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How Carrie Preston Went from “The Good Wife” 'Side Dish' to Making “Elsbeth” 'a Full Meal' (Exclusive)

Preston exclusively tells PEOPLE of her excitement in playing a "such a delicious character" and reprising her role as Elsbeth Tascioni in CBS's latest spinoff series

<p>Shawn Flint Blair</p> Carrie Preston

Shawn Flint Blair

Carrie Preston

Carrie Preston is savoring her leading turn on Elsbeth.

In CBS's newest spinoff of The Good Wife, Preston reprises her role as the eponymous attorney whose eccentric observations and kooky personality gives her a unique point of view in partnering with the NYPD to tamp down crime.

Though Elsbeth Tascioni is a role that feels familiar, Preston reveals that there were "very different" aspects of stepping back into the character's skin.

"There are some things that are very similar, obviously, the way her mind works, the unconventional way in which she approaches things and sees things," she exclusively tells PEOPLE. "That was there from the beginning, but if you go back 14 years to when we first met Elsbeth on The Good Wife, I was finding my way as were the writers and the directors."

Related: Goodbye to 'The Good Wife' : Look Back at the Show's 12 Best Guest Stars

<p>Jeff Neumann/CBS via Getty</p> Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni in 'The Good Fight'

Jeff Neumann/CBS via Getty

Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni in 'The Good Fight'

If fans were to "go back and look" at previous episodes of the original drama series, the actress, 56, points out that viewers would be able to "see" her tentativeness with her approach to the character.

"I wasn't sure how far to go," she admits. "I wasn't sure how to take it. When you're a guest on a show, you defer to the way the show is done and what the other actors are doing on the show. You are there to serve their story."

Throughout The Good Wife's seven-season run, Preston was eventually able to find a "wonderful groove" with playing Elsbeth, though there were instances she wouldn't be able to step back into the role for years at a time. When Elsbeth's story continued in The Good Fight, Preston says she "adjusted myself" and her approach once again to accommodate that show's tone.

Related: Carrie Preston Wins an Emmy, But Loses a Snack

Now she's expanding The Good Wife multiverse once again. After years of serving as a complement to other shows' protagonists, Elsbeth is making her entrée into leading lady territory — and she's ready to dig in.

"I was excited to get back inside of her brain. It's just such a delicious character. I have a lot of creative freedom with her, and there's a comfort level because I've played her for so long," she explains. "I was also looking forward to seeing what it would feel like to be the full meal and not just the side dish so to speak."

<p>Elizabeth Fisher/CBS</p> Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce in 'Elsbeth'

Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

Carrie Preston and Wendell Pierce in 'Elsbeth'

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Preston also tells PEOPLE how series creators Robert and Michelle King have been "so helpful" in helping her step back into Elsbeth's shoes.

"I felt in great hands with them because, obviously, we have this institutional memory together of this character and where she was at the beginning and how far she has come," she says. "This show is, in my opinion, decidedly a comedy, so we will lean into that."

"It's definitely lighter in tone, and so we take off with the levity that Elsbeth brings to situations and we just run with that," Preston adds.

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Elsbeth airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

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