'Claws': Carrie Preston on Playing Her Own Twin and Pulling Off the Surreal Final Dance (Exclusive)

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Skip Bolen/TNT

Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Sunday’s episode of Claws.

Carrie Preston pulled double duty on Claws.

On Sunday’s episode, titled “Til Death,” the 51-year-old actress played both Polly, the nail salon’s red-headed con artist, and her twin sister, Lillian, the complete opposite to Polly, in an hour that showcased her acting chops. The “reappearance” of Polly’s sister came at a crucial time for the South Carolinian, who was hot on the heels of her traumatic breakup with Ken, as the pressures of a long-held secret she's held about Lillian's death -- which has been the root of her multitude of personas she's embodied -- came to a boiling point. 

For Preston, who’s made a career playing memorable characters in The Good Wife franchise, True Blood and Person of Interest, was understandably enthusiastic about the opportunity to play her own doppelganger on Claws.

“I’ve never gotten the opportunity to play my own twin so that was a challenge that I was super excited to try to meet. The writers and the producers had told me that it was coming early on in the season, so I didn’t know exactly how it was going to play out until we got to the episode,” Preston told ET. “I was very pleased with what we were given the chance to play. Doing it was very thrilling and was very exhausting. I have a lot of respect for the many actors who have come before me who have played their own twin and even more respect, if that’s even possible, for Tatiana Maslany, who played dozens of [versions of] her own self [on Orphan Black].”

ET spoke with Preston about the challenges she faced playing twin sisters, filming the surrealistic dance sequence opposite herself and next week's "satisfying" sophomore finale.

ET: Talk to me about the process in which you played Polly and Lillian. Did you do one character first, before you switched gears to the other?

Carrie Preston: Generally we would start with Polly, just because Lillian has a wig and the makeup was different. It was easier to start with Polly and then add on Lillian, but sometimes during the day, I would have to go back and forth depending on how they were shooting. There were some days where I would start off with Polly, then I would do Lillian, go back to Polly and go back to Lillian again. We worked fast and quick and we were switching me over literally in a corner with a curtain on set; we didn’t have time to go back to the set. I was really into it! You don’t really get an opportunity like this all the time, so I was very excited about it.

What was the trickiest part of playing your own twin?

Luckily, I had a really great young actress, Valerie Jane Parker, who they brought in to play opposite me, which was great. She had to also learn both parts, so she’s the unsung hero of the day. She had to wear the wigs, she had to wear the costumes. There’s a dance at the end [of the episode]; that was the first thing we shot. We learned that the night before…

Alfonso Bresciani/TNT

Let’s talk about that final dance sequence. Was that the most difficult part of the episode for you to learn, because you’re essentially dancing opposite yourself?

It was tricky! That was our first day shooting of the episode and we didn’t get clearance for the music, the Cyndi Lauper song, until the night before. They brought in the choreographer and Valerie, who I just met, we’re like, “Hey!” “Hey.” And we jump in with the choreographer and start working out this dance. It was thrilling. I was excited about that kind of scrappy way of doing things, where you have to be ready to go and we were. Plus, we’re dancing in a hallway, which is very tight and because it has to be split screen, I am dancing but I’m not allowed to go over into the other side of the screen. Sometimes I’m doing the dance with Valerie, sometimes I’m doing it by myself pretending she’s there and sometimes I’m dancing with the actual camera right in front of me, pretending that the camera is her. (Laughs.) It was a bit of a mind-trick. And you’re learning the mirror image of the dance as well; if you’re doing a ballroom dance and suddenly you have to turn around and to the guy’s part.

Every episode, we have what we like to have these Claws surreal moments, where we do these elevated scenarios that are surreal. At first, the dance wasn’t in there and I had pitched it a long time ago to the writers and for whatever reason, they didn’t put it in the script. I had mentioned it to the director, like, “You got me playing my twin, like wouldn’t it be awesome if the surreal moment was me doing this dance?” He said, “Oh my god, we gotta have that,” and then they put it in. Then I was like, “God, now I really have to do well because I’m the one who asking for this!”

How was your approach different in channeling Lillian since she’s the polar opposite to Polly? 

As soon as I realized that the audience is going to know pretty quickly in the episode that Lillian is a figment of Polly’s imagination, then it gave me freedom to delve into that dark side that we all carry with us, that voice inside of ourselves that criticizes us. It’s just in Polly, it’s very loud and very real. I was then allowed to manifest that in a physical way. I decided that Lillian would be somebody who has lived a much harder life and had this real need to be accepted by her sister and to press her sister to say the truth about what happened to her. And that’s what Polly does, so Lillian succeeds in that way in integrating herself with this part of her past that she has been denying. 

The look, we went back and forth with hair and makeup, the director and producers. I thought it was important to have her be different from Polly, to be that alter ego, so we darkened up her eyebrows. I changed how she holds herself in her body. I started on [the voice] as soon as I got the script and messed around where the voice was going to sit and just let it fly.

Creatively, this was a big episode for Polly, in that she finally addressed what happened to her sister all those years ago and her role in her death. How gratifying was it to reach this point in Polly’s journey on the show?

We’ve been dancing around the supporting characters for the two seasons of Claws and getting little clues, insights into why they behave the way they behave. It’s been this wonderful unfolding of mystery of all these characters. With this episode with Polly, we really peeled quite a lot of layers and that’s informative for me as the actor playing her, but also for the audience as well. They’re going to have a much deeper understanding as to why Polly keeps trying to pretend like she’s somebody else. She had somebody else who looked just like her in her life and that person died. That’s going to create a lot of psychological issues for a person.

TNT

What are your hopes Polly after she confronts the truth about Lillian’s death? 

Mental health is not something that gets cured just by having a good therapy session with your friends. It is something that’s going to have to be worked on. I think the writers and I understand that it’s going to be a process. I’m looking forward to seeing what that process is going to be in season three and what that’s going to mean, as far as her behavior. Is she going to not feel the need to put on all these other personas as much or is she going to own it and say, “This is who I am. I have a lot of different people inside of me, I’m going to let them out.” I don’t know. The journey is the destination for me.

It was particularly poignant to see Desna at Polly’s side in the hospital when at her lowest moment.

A rock-bottom moment, but who’s there and who has always been there, which is why Polly is so loyal is Desna. She’s picked Polly up from the depths of despair more times than she can count. Polly does the same for Desna. It’s a powerful moment for Desna too because she really admits her own stuff too. She’s like, “I’m a criminal.” They’re both really telling each other the hard truth and I love our show because it keeps deepening the sisterhood between these women. Whenever that gets threatened, it somehow makes them stronger. All season long, we’ve seen these women’s relationships with other in peril and they just keep digging in deeper and coming back around to each other. I think that’s special and that’s true about true friendship between women.

Looking ahead to the finale, how does the season close out?

You’ll get some satisfying conclusions to some things we’ve been building to, but there’s also going to be a big question as to what the next steps are going to be for these women. It’s setting us up for what I think is going to be an exciting season three with new directions and also, continuing in the uncovering of the histories of these women.

Claws airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.

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