Rose Byrne on Having Sex With a Dolly Parton Impersonator

There are only a few things certain in this life: Death, taxes, and Dolly Parton probably just did something inspiring, legendary, and iconic.

At the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, Dolly is having a moment. Of course she is. When is she not?

Not only is she scheduled to perform later this week at the festival, but she’s at the center of two of the event’s biggest films. The documentary Still Working 9 to 5, about the legacy and impact of the 1980 movie, premiered, along with a new duet version of the title song recorded with Kelly Clarkson. The film Seriously Red, about a wayward Australian woman who “pours herself a cup of ambition” and quits her job to become a full-time Dolly Parton tribute performer, also had its world premiere.

Then there’s the proverbial word on the street, which has been abuzz with people fawning over her humble, classy, so-very-Dolly statement that she’d like to withdraw her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination because she doesn’t feel she deserved it.

It’s almost redundant to hail any particular time or occasion as a major Dolly Parton moment.

“I know, they’re endless,” Rose Byrne laughs, speaking to The Daily Beast in Austin. The actress, who previously premiered the films Bridesmaids, Spy and Neighbors at SXSW, co-stars in Seriously Red and serves as its executive producer. “I was just saying that every year she tops herself and becomes more iconic. Like, her post this morning about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… just who’s classier than Dolly Parton? She’s just the most genuinely modest artist out there. She never ceases to amaze me.”

Oh, and it’s not just the Hall of Fame thing. It’s her stellar stint hosting last week’s Academy of Country Music Awards. It’s the recent announcement that Dollywood would begin paying tuition for any employee who wants to further their education. It’s the fact that she bankrolled a life-changing vaccine.

“Truly, when everything is so polarizing these days, she remains the one thing everybody loves and agrees on,” Byrne says.

Seriously Red is directed by Gracie Otto and was written by Byrne’s longtime friend Krew Boylan, who also stars. Boylan plays Raylene “Red” Delaney, a vivacious woman who struggles with the limitations of a traditional office job and the pressure her family puts on her to conform to societal expectations. A night dressed up as a Dolly Parton impersonator begins as a lark, until she finds a community of tribute performers who inspire her to invest seriously in the endeavor.

A foray into the glamour fantasy of boob-padding, fake nails, and mountain-high wigs—as Parton herself says, “If anyone tells you your hair is too big, get rid of them; you don’t need that negativity in your life”—quickly takes on deeper and more consequential meaning, as a career channeling Dolly and her spirit begins to fundamentally change Red as well.


Byrne has been working with Boylan for nearly eight years to make Seriously Red, beginning with a road trip while six months pregnant from Atlanta, where she was shooting Neighbors, to the Nashville office of Parton’s longtime manager Danny Nozell to get the singer’s blessing—not to mention the rights to her songs. (“I just loved #SeriouslyRed!” Parton tweeted ahead of its SXSW premiere. “The film is a wonderful tribute to being the best version of yourself.”)

In addition to executive producing, Byrne co-stars in the film as an Elvis Presley tribute performer, which, besides having the actress done up in a pompadour with bushy sideburns, has her shooting a love scene with her good friend Boylan, dressed as Dolly. And if that’s not trippy enough, the sex scenes between Red-as-Dolly and a Kenny Rogers tribute performer (Daniel Webber) raise the surreal quotient. Then there’s Byrne’s own partner Bobby Cannavale, who plays a Neil Diamond impersonator.

The morning after all of that unfurled for the first time on the SXSW big screen, we talked with Byrne about the film, channeling Elvis, and the glory of Dolly Parton. Because let’s face it, when is it ever a bad time to sit and chat about Dolly?

I feel like when someone’s producing a movie about Dolly Parton, the assumption is that they’re a massive, maybe even extreme, fan. Is that the case?

Krew Boylan wrote the screenplay and is the star, and for her it was really a conversation about success and what that looks like and feels like and how it can fail you and serve you—all the complex things that come with that journey. And Dolly was sort of a template for that. For me, yes, she absolutely has always been a figure of such importance. What I’ve always admired about her is how she changed the landscape for female singer-songwriters. Back when she was starting out, for the first time, you heard the narrative about the woman, rather than the perspective from the man in those stories. It was really groundbreaking.


Yeah, that’s quite a legacy.

Rose Byrne on Having Sex With a Dolly Parton Impersonator

I also love how intelligent she is. She always gets ahead of the joke on herself. She’s the first one to say it. That, to me, is brilliant. She’s sort of also a comedian.

She might also be one of the first major stars who I remember knowing their backstory. Her biography, growing up poor in the Smoky Mountains, was always a part of her legend. It’s so common now to know everything about every celebrity, but I feel like she was one of the first to be so open about her past.

Yeah. Because it’s such a story, right? I mean, what an incredible story and such a truly American story to be from the Deep South and the poverty she grew up in, and get to where she is. It’s also the love she had from her family, which she always speaks about. Her story is so much part of all of the image of her.

It’s also interesting because image is a big part of being Dolly, and it’s such an exaggerated, over-the-top image. But her backstory and what we know about her is so grounded and human and relatable. It’s an interesting contrast between those two things.

It is. The humble beginnings and the presentation of herself. Again, there’s always a wink to the camera. And the humility. All these years later, to write that post today [about the Hall of Fame], you go, wow, like, what an extraordinary example for everybody.

Advertisement“She always gets ahead of the joke on herself. She’s the first one to say it. That, to me, is brilliant. She’s sort of also a comedian.”

What do you make of the phenomenon of tribute performers? It’s this whole cottage industry, it’s own strange niche of entertainment and of fandom.

It’s fascinating. When we were filming those scenes at the coffee club, for me, that was very much when the penny dropped. The commitment that these tribute performers have to what they’re doing is incredibly real and grounded. We all rose to the occasion. We recognized that this is not a joke. This is a very serious, serious thing to these artists, to commit to these performances as these celebrities. There is a subculture of fans who go around the world to see these tribute performances. That is fascinating. How does someone get on that path?

That must be an interesting thing to think about as an actress. When an actor plays a real-life celebrity in a film, it’s esteemed and celebrated. But these impersonators are often looked down upon or judged as silly.

I know. There’s the idea that it’s less of a commitment, but it’s not. It’s a total devotion of one’s life to do that, and to make a living from that. That’s why I love that storyline with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It’s his commitment to the commitment. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but it’s wild.

And now we have this surreal experience of watching Dolly Parton have a sex scene with Kenny Rogers. And with Elvis!


It’s so funny. I feel like she has such a great sense of humor and sense of irony about things that—look, I can’t speak for Dolly, obviously, but I hope that she can enjoy it.

How did you feel being Elvis in a love scene with someone dressed as Dolly Parton?

I mean, we were just trying not to laugh a lot of the time because obviously, you know, Krew’s one of my oldest and closest friends. But we were just delighted to be there. Once I put on that wig and that suit and found the voice and immersed myself in footage and stuff, I couldn’t have had more fun.

Spending so much time in the world of Dolly and the message of this movie, did you find yourself changed by being a part of all of this?

I mean, sure. It’s been such a long road that we all, I think, in a way can’t even process it yet. We’ve been in it for so long, and been on the other side of it, which is the producing side of it trying to get it made. But last night at the premiere, I really did have a moment where the film landed and the credits came up and I felt that sense of what the movie is about, about identity and truth and acknowledging that, particularly for the character of Red. I just really felt that landing, and that was very special.


There’s a line in the film that I loved, “If you’re so busy being someone else, who’s busy being you?” You must have an interesting take on that as a person who pretends to be someone else for a living.

I love that line. I think we all suffer from that as artists. There’s a moment of losing yourself or forgetting yourself. It’s always about a balance with everything in your life, of being able to do that and hand the keys over when you’re performing and let that other side out. Then there’s the side where you have to find the space within you, that’s just really yourself and your true self. So I think what’s challenging about the business is that kind of balance, and why Dolly is such a fascinating example of that. How she talks about her appearance is one thing. Her personality is another. And then her success is on top of all of that. She’s a pretty shining example.

I feel like we—or at least I—spent so much of the last few years working through crises of identity and really working out who we are under extreme circumstances. It was interesting to watch this film and see a person discover more about themselves by first pretending to be somebody else.

I know. And it’s a very humorous example of that. I think with social media too, there’s so many cottage industries now to disguise your true self. All those sorts of things that can kind of drown out the noise of your own inner temperature. That’s why I enjoy the film so much. It goes to such extremes, and it’s tonally very interesting. It starts out quite broad and as a very upbeat comedy, and then settles in and then really becomes much more dark and moving.

My last question: Seeing Bobby Cannavale as Neil Diamond. A turn on or a turn off?


[Laughs] Oh, I mean, he is hysterical in the film. I was just dying every time I saw him. I was just laughing the whole time. He’s such a good sport.