A magnetic and Tony Award-winning star of Broadway, it only made sense that Kristin Chenoweth would bring her charm to TV. After a false start with the 2001 NBC sitcom Kristin, which was canceled after six episodes, the 4-foot-11 actress, who currently plays Easter on Starz’s hit adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, eventually found her stride on The West Wing, on which she played Annabeth Schott during the NBC drama’s final two seasons.
But Chenoweth’s TV career really started with Pushing Daisies, from American Gods executive producer Bryan Fuller. “He changed my path,” she says of Fuller, who was known at the time for creating Dead Like Me and serving as executive producer on Heroes. Soon after she quoted Hannibal Lecter in a phone conversation with the producer, Chenoweth — a self-proclaimed sci-fi and horror geek — and Fuller formed a bond that led to one of the best roles of her career. “That was it; we were off to the races.”
Premiering on ABC in October 2007, the dramedy starred Lee Pace as Ned, a pie-maker with the ability to bring dead things back to life, including his childhood crush Chuck (Anna Friel). With private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) and co-worker Olive Snook (Chenoweth), Ned solved murders in addition to running the Pie Hole restaurant. Olive was obsessed with and hopelessly in love with Ned, despite his love for Chuck. “I look at scripts like music, and it was [Fuller’s] own music. He has a unique voice that speaks to people,” Chenoweth says of the short-lived series, which she adds was ahead of its time and not on the right network. “A great one, just not the right one.”
While it was canceled after two seasons, Pushing Daisies earned Chenoweth an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy, which she tearfully accepted while offering herself up to 24, Mad Men and The Office. “I’m unemployed now,” she said at the ceremony.
No, none of those shows called. “I got other things,” she says, adding that Glee, on which she played a high school dropout, was already in the works. Pulling double duty on Pushing Daisies and Ryan Murphy’s high school dramedy, she earned her second of three back-to-back Primetime Emmy nominations.
While Chenoweth returned to Broadway in the years since she appeared on Pushing Daisies, she’s also become a reliable TV guest star, having notably appeared on The Good Wife, voiced a gecko on BoJack Horseman and recently played Velma Von Tussle in NBC’s Hairspray Live!, a role that once again is earning Chenoweth Emmy attention. “If you drop your baton, if you don’t do your high kicks, it’s on camera,” she says of the live musical event, adding: “I did the whole twirl thing and a high kick. You just hit your mark and sing your butt off.”
She could have even been on Fuller’s Hannibal, were it not for her Tony-nominated role in On the Twentieth Century. “Bryan wrote a part for me,” she says of the lasting relationship she formed with the producer, who eventually got her back into his fold with American Gods.
The role of Easter is a bit of a boiler. Chenoweth plays a god forced to share her namesake holiday with Jesus who is eventually roped into Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) ongoing battle for status and power. She puts on a good front, but like many gods on the series, there’s a dark side to her. It’s perhaps the darkest role Chenoweth has played on TV. “What’s fun about it is you don’t see it coming,” she says. (Watch an exclusive clip from Sunday’s season one finale, which sees Easter really unraveling.)
But what really makes the experience special is being reunited with Fuller. “It feels so good; it’s correct for me,” Chenoweth says.
“Very few times do you have a writer that goes, ‘I can write for you.’ But when you get that person that gets you — on paper Bryan Fuller and Kristin Chenoweth don’t fit together, yet we’re together — I just look at it as a blessing.”