“Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” a TV movie based on an autobiographical Parton song, drew more than 13 million viewers when it aired on NBC last December. “Coat of Many Colors” also served as a coming attraction for the upcoming Broadway musical based on her life story and was the country legend’s first project in a deal with NBC for multiple two-hour movies. Parton spoke with Variety about what she feels made the movie a success and what role she’d love to take in a sequel.
At what point did you start thinking about making a movie based on this particular song?
For years I’ve thought it would make a good movie and I knew there would be a time that was right. I’ve been offered many deals to do it through the years but it just didn’t seem like the exact right time. This past year I was working on a Broadway musical based on my life story and it delved into my childhood. … There’s nothing about family and faith on TV anymore and I decided it would be a real good time to do a show like that.
So some of what’s in “Coat” will be covered in the Broadway show, too, correct?
Absolutely. The whole first act is my early days before I went to Nashville. The second act is about my days in Nashville and beyond. So the first part of the musical will be a lot like ‘Coat of Many Colors’ with music and songs and will involve more details. I thought it would be a good boost and kickoff for [the musical] and a good promotional tool.
When will the show come to Broadway?
We’re working on it now. We’re auditioning people and looking for all the right people. It will be probably two years before it actually hits the stage knowing how slow things go.
What about this song made it right for a family film on a broadcast network?
I thought the whole thing was very visual: Being on the farm with those country kids, being with mom and dad. I wanted to honor my father and mother and let people see how I am and where I came from. I’m proud of my family and my faith. And it’s a good time for an anti-bullying story. There’s so much now about drawing attention to children being bullied. And [‘Coat of Many Colors’] was the ultimate anti-bullying song
How involved were you in casting and what made Alyvia Lind, who plays you in the film, right for the part?
I’m very involved in everything that has to do with me, especially something like “Coat of Many Colors.” My wonderful [producing] partner Sam Haskell was always on hand day in and day out. When we started out casting I said whoever plays little Dolly has to be just perfect. We went through dozens of kids. When they popped Alyvia up, I went, ‘That’s her, she’s got the spirit, she’s got the look, she’s got the focus.’ It just reminded me so much of myself. She’s confident and she’s of course much prettier than me and I’m sure more talented than I was at that age. I just thought she’s gonna make me look really good and she did. She’s so smart and we’re hopefully going to do two sequels and kind of grow up with her as I did in the business.
How often were you on set and what were your contributions as an executive producer?
You try to be there as much as you can. In the summer I was out of commission with health issues – kidney stones – so I didn’t get to stay on the set all the time as I will hopefully next time. Sam Haskell covered for me and my sister Stella played Corla Bass, the lady who owned the store who gave us the scraps [for the coat]. She stayed on set the whole time and worked with the kids and told them stories about our lives. She filled in nicely for me.
Did you ever consider taking an acting role in the film and if so why did you decide against it?
I did not have a desire nor thought it would be appropriate to be in that particular one. If we have some sequels, I have already figured out ways I can be in some of the others. There’s a couple of older characters I could play like the part of the town tramp who I patterned my look after, the lady that was the loose woman in town who had her hair piled high and lipstick. I thought she was beautiful and I might could play that and also some other characters in our community that I might could play if we do a series of sequels.
How did you think “Coat of Many Colors” would do in terms of ratings?
I knew it would be loved by my true fans and country people in general and older people who miss shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons.” I knew there would be a viewing audience but this did so much more than we had expected. Of course we hoped it would go through the roof but we didn’t know for sure. There’s so much on TV and so many high-powered, fast-moving things on that I didn’t know if people would care about seeing something as simple as this but they sure did and we were thrilled with the ratings.