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True Blood’s Carrie Preston on TV Death, Day Drinking, and Arlene Going Dark

Carrie Preston Photo: John P. Johnson /HBO

In real life, Carrie Preston has some celebrating to do — she recently scored an Emmy nomination for her role on The Good Wife — but on True Blood, she’s all about the grief. Not only did her husband Terry just die in her arms, but in last night’s episode she finally realized his death was an orchestrated suicide. Still, she’s coping as best she can, planning a funeral for her husband that is sure to bring the rest of Bon Temps together in the season’s penultimate episode. Preston chatted with Vulture about Arlene becoming a widow, her potential to go dark, and her idea on how Arlene can go supernatural.

Poor Arlene. But she really took charge in the funeral parlor scene.
I was really glad to see that she was able to confront the old-money snobbery of the Bellefleur family and stand up for her husband’s values. She’s gone through a lot. She really has. Just when she thought she was finding happiness — true, true happiness — it was taken away from her. And no matter how bad it was, why would he want to leave his family? It really speaks to how hopeless he felt, that he still thought to provide for his family. It’s such a sad, sad thing, and the writers took great pains to really show his PTSD.

How much advance notice did you get that Terry’s death would be a suicide?
We knew really early on. They told Todd Lowe, and then Todd sent me a text message, “Adios Terry in episode six.” I was like, “What? What?!” I was freaking out. And then word started getting around the cast, and everyone was really sad because we love Todd. It was hard to take and hard to understand at first, but we trust the writers, and the way they did it was so poignant and it ended up anchoring the whole season. I’m very proud of the show right now. I feel like it’s gotten back to its roots in a really wonderful way.

What was it like shooting his death scene, since you had to sing to him?
It was quite a lovely gift that the writers gave me because there’s something really transformative about song. It really elevated it, and it was beautiful. You notice they didn’t even put any score underneath it. I got a lot of texts afterwards from people saying they cried over it. I mean, I was certainly in tears! [Laughs] The makeup artists have to come in and retouch you every time you cry. If you’re supposed to burst into tears in the middle of the scene, they have to set you back to before you start crying. It can be challenging, when the false eyelashes start to lift up! Salty tears just wipe away the glue, you know?

Arlene’s always had her prejudices, but are her barriers breaking down more now that she’s accepted a certain amount of supernatural help in her moments of crisis? She’s had a witch try to help her with a miscarriage, a medium help lift the Ifrit curse, and a vampire glamour her husband. So even when she snaps at Lafayette, she apologizes now.
[Laughs] I know, she felt terrible about that the next day. She’s clearly going through many extremes and is completely unhinged, and I think everybody understands where that’s coming from. But when you’re fundamentally  a bit narrow-minded, it’s hard in moments of emotional extremity to not let those things come out. She’s slowly starting to open her mind up to the possibilities of things she doesn’t understand.

Was it fun to do the day-drinking scene?
Yeah, it was! There were these two extremes in one episode, from the dramatic to the quite funny, and I thought if anyone earned a license to be that extreme, it would be Arlene, having witnessed her husband die in her arms only moments prior. She’s drunk out of her mind, and when Bill walks in during the daylight, she thinks that she is seeing things! It’s way too much for her to process.

In all her grief, could you see Arlene going dark?
I don’t know! I mean, I know she does in the book [Dead and Gone], but I stopped reading the books because it was so different than what we do. So I guess, in the creation of the character, she has the ability to go dark. I do understand that part of Arlene’s function on the show is to serve up some humor, and I’m glad that is still there, but I’m enjoying the balance the writers keep giving me. They have a big picture and they understand the stories and they understand the characters.

At one point, I really wanted Arlene to become heavily involved in witchcraft. I thought that would be interesting, even though she would be scared of it, that she might engage in something in order to protect herself. How are you going to fight something as powerful as vampires? But they didn’t choose to do that. I thought it would have been cool, because Arlene’s a very controlling person, and she could have put spells on people to control them.

Terry took out a life insurance policy. Arlene says she doesn’t want the money, but what would be some good ways for her to take advantage of it, to make use of it?
That’s going to be interesting, to see how that plays out. What does a person like that do with sudden wealth? That’s something for the show to explore. It’ll be fun to see what happens.

She could take over Merlotte’s, because let’s face it, Sam really hasn’t been focusing on his business lately, or managing the folks who work there. People aren’t pulling their shifts …
I know. [Laughs] It seems like Arlene is the only one who works there now. Who’s going to serve the burgers now?

True Blood’s Carrie Preston on Arlene Going Dark