Dolly Parton cheerfully reviews her new movie, Joyful Noise, like this: “It’s really fun. It makes you laugh so hard. It’ll make you cry. The music will lift you up.”
Parton stars in the family-oriented film, which opens Friday (Jan. 13), as an outrageous rich woman named G.G. Sparrow — G.G. is short for “Gorgeous Grandma.” She’s married to the church choir director (Kris Kristofferson), who dies early in the film, leaving the gospel choir without a strong leader just before a major competition. Meanwhile, longtime church member Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) gets the coveted gig, despite G.G.’s best efforts to grab it herself.
And, yes, a brawl did break out on set — to great comic effect. CMT Insider host Katie Cook visited Parton on the set to get the scoop on the script, the soundtrack and the sisterhood between the stars.
CMT Insider: Making a movie is such a big-time commitment, and I know you wouldn’t do it unless you loved the script. Was there one scene in particular that made you say, “Oh, I have to do this”?
Parton: The whole script. Todd Graff, who wrote and directed the movie, said he wrote the whole thing around me, and he said he didn’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t done it. It’s really so much my own personality. She’s a larger-than-life, over-the-top person with a big mouth that don’t know when to hush and when to shut up. So it was real easy for me to play. I got to do some serious acting, but it was not hard because it was so true to who I really am. There’s not a big separation in who G.G. is and myself.
So you didn’t have to Dolly-ize her much. It sounds like they had you in mind all along.
Well, this is G.G.’s hair and these are G.G.’s clothes. It’s not all that different. They tried to tame me a little bit and over-exaggerate me a little more in some areas. But it’s more about the movie. And it’s good that I never take movies where I don’t think that I can pretty much be myself, because I’m not a real actress.
Gospel music is something that’s very important to you, and you say the movie is filled with wonderful music. Have you been writing for it? What can we expect?
I have written four songs for the movie, but there are actually a lot of songs that they’ve taken from the rock, pop and the rap field. And they’ve combined them, put them into great medleys, but they’ve changed the name to where it’s really about God instead of about a person.
Murph Warren, who has done a lot of wonderful work — he did Sister Act and The Preacher’s Wife and a lot of wonderful things — did the music for it. So he’s taken all these great songs out of these other worlds of music and made them gospel-type songs. But my songs that I wrote, I tailor-made for the story, and so I’m very proud of that. There are about four different choirs that compete, so I really think that the music in this movie is going to be so good. I really think that the soundtrack is going to be a big, big soundtrack.
Your character and Queen Latifah’s character are rivals, right? Is this because your choirs are competing? Tell us the story there.
Yes. Well, actually, we’re in the same choir. Early on, it starts out with my husband, but he dies right away. He dies in the first song in the movie. He comes back later in a fantasy scene. But when he passes away, I think — because I have helped write and work on all these arrangements at this church — I should be the one to take over because I’m musical.
But, Vi Rose, who’s played by Queen Latifah, well, she’s been there a long time. She’s very talented, and they give her the job. And so there’s automatically that thing of me thinking it should have been mine, and she never liked me anyway because I’m so over-the-top. And because I have money and sponsor the choir, she kind of resents that.
So we have lots of little things that we don’t like about each other for different reasons. It builds and it builds until we eventually have this huge fight — a knockdown, drag-out, food fight. She gets me in a headlock, and you’ll be rolling in the aisles. People will just love this. It took us two days to do this whole scene where we were throwing food and having a big knockdown drag-out.
I’m just thinking, did she mess up your hair if she got you in a headlock?
She did. In fact, that’s part of the comedy. She’s messing up my hair, and I say so. I talk about my hair like I’m more worried that she’s going to mess it up than I am about the fact she may break my neck.
Off camera, did you find that you two have a lot in common?
Oh, we loved each other to start with. That’s why we both were so excited about the movie. And we both said, “I’ll do it if she does it.” … She said she’d always wanted to work with me. I’ve always wanted to do something with her. I didn’t know what it’d be. I always thought it’d be fun to work with her because everybody just loves her. And she is so cool and she’s so funny. We really get along great. There’s a great chemistry, which we hoped there would be, and it really comes through. There’s a lot of magic in it.