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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

‘Role of a lifetime’ for Macon native Carrie Preston in ‘Elsbeth’ series

The CBS spinoff from ‘The Good Wife’ is based on her Emmy award-winning character
Elizabeth Fisher/CBS
Macon native Carrie Preston revives her Emmy award-winning role as attorney Elsbeth Tascioni in a new CBS drama series. “Elsbeth” is billed as a “howdunit” crime drama emulating “Columbo.”

A guest appearance as attorney Elsbeth Tascioni 14 years ago on “The Good Wife” turned into a career game-changer for Macon native Carrie Preston, who won an Emmy for the role in 2013 and was nominated again in 2016.

Wednesday morning, sitting on the set of “CBS Mornings” with Gayle King and company, Preston said it was nearly miraculous that she now stars in her own series “Elsbeth,” which premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on 13WMAZ and streaming on Paramount +.

“I am approaching this with such a heft of gratitude and humility to be trusted with the lead of a show, the title character. It’s almost a miracle in my life,” Preston told the CBS morning crew. 

She previously portrayed Tascioni about 20 times on “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight.” 

Preston relishes the opportunity to explore the eccentricities of the Elsbeth character.

The pilot for the new series begins with the quirky, unconventional Chicago lawyer moving to New York to oversee the police department as part of a consent decree to make sure officers go by the book.  

“A lot of people love this character… I just love her,” King said during the broadcast. 

The “Elsbeth” premiere reunites Carrie Preston with her “True Blood” co-star Stephen Moyer. Macon director Jim Crisp said the caliber of the new CBS show’s guest stars speaks to Preston’s talent as an actor.

In promotional clips for the new series, Preston explained the shows’ creators and executive producers described her character as a female version of actor Peter Falk’s bumbling, yet shrewd and observant, Lt. Columbo who solved crimes with an unconventional flair. 

“This brilliant character came out of the minds of Robert and Michelle King, and I feel extremely fortunate because it turns into the role of a lifetime,” Preston said. 

Robert King said Elsbeth’s popularity is two-fold.

“One is, it’s Elsbeth’s character, who is just lovely and you love, but Carrie Preston is the other aspect of it. Carrie Preston is a lot of fun to work with,” Robert King said.  

Who is Carrie Preston?

When staging plays as a youngster in her Macon neighborhood, directing the drama club at Central High School and performing at Macon Little Theatre, Preston never set her sights on having her own television show — not even now as a 56-year-old, she said on the morning show. 

“It is a tough business, so I feel like for me it is a true milestone. It’s something that I didn’t dream about,” she said. “I’ve had an incredible career of being a supporting actor playing leads in small movies.”

Theatre Macon’s founding artistic director Jim Crisp believes her best work lies ahead.

Crisp said Preston and her older brother John, who is a Shakespearean actor himself, had exceptional natural talent and focused on developing their craft. 

“It was immediately apparent that these were unusually talented young people, that their talents were native and extraordinary, and that there was not an issue of teaching them. It was an issue of nurturing and encouraging,” Crisp said.

As a young woman Preston co-directed a Shakespeare parody at Macon’s McKibben Lane Elementary School, held theater workshops for children and earned numerous awards for her acting including The Telegraph’s Golden Eagle award in drama. She had a laser beam focus on honing her talent, Crisp said.

Carrie Preston played Emily in “Our Town” at Macon Little Theatre in 1985 alongside Hil Anderson in the role of George.

After her critically acclaimed performance as Emily in “Our Town” that Crisp directed at Macon Little Theatre during her senior year in 1985, Preston earned a Mildred O. Evans scholarship and began her studies at the College of Charleston. 

As a freshman that fall, she landed the lead role in Ibsen’s “The Doll House,” and earned rave reviews in “Diary of Anne Frank” the following spring. 

After receiving her fine arts degree from the University of Evansville in 1990, she spent the next four years earning an acting diploma from the Juilliard School

“Carrie is a well-trained actor, and I think that gets overlooked in our culture. In this country, we think about TV stars and movie stars. We never think about training,” Crisp said. 

Juilliard is equivalent to Britain’s famed Royal Shakespeare Company when it comes to training, he said.

“She was ready mentally, emotionally, physically. She was ready. Her talent had been honed. Her craft was ready. She was a thoroughbred at the gate, waiting to go,” Crisp said. 

Within months of finishing at Juilliard, she debuted as Miranda in “The Tempest” in Shakespeare in the Park. She starred opposite British actor Patrick Stewart playing Prospero at the open-air Delacorte Theater at Central Park in New York, Preston’s home for the last 34 years. 

The show was so successful it moved to Broadway in late 1995. 

Crisp traveled to The Big Apple twice to see the show in the park and indoors.

“It was thrilling to see her in that arena and so young. I mean, she wasn’t even 30 yet,” he said. 

British actor Stewart, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company who had just finished his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” predicted Preston “will be an important star in the years to come,” according to Telegraph archives.  

She now has such a long list of acting credits that Crisp admitted he hasn’t even seen all of her nearly three dozen films. 

Their close relationship led Crisp to become a credentialled wedding officiant. In 1998 on the Theatre Macon stage, he performed the marriage ceremony when she married actor Michael Emerson, who has Emmys for his performances in “The Practice” and “Lost.” 

‘You’ve got to watch her’

Crisp understands why Elsbeth is such a popular character and match for Preston’s own skills, endearing personality and intelligence.

“There’s something about (Elsbeth’s) quirkiness, her awkwardness that makes her so deeply human and charming and interesting and engaging. And that’s a role that’s perfect for Carrie’s talents because she can dominate and own a stage in a way that only the best actors can,” he said. 

Variety, E! News and the New York Post referred to Preston as a “scene stealer,” who after nearly five decades of hard work and determination, now has top billing in her own series. 

The new CBS drama “Elsbeth” features Carrie Preston in the title role and Wendell Pierce as Capt. C.W. Wagner. The show follows an astute but unconventional attorney who, after her successful career in Chicago, makes unique observations and corners brilliant criminals alongside the NYPD.

Actor Wendell Pierce, who portrays police Capt. C.W. Wagner on the show, said “Elsbeth” has something for everyone: “Comedy and drama with great characters. One in particular, Elsbeth, that’s a name that people will remember.”

Like Cher and Madonna, Elsbeth is known by her first name, which Preston’s childhood friend Carey Pickard says is a testament to her talent.

“They’re premiering a show on a character she created over 10 years ago that has a one-word identifier. I just think that’s beyond exciting because, for me, this show is a mark that her acting is now being acknowledged with fame,” Pickard said.

Although this series will bring greater notoriety for Preston, Pickard said fame was never a goal for her when she led the team of thespians at Central High School. 

“I’ve heard Carrie talk about acting for over 50 years, and I always heard her talk about wanting to be a good actor. Never once did I hear her talk about wanting to be famous, and I think that’s an important distinction,” Pickard said. 

Pickard plans to watch the premiere with Preston’s mother, Pam, and Crisp.

“I do think this show is a reward for a lifetime of devotion to her craft and I am beside myself with excitement,” he said.

On “CBS Mornings,” Preston explained the significance of this milestone.  

“To reach this is something that is not lost on me because I’ve been doing it so long,” she said of her acting.

In a behind-the-scenes promotional video, Preston said: “We’re here to spread joy and delight and we’re hoping people will receive it.”

Crisp said Middle Georgians should be proud to share in her success just as fans cheer a hometown quarterback who is playing in the NFL.

“Why would you miss that?” he asked. “Why would you not tune in? Of course, you’re going to tune in. It’s the hometown girl. You’ve got to watch her.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976. 

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