In Focus

Kristin Chenoweth Heads Into Christmas Nonstop

Kristin Chenoweth, left, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in "Four Christmases," which opens this week.
Kristin Chenoweth, left, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in "Four Christmases," which opens this week. (By John P. Johnson)

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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 28, 2008

It will be, we predict, a Kristin Chenoweth Christmas.

The chirpy blond was asked to be at this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, to usher in the season with a song.

A song that can found, by the way, on her new album, "A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas." Kids will be hearing that perfect-for-a-fairy voice on their new "Tinker Bell" DVD. And she'll continue showing up -- at least for now -- as the syrupy Olive Snook on ABC's "Pushing Daisies."

Oh, and the Reese Witherspoon-Vince Vaughn flick she worked on last year hits theaters this week. The name? "Four Christmases."

"I didn't mean for it to happen," she giggles. "It just kind of happened."

It just kind of happened the way things can only happen for an indefatigable performer who flips back and forth between singer and actress, movies and television, stage and concert halls. Who never stops flipping. Or smiling. Or chirping.

"So I'm a little bit of a Pollyanna," she gushes. "I can't help it. I'm very happy. I'm very grateful. I love what I do."

That, for the record, is what Chenoweth sounds like when she's tired.

It has been a full day of interviews promoting "Four Christmases," and so for this last one -- a phoner -- she has crawled into bed at her Four Seasons suite in Los Angeles. "So I'm laying here and the drapes are drawn and I made everybody go away," she coos, as if describing some rare, sumptuous indulgence.

She's tired, but all the work was worth it, because it was so much fun to be back together with the cast of "Four Christmases" for a day. As with pretty much everything she does, making this movie was "soooooo much fun. Soooooooo much fun."

Chenoweth got the part in the frazzled rom-com -- about a self-satisfied urban couple who suddenly have to spend Christmas with every faction of their broken, variously dysfunctional families -- mostly because she's Kristin Chenoweth. See, not too long ago, Reese Witherspoon saw her in a show; it was probably "Wicked," the one in which she became a show tunes superstar for her portrayal of Glinda, the Good Witch. (Though it could've been "The Apple Tree" Witherspoon watched; a New York Times critic deemed Chenoweth "blindingly radiant" in that one. And for the record, it was for her portrayal of Sally in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" that she nabbed a Tony back in 1999.)

Anyway, Witherspoon saw her on stage, then caught up with the actress at a party and, as Chenoweth recalls it, exclaimed: " 'I just have to know you.' And I said, 'He-llooooo! I have to know you.' "

So then they knew each other. And when "Four Christmases" called for Witherspoon (who also produced the film) to have a spiteful, passive-aggressive, ex-cheerleader sister, Chenoweth got the call.

Meanwhile, she'd been begging her managers for years to let her do a Christmas album, and with the movie offering a perfect promotional boon, they decided the time was right.

"I knew it would be a good idea. And not just to tie it in with the movie. Just because of where we're at in our country," she says. "With the economy and the war, and I'm thinking, 'This is the time.' This is the time, you know. Let's pull out Irving Berlin and all these fabulous old classics."

Plus: "I loooove Christmas. And I looooove Christmas music."

That the album includes reverent songs such as "What Child Is This?" and "Born on Christmas Day" won't surprise fans of Chenoweth, whose faith has become a strange asterisk to her career.

The Oklahoma-born actress is a Christian who has been criticized for her support of gay rights.

"I never set out to be the girl who wore that on her sleeve. . . . My friends who know me say, 'God, you're such a dichotomy. You said [expletive] and you had a drink and you go to church,' " she says, explaining that to her those things don't seem contradictory. "I don't know if I'm the poster child for Christianity . . . but I do have this strong sense of faith. And it's kind of what's kept me going and what I call upon."

Chenoweth has been going pretty much nonstop since she arrived in New York City in her early 20s. As a little girl she had ballerina dreams that were quashed by the time she hit junior high, when it became apparent she wouldn't reach five feet tall. But her wide-ranging voice became a better asset than her legs; she earned a master's degree in opera, landed her first Broadway role in 1997 and has been expanding her empire ever since.

Chenoweth is 40 now, and the expansion is accelerating. Next spring she'll release a memoir. She recently wrapped a gritty independent film called "Into Temptation." The voice of Rapunzel on Disney's 2010 remake belongs to her.

So pretty soon, she'll get up from that Four Seasons bed, open the drapes and get going again. There's a party tonight, a week of interviews ahead, a month of concerts and appearances. She'll get up from the bed and be happy for all of it.

"I'm unmarried, and I don't have children -- and obviously I hope that that's in my future -- but until that time, I just feel like it's just me, so I'll keep doing what I love to do," she says. "As long as people hire me, I'll keep doing it."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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