Petite and power-packed, Dolly Parton lives up to the imagination and more. The 72-year-old country legend pulls off a rock-star glamour look, all in black with tasteful gold chains for accents. Fast-talking and all Southern charm, she strolls into a hotel suite and settles comfortably into a chair to talk about her Golden Globe-nominated “Girl in the Movies.” It’s one of six songs the two-time Oscar nominee wrote for “Dumplin’,” to go with several rerecordings of her past hits. The film, based on Julie Murphy’s novel, is about Texas teen Willowdean Dickson (Danielle Macdonald), overweight daughter of a former beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston). To irk her mom, Willowdean enters her beloved pageant, unexpectedly forging bonds and coming out of her shell. Parton was a major pop-culture presence in the novel and film before being asked to be involved.
Was it weird for you to find how present you were in the novel “Dumplin’”?
Well, yes. I was very touched by that. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve got the little Dollyisms, and I like to have a good attitude. All through the years, I’m very open and accepting and try to make the underdog feel good. I’m always with the underdog. So in the book, the little girl who’s inspired by my sayings and my attitude and my songs … I was really touched and moved by that, that someone would think of me in that way.
You’re represented in the film in many ways — music played in the car, posters, sayings, drag queens ...
I loved that! It kinda covered my life. I loved the drag queen part; I loved that the little girl would go there and for them to help her feel better about herself. I have a huge gay following. Drag queens always said if I hadn’t been a girl, I’d be a drag queen — all my makeup and overly done things.
How was it collaborating with (producer and Songwriters Hall of Famer) Linda Perry on the six songs for the soundtrack?
She has these really wonderful melodies, and it got me out of my box, where I could expand. I did a lot of the words; she was more about the music. I love her sound because it’s so raw, so real. It kinda took me back to my early days, in a way. She can capture a lot of feelin’ and emotion.
I love watchin’ her work, because she’s such a little character. We worked really good together. I let her do her thing, and I’m a very opinionated person; I have a lot of creative ideas of my own. She was always open to my ideas, and if she agreed, she’d incorporate that. It just flowed; it was like it was meant to be. We did not have one rough edge. Usually, you’ll get a little testy with somebody; there’ll be a time when they’ll rub you the wrong way. But this flowed so good; I’m amazed, really.
I’m a real pro; a lot of people don’t know what it’s like to work with me. See, I live in a whole ’nother world when it comes to my music. I’m not just the flamboyant Dolly. I take it serious. I love my music. I don’t jell that much with too many people in it, but with her it was like a new feeling, like a new joy.
You think you might work together again?
Ah, well, I’d be real shocked if we didn’t. What I do know is we’ll always be friends and we’ll always write together.
“Girl in the Movies” sounds as if it speaks to Willowdean’s insecurities.
I pictured her as a little girl that was not accepted by her mother because she didn’t fit the mold of the beauty queen, you know, with the perfect size and all that. So I pictured her going to the movies all the time to fill all that space. “I wanna be that girl; I wanna be the girl in the movies, the one standin’ up on stage.” I pictured her goin’ to the movies, picturin’ herself bein’ great, [but really] watchin’ other people live their lives with confidence, and she didn’t have it.
“I wish I had a nickel for every dime I spent” — that doesn’t even make sense; I just mean, “I wish I just had half of what I spent watchin’ others live their lives with confidence.” It’s like, “Here’s a preview of some things to come … the next stuff’s gonna be starrin’ me.” You wanna be able to star in your own life, is basically what it meant.
I wanted young girls to walk away from this movie feelin’ “you don’t have to look like everybody else; you’re beautiful in your own way. Just, whatever you can do to feel better about yourself, you do that. Just be your best and good self.”
It ain’t about false beauty; it’s about true beauty.
Do you still try to write something every day?
Well, you know, I don’t always try to write a whole song. But hardly ever a day goes by that I don’t get a good title; I’ll be talkin’ to someone, get a good idea. So I really scribble something down every day. Sometimes I get a chance to write a song, sometimes two or three, right in the middle of other things. They’re not necessarily good, but I just kinda have a flow about me with writing songs, and I can rhyme easy and quick. Sometimes I just get a good melody or a good title, but I’m always writing something down.