Dolly Parton, one of the most beloved and accomplished icons in the entertainment business, has been consistently vocal about her Christian faith. The singer-songwriter, who began her career as a child singer-songwriter, has consistently released projects celebrating and affirming her beliefs, including gospel albums and faith-based songs on her popular country albums, such as “Jesus and Gravity,” “Hallelujah Holiday” and “He’s Alive.”
Parton’s latest project, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, airing Nov. 30 on NBC, is a faith-based movie and a sequel to 2015’s Coat of Many Colors, which was the most-watched television movie of the past five years. Parton serves as executive producer on the autobiographical film starring Jennifer Nettles, Ricky Shroeder and Gerald McRaney about a miracle from her childhood. During a recent interview, Parton spoke on how her faith is reflected in the film and in her life.
Is Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love based on another true story?
Actually the sequel is other true stories from my life. There’s a two-parter in this movie. It’s called Circle of Love and the Circle of Love represents, of course, the family circle and the halo and the Crown of Thorns and Jesus’ birthday but one of the stories in this is when we as children and my dad all made up money one Christmas to buy Mama a wedding ring. She had a houseful of kids and never had a wedding ring. So that kind of represents the circle and the family of love. There’s another part in the movie, it’s about a Christmas miracle that actually happened to us when we got snowbound and got snowed in to our little cabin right up there in the hollow and almost died, almost froze to death and my daddy was gone. We were out of food and we couldn’t get out. Anyway, it’s about a miracle that Mama had through prayer. All the stories about Coat of Many Colors, and if we wind up doing a sequel, which we might, it’ll be called Life of Many Colors. It’ll all be based on stories that really happened to us or my people at some point along the way.
When it’s all said and done, what is the biggest thing you want viewers to take away from this movie?
I want for myself, I want people to feel better about themselves. I want to feel in the Christmas spirit. I want them to feel closer as a family. I want them to feel closer to God, because it really is like a faith-based (movie) and one the things we do in this particular show, the circle of love is really about the birth of Jesus and Bethlehem and it talks a lot about ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus,’ and the little kids act out the nativity scene as part of the movie and it’s a fun scene that happens. We want families to feel closer together. We’ve just kind of scattered so much because of the new age and new technology, which is wonderful to have all these great things available to us, but I think we lose a lot and have lost a lot about family. More than anything, I want people to feel the joy of Christmas and what Christmas is really about, which is Jesus, and about that love of family and just feeling happy.
The faith aspect of your movies, both the first and the second. Why is that important to you and was there any pushback?
You know, I can’t worry about pushback because we are who we are. I was brought up in a Christian family and that’s what I believe and that’s what I accept and that’s what I’ve seen my whole life. We had a lot of faith. My mother was really very strong in her faith and we believed in prayer and we believed in miracles. This movie really has a time that happened in our lives that you couldn’t say it was anything but a miracle. I talk about, my voiceover says, that some people say, “This couldn’t happen.” Well, I was there. I saw it happen. I know it did. I don’t worry about that. I’m not trying to convert anybody to Christianity. I’m not trying to tell anyone to be this or be that. I’m just telling my story. This is what happened to me. This was my family. But I have a lot of faith. Every day I pray that God will lead me, direct me and let me say and do and be something to uplift mankind and to glorify Him.I read somewhere that you fast and pray before you make a new record.
I do and like I say, I’m not as good a Christian as I need to be. I’m a seeker. I have a song about that, and a sinner. But the Lord forgives us, you know. He knows I’m sincere and He knows me better than anybody. But yes, because of the way I grew up, I try to fast every once in a while. If I get an opportunity to go back home to my Tennessee Mountain Home and write for a couple of weeks, I spend the first few days fasting, just trying to cleanse myself for spiritual and physical reasons, just to try and clear myself of anything else. Then after I get over the headaches and all the stuff that comes along with it, then I really have a clear mind and I can write.
The honor at the Country Music Awards, the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, I know everyone up on that stage looks up to you and I was wondering if you see yourself in some of them?
I see a lot of talent in those people. I’d like to think I had that much talent. I think they’re all so great. I’m really moved and touched and humbled by them saying that I have had an influence or been that much of an inspiration, because you don’t know what you’re going to mean to people. You don’t know how people are looking at you. You just hope you do well. You just come up with your dreams and you dream them and you pray and you work hard and hope you do well. It’s only when you’ve lived this long and accomplished so much and you get an award like that, then you see all those great people that you really admire yourself right now and to think that I’ve meant something to them, then that makes you feel like it was something worthwhile. It’s touching, really. I think, “God, what did I ever do to get so lucky?”
You were talking in the movie how it represents a trend toward Christmas holiday specials. What are some of your favorite holiday movies and specials?
I love the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Everybody has to watch that. No matter how many times you watch it, you think, “Well, you can’t have Christmas (without it)” and when you see that one coming on, that starts your holiday season. I always longed to have a Christmas show of my own that could play year in and year out and could be considered a Christmas classic and I think this one does have a lot of those elements in it. I love Christmas specials too. Jennifer Nettles does a great job with those specials. I used to do specials with my family and I did some Christmas movies. I want to do that again. So next year, I’m going to start doing Christmas specials. Next year, I’m definitely doing a big Christmas special. I’m really looking forward to that.
Is there anything you’d like to say that (yourself as) that little girl?
As far as talking to her as grown up Dolly to little Dolly, we did a scene in the movie and it was very emotional. But I would just say, if I could go back to that time as a little girl, I’d just say “You better buckle up because we’re in for the ride of our lives.”
Are there any scenes that are particularly special to you?
The other day we were working on the film and I had to go in to watch where the music should be and what exactly, the songs we wanted to play over certain things. In the movie when we are freezing to death and dying, we were so cold, we were trapped in our house, the snow had locked us in because we had boarded up the windows because of the wind and cold, not knowing it was coming a blizzard. We were trapped in the house, we couldn’t get out and we were freezing to death. We’d run out of everything. When we got into that part where Mama was praying and the tears were froze on our little faces, honestly I can’t talk about. When I was watching that and we were deciding what music to put over that, it just, I can’t hardly bear it. It’s a good kind of pain, though. It’s a sweet sorrow, but I guess Parton is such sweet sorrow. (laughs) There are several things in it but especially when Mama was praying, when the miracle happened, there was the light and the warmth and all that, so it was – it was just overwhelming. It was like Mama was right there with me again. It’s touching.