Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Carrie Preston on Taking Elsbeth in a New Direction and That Surprising Premiere Reveal

The fan favorite Good Wife character is back

Philiana Ng
Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce, Elsbeth

Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce, Elsbeth

Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the premiere episode of Elsbeth. Read at your own risk!]

When Carrie Preston was first introduced in Season 1 of The Good Wifeas Elsbeth Tascioni, the idiosyncratic attorney with an unconventional approach to the legal world who quickly became a fan favorite, she wasn't expecting to be playing the character 14 years later — much less as the main character of her own series, Elsbeth

Spring Guide 2024

Click above for TV Guide's big spring TV preview

"Every time I play her, I think of it as the last time because I would never know when they would call me back," Preston told TV Guide. "Now, to be able to play her on a daily basis is such a gift. I'm learning about her more than I ever knew before."

In Elsbeth, which Preston describes as a "howdunit" akin to Columbo, the titular heroine is no longer wielding witty retorts in a Chicago courtroom but rather utilizing her singular point of view and deduction skills to help the New York Police Department solve quirky cases. It's a change of pace for the proven lawyer, who spends the first episode successfully solving the mysterious death of a college theater student while navigating the tricky interoffice politics of the NYPD. The final moments of the premiere reveals why Elsbeth is in the Big Apple in the first place: She's secretly investigating the NYPD captain, played by Wendell Pierce — a development that will surely add tension and distrust as the season progresses. 

During a Zoom chat with TV Guide, Preston broke down the surprise twist at the end of the premiere, how the secret will affect the show moving forward, and how her character has evolved since she first played her. 

You've been playing Elsbeth Tascioni since 2010 when you made your debut on The Good Wife. When you first signed on to play the character, you must not have imagined you'd be playing her for such a long period of time. How has the journey been staying with the character for 14 years over multiple shows? 

Carrie Preston: Every time I play her, I think of it as the last time because I would never know when they would call me back. I was never on a series regular contract or recurring contract, it was just as needed. Sometimes I would play her and there would be a year or two, or more, before I'd play her again. So it was always the gift that kept on giving. And when I would show up, it would make me appreciate it even more because I wouldn't know if this was the last time we're going to see her and relished all the time that I did get with her. Now, to be able to play her on a daily basis is such a gift. I'm learning about her more than I ever knew before. There's more text, there's more material. It's a new situation that she's in. And so that sheds a different light on the character that we didn't have during The Good Wife and The Good Fight. It's a different genre; I think we're making a comedy. We all agree that that's what we're doing. This bright, unconventional character is plopped down in the middle of the black, white, and gray world of New York City police procedurals. That, in and of itself, is pretty comedic. 

Elsbeth is no longer in the courtroom. Instead, she's out in the field helping the NYPD deduce how crimes were committed. What are your thoughts on her evolution from a quirky lawyer to her present set-up with the police?

Preston: I've been finding it along with the writers. If you look at the first appearance of Elsbeth on The Good Wife, we were figuring it out together. I was a guest actor on an established show and wasn't sure how far I was allowed to go with her. You could see that I was finding my way. I was deferring to the other actors, deferring to the writers, deferring to the director, deferring to [co-creators] Robert and Michelle King as to what we were going to do with this character. I knew what I wanted to do with her based on the beautiful script that I had. And then it wasn't until they brought me on in the third season [of The Good Wife] that we started to find an alchemy between the writing and what I was bringing. We started to play with it and let her loose. And now I'm able to breathe into it a little more, trust the writing more and not feel like I have to hit a certain note to push a plot forward, as you do as a guest star. She is the one who's generating the plot and the stories now. 

Elsbeth is, by and large, a new take on a police procedural. How different is Elsbeth navigating the cop world versus the legal world?

Preston: The good news is that the character is very consistently herself. So no matter what scenario she's in, she's approaching things from the side or from the bottom or from the top. She's approaching things not head-on. Procedurals are generally full of exposition, plot points, things like that. It's figuring out how to serve that genre and still be this unconventional character. It has been something that I've been enjoying discovering on a daily basis. And since we are a show that's a "howdunit" not a "whodunit" in the way that Columbo was, to watch this person who everybody underestimates piece together the crime will hopefully be where the sweet spot is.

The first episode establishes Elsbeth's main dynamics with NYPD Captain C.W. Wagner, played by Wendell Pierce, and Officer Kaya Blanke, played by Carra Patterson. Can you talk about where that partnership goes? 

Preston: I hope that audiences will delight in watching how the other characters react to her way of doing and thinking and being in the world because it is unusual. There's comedy to be had out of that and hopefully some joy. Watching Captain Wagner and Officer Blanke start to trust her, to lean on her, to allow her to go off on her tangents knowing that it might lead to some gold is also hopefully something that an audience is going to like to see. Primarily though and structurally the way this show works, the main cat-and-mouse situation is going to be with a different person each episode; it's going to be whoever our criminal is. Watching them take in Elsbeth and watching how she plays them for her own benefit will hopefully be part of what makes people want to watch the show.

Already you're attracting an impressive caliber of guest stars, from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Blair Underwood to Jane Krakowski to Retta. 

Preston: The goal with the writers, with Jonathan Tolin, our showrunner, and certainly our producers, Robert and Michelle King, is to create a fleshed out role that actors are going to want to play. They get a lot of juicy dialogue-driven scenes in the show, which you don't usually get with a conventional police procedural or episodic TV show. The writers are continuing with that tradition in the same way that Columbo got great actors of the day to come in and play because the roles were so juicy and full of nuance and subtext.

Who will surprise viewers?

Preston: Everybody is going to surprise you a little bit. Right now, I'm working with Blair Underwood [who plays a father and coach of a rising tennis star who makes a fatal mistake] and this is a different kind of role for him. It will be fun for audiences to see him play someone like this. And same with Retta [who plays a top matchmaker to the New York elite]. I don't think anybody would have seen her play a role quite like that one. Everybody is getting something yummy to bite into.

A question the series presented was why Elsbeth would leave the legal world to work side by side with the police department in a new city. It's revealed at the end of the first episode that Elsbeth has been asked to secretly investigate Captain Wagner for reasons that haven't been disclosed. Can you discuss that crucial reveal?

Preston: Elsbeth has always wanted to live in New York. She has a fascination and obsession with the city and we're having the city be a true character in the show. But also, she says in the pilot that she has defended some shady people in the past and she feels bad about it as a lawyer and that she really wants to get to the truth. I think the truth also means justice in a way. She really loved that idea of finding out how to put these upper-class, upper-crust criminals in jail and seeing justice for them in a way that she doesn't have to twist it the way she did sometimes as a lawyer. That is really part of her driving force. She has been brought there by the Department of Justice under this consent decree, but really to investigate Wagner without him knowing. So we are going to see how that plays out as the season goes on, especially as the two of them create a mutual respect for each other.

There's potential for tension and conflict to come from Elsbeth's secret investigation, too.

Preston: It keeps us from just doing the crime of the week. We have a bigger [mystery] as well. So we can honor and dig into the episodic of it all. That's what we're promising and that's what we're delivering. But we can also layer in these other things that are more subtextual or B, C storylines — things that keep it from being just what it appears to be on the surface. Sort of like Elsbeth.

Elsbeth airs Thursday nights at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount+.