Kristin Chenoweth: She's a Good Girl Gone Bad
Kristin Chenoweth has a knack for playing good bad girls, and it's easy to see why. Underneath the blond hair and blue eyes, the diminutive actress (she's just under five feet tall) is a firecracker. And she's got a Tony and a big, chewing-up-the-scenery role in ABC's new tele-revival of Annie to prove it.
She's also been at it since she was a single digit. Born in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Chenoweth discovered early on that she loved singing; she was belting out gospel music for a crowd of 40,000 at the tender age of 12.
She earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in opera from Oklahoma City University and was set to enter the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia when an aspiring actor friend asked her to help him move to New York City. While there, she signed on for a role in the Papermill Playhouse production of the musical Animal Crackers.
Kander & Ebb's short-lived Steel Pier followed, then the Lincoln Center production of A New Brain--and then Chenoweth nabbed the role that nabbed her a Tony: Sally Brown in the Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
All the while, Hollywood was slowly creeping up from behind, and Chenoweth was cast in three pilots (including a juicy role in Paramour, a spinoff of Remember WENN, which was canceled when Ted Turner purchased AMC and killed all original programming). Unfortunately, none flew.
Currently on Broadway in the comedy Epic Proportions (cowritten by Friends creator David Crane), Chenoweth will finally get a chance to show off for viewers across the country as she vamps it up as Lily St. Regis, alongside Kathy Bates and Alan Cumming, in Annie.
Which got us to wondering:
What Is It That Makes Casting Directors Think "Good Bad Girl" When They See Her? "I think when people look at me, it's unexpected. I'm petite, I'm blond and I have a unique speaking voice. No one would ever expect me to have an edge. And in life, I don't. So, when I play these characters, it's a shock."
Has She Always Been a Good Girl? "My mom says I was very easy to raise because I was basically a happy child. I never really got into too much trouble."
Oh, Come On. No One's Good All the Time. "For me it came later. I had never had a drink or smoked a cigarette before college. I remember going through sorority rush and going to a fraternity party. 'These fellas are so nice,' I thought. They really wanted to get to know me. Just going out of their way to make me feel welcome--and giving me one shot after another. I thought, 'This is no problem.' The next thing I knew, I was sick in their bathtub. It took me about three days to stop smelling like alcohol."
Atta Girl! We Knew She Had It in Her. So, How Did She Like Working with Kathy Bates and Alan Cumming? "It was hard, because we were always giggling and teasing each other. When you're filming you need to get serious. Kathy has a way that's very natural. She really makes you better. Alan is completely silly and fun. He can do any accent. You name it, he can do it. I could not believe it. I was like, 'Okay, Southern! Now Scottish! Okay, New York!' "
What Did She Think of Hollywood? "I loved it. My friends say it was because I was put up in a nice hotel, had a car and was being paid well--and that's true, too. But I guess it's more of what I'm accustomed to. I grew up in Oklahoma, driving a car, going to nice grocery stores, having a little bit more convenience than I have, say, in New York. I had a chance to breathe. I loved the weather. I know that sounds silly, but the weather was perfect every day I was there."
What's Been Her Most Surreal Experience? "Liza Minnelli had come to see me in a concert at Town Hall. She came to see Charlie Brown the next night and said, 'I'm looking for Kristin Chenoweth. I need to find her!' She came to my dressing room and said, 'I'm a big fan!' I thought, 'Something's not right here. It's the other way around.' "
With All the Work She's Been Getting, Has She Had Time to Date? "Yes. My boyfriend's name is Marc Kudisch. He was Birdie in the TV movie Bye Bye Birdie. He was also Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and he's now the villain in The Scarlet Pimpernel. We've been going out four years. He's such a good guy."
Any Wedding Bells Ringing in the Future? "I think so...but I don't know just when."
So, Until Then, What Else Is in Store? "I just sang at Hillary Clinton's birthday--there are some things you just don't say no to. I'm getting ready to do a concert tour with Chicago's Brent Barrett around the country this spring. And I've been rehearsing for a workshop of Thoroughly Modern Millie with Bea Arthur. I'm playing Millie. I think it's going to Broadway next fall, and I really hope I'm available for it."
Now, Is Millie a Good Girl--or a Good Bad Girl?