via smh.com Last year, while Kristin Chenoweth was filming a scene on The Good Wife, a lighting rig came crashing down on her head, knocking her unconscious. She woke to find actor Josh Charles holding her hand. Dazed and in pain, she was taken to hospital. Her injuries were extensive: a fractured skull, three cracked teeth and damage to her neck, ribs and hips. Had the rig hit the middle of her head instead of the front, doctors told her, she'd have been killed.
If you hear me talk, it's Betty Boop meets Jessica Rabbit meets Marilyn Monroe.Her parents moved in for two months while she recovered. Some days were tougher than others, especially those in which she was confined to bed or wearing a restrictive neck brace. ''It forced me to be still and quiet and slow down for a second,'' the American singer and actor says. ''My parents told me what I really needed to hear, which was, 'Only do what you are really passionate about.'''
AdvertisementThe problem is that Chenoweth is passionate about lots of different things - a consequence, she says, of her type-A personality. ''It certainly doesn't help in my private life,'' she says with a laugh. ''But in my professional life, it rocks to have this trait of perfectionism. I just don't know any other way to be. I wish I didn't care as much but I can't help it.'' I'm surprised when she tells me she is lying in bed inside her Hollywood home. There's nothing dozy about her phone manner; she greets each question with a rapid patter of wisecracks and unvarnished opinions. At one point, her publicist cuts into our interview to steer it to safer territory. ''Can we jump back to questions regarding her tour?'' she asks as Chenoweth describes her clashes with the Christian right in the US. That tour, called Kristin Chenoweth in Concert, features country, disco and opera classics alongside original material. There will be background actors, singers and dancers; comedy skits; and interaction with the audience. ''I dare anyone to find something they don't like,'' she says. In many ways, the 44-year-old has more in common with showbiz legends such as Bette Midler and Dolly Parton than she has with contemporaries her own age. She sets out to put on a show, to entertain, to have fun. She is not averse to Mae West-style one-liners. In an era of increasingly narrow genres and ''personal brands'', she defies easy categorisation. Chenoweth was just as convincing playing good witch Glinda in Broadway's Wicked, for instance, as she was playing a boozy has-been on Glee. She has recorded an album of show tunes and another of Christian pop. She has appeared in many big-budget musicals, including You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, for which she won a Tony, and the quirky TV series Pushing Daisies, which earned her an Emmy. ''I do look for ways to stretch myself,'' she says. ''I've played a lot of characters that have a little edge, a little sardonic humour. I prefer that.'' Chenoweth was adopted at birth by Junie and Jerry Chenoweth, who raised her in Oklahoma. Her biological mother was 21, Catholic and unmarried when she had her. Chenoweth has never met her - but she can't be sure. ''I was doing an event and a woman came up to me,'' she told Prevention magazine. ''I did notice that she was my height and blonde, but I didn't think much about it. She said, 'I've been following your career and I am so proud of you. I just want you to know that someone is always thinking of you.' I thought she was just being sweet. She walked away and I looked at Kathy, my pageant director, and she was ashen. She said, 'That woman looked like you! You looked like … her.' But by then the woman was gone.'' Still, she does not feel compelled to track her down, mainly because she is so close to her adoptive parents. Indeed, she had planned to bring them to Australia with her to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary so they could travel the country together after her tour, but the recent tornado meant the couple had to postpone the trip. ''I was definitely put in the right family,'' Chenoweth says. ''The greatest gift you can give a child is self-esteem - not overconfidence - and my parents gave me that. They totally love and accept me for who I am. It wasn't a perfect childhood but it was damn close.'' Her home town of Broken Arrow had no performing arts centre when she was young (though it recently built one and named it after her). Her parents, whom she describes as ''brainiacs'', were more interested in mathematics than musicals. In many ways, it was a typical conservative small town. Yet Chenoweth was drawn to music and the stage, singing in her local church as a child and performing at the Southern Baptist Convention when she was 12. She listened to every album she could get her hands on, from Madonna's early releases to recordings of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. ''I can assure you, I was the only person in town listening to Aida,'' she says. ''I'm not really sure how that happened.'' While Junie and Jerry were ''definitely not stage parents'', they encouraged their daughter's love of the arts. Their greatest support, however, came when she was bullied as a teen. ''If you hear me talk, it's Betty Boop meets Jessica Rabbit meets Marilyn Monroe,'' she says. ''I'm four foot 11 and that was something I was teased about, too.'' Unfortunately, she says, society views bullying as a problem unique to young people. ''I want to go on record and say that it doesn't end when you turn 18,'' she says. ''Life goes on. Don't let them affect you. Life does go on.'' Ironically, it is fellow Christians who have given her the most grief as an adult, attacking her for supporting gay marriage, slamming her role in the TV series Good Christian Bitches and ''disinviting'' her from a planned appearance in the Women of Faith concerts. ''I come from the Bible Belt and I am a Christian woman,'' she says firmly. ''I am also an artist, so I probably look at things a bit more broadly than some of the friends I grew up with. ''I think that we, as Christians, haven't helped ourselves. We should really be promoting love. I have to speak out for my friends who are gay and can't get married to someone they love.'' In 2010, Chenoweth leapt to the defence of friend Sean Hayes, a former star of Will & Grace, whom Newsweek criticised for playing a straight man opposite her in the play Promises, Promises. ''I'd normally keep silent on such matters and write such small-minded viewpoints off as perhaps a blip in common sense,'' she wrote in an open letter to the magazine. ''No one needs to see a bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can't be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams.'' That same month, she gave an interview to Time in which she spoke of her depression, which she has battled since her 20s. With characteristic frankness, she told the interviewer: ''Am I basically a happy person? Yes. But have I battled depression, thoughts of not waking up? Sure. Have I been in love with a man who couldn't love me back in the way I needed? Yes.'' When asked if that man was West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, whom she met while appearing on the show, she declined to comment. She did confirm, however, that Sorkin loosely based the character Harriet Hayes on her in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Yet no character could be as interesting as the woman herself, which explains the popularity of her memoir A Little Bit Wicked. Among the book's many fascinating anecdotes is the cheerleading accident that injured her ''cooter'', as she calls it. The unusual legacy? ''I'm the first to know when it's going to rain,'' she writes. ''That's right: I can predict the weather with my hoo-hoo.'' The book traces her path from small-town beauty queen to showbiz all-rounder. Learning to live with herself, flaws and all, is a prominent theme. Turning 40 in 2008, she claimed, prompted a simple realisation: not caring what others think is incredibly liberating. She's a little more coy when I broach the topic with her, however. ''I'm actually 30,'' she says. ''You need to become better at your job and learn how to fact-check. ''No, seriously, I've kind of 'graduated' from caring about my age. I'm very proud of my age because of what I've accomplished. I've worked hard. I have a master's degree in opera performance. I've practised and practised. I still have voice lessons. I'm not out to pasture yet. ''And I have a feeling I'll probably die on stage, which will make me happy.'' Kristin Chenoweth performs at the Sydney Opera House on Monday. ❏ Religion ''I'm a very controversial figure in the Christian world. I don't believe if you're gay or you have a drink or you dance, you're going to hell. I don't think that's the kind of God we have. The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world are scary. I want to be a Christian like Christ: loving and accepting of other people.'' ❏ Adoption ''It bugs me when I hear about 'Angelina's adopted son' or 'Rosie's adopted children', as if that word will always separate them instead of binding them together. Angelina's son and Rosie's kids and I should get a regular apostrophe-plus-s like everybody else.'' ❏ Country music ''Because I was raised an Oklahoma girl, country music was largely what we listened to. That and gospel. It's how it all began for me. It cracks me up when people say, ''Why country? Why now?'' Um. Because those are my roots.''