Steel Magnolias scribe Robert Harling is GCB’s creator, writer and executive producer; Darren Star, the man behind Sex and the City, is also its EP. That should give you a fairly good sense of ABC’s new dramedy. The network changed the series’ name from Good Christian Bitches, based on Kim Gatlin’s 2008 novel, to Good Christian Belles, before settling on GCB. Kristin Chenoweth plays Carlene Cockburn, once her high school’s plain Jane, now her church community’s queen bee; her nemesis is the onetime beauty-pageant star who returns, humbled, to her hometown of Dallas. The actress-singer called from New York.
Having grown up in Bible Belt Oklahoma, do you recognize the GCBs, or good Christian bitches, the show depicts?
Ha. Yeah. I know them very well. I’m related to half of ’em. I grew up in small-town Oklahoma, in Bible Belt City, and some of the best Christian people I know live there, but it doesn’t mean they’re perfect. [GCB] shows the reality of, just because you say you’re a person of faith doesn’t mean you don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have sex, don’t lie. Please, we’re human.
When you visit Oklahoma these days, do you ever encounter those women who see you now as the Tony and Emmy winner but still remember you as the beauty queen?
Yeah, I went back to Oklahoma to do a book signing, and one of the girls that bullied me the hardest—I mean, she wasn’t nice. I’m gonna be honest with ya, I didn’t really have a lot of time for her. And that felt good in the moment. Since that day, I’ve regretted it, because really and truly my life mostly has been a blessing. No matter who you are, you’ve been bullied. What ultimately happens to poor Carlene is she becomes a bully herself, but she does it and, you know, prays about it. [Laughs]
You won titles like Miss Oklahoma City University, Miss State Capitol. Any life lessons that being a beauty queen taught you?
Yeah, really a good one: Don’t eat a hamburger before the swimsuit competition. Number two is compete with yourself; don’t compete with other people. I was four eleven in a beauty contest, and I excelled at it. I tried to concentrate on my talent and my brain, and that’s what I’ve been leading with since. I was lucky to win them, and then I got a free master’s degree [in opera] out of it—first person in my family to get to do that.
Any performers in your family?
Oh, no, they should never perform or sing out loud. My dad is a chemical engineer, my brother is a chemical/mechanical engineer by degree, my mom was a stay-at-home mom but wanted to be a nurse. I was adopted, and I look at it as such a gift because I don’t think I would’ve done well with a stage mom. My mom was like, “Oh, you want to do ballet? Okay. You want to take piano?” I’m very lucky that I had parents that way.
As a Christian, how do you feel about GCB poking fun at religious hypocrisy?
In any show you do, there’s gonna be controversy. I was on Glee, and there was controversy: “Oh, my gosh, there’s a gay character.” Pushing Daisies, it was like, “There’s a dog working on set for 14 hours.” First of all, we had three dogs, and everybody just needs to calm down. I was on The West Wing; a lot of people where I’m from called it The Left Wing.
But this particular controversy…
This particular controversy. It is funny to me that any Christian would not be able to look at this show and go, “Yep, that exists.” This is about people and how they battle good and evil within themselves. I don’t care what faith you are, you have that.
You’ve had flak from your fans on both ends of the political spectrum, from liberals when you appeared on The 700 Club, from conservatives like Women of Faith for supporting gay rights. Has being part of both communities given you special insight into both?
I really am a Christian that does believe that if you’re gay, it’s not a sin. That is not the consensus with Christians. I have been on The 700 Club because I had a Christian record and I wanted to sell it. I probably wouldn’t choose to do that again because I never watched The 700 Club and I didn’t do my research. I was with the Women of Faith and basically was fired because of my coming out for people who can’t be married but love each other. Does it give me extra insight? I don’t know. I go back to what would Jesus do—and I get a lot of teasing when I say that. Jesus was hanging with derelicts and prostitutes and loving them and not judging them, so that’s all I can do. I make no apologies for it anymore. I think something wonderful happened when I turned 40. I kind of quit giving a crap. I have had too many people that I know that have been bullied and hurt and scared because they’ve been gay—and in the name of God. It’s not okay. And I’m done with it.
You’ve said, “I don’t want Christianity to be a negative word anymore.” Why do you think it’s become one?
I don’t think we’ve helped ourselves. I think that we’ve come out extremely as judgmental creatures, when in fact that’s not what Jesus taught at all. I’m born four eleven. If that was a sin, I’d be going to hell. God made me that way, and I don’t think God makes junk.
Thank you, baby. [Laughs]
GCB premieres March 4 at 9pm on ABC.