“I was so devastated,” Carrie Preston tells LA Confidential about shooting what was meant to be her last scene for TNT’s Claws. “I just burst into tears.”
Preston, who plays sweet, conniving manicurist Polly Marks, was supposed to be in the final scene being filmed for the entire series. She was on her way to work when the production’s COVID-19 officer called with the news that someone tested positive and told she could not come to set.
“The writers are amazing and they just got creative and figured out how to write around it,” Preston explains about remedying the scene. “They did the whole announcement to the crew that that was a wrap on the entire series, and they put me on FaceTime, so I was able to see everyone. I had prepared some remarks and I had Judy Reyes read them for me… and experience this moment, even if it was from my little rental apartment.”
The weighty emotions of finishing Claws reflects the ride-or-die bond among the five women at the center of the show: Polly, Desna Simms (Niecy Nash), Virginia Loc (Karrueche Tran), Quiet Ann (Reyes) and Jennifer Husser(Jenn Lyon). While working hard at the Nail Artisan of Manatee County, the women get caught up in washing money for the local Dixie mafia’s pill operation. Over four seasons, Desna— their de facto leader— hustles for the American Dream of a beautiful home and luxe life with her brother, Dean (Harold Perrineau) and makes sure to bring her girls along the way.
The final season of Claws, which is executive produced by Rashida Jones, premiered on Dec. 19 and runs 10 episodes.
The seductive nature of money and power puts Desna on a dangerous, chaotic path that keeps her coming back for more. Set just south of Tampa, Fla. in Palmetto, Claws positions the women against bad men, the Russian mafia, twisted casino owners and corrupt cops and politicians. A morsel of television, the crime drama— gnarly with its shoot outs, severed limbs and murders— pulses with humor, unconditional love and absurdity.
Such unconditional love is perhaps none better displayed than by Polly, AKA Polly Pol, Polly Bird or an endless number of names that she’s gone by as a result of her con artist ways. The show starts after Polly gets out of prison for identity fraud, but her fondness for deception persists. Throughout the series, Polly teases anecdotes like that she attended Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and that she went to prison for running a prostitute ring. Other times, she assumes fully new identities on a whim. It’s easy to be fooled given her preppy, Southern charm and saccharine voice. But it’s ultimately a facade for her gritty dark interior that makes her Desna’s most loyal compatriot.
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In the new season, Polly is still reeling from being betrayed by her love interest, Joe (Juan Riedinger), in Season 3. Preston explains that her heartbreak leads Polly to another “personality bender,” which has happened before and led to her checking into a mental institution. This time, Preston says,it’ll take Polly further than she’s ever gone with a con.
“Overall, the ladies are just feeling like it's finally time to take our professional and our personal power back,” she explains. I think it's about looking for a way up and a way out one last time.”
“I love, love, love how my character ends up,” Preston adds. “I love the arc that I got to play. I love the story that the writers came up with for the end of this woman. And I think I could say the same, really, for all of the characters, which is no easy thing to do. It's hard to wrap up so many storylines.”
The Claws Season 3 finale came out in August 2019, meaning fans have been waiting for over two years for new episodes. They were able to shoot the first half of Season 4 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought productions (and the world) to a halt, and finally returned to finish the show at the end of 2020. New safety protocols affected day-to-day logistics, in addition to the actual scripts.
“We had to figure out how to do some scenes without being in the same room,” Preston says. “The characters are always on the run and they're always busy and doing stuff and we have technology now where five people communicate through phones, so our characters just started communicating by FaceTime and things like that. It ended up being a little off what the plan was, but, in some ways, it made us more creative. I think it really took the storyline back down to its roots, which is this story about these five women.”
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Preston has a storied career in television and has appeared on ABC’s When We Rise, Peacock’s Dr. Death, IFC’s Brockmire and CBS’ Person of Interest, among numerous more credits. She also starred alongside Patrick Warburton on NBC’s Crowded and won an Emmy in 2014 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Elsbeth on The Good Wife, for which she was also nominated for in 2016 and recently reprised in The Good Fight. Still, out of her abundance of roles, Preston considers Claws as “one of the best jobs of my career.”
As a native Southerner who lives in New York City, she appreciated being able to work and live about half the year in New Orleans, where Claws filmed. What’s more, Preston praises the show’s producers and TNT for giving her the opportunity to finally have her first episodic directing experience, which she did one episode each for Seasons 3 and 4. As an actor, she and the cast were granted similar creative freedom. For Polly, Preston liked to sprinkle in new personas whenever possible.
“I feel really blessed because our showrunners and our creator Eliot Laurence… they were all so collaborative and permissive, which you don't have a lot in television,” she says. “In this case, they really saw what happened when, in particular, the five women would get in a room together and the magic that would come out of us taking what they had written and then spinning it a little bit and turning it into our own language.”
Reflecting on her many years studying theater and acting, Preston says it’s as if her whole life has built up to the ever-transforming Polly.
“The role was such a rich treasure chest of characters and it's definitely a smorgasbord for a character actor like myself,” she says. “All of the characters, I think, come up to their dark side in this series, and they really embrace being criminals for whatever reason, and each of them have their own reasons. A lot of it [has] to do with the history that they have in their own lives and all of them coming from places of just disenfranchisement and pushing back against that. I think it speaks to things that are happening in our world… I think our show came at a really topical moment in history about women fighting for their rights and their power and taking it away from the patriarchy.”
Claws airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT and Seasons 1-3 are available to stream on Hulu.
Photography by: Micheal Stewart Stewdiospace