Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston) sure does get around.
In the first season of The Good Wife, she not only helped the Florrick kids cover up Peter's (Chris Noth) brief (but illegal) house arrest breach, but she also got him acquitted. In Season 3, she came to Alicia's (Julianna Margulies) defense against the Treasury Department before helping prevent Will (Josh Charles) from being indicted. Now in Season 4 (Sundays at 9/8c on CBS), she's up to bat once again — this time to defend Eli (Alan Cumming) against bribery charges.
"I think she always has something to offer intellectually to any of these characters," Preston tells TVGuide.com. "She has this brain that is like a steel trap. It keeps everything that it's ever read or known about the world in, and she just accesses it like a computer. With any of the people that she has scenes with, she's going to use that computer brain resource to bring something to the proceedings."
Few (read: any) fans would have guessed that aspect of Elsbeth when she made her debut. "Here she is, in the midst of these very smart, savvy, urban people, and she's this woman who wears no makeup and just runs around wherever her brain will take her," Preston says. As Peter told Eli, "I'm greatly underestimating her."
When she was first cast, Preston remembers co-creator and executive producer Robert King described the character as sort of a female Columbo, the quirky TV detective portrayed by Peter Falk. "On the page, she is somebody whose brain is quite mercurial and she's able to focus on the task at hand, but at the same time, admire the bookcases and your designer sweater with equal attention," she says. "To me, that's the fun in playing her and it was my job then to connect all those dots for myself and for the audience too. How is she getting from this place to the next place?
"Once I figured out that balance — that this is a person whose brain works so much faster than her body and her body is just trying to keep up with how fast her brain is going — that is when I started feeling more free."
Even Preston admits she underestimated Elsbeth at the beginning of her tenure. "For whatever reason, they didn't revisit the character the whole second season so I just assumed that that was that. So it was my pleasure when I got the phone call that they were indeed bringing me back with, in my opinion, quite a bang," she says of her Season 3 return. "I was also slightly nervous because I thought, 'Oh gosh, I hope I don't mess up this opportunity. They've given me a second chance so I want to make sure that I honor what they've got in mind.'"
It seems she did just that. Not only have the writers brought back Elsbeth for several episodes, but this time she even has a possible, and very flirty, love interest in Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Perrotti (Kyle MacLachlan). "Each time I get an opportunity to play her, she's in different situations that aren't like the ones that I played her in before,'" she says. "That was something that hadn't come up in any of the other episodes in any of the previous seasons so I thought, 'This is going to be really fun to stick this fish in that water and see how she swims.'"
Preston promises the sparks will continue to fly between Elsbeth and Josh when the two face off once again in Eli's bribery case. "You really get to see their very singular minds at work against and with each other," she says. "We have this wonderful scene that I'm really excited to see that we did together in a restaurant." Does that mean Elsbeth will accept Josh's dinner invitation? "It's a working lunch," Preston explains. Despite their obvious chemistry, her top priority remains defending Eli. "A new conflict arises — a couple of them actually — so it's just all about Elsbeth figuring out how to get around those and try to solve the case," she says.
Surprisingly enough, part of that solution may involve Jackie (Mary Beth Peil), who will take the stand during the case. "I think that was the first time that Mary Beth had ever even done a court scene. So for her, she felt like she was on a different show I think," Preston says. "It's a really wonderful revelation of her character in a way we haven't seen before."
Although many fans would love to see more of Elsbeth — as possibly a new hire at Lockhart Gardner or in her own spin-off, Preston is slightly more hesitant. "The role of the character is to bring some levity to the proceedings so she functions like a spice or cayenne pepper," she says. "She comes in and spices up an episode, but who knows what it would be like if you ask her on for the whole season. I think that that would just kind of change the dynamic of the show."
Since she's already a series regular on another TV drama — HBO's True Blood — Preston is just enjoying her Good Wife appearances as they come. "I always get really excited when the boring business logistics are out of the way and I'm booked and there are dates in my calendar," she says. "Then we get the scripts and then I just eat them up like dessert."
The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS.