Dolly Parton gets adventurous in Joyful Noise

Dolly Parton dishes on her new film, Joyful Noise—plus food fights, weird “Jolene” stuff, boobs, and her fear of rides

NEW YORK—Dolly Parton is enveloped in a wee bit of perfume. Or, rather, it precedes her into a New York hotel room where she has come to talk about her new film, Joyful Noise. Then there is the rest of her.

There’s the mythical bosom—It’s real! Well, maybe not entirely—over which she’s wearing something involving sparkly gold threads that’s not particularly zipped up. She’s 4-11, minus the spiky heels (is she ever?) and the fearsomely teased hair, and her waist is precisely size nothing. She has on sleek, black fingerless gloves looped over each thumb, very long, bright nails, and many dazzling rings, each the approximate breadth of a small nation.

The pretty, lavishly made-up face (and the warm Tennessee trill) is that of the Dolly we know—and that of the ever-refurbished Dolly at which she herself has always cheerfully poked fun. Even the latest on-screen version of Dolly is in on the joke.

“Who cares if I’ve had a few little nips and tucks?” her movie alter ego, G. G. Sparrow, says in Joyful Noise (which opens Friday [January 13] ). “God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they could starve.”

Amen, sister.

Just now, Parton is telling folks in the room, including her costar, Queen Latifah—who is towering, er, sitting beside her—that she has recently been touring nonstop.

“I’m like the Playboy—whataya call it?—I was gonna say Playboy bunny,” she says, laughing. “I’m like the Eveready,” she tries again, not quite able to bag the Energizer Bunny she’s hunting for. “With batteries included!” “Wrong bunny!” Latifah says.

“Well, how do you know!” Parton says.

Backwoods Barbie (that is the title of one of the country star’s albums) and the Queen frankly make a pretty weird pair. Joyful Noise requires the two to relentlessly spar, which is also a bit visually startling. And, because it’s a movie, they must have a food fight.

“We had fun doin’ that,” Parton says. “Man, we were in the room fightin’ for a day and a half. We were wore out with it. I was ready to kill her for real.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Latifah says. “You were the one had the spaghetti.”

“I kept slidin’ around in the spaghetti ’cause I had to throw all the salads,” Parton says. “And you know me—”

“I don’t know how you kept your balance,” Latifah interrupts.

“—I had to keep wearin’ my boots ’cause
I gotta have my shoes,” Parton says. “So I was skiddin’ around. It’s a wonder I didn’t broke a wrist or a neck or something.”

Spaghetti is tossed for good reason. The Pacashau, Georgia, Divinity Church Choir’s new director, Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), believes in the glory of traditional gospel, while G. G. wants to go country—and pop, rock, and R & B. The choir must win the national Joyful Noise competition or the church won’t finance their purple-robed selves. (Incidentally, Parton wears possibly the only sexy church-choir robe invented.) Thus, food fight. And some singing.

There’s a YouTube video showing Parton performing her 1974 hit “Jolene” that year on something on TV called The Good Ole Nashville Music. The host introduces her as “one of the prettiest, sangingest, songwritingest little blonds”, after which the prettiest, sangingest little blond sings the song she wrote, wearing one of the tightest, lavenderest, flaredest jumpsuits. “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man.” Both the voice and blond are so irresistible everyone knows even an emerald-eyed, redheaded hussy couldn’t thieve her man.

There was some strange fan fallout after “Jolene”, even for someone who’s had “some weird fan encounters”. This particular weirdness happened at Parton and her husband Carl Dean’s Nashville farm. “We came home one day and there was a box at our gate. There was a baby in it and a note sayin’, ‘Her name is Jolene. I named her after you and please take her.’ And weeee freaked out!” They managed to call child services. “But can you believe it! That’s the weirdest.”

There can never be enough Dolly lore. Even Dolly Rebecca Parton, born in 1946 in the Great Smoky Mountains, one of 12 children sprouting on a tobacco farm, doesn’t mind rehashing how Dolly became Dolly. “Well, I always tell this story—and it’s a true story—that I patterned my look after the town tramp in our little town,” Parton says. “This is the truth. There was this woman who’d walk up the streets and I thought she was the prettiest thing. I would say to people, ‘Oh, ain’t she pretty!’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, she ain’t nothin’ but trash.’ ”

Turning into “trash” didn’t swing with her “daddy” and her Pentecostal-preacher granddaddy. “They couldn’t scare it out of me. They couldn’t beat it out of me. They couldn’t wipe it off of me. I just knew that I just wanted to be me and I would dress up. I got whipped a lot for just bein’ myself.”

But one can’t help the naturally burgeoning bits. “I always had nice boobs. I’ve had ’em doctored some, too, as years went by, but I always had a nice little body.”

Parton has written movie music aplenty and received best-song Oscar nominations, including for the title tune for Nine to Five—her 1980 film debut, for which a smitten Roger Ebert called her “a natural-born movie star”. But, oddly, she’s been AWOL on-screen for almost 20 years. “Well, nobody’s sent me anything good in all these years.” Plus, she’s been busy. “Music is the most important thing. It was a song that brought me out of the Smoky Mountains and a song that’s led me here.”

And in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, there’s Dollywood. It’s probably appropriate that a woman who is the human equivalent of an amusement park should own one. Just don’t ask Parton to ride the rides. “One year we had the press down—we had our first big roller-coaster ride and they were tryin’ to get me to ride it. I said, ‘I’m not ridin’ it.’ And I said, ‘I have an idea.’ So we had a bunch of Dolly look-alikes. We had about 14 people on the ride just goin’ around. And when it stopped, I ran around behind the thing like I’d got off it.”

And forget about Dollywood’s “biggest ride ever”, the nearly finished Wild Eagle roller coaster. “I just have too much to lose. Like my hair and my makeup and my boobs. It’s like anything could fall out on one of those.” Okay, but even she would admit she’s built to last.

Watch the trailer for Joyful Noise.

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