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True Blood’s Carrie Preston on Ghosts, Her Favorite TV Redhead, and Being Married to Lost’s Ben Linus

Carrie Preston as True Blood’s Arlene Fowler.

Parenting is tough these days, especially if you’re the mother to a serial killer’s spawn. Nobody knows this better than True Blood’s Arlene Fowler — the loving, if histrionic, waitress who has an irrational fear of vampires and shifty infants alike. We spoke with actress Carrie Preston, who portrays this reservoir of comedic relief with likability, to discuss last week’s episode (ghost-lady Mavis possessed Lafayette and kidnapped baby Mikey), her favorite TV redhead, and being married to Michael Emerson, a.k.a. Lost’s Ben Linus.

Has your story line this season changed your opinion of ghosts? Do you believe in them?
I do think there’s a spiritual element in the world, yes. Have I experienced a ghost firsthand, per se? No. I guess I’ve experienced feelings or some kind of a presence. But I certainly haven’t seen any kind of transparent entity running around. And they certainly don’t fly in my mouth the way they do to Lafayette.

At the end of last episode, it seemed like Arlene had already forgiven Lafayette. Is that going to last?
I think for Arlene, she’s just relieved to have the child back; any ambivalent feeling she had about the child went away once that fire happened and she realized just how much she loved him and was going to do whatever she could to protect him. What I think has been interesting about my character this season is it also kind of taps into every parent’s fear that they might be raising some kind of demon child. Not a literal one — but, What if I don’t know how to raise this child? Or what if this child winds up having problems that I can’t handle?

Right. Somebody has to be the parent of a serial killer.
[Laughs.] No doubt.

As a redheaded source of comic relief on TV, to what extent are you influenced by Lucille Ball?
Obviously Lucy is amazing and brilliant, but the redhead who inspires me more is Carol Burnett. When I was a kid and watched her show, I thought she was the most tremendous character actor ever. I kinda wanted to be her. But it obviously wasn’t because of the red hair.

Having been raised in Georgia, can you confirm your co-star Nelsan Ellis’s claim that women down South call each other “hooker”?
Right! Yeah! We don’t have the “hooker” so much in Georgia [laughs]. That’s more of an Alabama thing.

Can you tell us about meeting your husband, Michael Emerson?
We met at the very end of 1994. I had just gotten out of Juilliard to do the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I saw him in a play — they were doing, of all things, A Christmas Carol. And there he was, playing like four or five different characters. Every time he came onstage, he had a different accent. I just was taken with this guy putting so much effort and talent into A Christmas Carol, and making it so watchable. I turned to my mom and said, “You see that guy? That guy is brilliant.”

And since you were in Alabama, he called you “hooker.”
[Laughs.] Maybe behind my back!

Did watching him on Lost ever creep you out?
Not that part so much as when he played William Hinks in The Practice. That was the first time he played a really diabolically horrible character who murdered women. At one point, when I was watching that show, I turned to him and said, “Don’t you ever look at me like that.”

You played his mom on Lost. How Freudian is that?
We thought it was hilarious. It was my crazy idea. I said, “Wouldn’t it be really fun if I got to play your mom when they do your flashback?” He jokingly mentioned it to the producers. A week later, I was giving birth to him in the jungle.

You’ve also appeared on The Good Wife as Chris Noth’s lawyer, which is interesting because you’ve guested on his alma mater, Sex and the City, too.
Not only do people recognize me from that, they know my character’s name: Madeline Dunn from season two. It was totally thrilling, because I got to wear a Vera Wang dress and get married in the Plaza Hotel. Sadly, it kind of upstaged my own wedding a little bit.

Your résumé is so expansive. Can you tell me about one more role, guesting on Arrested Development?
So funny! To walk on that set with that cast? That particular episode was so ridiculous but hilarious: The Bluth family deals with not only Judge Reinhold but William Hung. Remember him? [Giggles.] He was, like, at the apex of his stardom. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he was very sweet. And he could barely speak English.

And you got Arrested D’s Alia Shawkat to star in a movie you just directed, That’s What She Said.
It’s about two best friends. One of them is getting ready for a blind date, and they end up hooking up with this oddball boy-crazy young girl who they meet at a café. I like to call it a wo-mance instead of a bromance. We’d been trying to get it off the ground for several years, and we’re hoping to ride the wave of success of Bridesmaids. It is sort of an East Village cousin to that film: It’s grittier, edgier, but maintains that raunchy … it’s a chick flick that’s not for pussies. I don’t know if you can’t print that.

True Blood’s Carrie Preston on Ghosts, Her Favorite TV Redhead, and Being Married to Lost’s Ben Linus