Although she is best known for playing the sassy, southern Arlene on HBO’s “True Blood,” Carrie Preston lives and breathes New York, and the proof lays in her newest film, “That’s What She Said.” Telling the story of three women navigating the mean, messy streets of Manhattan on one particularly stressful day, “That’s What She Said” details both the best and worst qualities of life in New York City.
“I wanted this to be a love letter to New York,” Preston said. “Or a hate letter, if you want to put it that way. You love to be challenged by New York. Why else would you live here?”
Preston grew up in Macon, Georgia, but has lived in New York for the past 22 years ever since she attended Juilliard in 1990. “That’s What She Said” is the third feature from Preston’s production company, Daisy 3 Pictures, and her second film as director. Yet this particular film exemplifies the company’s evolution from its nascent days using “Home Depot lights” and “Mini-DV cameras,” as Preston described their former equipment. To add to the increased stature of the studio, it features familiar names like Anne Heche and Alia Shawkat of “Arrested Development,” as well as Marcia DeBonis, who starred in the story’s original stage version.
“Those women are just extraordinary to begin with, and they’re brave actors,” Preston said. “They take risks. They’re not afraid of it. And that was definitely what we needed for this film, because it does get so gritty in order for the comedy to work.”
Fitting in with the insanity of New York, “That’s What She Said” is high-strung and brutally fast-paced, a pace that all of the actresses take to exquisitely. The women are unkempt and unladylike, getting into fights, pulling fire alarms and causing trouble everywhere they travel. Heche, Shawkat and Debonis carry the entire film, which is a considerable feat given that there is not a single line of dialogue from a male actor.
“You’re like, ‘Wow, did I really just watch 90 minutes of three women talking?’ Yeah, I did. I did just watch that,” Preston said.
But for an on-edge film, Preston fills the story with heart and empathy. Even though “That’s What She Said” only covers a period of 24 hours, the characters are fully formed, with fascinating relationships that Preston refers to as a “womance.” The actresses even participated in three days of rehearsal, which is rare for a film — actors usually rehearse on the day of shooting.
Preston is thrilled that the year 2012 in particular has seen a number of great female-driven stories in film and on TV, like “Bachelorette,” Fox’s “The Mindy Project” and HBO’s “Girls.”
“I’m so inspired when I see the younger actors like Mindy [Kaling] and Lena [Dunham], who are not traditional in every way,” Preston said. “They’re interesting in telling alternative stories about women and not perpetuating the Hollywood preternatural gorgeousness, wedding-obsessed, frilly person that I don’t know. I don’t know those women.”
Even when “Bridesmaids” came out in 2011, Preston made sure to tell as many people as possible about the film.
“We needed to support and show Hollywood that women are funny,” Preston said. “It’s like they forgot it. It’s like, ‘Did you not remember Lucille Ball?’ We have a period of time in the last 10 or 20 years where it’s like everybody forgot that women are funny and that women are powerful and that women can create good content. So I’m glad that their amnesia is over and they’ve remembered it, because I’m a part of that now.”
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 17 print edition. Jeremy Grossman is film editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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