Pint-sized Tony/Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth, who recently showcased her chipper and bubbly personality as ABC’s red carpet host at the Oscars, dials it down a few notches to play a selfish and cold working mother in the dark comedy “Family Weekend” (in theaters this Friday). Although the actress is still best known for translating her sunny disposition to the stage as Glinda the Good Witch in the Broadway phenomenon “Wicked,” Chenoweth has showcased a lot of rage (and venom) over the course of her last decade in the business by appearing in “Glee” as troubled man-eater, in “Pushing Daisies” as a lovesick waitress, and most memorably, in “GCB” as one of the Good Christian Bitches of the title.
Joined by her adorable pooch Maddie in her lap, Chenoweth sat down with Indiewire at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel to discuss “Family Weekend,” her recent Oscars’ experience and “GCB”‘s all-too-short run on ABC.
Based on your many live appearances, you seem like a really nice, genuinely sweet person.
I have you all fooled (laughs).
Clearly, because you excel at playing these conniving, backstabbing folks, from the calculating southern bell in “GCB” to the terrible mother you play in “Family Weekend.” What do you attribute that to?
Well, as an artist we always look for ways to challenge ourselves — it’s no fun to play yourself. And I’ve been really lucky, the parts I’ve played have all been really diverse. You know “Glee” is very different from “West Wing,” it’s very different from “GCB,” “Pushing Daisies,” and any movie I’ve done. They’ve all been very different and I’m really proud of that — I like that. This character, at first I was like “Uh, nuh,” but then at the end of the movie, I thought, “Oh, this is who she is. Where did she lose herself?” And that’s why I took the part, because I liked the evolution of her going back to who she really was and how she got lost along the way. I think a lot of working women who have families and, you know, that are successful, have a hard time balancing that. I really respect women who do that. I haven’t done that, this is my child [looks down at her dog Maddie] and I think it’s hard.
“Family Weekend” has a wholesome message, but path the film takes to that end point is pretty dark. Would you consider it a family film?
Absolutely. It’s very dark, which is another reason I took it on. You know, I’m very sardonic in my comedy, but not mean, just kind of off. And I like that quality, to be honest. Look, we live in a very cynical time and there is a quality in that darkness that’s innocent. Even Emily [played by Olesya Rulin], though she uses a crazy tactic to get her parents to pay attention, she does bring her family together. I like that, in the end, she has to be accountable as well. It’s not just like, “Oh, you’re forgiven. You have to be accountable for your actions and I think it’s an important lesson for our young people to understand.
Was the mother you played purely based off of what was on the page or were you inspired by someone you know?
It was a little bit of both. It was on the page a lot. I had a mom who was in my business all the time, which I think was good, even though at times I didn’t think so. My dad was was busy, but he was at the important stuff. I had it relatively great. I mean I’m not perfect because no family is and anybody who says they do (have one) is not being truthful.
But I had a girlfriend in high school, her parents were very eccentric they were from (whispers) New York. We were in bible belt Oklahoma and [whispers] they were from New York. They would listen to cool jazz and the mom was always off doing real estate and the dad was at home painting. And I remembered that a lot when I was doing this. And I’ve also done a lot of people watching; I’ve seen and I’ve known women, friends with women who have meltdowns with their kids, ’cause they’re working and they’re trying to make ends meet, they just want to make it happen, and they want both, the career and the kids. It’s a very important topic, I mean a lot of women my age are now wanting to start a family because their careers have been first. It’s almost been reversed from when my mom was young. It brings up a lot of questions.
Back to “GCB.” Were you dismayed it was cancelled before ending its first season? I’m surprised it never caught on as a “Desperate Housewives” type of hit.
Our ratings weren’t poor. It was advertising. I’m just going to be very honest, we had major advertisers pull out because of the content. They, I think, have pressure from the bible belt — and Motorola, Kraft, and Chevy pulled out. And when you have three major advertisers like that pull out, it’s bad. Our ratings are about as good as “Nashville,” certainly better than “Smash.” It’s sad. But again I root for shows like that because it’s what I do.
I think major networks, not cable, need to take a little bit of a different look at how people are watching TV. And I think they’re doing that. I didn’t take it personally, but it did suck. I’d love to see it go on. Especially Carlene [her character in the show], there’s another cray cray. I know her, I know the woman. I went to church with that woman. So I played somebody that existed, prayed for a Mercedes — I mean she prayed for one. It’s like, you pray for a Mercedes, alright (laughs), and you’re dripping in diamonds.
Do you keep in touch with the women who inspired Carlene?
Yeah, because they’re good, they mean well.
What do they think of the show?
Yeah, I think “GCB” was a little too close to home for some people honestly. But I know a lot of people loved it, who could relate, too. A lot of my Christian friends were like “That’s so true!” which I loved, because I’m a Christian too and I wouldn’t do anything I felt was against the Lord — I wouldn’t do it. But I know some people who did think it was blasphemous, so I feel sorry that they couldn’t see the humor in it.
About the Oscars: I want to know how you got involved in the first place. ABC really shook things up by having a peer interview the talent on the red carpet.
Yeah, they did. At first I was horrified and said no. [Then] I said I’d think about it, but it probably wasn’t going to happen. Then the producers called me again. That was several months before. I had to be kind of quiet about it. Finally, they said, “We really want a peer of theirs, someone who does film, Broadway, TV, talking to their friend. Don’t think of it as being a host.” I said, “I’m not a host, I don’t want to contaminate.” That offends me — when someone crosses over and says they’re a singer and they don’t sing. It’s offensive. And I didn’t want to be that person. But when they said, “You’re a friend talking you’re a friend,” then I said OK. That’s the way I approached it.
Jennifer Lawrence was so funny because she said, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.” I heard it and thought, “Is she high?” It’s scary for us — it’s interesting to be on that side of the crowd. It was fun, I enjoyed it.
Did it inspire you to want to host a live show on a full-time basis?
I feel like I’ve kind of done it because I’ve hosted a lot of different things. I’m going to do it Monday and Tuesday for “Live With Michael and Kelly.” Again I wouldn’t presume that I’d be good at it on a day-to-day basis. I mean, it’s one thing to be a talk show guest, and be yourself and go home. It’s a whole other thing to run a show. I don’t know if I could do it. It’s hard — I have a whole new found respect.
Seth MacFarlene received some pretty harsh critical feedback following his Oscar hosting duties. How do you feel about his performance?
I was in the room and I thought it was planned so well. And I think whoever does that job, unless you’re Billy Crystal, you’re going to get your ass handed to you on a silver platter. That’s what I think. So I guess the rise in ratings for the whole thing says that somebody enjoyed it.