Kristin Chenoweth’s Trial & Error character may have killed someone, but she is definitely fabulous. In season two of NBC’s true-crime parody, she plays Lavinia Peck-Foster, a deluded, definitely-richer-than-you southern heiress who acts like she owns every room she walks into — think Grey Gardens by way of Sunset Boulevard, or Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects if that show were a slapstick comedy. It’s an ideal fit to her abilities, especially since Lavinia gets a chance to sing.
Chenoweth says she took the role after getting an email and voicemail from John Lithgow — who starred as a poet on trial for murder in season one — saying she had to join because the show is written for performers from a “planet that very few of us are from.” “I read the script, and I told my manager not to tell them I liked it so we’ve got some sort of negotiating power,” Chenoweth told Vulture last week, ahead of Thursday night’s premiere. “But I loved it, immediately.”
I read that you’re the only person in the cast who knew whether or not Lavinia did it as you were shooting the season. What’s that like?
I’m such a lover of being on a team, so imagine being the one team member who can’t tell. I’m just like, “Oh, kill me.” Lithgow, he chose not to know whether he did it or not, but the way the story laid out, I needed to know.
Did the rest of the cast lean one way or another on her guilt?
I definitely can speak for Nick [D’Agosto, who plays Lavinia’s lawyer]. He’s always gonna think I’m innocent. He represents me. I’m not sure Anne [the head researcher, played by Sherri Shepherd] and Dwayne [the lead investigator, played by Steven Boyer] actually know what’s going on for real, and anything that Dwayne comes up with is by pure accident. He kept saying that he definitely thinks I’m guilty.
Since Lavinia was offered directly to you, what are the aspects of yourself that are most and least like her?
Hopefully, I’m not that crazy of a narcissist. I mean, I am in show business, but Lavinia just can’t help but be such a narcissist. I think she’s been locked away in her house for so long, it’s a little bit of Grey Gardens in there. Bad mom and, of course, a father who took his life when she was little. She was born in tragedy. There’s a lot of sad things about Lavinia. I’m very different. I had a pretty good upbringing. I mean, I had my moments but …
You know, I love cats, like Lavinia. How’s that? I eat a lot more than Lavinia in my real life. Lavinia has all this food and all the time, yet she never gets to eat.
You do some archery on the show.
I didn’t know how to do any archery until I took archery lessons, and I must say I enjoyed that. I might say that I’m even pretty darn good at it. I had a lot of lessons with a great, great teacher who does a lot of the work on the show Arrow. She was like, “Please don’t stand in fifth position like you’re in ballet class.” I did grow up in Oklahoma, so I do know how to shoot a gun. I know that’s not very popular today, but I didn’t know how to do this.
Are you a fan of the true-crime shows that Trial & Error is spoofing?
I can’t inhale them quick enough. It’s The Staircase, Robert Durst, Making a Murderer. I just inhaled Wild Wild Country. But I was doing those kind of shows before it was popular. I was obsessed with the story of Ted Bundy, the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. I am looking forward to the second part of the The Staircase. I feel like he’s guilty. I just feel it. But who knows?
Lavinia wears some over-the-top costumes, including a pair of slapping gloves. Did you have a favorite?
It’s so good that you brought the slapping gloves up, because it wasn’t in the script that she slapped somebody. But, of course, that changed. I’m very well-trained in stage slaps, so I did request leather because the sound of the leather makes a pop. [Trial & Error creator] Jeff Astrof was like, “Um, you’re sick.” I’m like, “I know!”
Also, I brought some sunglasses from my house that are very much Lavinia. They’re cat eye, like extreme cat. I kept them for so long they weren’t in style, and now they’re everywhere. So maybe cat eye is coming back.
In terms of other TV roles, will you be involved in American Gods going forward? Bryan Fuller, who also worked with you on Pushing Daisies, was running the show, but he’s no longer involved in the second season.
Yeah, Bryan is my person. They actually asked me come back next week. Next week is gonna be a lot of press for Trial & Error, just schedule-wise. I didn’t feel that I could not do that. I’m very proud of Trial & Error, as I am of American Gods. So we’re actually trying to find another date for me to appear [on American Gods]. That’s where we stand right this minute.
I hope that it gets all sorted out. It was great to see you as Easter.
And to work with Ian [McShane] and Ricky [Whittle]. The one scene that I saw for us was gonna be amazing — that was a real killer, to not be available for that episode. We’ll try to work it out, we’ll see what happens. Easter is still there. She’s still alive, as she has been forever. We all want it to work out, so we’re trying to make it happen.
Speaking of Bryan, he’s said he wants to turn Pushing Daisies into a Broadway show. Since you have a lot of experience there, do you think it would work?
Yes, and the reason I do is because when we were with ABC, we didn’t get an ending. We got the slow “no,” which, as any actor knows, is the worst. Because there’s no closure. With a Broadway show, a lot of times, it might not be the closure you want, but at least it’s the end, you know? I think all of us would be so happy to see that. I always encourage Bryan to do it. He’s always saying, “Now, who should compose it?” I’d tell him my top three names, who I think should do it.
What are your three names?
I’m not telling you! [Laughs.] But I bet you can can guess them.
You’re also attached to a Death Becomes Her musical in the Meryl Streep role. What made you interested in that?
NBC and that whole bunch over there has been so successful at their Broadway musicals, I feel like they really, actually get it. Universal was a very big part of Wicked, so that’s sort of my family. They had me get together with the director, Gary Griffin, and we were on the same page as to how we thought it could work. Just because something is a fantastic movie doesn’t mean that it will always work. Now what we need is a script, which we are waiting on. That’ll come to us rather soon.
Then, there’s one thing that I’ve been working on that I really am going to get a script within the next month. It’s Tammy Faye Bakker, basically. That is also something that’s pretty close to me, and I’m very anxious to get that on Broadway.
I’m fascinated by those life-hack videos you post on YouTube. How did you decide to do those and when did you decide to first make one? How did this happen?
Oh my God. My assistant was like, “Do you know what a life hack is?” He told me there are these moments in life where you just recognize them. I’d be walking and doing something and go, “Is this one?” He’d be like, “Not really, but if you want to make it one you could.”
My life hacks are a little quirky, like me in a traction unit that I can self-pump. Those are my life hacks. I think it’s keeping it real. That’s who I am pretty much. I can’t be saying, “Life hack, when you walk by a beautiful bunch of peonies …” That’s not me. It’s a beautiful thought, but I don’t do that. My life hacks are always gonna be, “Hey, I had a weird gray hair growing out of the side of my arm. Life hack.”
It’s important to stay down-to-earth.
I know! Sometimes my team is like, “Please don’t share. Keep that on the inside.” I think part of the reason that happens, Jackson, is there’s this thing where people think, Oh, she has the perfect life. This all comes at a sacrifice and a cost. That is my choice. I am not complaining. I’m thrilled. I love what I do. But I’m not a robot. I don’t just wake up and look amazing and work out a couple of times a year and look amazing and sing a couple times a year and sing great. It all takes such work. I think I took 150 flights last year.
If Lavinia were to make life-hack videos, what do you think she would try to teach people?
When she does archery and she nails it right down the center — which I did a couple of times, if I may — I think she would say, “Life hack! When you nail the target, then they’re not alive.” Or “Life hack! When you make for a whole country and throw it away.”
Do you think she would buy into the superficial idea of what fame and success is like?
Yes. I think she’s also immortal. I don’t know if she’s 113 or 22. I’m not sure.