This Sunday, ABC will give new meaning to the phrase “something wicked this way comes” when it takes the wraps off its newest sudsy series GCB. Created by Robert Harling (Soapdish, Steel Magnolias, THE FIRST WIVES CLUBS) and produced by Darren Star (SEX AND THE CITY, MELROSE PLACE) GCB follows reformed mean girl Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), who after the untimely death of her Bernie Madoff meets Eliot Spitzer-esque husband, must move back to Dallas and face her overbearing mother and former high school “friends.” And here to preview just how “welcome” Amanda’s old classmates intend to make her feel is none other than the unofficial president of the welcoming committee herself, Carlene Cockburn. One part Mean Girl, one part Mother Teresa, all parts actress Kristin Chenoweth, who, was only too happy to talk about what it has been like playing a character so outlandish and scheme-driven that she may in fact give GLEE’s Sue Sylvester a run for her money.
What was it about GCB that first attracted you to the role of Carlene Cockburn?
Kristin Chenoweth: When I first read the pilot, I was in Nashville recording my album and my first thought after reading it was to say I don’t want anyone else playing Carlene. So I kind of knew, when I had that kind of reaction that no, this is way to juicy to let anyone else have. She’s really fun and very complicated as you can imagine and I had a talk with Darren and Bobby [Executive Producers Darren Starr and Robert Harling] over the phone as to where they thought they might see the character going and I loved the different layers that I’m going to get to play. People will find out why she behaves the way she does and hopefully they’ll love to watch her because she is such a little spitfire who occasionally gets in her own way, but I know a lot of people who can probably relate to that.
Some of Carlene’s antics in her quest to maintain her social standing are almost reminiscent of GLEE’s Sue Sylvester. Were you at all concerned that Carlene would transform into too much of a caricature?
Well, you remember that she was treated mean growing up, she was the bullied person who became the bully. So I think, in fact I know that you will see different layers to her. But honestly, if she goes too far into another place than people will be disappointed. We count on Carlene to bring it home, we count on her to not disappoint but I do think you’ll see her fight the angel and the devil within herself and that’s what makes her interesting. Every once in a while I show a little bit of — okay so there is a really good person in there — because she is a faithful Christian, she does believe in that and ultimately she does want to do good but she’s been treated like crap so she’s not going to take it lying down this go around.
One of the most interesting character traits to Carlene is how different she acts around her husband Ripp versus her friends, can you elaborate a little on that?
As Carlene says, “Well, I came from his rib!” So I think that kind of says it all. The bible talks about the man being the head of the household and I think Carlene takes that very seriously. She likes to keep her husband happy, so we’ll see that as well. That said, no marriage is a walk in the park, we will see some strife, but I think they love to make up.
In the first two episodes, the showrunners savvily made use of your Tony award wining voice. Is it safe to assume that this is a trend that’s going to continue?
Carlene of course gives herself the solos in church so I would imagine that she will be singing more. And what I love about the way that Bobby [Creator Robert Harling] did it, is that we’re so used to on shows that I’ve been a part of like GLEE where everybody is produced so well with a full orchestra, but this is done, at least when she sings in church, she’s singing with an organ, that’s it, and I like that because that’s who we do it in church. It’s very realistic, which is very smart to do it that way because these character are kind of all over the place and as long as we keep it real within this heighten world we’re golden.
Whenever religion intersects with the world of entertainment audiences tend to react. As an actress who has been very open about her spiritual side, were you at all concerned with how GCB might be received?
Oh yeah, sure, because as a Christian I would never agree to anything that made fun of my God or my religion. However, I think there is a big difference in making fun of and having fun with. And we have fun in the world that we’re in and it’s very authentic because I grew up in that world and that’s another reason why I wanted to do this show because I know these woman. They exist and I’m related to some of them so I would hope that someone would not watch the show because of that overtone but it’s real, it exists and it’s funny but never disrespectful.
GCB Premieres on Sunday March 4 at 10PM on ABC (CTV in Canada)