Earlier this awards season, Dolly Parton showed up in town for a press day that included a performance of “Girl In The Movies”, the theme song and one of six new tunes she co-wrote (with Linda Perry) for the new Netflix film, Dumplin’ that stars Danielle MacDonald as the title character, a plus-size daughter who decides to enter a small town Texas beauty pageant once won by her mother (Jennifer Aniston) who is now running the contest. It is a light-hearted romp that debuted on Netflix on December 7th and ever since has been drawing hefty awards attention for Parton and Perry’s signature song. In fact, Parton is one of those rare showbiz figures that doesn’t try to hide her motives, so as she prepared to sing the song for gathered voting members of the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards, and even an Academy music branch member or two in the packed Four Seasons ballroom she blatantly said she was doing this so she could get an Oscar nomination.
Of course, she’s no stranger to the Academy Awards, having been nominated twice before, for “9 To 5” in 1980, and the song “Travelin’ Thru” from Transamerica in 2005. Parton’s clearly hoping the third time is a charm and early indications are good. Her promotional efforts resulted in a Golden Globe and Critics Choice nomination for Best Song, as well as being shortlisted just last week by the Academy as one of 15 finalists competing for the five Best Song Oscar nomination slots to be announced January 22nd.
It all just proves one thing: Dolly is an irresistible force and hard to say “no” to when she comes calling for a nomination. Certainly, deep-pocketed Netflix gets the message and has been waging a big campaign on her behalf that has included mailings of the CD and sheet music, and most recently a holiday card from the star that said, “Celebrate like you’re a GIRL IN THE MOVIES”. A Netflix rep even gave me a Dumplin’ promotional Magic 8 Ball. It figures into the movie’s plot, so I was actually still carrying it when I sat down in the hotel suite to chat with Parton after her performance. She asked an assistant to get one for herself and wanted me to shake mine up to see what it says. I asked it if this interview was going to go well. The answer sadly was “No”. We proceeded anyway.
The film, and book it is based on, in some ways is like a shrine to Parton since the key character is obsessed with her, and there is even a sequence involving a Dolly drag queen show. Parton was humbled by the whole thing. “When the book first came out, I was really touched by it, and I was surprised. And then when they made it into a movie, I thought, ‘I’d be careful. I’ll get in it and it’ll look like I’m on some ego trip or something’. But they asked me to write their music, so I was happy to do that…to let them use it, because that is very touching to me to feel like I’ve been an inspiration even to the little girl that wrote the book, and then to play it up like that, it’s nice. Hopefully, I live up to it,” she said, adding that in addition to the new songs, she gave permission to use some of her biggest hits as well including “Here You Come Again” and others.
As for her inspiration, she took it right from the film. “I wanted to see the movie first. We went to see the movie because I wanted to get all the feels, the attitude, and the personalities because I’m a feel person. It’s not that I had to make everything exact, but I wanted to make sure that I covered all the emotions and all the things in the movie. So the writing came real easy because I was inspired. In the movie the girl wanted to be beautiful, she wanted to be glamorous, she’s thinking of all of that. I thought it was sweet, and I could just picture her sitting in the theater by herself, looking at the picture thinking, ‘one of these days, maybe I could look like that, or I could be that’, and dreaming…dreaming on like in the picture of life, ” she said. She also loved the Dolly drag queen sequence. “Well I have a huge gay following, and the drag queens have always loved me because they’re flamboyant and so am I, and it kind of gives them a little freedom, and they’ve always loved to dress like me because they can kind of over-exaggerate it, so I’m pleased and touched by that. I think it’s a form of flattery, and I’m excited about it.”
Parton generally just writes songs as they come to her, but in the case of songs for films it gives her a chance to do something more, and she likes the challenge. “I try to step up a level, and it actually is good for me. And I do like it, I do like if you know what it is, and there’s already a story there, you’re halfway home. And all you’ve got to do is just try to hone in on what you think that person is feeling, and just kind of make it fit,” she says.
This film isn’t the only thing Parton and Netflix have going. She is producing and hosting a series of eight movies ranging in length from one to two hours based on her songs a la the successful “Coat Of Many Colors” pair of movies she did with NBC and producer Sam Haskell. The streamer swooped in and made her an offer for this song-inspired anthology she couldn’t refuse, with production starting last August and going through February of 2019. In this case, it is the opposite of writing for a movie since the movie is actually based on the song. If successful, Parton hopes to do more because she says she has got literally thousands of songs and the characters are kind of instantly laid out. Kathleen Turner plays an old clairvoyant mountain woman in one of them based on the song “Old Bones, These Old Bones”. Julianne Hough is doing one based on “Jolene”. Husband and wife Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke are doing one inspired by “If I Had Wings”, and on and on. She tells me the name of the show is Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: Stories Of The Soul.
As for her own personal favorite song, it is the very personal “Coat Of Many Colors” and though it inspired those aforementioned NBC movies, she wants to take it further, possibly Netflix or somewhere else and maybe do as a series, or feature film, kind of Parton’s own Coal Miner’s Daughter. “I’m thinking about doing my life in many colors, starting with when I used to go back and forth as a young kid…going back and forth to Nashville, moving to Nashville, and all the days leading up to. You can’t ever cover in one movie all the day-to-day stuff. And I have so many stories about my life, you can only imagine, of just my life, and my life in show business as a country kid trying to make it, and my days in Nashville, and all this stuff. So I think there’s a lot of good stuff in that,” she said. “Anyway, in other words, I’m not going to run out of stuff to do. I’m going to have a job as long as I live, which I hope’s a long time.”
One of those jobs might be a long-awaited followup to “9 To 5” which also happens to be one of the Parton classics used in Dumplin’, and apparently, it won’t be the last we hear of it. A sequel to that 1980 comedy in which she co-starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin is actively in development at Fox. “Can you believe it? After all these years. But it’s happening, and the script is being written now, so we’re excited about that. Fox has already bought it and all that, so as soon as the script is done and we approve it, I’m sure they’ll start to put that together,” she says adding that the idea of getting back with Fonda and Tomlin for that might also finally lead her to do a guest shot on their Netflix sitcom, Grace & Frankie. “Yeah, I’d better do that before, to kind of advertise the fact that we’re doing (9 To 5). Makes sense now. Like Lily said, now that I’m over there in Netflix doing this other, I can get over there and do Grace and Frankie. I love their show.”
But for the immediate future Parton has “Girl In The Movies” from Dumplin’ on her mind, and when I suggested that this song which is all about movie dreams might make a great number with which to open the 91st Academy Awards in February she said she hopes she can do it. “And I could like dress as one of those old-timey movie stars, and do it like…seriously. I could dress up and do something different than I’ve ever done, maybe where, you know, if I get a chance to do it, maybe I will do something…spectacular,” she said. First, she has to get nominated but she is well on her way.
With the interview over Parton looked at my Dumplin’ Magic 8 Ball again. “Hey shake that now,” she ordered. “I want to ask a question from that ball but you go ahead and ask yours, Mr. Hammond”. And so I did by stupidly setting myself up for failure and asking it how my interview with Dolly went. “Whoops. It says ‘the stars say NO'”, I tell her. “Hmmm. The stars say NO?” she asks. “Yes, the stars say NO. But what does this star think?” I wondered. “I say YES,” this girl in the movies answered.
Whew! Thanks, Dolly.