EXCLUSIVE: How 'American Gods' Producer Bryan Fuller Changed the Course of Kristin Chenoweth's TV Career

By
Getty Images

A magnetic and Tony Award-winning star of Broadway, it only
made sense that Kristin Chenoweth would bring her charm to TV. After a false
start with the 2001 NBC sitcom Kristin,
which was canceled after six episodes, the 4-foot-11 actress, who currently plays
Easter
on Starz’s hit adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American
Gods
, eventually found her stride on The
West Wing
, on which she played Annabeth Schott during the NBC drama’s final
two seasons.

But Chenoweth’s TV career really started with Pushing Daisies, from American Gods executive producer Bryan
Fuller. “He changed my path,” she says of Fuller, who was known at the time for
creating Dead Like Me and serving as
executive producer on Heroes. Soon
after she quoted Hannibal Lecter in a phone conversation with the producer,
Chenoweth -- a self-proclaimed sci-fi and horror geek -- and Fuller formed a bond
that led to one of the best roles of her career. “That was it; we were off to
the races.”

Premiering on ABC in October 2007, the dramedy starred Lee
Pace as Ned, a pie-maker with the ability to bring dead things back to life,
including his childhood crush Chuck (Anna Friel). With private investigator
Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) and co-worker Olive Snook (Chenoweth), Ned solved
murders in addition to running the Pie Hole restaurant. Olive was obsessed with and
hopelessly in love with Ned, despite his love for Chuck. “I look at scripts
like music, and it was [Fuller’s] own music. He has a unique voice that speaks to
people,” Chenoweth says of the short-lived series, which she adds was
ahead of its time and not on the right network. “A great one, just not the
right one.”

MORE: 'American Gods' Star Ricky Whittle on Finding Karma After Drama on 'The 100' Set

While it was canceled after two seasons, Pushing Daisies earned Chenoweth an Outstanding Supporting Actress
Emmy, which she tearfully accepted while offering herself up to 24, Mad
Men
and The Office. “I’m
unemployed now,” she said at the ceremony.

No, none of those shows called. “I got other things,” she
says, adding that Glee, on which she
played a high school dropout, was already in the works. Pulling double duty on Pushing Daisies and Ryan Murphy’s high
school dramedy, she earned her second of three back-to-back Primetime Emmy
nominations.

While Chenoweth returned to Broadway in the years since
she appeared on Pushing Daisies, she’s also become a reliable TV guest star, having notably appeared on The Good Wife, voiced a gecko on BoJack Horseman and recently played Velma Von
Tussle in NBC’s Hairspray Live!, a
role that once again is earning Chenoweth Emmy attention. “If you drop your
baton, if you don’t do your high kicks, it’s on camera,” she says of the live
musical event, adding: “I did the whole twirl thing and a high kick. You just
hit your mark and sing your butt off.” 

She could have even been on Fuller's Hannibal, were it not for her Tony-nominated role in On the Twentieth Century. “Bryan wrote a
part for me,” she says of the lasting relationship she formed with the producer, who
eventually got her back into his fold with American
Gods
.

The role of Easter is a bit of a boiler. Chenoweth plays a
god forced to share her namesake holiday with Jesus who is eventually roped into
Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) ongoing battle for status and power. She puts on a
good front, but like many gods on the series, there’s a dark side to her. It's perhaps the darkest role Chenoweth has played on TV. “What’s fun about it is you
don’t see it coming,” she says. (Watch an exclusive clip from Sunday’s season
one finale, which sees Easter really unraveling.)

But what really makes the experience special is being
reunited with Fuller. “It feels so good; it’s correct for me,” Chenoweth says.

“Very few times do you have a writer that goes, ‘I can write
for you.’ But when you get that person that gets you -- on paper Bryan Fuller and
Kristin Chenoweth don’t fit together, yet we’re together -- I just look at it as a
blessing.”