy.

From co-creators/executive producers Robert & Michelle King and showrunner Jonathan Tolins, the CBS series Elsbeth follows Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston), a fan favorite character from The Good Wife and The Good Fight, as she finds herself in a new situation in New York City. Lending her unique observations as an attorney to the NYPD, and more specifically Officer Kaya Blanke (Carra Patterson), while also secretly investigating Captain C.W. Wagner (Wendell Pierce) puts Elsbeth in an interesting position that we’ll continue to see play out.

Quirky doesn’t even do justice to describe who Elsbeth Tascioni is and the way she works, but it often causes people to underestimate her and her brilliant mind. At the start of each episode, you see who commits the crime, making it clear that it’s not the whodunit that’s important here, but why they did it, and then the fun comes as Elsbeth puts all the pieces of the puzzle together. And on top of it all, it’s the charm that comes from her pure joy in experiencing the wonders of life that makes her such an endearing character.

During this interview with Collider, Preston talked about loving this character from the first script she got for The Good Wife, revisiting her previous work in the role before starting this new series, what a crossover with Elsbeth Tascioni and Leland Townsend (Preston’s husband, Michael Emerson) from Evil might look like, the inspiration from Columbo, here character’s unconventional brain, the fun last scene she shot for the pilot, getting to reunite with True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, getting to play with physical comedy, and which The Good Fight character she’d like to see again. She also talked about a particularly nerve-wracking day she had on the movie Duplicity, filming a scene with Julia Roberts and how she was able to pull it off.

Elsbeth Elsbeth Tascioni, an unconventional attorney, gives her singular point of view to make observations to catch criminals alongside the NYPD.Release Date February 29, 2024 Creator Michelle King, Robert King Seasons 1

Carrie Preston Feels Lucky Her Approach to Elsbeth Tascioni Was So Well-Received
Image via CBS

Collider: I have loved this character since the moment we first met her. Did you always feel like she was someone special? What was she to you, at the very beginning?

CARRIE PRESTON: In the very beginning, when I first got sent that script, my heart was beating so fast because I knew that it was a great role. I was so excited to tackle it, but I also didn’t want to mess it up because I knew how good it was on the page. I thought, “I’ve got something I’d like to try, and I hope they think it’s a good way to go and that they’ll be on board with me.” Luckily, they were, and the role has really evolved since then. I was figuring it out, as were the writers, from the beginning. I don’t ever rewatch any of my work, but before we started shooting the series, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and see what it was that I did at the beginning because I didn’t remember. So, I watched and it was fascinating. I didn’t really remember, so to watch it, it was like I was watching this other person. I thought, “Wow, she seems a little more reserved.” And of course, she was. When you’re a guest actor, you don’t get to just make crazy choices. You’re there to serve somebody else’s story. You’re not there to steal the ball. I was feeling it out, at the same time they were. Luckily, it was a great alchemy between the writing and what I was bringing to the writing, and that has just evolved over the years.

Related ‘Elsbeth’ Cast and Character Guide: Who Stars in ‘The Good Wife’ Spin-Off? Meet the ensemble of colorful characters in ‘The Good Wife’ spin-off.

I love the work that Robert and Michelle King do, and I love the shows that they’ve done. My two favorite characters that they’ve created are Elsbeth Tascioni and Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson). I love how unexpected they both are.

PRESTON: I know, and it’s so great to play a role where you can surprise, not only the audience, but you, as an actor. That’s always fun. I’ll read a script and go, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming. I’ll do that. That’ll be fun.” There are always new things coming. We have some incredible writers that are in charge of these people. I don’t know how Leland and Elsbeth would do in a scene together, but that would be very interesting. Some little crossover would be hysterical.

‘Elsbeth’ Was Inspired By the Kings Watching ‘Columbo’ During the Pandemic
Image via CBS

Did you ever see her getting her own show? When did you find out this would happen?

PRESTON: Over the years, fans and critics and press suggested that it would be a good idea. And then, periodically, Robert King would check in with me and ask, “Would you like to do something like that?” And I’d say, “Yes, I’d definitely like to do something like that.” And then, I would go do something else, and they would go do something else. They did The Good Fight and there was not an opportunity for me to be a series regular on that, but they would bring me in periodically. And then, at the end of The Good Fight, during the pandemic, Robert and Michelle King told me that they were watching a lot of reruns of Columbo, which they loved. That was when they came up with this idea of, “Oh, what if we did a Columbo-type show, but with Elsbeth?” I think that’s when it started in earnest, and they came up with this idea to approach me with. Simultaneously, or right after that, there was an article written in the New York Times about this reporter who was watching reruns of Columbo and the last line of the article was, “We don’t need a reboot of Columbo, just give Elsbeth Tascioni her own show.” So, it was in the air. Luckily, CBS agreed, and Robert and Michelle wrote a great pilot. Robert directed it, CBS went for it, and then the strike happened. The fact that we’re now shooting is nothing short of a miracle. Every day, I’m extremely grateful and humbled.

Do you feel like she is a character who is very aware of how people perceive her? Is that something that really works to her advantage?

PRESTON: She’s a very present person and she has a very unconventional brain. It’s not that she doesn’t care what people think about her. When somebody says a thing about her, she takes it in, but at the same time, she’s also thinking about your sweater and how to solve the case and something she read 20 years ago when she was in law school. All those things are happening simultaneously, which makes her a very extraordinary person and also, hopefully, a really fun character to watch.

Related ‘The Good Wife’ Spin-Off Casts Jane Krakowski, Blair Underwood, and More ‘Elsbeth’ premieres on CBS next month.

I love the introduction that we get to her, riding on the top of the bus down the streets of New York, wearing a foam Statue of Liberty hat. How long did you have to ride around in that and hear that guy doing his rap?

PRESTON: That was such a fun day. That was actually our last day of shooting the pilot. We had a very small unit that day because everybody had to be either up on top or below. We were riding around doing that loop for a good six hours. It was pretty chilly that day, but I was so happy because we had done the pilot, it had gone extremely well, and we all had such a wonderful time. I had the time of my life. I had Stephen Moyer, who I’d done True Blood with, to play opposite. I had Carra Patterson and Wendell Pierce. One of my classmates from Juilliard was playing the detective in that episode. I was surrounded by so many people that I love, and we really had a beautiful experience doing it. It was very celebratory. [New York] is my hometown. I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve lived here for 30 years. So, to be up high, looking out and truly taking in the city the way Elsbeth takes in the city, which is something I do not do on a daily basis, was really wonderful. You put your head down and do your thing, so it was wonderful to see the city through her eyes and to appreciate that we were making this pilot and hoping that something good would happen with it, but if it didn’t, the dream was happening already.

Carrie Preston Suggested ‘True Blood’ Co-Star Stephen Moyer For the ‘Elsbeth’ Pilot
Image via CBS

Did you have anything to do with Stephen Moyer doing that episode or was that just a happy coincidence?

PRESTON: Yes, I suggested him. Luckily, they agreed. I said it would be wonderful to have him and let him play it with his British accent because he plays a lot of Americans. It worked out better than I could have dreamt, just to have him there. They were thrilled with what he did, and it really just made the pilot sing to have him.

It always makes me laugh to see Elsbeth carrying all her bags around, all the time. You have several bags on your shoulder, and you’re taking them off and trying to put them back on. Do you enjoy doing those kinds of physical things, especially with a character like her?

PRESTON: Oh, yes. The bags are such a part of her. I like to think that she’s got an answer to any problem in one of those bags and she knows it, which is why she has to have them with her, at all times. I’m a comedian, and I’m a clown, so if you give me a bit of business, I will definitely enjoy that and try to make the most of it. Those bags have become quite iconic. I have a relationship now with Vera Bradley, not the person but the company, because I carried a lot of Vera Bradley bags along the way. I always like to find something fun and new to do with them. It’s just an extension of who she is.

What’s it like to play a character like this, in what is otherwise a drama? Is it a real balancing act to find the quirky, offbeat and unique humor that Elsbeth has, in the middle of some serious subject matter?

PRESTON: Yes, and I think that’s by design. They want it to feel like this is a hardcore police procedural with Elsbeth Tascioni dropped into the middle of it, with her bright colors and her insane brain and her incredible wardrobe and her unconventional way of doing things, to shake up that world and to shake up our perception of that world. I have to strike a balance, but what we’re going for is way lighter in tone than the predecessors. They call Poker Face a comedy, and I would say we’re a comedy too, in that same way.

Which ‘The Good Fight’ Character Would Carrie Preston Like to See on ‘Elsbeth’?
Image via CBS

We heard Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) mentioned in the pilot. Will we hear about or maybe even see any other previous characters from this world? Is that something that you’re hoping could happen?

PRESTON: All those characters live in Chicago, and we’re in New York now, but that doesn’t mean that maybe somebody couldn’t pop up somewhere along the way. What’s so wonderful about this show is that it’s not really a spin-off, it really is its own thing. As a matter of fact, when they were showing the pilot to test audiences, a lot of people hadn’t even seen The Good Wife or The Good Fight. They didn’t even know this character, and they still thought she was interesting and not like any other character that they had really seen. So, I felt that spoke well to this new genre that we’re in. And so, whether or not we could see some characters from The Good Wife and The Good Fight universe remains to be seen. I put my trust in our amazing writers and our showrunner, Jonathan Tolins. It would be really fun to see Elsbeth interacting with Diane (Christine Baranski) again. She has such respect for Diane. She worships her.

You’ve done some great projects and you’ve done great work in them. What is the most nervous you’ve been before stepping on set for the first day of filming and how do you handle that?

PRESTON: I had to do this scene in this movie called Duplicity. Tony Gilroy was directing, and Julia Roberts and Clive Owen were in it. I had this scene with Julia Roberts that had to start with me fully sobbing, and I had to cry through the whole thing, but it was also a comedy. It was a comedic moment. They were running behind, the day that we were doing that scene, and I had to wait for eight hours to do it. When I walked onto that set, I was pretty petrified that I wouldn’t be able to rise to that requirement for the scene. Although I’d done it in the audition, it’s another thing to walk onto a soundstage with 50 people and Julia Roberts, who I’d worked with before, and she’s lovely, but that was terrifying. Luckily, I have training. I went to school for acting, so I really relied on that to get me through that moment. Thankfully, it was amazing and it ended up working out. I still get nervous. I think it’s good to get nervous because it means that you care, it means that you want it to be good, and it means that you are alive, and your energy is at your fingertips. I can’t think of a time when I’ve felt relaxed. It’s a balance. I really love the work and I take it seriously, even when I’m doing comedy. It’s comedy, but it’s no joke. If you can find the drama in the comedy or the comedy in the drama, it’s gonna make it way more interesting for the audience and for you.

Elsbeth airs on Thursday nights on CBS and is available to stream at Paramount+. Check out the trailer:

Watch on Paramount+

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