In Depth

‘Daisies’ Looks Like Right Call

Chenoweth Turned Down Broadway Stint for TV Series That Utilizes Her Singing Talents

When the nominations for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards are announced July 17, there’s a good chance that actress Kristin Chenoweth’s name will be among those listed for supporting actress in a comedy series. As Olive Snook on “Pushing Daisies,” Ms. Chenoweth is part of a talented ensemble and a show that’s likely to garner a slew of Emmy nominations.

As Olive, a waitress at a diner specializing in pies called the Pie Hole, she is hopelessly devoted to her boss, Ned (Lee Pace). It’s an unrequited love, because Ned is enamored with Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel), the girl he’s loved since childhood.

Despite the heartache, Ms. Chenoweth’s Olive is tenaciously positive and determined to win his heart. “Olive never says die,” Ms. Chenoweth said of her character.

She’s so in love with Ned that she’s been moved to song. In a few episodes, the producers have asked Ms. Chenoweth to sing, taking advantage of her musical comedy credentials. She just recently starred on Broadway in a revival of “The Apple Tree” and created the role of Glinda in the Broadway phenomenon “Wicked.”

“Bryan Fuller wanted to do it,” Ms. Chenoweth said of adding songs to the hour comedy-drama. “I said that it was OK with me, but only if it works within the episode. I didn’t want to sing just to sing. It had to match the scene, and the way they did ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ was really good. It was like Olive’s thoughts, her inner feelings, and it was appropriate. Also, the choreography was terrific.”

Almost Didn’t Happen

The comedy, drama and music Ms. Chenoweth performed on “Pushing Daisies” have provided a showcase for her, and yet she nearly didn’t take the role. She had been offered the role of Elizabeth in Mel Brooks’ Broadway musicalization of “Young Frankenstein.” It was a tempting offer, especially since the role was originated by Ms. Chenoweth’s idol, Madeline Kahn; in fact, the actress had a pet dog named Maddie, after Ms. Kahn. Still, when faced with the choice of “Young Frankenstein” or “Pushing Daisies,” a lead in a Broadway show versus a supporting role on a television series, Ms. Chenoweth chose TV.

“Bryan Fuller’s script was just so unusual that I had to go for it,” she said. “This was a part that I wanted to play, and she was so funny and the show was so unusual. I’d never read anything like that. Also, I didn’t expect it to run, honestly. Something with that kind of quality usually doesn’t make it on television. Also, how often do you get to play in such a fantastic, out-of-this-world kind of atmosphere?”

For Ms. Chenoweth, the answer is twice. When reminded that she was a fantastic, out-of-this-world character in “Wicked,” she laughed and agreed. Curiously, in “Wicked”—as in “Pushing Daisies”—she played the girl who doesn’t get the guy.

Ms. Chenoweth is uniquely able to play both comic and ingénue roles. Olive is a character part, and that’s just fine by Ms. Chenoweth. “It’s true, she is. But listen, I’ve played Adelaide, not Sarah Brown, in ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and Laurey rather than Ado Annie in ‘Oklahoma,’ so yes, I’m lucky that way.”

As for getting an Emmy nomination, she would be thrilled. “I hope so, but we only did nine episodes [before the writers strike], so I hope people haven’t forgotten us. I think this show should be recognized. I’ve never seen anything quite like it on television.”

Ms. Chenoweth has been a winner before. On Broadway she won a Tony for her performance in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Her interpretation of Sally Brown—another girl who’s chasing a boy who doesn’t want to be caught—was a standout. “That show was the most fun. Talk about getting in touch with your inner child,” she said.

Still, she didn’t get the boy, just like Olive in her pursuit of Ned. “I know, it sucks, but then I think it makes the story more interesting,” said Ms. Chenoweth.

Showing Her Range

In addition to returning to work on “Pushing Daisies” now that the show has been picked up for a second season, Ms. Chenoweth has two projects on deck that will be very different from Olive Snook. She’ll star opposite Jeremy Sisto (“Law & Order”) as a suicidal prostitute in a dramatic film called “Into Temptation,” by writer-director Patrick Coyle. “I was so surprised when my agent sent this script to me, but he said he really wanted it for me, and it’s a great part,” she said.

The other project in the works is a biography with music based on the life of singer Dusty Springfield. Ms. Chenoweth has been developing it for a few years, and just last month a similar Springfield film was announced starring Nicole Kidman. “Yes, I was bummed when I read that,” Ms. Chenoweth admitted. “Although I love Nicole Kidman and I’m sure she’ll be great, but we may get out there first because we’re further along with the script. And I’ll be doing the singing myself.”

She’ll also be singing on a new CD. “Sony has been after me to do another one. I think we’re going to get something done by Christmas,” she said. There’s also a memoir in the works, due in spring 2009.

With a book, films, CDs, television and stage work all in her foreseeable future—and a good chance at an Emmy—how does she manage it all? “To be honest, you have to sacrifice something, like a family, and I guess I have,” conceded Ms. Chenoweth. “But I feel like I have these gifts, and when you do, you have to share them.”