Dolly Parton Expands Her Colorful Career
Dolly Parton's résumé simply never stops growing. At age 63, the prolific entertainer perhaps best described as an American treasure is delving into new territory, penning her first children's book, 'I Am a Rainbow,' and writing all of the music for a Tony-nominated Broadway musical modeled after her movie '9 to 5.'
Dolly, dressed in what you might call Dolly-casual -- a bright red sweater with subtle black beading, fitted black pants and sky-high heels -- sat down with The Boot at buddy Reba McEntire's Starstruck Entertainment studios to chat about her new ventures. We also took a look back at the groundbreaking film that put her on the Hollywood map as well as a look forward to more stage and screen dreams.
You were already a huge country star when you got the part on '9 to 5,' but it was your very first acting gig. Do you think it was harder to prove yourself as an actress, given that you were already famous?
It was easier, because Jane Fonda was a huge star and so was Lily Tomlin. I thought I could hide behind them! [laughs] So if it's a success, I'm one of the crowd. If it's a failure, I'll just blame it on them, because nobody was expecting anything from me! [laughs] But it was actually a huge success, and we got to be good friends. It wasn't much different from singing -- I act out my songs. If it's an expressive story, I get right into it. If it's a heart breaker, my heart breaks all to pieces. Somebody told me early on that the law of acting is to just react. Just talk to that person like they are actually saying it to you. So that made it easier for me.
Is it true that you memorized the entire script and not just your own lines?
Yesssss. [laughs] People rip me about that like I'm stupid, and I do feel stupid now! But I'd never seen a movie made. I thought you'd just have to learn the whole thing, because you have to play off other people. You don't just learn your own lines! I didn't know they shot out of sequence ... So I memorized that whole script. It was like when I read the Bible once all the way through. I didn't know you weren't supposed to learn all of it. I was so embarrassed when Jane Fonda told that story ... [imitating Jane] "Dolly learned the whole script. Dolly's a dumbass!" [laughs]
You could argue that '9 to 5' is a feminist movie. Did you get any backlash from your more conservative fans?
Not me, but I think Jane and Lily might have. But it really opened a lot of doors at that time. I think it did a lot of good. We still have a lot of the same problems we always did with women in the workplace. But I think it started a movement of bettering things for women in the workplace. We can accredit that to Jane Fonda! That was her vision.
You wrote every song on this '9 to 5: The Musical' soundtrack. That had to be quite a different process from writing for country radio.
It's less binding. I found writing for the stage was so much freer. I could write the stories longer, in more verses. In radio, you have to keep it a couple verses, a bridge and a chorus, and keep it under three minutes. But with the stage, you can just write until you're finished! I found that liberating.
Writing for the chauvinist boss in the play, Mr. Hart, had to be a bit of a creative curveball for you.
Well, I grew up in a family of brothers, daddy, uncles and male cousins, so that male chauvinist mentality -- the lying, hypocritical bigot -- I really understand the nature of men. So I really could write how men feel and how they think. I got a big kick out of writing for that part, because I did have to go into how they feel. I had to be a chauvinist pig myself, and I'd go around singing in a big, deep voice -- I had fun with myself doing that! But when he does that song 'Always a Woman' -- I thought women were going to kill me for writing that -- it's such an awful song about women!
Are you treating this soundtrack release just like you would a Dolly Parton album?
No, this is real special to me. A whole soundtrack album is something I've never done before -- to write a Broadway musical and hear the huge orchestra on it. I've never recorded with any sound like that. The entire cast singing those songs with all their beautiful voices ... And we are promoting it like we would one of my records, but we have to find new ways to market it since I am not all over it. I'm not singing on it, I just wrote it. So we're trying to find ways for people to promote me as a writer, where people are just as excited to buy it. I have recorded a single off it called 'Change It,' which will be on iTunes and will eventually be on the soundtrack with a new pressing.
'Change It' is a song that has typical Dolly Parton words of wisdom -- if you're unhappy with something, change it! If you could change anything you've done in your career, would you?
I don't look at my life like that. Things are what they meant to be. Anything I've ever done seems like what I was meant to be doing at the time. Some things you wish the results had been better, but I can't say that I'd change anything.
You're also planning a movie and a musical about your life. Will they be comedy, drama or dramedy?
A dramedy! It'll have its serious moments, even in the music. It'll be very colorful. I had started to do my life story as a movie, but with music you can say so many things. So I'm still working really hard on the musical, and it may be a movie musical and then eventually go to Broadway.
Any actresses in mind yet to play you? Kellie Pickler might campaign for it!
[Laughs] That's great! Well, you never know. There are a lot of wonderful little girls out there, but I'm sure when the time comes, I'll know who.
Megan Hilty, who plays your character Doralee in '9 to 5: The Musical,' might be a good choice. She has your accent down to a T!
Isn't she precious? Everybody says, 'She is so much like you.' And I thought, 'I wish!' That's certainly a nice reflection on me. She's so beautiful. She's from Seattle and doesn't have a bit of country in her, but she hung around me a little bit and really got that down.
The message behind your new children's book, 'I Am a Rainbow,' is that it's OK to express feelings, good or bad. But you seem to be a 'glass half full' kind of person all the time.
We all have our emotions; we all have our problems. Nobody's up all the time, nor should they be! We're all rainbows. I thought it would be a wonderful way to teach kids about their emotions. I think this book will be fun for kids -- it's so radiant. Heather Sheffield did a great job illustrating it. So hopefully the fact that it's in rhyme and simple -- it's only meant to be for children up to age five, but kids of all ages can read it, too.
In the book, different colors are associated with different emotions. So let's start with what we're guessing is your favorite color -- When was the last time you were tickled pink?
Just about any old day! [laughs] I go through all those colors about every day. We all do. But I've been tickled pink by the fact we got the book out and that I've been so lucky in my life. I've had many tickled pink days, sunshine yellow days and green days and mad red days! We're all just a rainbow.
When was the last time you had a mad red day?
I don't know when I was really red. I get a little flustered sometimes, but it takes a lot to get me totally mad. But when I do, I get good and red! [laughs] That's what the book teaches you -- it's OK to feel those things, it's how you deal with it and learn to control it.
Is this the first of many children's books you'll write?
It will be. Years ago, they illustrated my little story of 'Coat of Many Colors' on Harper Collins, and it sold very well. So this is kind of like my second children's book, but the first of an original idea. But I have other stories in mind -- and I want to do a children's show, CDs, DVDs and a lot of things to do with children.
You've been doing so much press lately with this book and with '9 to 5,' and you seem to be such an open book in all of your interviews. Do you ever have to draw the line about talking about your personal life with the media?
If it's something that strikes a note that I don't feel is anybody's business. I have no problem saying, "I'm not comfortable talking about that." And if they start up again, I'll say, "I'm not comfortable talking about that!" [laughs] I never know what people are going to ask, and I never know what I'm going to say. There have been a few times when I've thought, "That's none of your damn business!" But I'll usually try to muster up something to say. [laughs]