Dolly Parton on playing the 'town tramp'

Dolly Parton.
Dolly Parton.

NEW YORK • For singer Dolly Parton, the Emmy nomination for NBC's Christmas Of Many Colors: Circle Of Love was totally unanticipated.

Nominated in the television movie category alongside stories about fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, conman Bernie Madoff, futuristic euthanasia and the ethics of cancer research - the sequel to her 2015 TV movie is the brightest story in the bunch.

"We were really surprised because of the type of show it was," Parton said in a phone call from Nashville, Tennessee.

Christmas is a heartwarming tale from Parton family lore. Set in December 1955 in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, it recounts the sacrifices made by Parton's father (Ricky Schroder) and his children (Alyvia Alyn Lind plays young Dolly) to buy his wife (Jennifer Nettles) an overdue wedding ring and the explosion in the Smoky Mountains that nearly killed him. An executive producer on the TV movie, Parton, 71, also appears as the Painted Lady.

The Emmys will be handed out in a Sept 17 ceremony in Los Angeles.

Why do you think Christmas captured the affection of Emmy voters?

A lot of my fans are family-based and just related to families that stick together through love. And the faith-based stuff, the world is in need of all that. But I really think that people love to hear about miracles and about things coming out great.

Did your father work in a coal mine?

Actually, (he was) dynamiting the tunnels through some of the Smokies. They made it a coal mine to make it more dramatic, but it happened that daddy almost died and we felt that it was a miracle that he survived.

And what about the Painted Lady?

This lady was the town tramp and I thought she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen when we were little kids. Everybody would say: "Oh, she's nothing but trash." And I thought: "Well, that's what I'm going to grow up to be."

She's the lady that I actually patterned myself after because she left an impression.

It was only years later that I found out that she was the local prostitute, so to speak. We thought it would be some way that I could be in the movie myself as a grown-up. Who better looking like a town tramp than me? That wasn't a stretch.

You have said that in high school you were voted "least likely to succeed". Last spring, the University of Tennessee offered a history honours course titled Dolly's America. How did that feel?

I was very honoured. I've been around a long time and people feel like they know me. I'm like a favourite old aunt or an older sister or a grandma. But I think it's wonderful that people have taken pride in the fact that I'm a local East Tennessee girl and that I've accomplished enough for them to make a class out of it. I'm humbled by it.

The professor said you are so beloved in Tennessee that if you ran for governor, no one would oppose you.

Well, I've been asked to run for things and I've said, "No thank you." There's enough politics in this business to deal with. My daddy used to carry his rifle in the back of his pickup truck and he had a big sign right next to it that said, "Dolly Parton for President". And I thought that was cute, but I always make my joke: "We've had enough boobs in the White House."

Some have said that your duet of Old Flames (Can't Hold A Candle To You) with Kesha is the best thing on her new album.

(Squeals) That's a song I recorded 30 or more years ago with my brother Randy. Kesha's mother wrote that song and I'd had a big record on it back in the day. And so she asked if I would come sing a duet and I was happy to do it.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Dolly Parton on playing the 'town tramp''. Print Edition | Subscribe