Though perhaps best-known to theater audiences for her star turn as Glinda the Good Witch in the hit musical Wicked, the opera-trained Kristin Chenoweth first burst on the Broadway scene with her 1999 Tony-winning performance in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The four-foot, 11-inch soprano has recorded several albums and appeared on TV shows including The West Wing and Pushing Daisies for which she picked up an Emmy last year as well as the high-school musical Glee. Chenoweth returns to Broadway on April 25 in the revival of Promises, Promises playing Fran Kubelik, the lovelorn mistress of a company executive. She spoke to Time about her battles with depression, the TV character former boyfriend Aaron Sorkin based on her, and the criticism she's been dealt as a devout Christian who believes in gay rights.
TIME: You're an Emmy and Tony winner, is there anything on TV that can compare with being on stage?
Kristin Chenoweth: There's nothing like the live theater, nothing. It's a very raw place to be. If there's a false moment on stage, you can tell. Immediately. The third character in a piece is the audience, so the show is never the same. And that's my favorite part of it. People ask, "How do you do the same show eight times a week?" and I say, "I don't, because the audience is always different."
I heard you had first played the part of Fran Kubelik in high school.
I played her when I was 19, in summer stock, and I had no idea, no understanding of the part. She has been so hurt and is in love with an unavailable man. I had no concept of what that meant, but now I do. Certainly at this age I can relate a lot more than I could at 19. At 19 I just liked the songs.
What's the toughest part of the role?
She tries to take her life. And I've battled depression on and off since my 20's. I wouldn't say I've ever gone that far, But it's very difficult to do that eight times a week. It's very close to home. 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.
Can I ask if you are referring to Aaron Sorkin?
I'm not going to comment on that.
That's fair. But he's fair game, as you talk about him in your book.
I'd love to know about the role he created for you for his show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Were you accurately portrayed?
I think a lot of people thought, "Oh, that's Kristin." But it wasn't it was very loosely based on me. It was difficult for me seeing the character doing things like not believing in gay rights when I so do. It's weird to see fights played out on TV that we had, but it was also an honor. He asked me first. He said "I think you're one of the most wonderfully complicated fantastic women, and I think there's a character here. Can I loosely" and that's the key word, loosely "base a character on you?" And I said sure.
When you appeared on Pat Robertson's show, you were criticized by your large gay following. How did that feel?
Like crap. I was going on to talk about my new inspirational record. I should have been told more about him and what his beliefs are. But I can't apologize for everything I do. I can't apologize for eating meat. I can't apologize for wearing leather. I can't apologize for playing a lesbian lover in Running with Scissors. I can't apologize that I believe in gay rights and I'm a Christian. I just can't. Would I be on Pat Robertson's show again? No. Live and learn.
Was it the same thing with the reaction that you had from the fundamentalist Women of Faith tour when you were asked to step down and you wouldn't?
It was devastating. They are quite aware I'm in the entertainment business. And they asked me to step down and I said, "No, you'll have to fire me." And I understand that maybe I turned out to be a disappointment. But I said from the beginning that I was engaged to a Jewish man and my best friend is gay and they said they just want me to talk about being a Christian in show business, which I thought was a really big blessing. The blessing that came out of it is now I can be very clear about who I am and what I believe. Now there's no gray.
And if you were to describe that person, who would she be?
I'm a Christian, and I know unfortunately there's a bad connotation that comes with that now, but I'm also nonjudgmental. God doesn't make mistakes. People are born how they are born. And I think people should be able to get married and love each other.
I read about you having ad libbed when you were a kid, something about a scene on stage about a rabbit. Does that resonate?
It was the Nutcracker and I played a rabbit. One of the sugar plum fairies lost part of her costume. And in ballet that could be death. You don't want anything on the floor. And I was smart enough to know that I had to go [pick it up.] I remember at 10 years old thinking, "what would a bunny do?" So I hopped there put it in my mouth and hopped back. The audience went crazy. And I was like, "Oh I get it. This is what I'm born to do."