Kristin Chenoweth’s American Gods character doesn’t have a come-to-Jesus moment in this Sunday’s season-one finale, “Come To Jesus.” That’s because the Jesuses come to her: As Easter—or rather the Germanic goddess Ostara—she hosts a gathering of Christs on her holiday.
Chenoweth—who worked with co-showrunner Bryan Fuller on the dearly departed Pushing Daisies—plays one of the last major characters to be introduced this season on American Gods. In the growing battle between the old gods and new, she describes her character as “Switzerland”—that is, until she “gets her hands dirty.” We spoke with Chenoweth when the show was premiering about what to expect.
The A.V. Club: Did Bryan Fuller just approach you and say, “I want you to do this?”
Kristin Chenoweth: Kind of. He called me. I was doing a show on Broadway at the time. I’d been trying to come and do Hannibal because he had written me kind of a fun part on that and I couldn’t make it work. And, you know, we miss each other. He said, “Have you read American Gods yet?” It’s interesting because it had just been in my orbit. People were talking about it, all of a sudden, to me. Then I read about it, and I was like, “Man, I gotta read this book.”
He said, “Yeah, I want you to read it.” I went, “Oh, boy.” So I pull out this book, and [Neil] Gaiman unlocked my whole brain. Bryan and I have very similar tastes. It doesn’t always match up with the way I look, but, boy, this is where I live, right? So, I’m fascinated. I’m dying. I inhale it, pretty much.
AVC: Did he tell you what part he wanted you to play? Were you guessing as you were reading?
KC: No, in fact I wasn’t even sure he wanted me—I thought maybe he wanted my opinion. He said, “What do you think about creating the role of Easter?” And, I went, “Oh no. I can’t play Easter, no.” That’s iconic. I mean, she doesn’t speak a lot, but she does very important things. It’s her presence. I said, “She’s just described very differently.” He said, “I want to approach it through these couple angles. I want to unleash and unlock her past.” Then, he kind of explained to me how he saw it with Neil’s blessing too. Then, I went, “Oh. I’m in.”
AVC: Bryan puts you in some great costumes.
KC: He sure does, man. I owe him a lot. Well, when we talked about it, he said, “You know, I definitely want her to have a Easter bonnet.” I said, “Me too.” And then, I said, “You know, I kinda want to have a fascinator.” And he said, “No, no, me too.” Much how like in Hunger Games, Effie Trinket has the whole weird thing askew. I said, “Well, I kinda want her version of that spring hat.” And then, the shoes had butterflies on them. They have butterflies coming off the heel. They’re painful, but they’re amazing.
AVC: Can you talk a little bit more about the look?
KC: Well, I imagined I was going to be in a Grecian gown. Then, when Bryan said, “I kinda want her to have a ram’s head.” I was like, “What? How? What do you mean a ram’s head?” It started with the hair. I thought it would be long and flowy. You know. I’m doing what we all think of Ostara. He said, “No, it’s going come undone.” And, it does. You’ll see it. It all comes off. So, you’ll see her evolve into that.
AVC: How else did he describe the Easter that he wanted?
KC: He said, “When you see her she’s giving a welcome to all the Jesuses.” I said, “What do you mean, all the Jesuses?” And, he said, “Well, there’s one Jesus that we see and that we think of what Jesus is. But then, there’s 13 other ones. We have blind Jesus. We have Hindu Jesus. We have black Jesus. We have Hispanic Jesus. We have albino Jesus.” And, I said, “This is just so wrong, it’s right.” This is the way he thinks.
He said, “I want her to be pissed that Jesus has chosen her day to resurrect. And, you see this spring-has-sprung woman. She’s tolerant—not accepting. She’s politically correct.” I said, “Oh, she’s Miss Congeniality. She’s Miss America. Not Miss America, maybe first runner-up.” And, he said, “Yes.” She was there before Jesus and now he’s chosen her day. So she has to share. He said this word to me, “She’s been put away on a shelf and she’s got her happy little life. And when Wednesday comes back into the fold and says, ’Remember. Come.’ And she sees him for the first time and doesn’t like it. Because sometimes when our past shows up, looks at us in the face, it’s not always the best.”
These are the things that he’s enticing me with when he’s telling me. I’m like, “This is a layered, interesting woman.” She starts to melt. Then, when she really full-on releases, there’s a very powerful moment that you see her go back—this is how I describe it so I don’t get in trouble—to her authentic self. Sometimes women apologize for their power. I think she’s done that for a while. But now she’s not.
AVC: How do you see that fitting in with the entirety of what the showrunners are doing and how they’re thinking of the material in a new way? How do you see her role in that?
KC: When I arrived in Canada—I’m in the last episode—so, they’d already been in the world, all the actors had gotten the tone. I said to Bryan, “How do I fit? I’m nervous.” I don’t want to let him down. I don’t want to let Ian [McShane] down. I was working a lot with Ian, Ricky [Whittle], Gillian [Anderson]. He goes, “That’s Easter. You don’t fit. You’re wondering how you fit.” And, I went, “Oh.”
I am also waiting and looking forward to how they see her. We have discussed a little bit. I was interested, as her description in the book, the goddess of all things beautiful of the earth and goddess of fertility. That word struck me. I said, “Oh, does she have children?” Bryan goes, “What an interesting thought.” So, what happened there? What made her the goddess of fertility? Is she a mother? Is she self-proclaimed? Where does she get her gifts? Because they are aplenty. Again, it’s kind of like a great actor reaching a certain age and people going, “Okay, they’re done.” Then, they come back out of retirement or have a comeback, and people are like, “Wait, they’re amazing.” No, they were always amazing, they were just dismissed.
AVC: And that happens to women a lot.
KC: Thank you. That is what Bryan did so well with, as you noticed, all the women in the show. I think especially with Laura [Moon], it’s just, don’t take no crap. You know? Easter falls into that, too, once she accepts and proclaims who she was and what made her great. I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. But, Wednesday is the one who invites her back. Two powers are better than one.
AVC: What are you expecting the reaction to be to the Jesus gathering?
KC: Well, I’ve had to explain this to my Southern Baptist family in Oklahoma, so you can imagine. But, you know, they’re actually very liberal and open. They’re like, “Look, things have changed.” I said, “Maybe it’s not how we view [Jesus]. We’ve been told our whole life he had blue eyes and kind of dirty blond hair. Well, if you really think about history, he probably didn’t look like that.” So, I like the fact that it maybe will start a discussion in people of faith and how we view ourselves. Maybe we’re supposed to be the ones that accept and love, not the ones that divide.
AVC: Do you get to sing?
KC: Well, I always ask that of any character I play that’s not in a musical. Does she sing? How’s her voice? I came up with this conclusion—and Bryan and I talked about it, he fell out of his chair and said, “Yes”—I said, “I think she sings, but she’s a half step off every note.” So, yeah, I won’t be releasing Easter’s greatest hits, but I think that makes her a little bit askew—even more interesting.