In "Elsbeth," the most delightful network drama in years, Carrie Preston revives her Emmy-winning character from "The Good Wife," a bubbly attorney who is not nearly as ditsy as she first appears. But long before the procedural, airing 9 p.m Thursdays on CBS, Preston was a theater actor who made a memorable stop in Minneapolis.

In a Zoom interview Wednesday from New York, Preston, 56, chatted about that experience and her journey to the top.

Q: What do you remember about the 2001 production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" at the Guthrie Theater with Patrick Stewart and Mercedes Ruehl?

A: It was amazing. I worked with Patrick on "The Tempest," for Shakespeare in the Park, then we moved it to Broadway. So I made my Broadway debut while Sir Patrick was making his Broadway debut. He and I hit it off so well. So some years later, when they were casting the role of Honey, he put in a good word. When I was an undergrad at University of Evansville in southern Indiana, we thought that if you ever got to be in a show at the Guthrie, you had made it. That was our Broadway.

Q: You've been playing Elsbeth for about 15 years. What were your initial thoughts about her?

A: I knew the minute I read the script that it was something extraordinary. The character just jumped off the page. The fact they were trusting me with it made me nervous because the writing was so wonderful. They described her as a female Columbo. I hadn't really watched a lot of "Columbo," but I kind of understood what they meant. She approaches things in an unconventional way.

Q: The spin-off leans even more into "Columbo." Did you revisit it?

A: I did go back and watch some of those terrific episodes to get some inspiration. But our show is definitely more of a comedy. It's basically a circus in the middle of "Law & Order."

Q: I have a theory that you're a great student of classic comedy. If that's true, who were the people that inspired you?

A: Carol Burnett. I know that's an easy answer, especially since I'm a redhead now. When I was kid, I remember being obsessed with her. I did a scene the other day, and I got a text from our showrunner, Jonathan Tolins, which read, "That bit with the yoga ball was Lucy level." It felt like the best review I ever got.

Q: Your husband, Michael Emerson, was in "Lost," a very different kind of mystery show. But what did you learn from him about what to embrace and avoid when you're starring in a TV show?

A: Michael always says, you don't think ahead, you just play whatever is given to you in the moment. On that show, he didn't know where it was going to go. I think that's a good lesson for all of us as actors. Be as present as you can.

Q: You've been a standout guest star in so many series. What did you observe that you can put to use now that you are top on the call sheet?

A: I know the feeling of walking onto somebody else's show. So I go out of my way to make sure they feel like they are immediately part of the family. All of them get a tote bag from me just to let them know that I'm excited that they're there. There are only three regulars, so the guest stars get a lot of juicy material.

Q: And they get to play the bad guy. Who's coming up?

A: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Krakowski, Retta, Blair Underwood. Those are the ones I'm allowed to share.

Q: What are the advantages of getting this kind of attention now rather than in your 20s?

A: If this had happened to me when I was 22, I wouldn't have had the history and the struggle. I've had a great career, but for this to land at this part of my life isn't lost on me. It does feel miraculous.