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Beverly Hills, Calif. — When actress Carrie Preston was 9 years old, she decided she wanted to run hurdles in the all-city track competition. She couldn’t have been less qualified.

“I was a tiny, scrawny little girl and I thought it would be really good to try out for the hurdles, so I’m running head-on. This little 9-year old-girl to these giant hurdles that I’m never going to jump over. I kept going and kept going and was hitting them and hitting them. And I would go back and try again until my mom finally came down and said, ‘Honey, honey, honey, I’m going to ask you to stop doing that. You’re going to hurt yourself.’

“That’s sort of how I look at life,” says Preston, after a pause. “That’s the life of the artist right there.”

Preston, who’s best known for “True Blood” and “The Good Wife,” realized she wanted to be an actress when she was 8, living in her native Macon, Georgia. “I was never Snow White,” she nods, her green eyes punctuating her red hair. “I was always the maid, the crazy maid, or the fairy godmother — nutty. I was always already playing the character roles — the roles where I got to really be a chameleon. That’s what really feeds me.”

Preston attended a small college in southern Indiana and devoted four years studying at Juilliard, which she attended through scholarships, grants and fellowships.

She supplemented her income waitressing at the Olive Garden, temping, and serving as a Girl Scout leader. But Preston mostly made her living by acting, once she finished Juilliard.

Her latest role as the tragic mother of a murdered child on “Dating Game Killer,” which aired Dec. 3, on On Demand and ID Go, proved another hurdle.

“Just to put those circumstances in your belly — of your child being brutally murdered by a monster — is a really dark and sobering place to go,” she says of the show, which premiered on Investigation Discovery.

“It definitely was tough. I mean, the lines were blurred for me a little bit. I got this horrible respiration, like I got the flu or something. My body was not really wanting to go there. It was very upsetting. So I was sick while I was shooting which, in some ways, went hand-in-hand with the emotional pain playing such a thing.”

In an unusual turn, Preston didn’t have to audition for the role. The part was offered her.

“It’s wonderful,” she smiles. “It sort of makes you look at the material in a different way because you don’t have to hustle for it. You’re being asked to be trusted with it, so I was grateful for that. Certainly it’s not the kind of role that normally comes to me, so I was excited about that, also scared of it. And it’s always good to do things that you’re scared of.”

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