Kristin Chenoweth first made a dent in the public consciousness as Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked, a Broadway smash about the early years of the The Wizard of Oz witches. Since then, she’s maintained a healthy career in television, earning praise for her performances in The West Wing, Pushing Daisies, and Glee. She’s even become a staple at awards shows, either as a host or, in the case of the 2013 Oscars, as a red carpet interviewer and performer.
In Family Weekend, opening Friday in limited release, Chenoweth plays the snarky mother of a high-achieving teenager who takes her parents hostage to protest their indifference to her life. In an interview with RT, Chenoweth shared her favorite movies, and discussed the differences between working on the stage and screen and why she’s drawn to dark comedies.
Steel Magnolias (Herbert Ross, 1989; 65% Tomatometer)
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994; 90% Tomatometer)
What was the other one I always watch when it’s on? Oh, this is dorky… This says everything about who I am: The Sound of Music. It’s just my favorite movie musical, and, I mean, it’s the reason I wanted to become a singer and an actress, was because of Julie Andrews and the Von Trapps. That kind of pretty much explains who I am, which is one big fat dichotomy.
RT: It’s kind of cheesy in a lot of ways, but you can’t help loving it. I always get excited during the part where the nuns have sabotaged the Nazis’ car.
KC: They have, like, the carburetor and… [laughs] The nuns are actually some of my favorite parts. I love it. I can’t help it. I just can’t help it.
Next, Chenowith talks about her new film, the differences of working in film and on stage, and why she’s drawn to dark comedies.
RT: What attracted you to Family Weekend?
KC: Well, I was doing a Broadway show, Promises, Promises, and I got a script. It was about, basically, in a nutshell, parents who’ve sort of lost their priorities a little bit, and their teenage daughter kidnaps them to get their attention. So it’s extreme, and it’s [about] a family, and it’s a dark comedy, which I like. What I liked the most about it was the evolution of not just my part, but the family as a whole, and how they come back to what they used to be. It’s a bit of a crazy tactic, but there’s consequences to pay at the end, too, and I think that’s important to show. You can’t just, like, “Oh, I did this crazy wacky thing, and I’m not going to be held accountable.” I just thought it was really funny and cute, and I was looking for something like that to do, and I did it.
RT: Looking through your filmography, you seem to have a thing for dark farces.
KC: Well, you know, I think to play something that’s so not like you is obviously challenging and fun. Playing yourself… You know, I play myself when I do concert work and I tape my material and I’m just “Kristi,” you know? But taking roles, I’m going to look for something that’s probably not “the girl next door” because it’s too on the money. Even when I play “the girl next door,” there something a little off about them, and I enjoy that. Even when I look back at Pushing Daisies, you know, I was literally “the girl next door,” but she was… interesting. Certainly the role in Glee and The West Wing and GCB, they’re not the norm, and I guess there’s part of me that doesn’t feel… I’ve always been a little bit — it seems weird to say — a bit of an outsider, in a way? Yeah, so I can relate to that. I am a comedian, and I do like the comedy aspect, but I play dramatic roles, too. I think for now, all I can tell you is I’m looking for good parts, just like everybody else, and things that challenge me. So that’s what I do.
RT: If someone held a gun to your head and said, “You can only do Broadway. You can only do movies. You have to pick something,” what would you choose? Do you consider yourself a Broadway person first, and TV and movie person second?
KC: I definitely got my start [on Broadway]. It’s always funny to me when I’m in a mall and somebody will come up and go, “I didn’t know you sang!” I crack up, and I’m like, “What?” [laughs] But if I had to… I don’t want to [choose], because I really am about each part, I’m about the character. I’m more about that than anything, even the vocal. You know, I was more about playing Glinda in Wicked than I was getting to sing all the different styles. [But] I would have to say Broadway. I love live theater; I like the relationship between the show and the audience. That’s my comfort zone, but more than anything, it’s what makes me happy. But it is hard; it’s a definite way of life. It’s like, no life. Film and TV is no life in a different way; it’s “hurry up and wait,” but Broadway just isn’t for wimps. [laughs] I don’t know how else to say it.
KC: It’s the pace that kills me in making a movie or doing a TV show. It’s the “hurry up and wait.” I actually love the work, but the amount of time we go from “action” to “cut” is so short, usually, compared to the waiting and getting ready, waiting, getting ready, waiting, ugh… That’s what drives me crazy. On the flip side, when you’re doing a Broadway thing, it’s all about stamina — rehearsal and performance — and that’s hard, too. And always trying to stay healthy and not get sick, because your name’s above the title, people won’t come to the show if you’re not there, or, you know, there’s pressure; you want to do the job. So, there’s the challenge, too, of waking up every morning and going, “How do I feel? Am I sick? Do I feel good?” They’re both hard; it’s just different hard.
RT: You have a sideline doing awards shows lately. How does one prepare for that? Is it more of a spontaneous thing than working with a script?
KC: Yes. Yes, it’s hard. I mean, it’s fun. I really didn’t want to do that, because I don’t see myself as that, because I’m an actor and singer, but for some reason I get inquiries to do it. I enjoy it — I’ve done the American Country Music Awards the past two years, and then, of course, the pre-show Oscars this year. [Singing a duet with Oscar host Seth MacFarlane] at the end felt like nothing, because that’s what I do. The interviewing, I’m like, “I give up.” Much respect to you guys to do it. You can prepare all the questions you want in the world, but the basic line is you have to be a good listener. You have to be a good listener, and then you have to be in the moment and ask questions that are appropriate. So, if I’m just being myself, just doing that, I’m better off than trying to become ultra-prepared. I mean, I do my own research and stuff, but I thought that was hard. I’ve never done anything like that before, like, on that level.
RT: Oz the Great and Powerful has made a splash, so is there finally going to be Wicked movie?
KC: Well, I mean, they better hurry up. [laughs] That’s all I got to say. Because it’s been 11 years since I played Glinda. I mean, at the rate that it’s going, I’d love to play Madame Morrible. I’ll just say that. Yeah, as long as I’m not a midget, I’m fine.
RT: “Popular” is a pretty catchy tune.
KC: I know, right? I’ve been doing it now for 10 years, and I’m not even sick of it yet. You’d think I would be.
Family Weekend is in select theaters this week.