Kristin Chenoweth may cite Carol Burnett, Madeleine Kahn, Lisa Vanderpump, and Hannibal Lecter as inspiration for her Lavinia Peck-Foster, accused of murder on Season 2 of NBC's Trial & Error (premiering July 19), but the combination is pure, dizzying Chenoweth. Who else could sell a joke about Lorna Doone cookies with utter conviction? Or make jumping into a pool in heels and an elaborate, Esther Williams-esque bathing cap seem reasonable?
Chenoweth’s entire career has balanced on the knife’s edge of sincerity and spoof, and the culmination is Lavinia.
“I hesitate to say anything I’m in is really funny, but I have to say, this is totally my taste anyway,” Chenoweth says. John Lithgow, who starred as the murder suspect on Season 1, called Chenoweth and advised her that the NBC series—created by Jeff Astrof and Matt Miller—was just up her alley. “And he was right! I read [the first episode of Season 2], and thought, ‘This is insane.’”
Already a true crime addict ("I was talking about Snapped years ago!”), Chenoweth brought everything she could to Lavinia, a wealthy eccentric who refers to everyone by their occupation rather than name and keeps a plate in her purse for the purposes of potential throwing. The season opens with Lavinia caught with her husband’s body in a suitcase in the trunk of her car.
“[Lavinia] was based somewhat on Robert Durst,” she says. “I tried to do the eye flutter—it gets in there a little bit. It was the most fun for me; I haven’t had a role like this in a long time! I did as much as I could do physically and comedically.”
Describing Lavinia’s childhood as a real “Grey Gardens situation,” Chenoweth found more inspiration in imaging what Lavinia would look and sound like if she’d grown up with only classic movies for an idea of what the world was like. “I decided she watched all those ’30s and ’40s movies, and now it’s what she imagines in her head sounds elegant,” she says. “But she’s not just a narcissist and bipolar. She’s very sad and lonely. You have to be able to feel sorry for this girl. This is a very sad, lonely lady.”
And though Chenoweth is a welcome addition to the summer TV lineup, she (and audiences) can’t wait for her return to Broadway.
“Literally I’m working on two things!” she says. “I hope to do a workshop this fall of the Tammy Faye Bakker [project]. That will be more a play with music. We have a great team: David Yazbek, Henry Krieger, and David Cromer. And recently I attached myself to the Death Becomes Her adaptation.”
Reminded that Twitter exploded on the day of her casting announcement for the latter, you can hear Chenoweth grinning over the phone. “Oh, I was so happy!” she says. Between Lavinia and that upcoming project, death really does become her.