Kristin Chenoweth may only be 4’11, but the Oklahoma native (as well as Emmy and Tony winner) serves up a Texas-sized serving of mean as Carlene on the new series “GCB” (premieres Sun. March 4 at 10 p.m. on ABC). I talked to Chenoweth, who was battling a nasty cold, about why it’s more fun to play the bad girl, how she’s making sure the show never trods on her own Christian beliefs and why she isn’t playing a standard villain.
You’re halfway to an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Any plans to go the distance?
I am so happy to be, like, everything kid; singing, dancing, acting, all of it. But I didn’t even know what that even meant until a year ago. It never seemed likely that I could do that. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if a Grammy came my way, because singing is my first love. I don’t dwell on that at all, but I want to do things that other people enjoy, that bring happiness to their lives.
On “GCB,” Carlene isn’t just your standard villain — because she was bullied by Amanda (Leslie Bibb) in high school, she has a more complicated reason for being mean to her when she returns to Dallas. Was it important to you to play a character that wasn’t simply mean for the heck of it?
I thought, why else would she act this way? She’s so naughty sometimes. When someone’s bullied, sometimes they become the bully later on. She was tortured and treated very badly and I thought it was a genius way for Bobby (Harling, executive producer) to use that. Often times you meet someone who’s that way, and over the episodes we’ll show many layers to her character. She’s so fun to play, because there’s an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. She gets derailed by Amanda and gets in her own way, despite her intention to be good.
A lot of people think of you as Glinda the Good Witch (from the stage production of “Wicked”), but is it more fun to be the bad girl?
It is. A lot of people think of Glinda as a good girl, but when I played Glinda she wasn’t the nicest girl, and the story was told through Elphaba’s eyes. You see [Glinda] grow throughout the story. She saw how she was bad and loved her friend, and in that way she learns how to be a better person. That show is about forgiveness and friendship, and it’s like how here you see why Carlene is bad. I love when there’s these twists. That’s what makes us who we are. I knew I didn’t want anyone else playing Carlene when I read this part, and that’s a big part of the reason why.
Were you offered this role or did you have to fight for it, Carlene-style?
I was waiting on another script to come through right before I got this. I had a deal with Fox, and the day that deal was through, Bobby and Aaron [Kaplan, executive producer], said, you have to read this. I knew the world very well. Being from the South and Christian, I loved that it was irreverent and yet not making fun of my faith. Bobby and I are both Christian people, so we don’t want to make fun of our faith.
Do you see yourself as a kind of gatekeeper? Are you able to weigh in and say what’s okay and what’s disrespectful to your beliefs?
Yes, I am. I take it very seriously and I wouldn’t make fun of anyone else’s faith. My duty is to watch how I treat others, not tell others how to thing. But Bobby Harley does it so well and with such care, I’m so glad he was inspired to write it, because I never have to worry.
Since you knew this world growing up, are these characters like anyone you grew up with?
There’s not a lot different. In Oklahoma, the women are a lot nicer, though. I know these women very well, Carlene is an amalgam of women I grew up, and I’m related to some of these women. The Southern thing can be considered fake, but at the end of the day we’d all lay our lives down for each other on a train track. I wouldn’t have chosen to be raised by any other group of women. I’m very proud of where I’m from and how I was raised.