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Dolly Parton Interview: Country Icon Makes ‘Joyful’ Return to the Big Screen

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Dolly Parton is about to return to the big screen in a big way, starring in ‘Joyful Noise,’ the iconic entertainer’s first leading role since 1992′s ‘Straight Talk.’ Dolly stars alongside Oscar-nominated actress Queen Latifah in the film, which chronicles the journey of an underdog gospel choir from Pacsashau, Ga., trying to win big at the National Joyful Noise Competition in Los Angeles. The two rivals fight to boost the morale of their down-and-out town, which has been hit hard by the economic recession, but in the end they must find a common voice to succeed.

Dolly plays G.G. Sparrow, a progressive, wealthy widow of the former choir director (played by Kris Kristofferson) who is shocked to learn that her husband’s musical throne will be filled by conservative Vi Rose (Queen Latifah). Although the two seem an unlikely match at first, after one round of witty barbs, you realize they are both queens of their own respective kingdoms and actually have a lot in common.

The always delightful and insightful Dolly sat down with The Boot to talk about her long-anticipated return to the big screen, how she stays sexy for truckers and why you’ll never see her competing on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’

This is your first leading movie role since ‘Straight Talk.’ Is acting like riding a bike for you, or did you have to relearn some of your skills?

Well, that character was so me that I didn’t really feel like I was acting. But, of course, I had to go deep inside and I had a great director [Todd Graff, whose previous credits include 'Camp' and 'Bandslam']. If I was trying too hard to do it my way, he was wonderful to say, “Well, you need to have a little more edge.” But he liked me doing my own thing, being my own self as much as I could, so I didn’t feel like I was really acting that much. Although there were some wonderful moments in this, a little deeper than I hate going, so I’m just hoping it turned out good.

What’s the biggest difference between you and your character, G. G. Sparrow?

Not much. Just the fact that my name’s Dolly Parton and her name is G.G. Sparrow! [laughs]

Warner Bros. Pictures

It looks like you and Queen Latifah had a great time on the set together. What made you want to do this film with her?

I just liked her and everybody used to say to me, “You and Queen Latifah should do something together. You have a very similar personality, very likeable, very upfront and out there.” I could see that myself. I used to think it would be fun to work with her, because I like her. When we both got the chance to do this and found out that we both were looking at the script, we both said yes, we’ll do it if they do.

Now that you’ve worked together, can we look forward to a Dolly/Queen Latifah country-rap collaboration in the future?

No, I can’t do rap music! But we might write something together. I thought her performance on ‘Fix Me Jesus’ was incredible. We enjoyed doing the movie, but we don’t hang out together. We are very strong, independent women. I have no need to live in her world and she has no need to live in mine, but when our worlds come together we enjoy it.

Of the three original songs you wrote for the film — ‘He’s Everything,’ ‘Not Enough’ and ‘From Here to the Moon and Back’ — which one has the most personal story behind its lyrics?

When I wrote ‘From Here to the Moon and Back,’ I needed to write a beautiful love song. I picked my husband, who I love, and I thought, “Well, I’ll write some beautiful song about him.” It was about my husband in the movie, played by Kris Kristofferson, so I thought in order to make it really real and really touching, I would write it about my real, true emotions about someone I really do love and have loved for more than half of my life.

Given the breadth of your fan base, along with your Christian values, was it important for you to stick with a family-friendly movie?

No, if I found a great script, it wouldn’t have to [represent] family values. I would have my limits; I wouldn’t do something that was just totally offensive to my fan base. I own a family theme park and I have the Imagination Library books for children’s programs, so I wouldn’t want to do something that is just god-awful raunchy! But as an actress, I would be able to do something certainly more edgy than this. This is wonderful. This plays right to my audience, right to my fan base and right to my own beliefs. But no, I don’t limit myself. I’m a singer, a writer and an actress — when I find something that I feel good enough about doing.

Watch the ‘Joyful Noise’ Movie Trailer

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There is some choreography in ‘Joyful Noise’ and for the first time, you’ve added dance routines to your Better Day world tour. Are we going to see a more dancing from you in the future?

Oh yeah, that was the same choreography that I did in ‘Joyful Noise.’ Michele Lynch, who did the choreography for the movie, helped with the staging on the whole little show where I did ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ I did a few little slides and a few little things that were out of the ordinary for my fans to see, which they seemed to really enjoy and love! But that was the scariest and the worst part — me trying to dance!

I’m just like Steve Martin in that movie, ‘The Jerk.’ I’m just that white trash, offbeat … it was so hard for me to try to dance with these people that just jump out of the womb, hit the floor and go into a song and dance routine. Here I am just trying to keep up! So, that was the hard part.

So, no ‘Dancing With the Stars’ for you?

Oh no! They have tried to get me on that ever since it started, even before this movie, and I said, “ARE YOU INSANE!?” [laughs]

You would be amazing!

Nooo! I would be amazing all right, but not in the right way!

Kristin Chenoweth recently came to the AOL Studios to perform her new song, ‘What Would Dolly Do?‘ You seem to inspire people — including other artists — with your ability to adapt and stay positive, how do you do it?

Well, I’ve just been around so long that I think people just feel like they know me. I’m like a comfort zone for a lot of people, and I’m from a big family. I’m kind of that rags-to-riches story, everybody knows it is possible to have that American dream. I’m very friendly and down home because I love people. I see my family in everybody that I meet, I see somebody I love that reminds me — you remind me of a niece — and I just feel like I know people and they feel like they know me. People know that I will just blurt out what’s on my mind, and that seems to be OK. It seems better to be who you are then to try to fake it and be something else.

You’re the only country star on Men’s Health magazine’s recent list of the 100 hottest women of all time. What’s the main thing you do to stay sexy?

Whatever it takes, I guess! I don’t know, you never know if you’re sexy. You don’t ever know if you’re pretty. There is a certain group of people that would find me anything but sexy. But them old truck drivers and them good ol’ boys, yeah, I’ve been a fantasy to them for a lot of years. I’m sure there’s that other group that find me a bit over the top, a little bit bizarre, a bit phony — too much this and too much that. But if somebody thinks I’m sexy, that’s great. Men’s Health magazine? I’ll take it! Hottest women of all time? Well, yay me, who knew?! [laughs]

Dolly Parton’s ‘Joyful Noise,’ which features three original songs from the superstar including a duet with Kris Kristofferson, opens in theaters on January 13. Click here to find out more info on the film, including movie times in theaters near you.

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