Dolly Parton Compares Music Artistry to Acting Roles in Conversation with Tim McGraw: “I Made a Better Whore Than I Did a Secretary”

On July 21, country music matriarch, Dolly Parton joined Tim McGraw on his Beyond The Influence Radio on Apple Music Country. The two artists bonded over their common ground, crossing over as musical performers into the acting world.

McGraw—known for his roles in Friday Night LightsThe Blind Side, and more—praised the multi-talented icon’s acting career. He said, “The hardest thing I think for a singer to come into a movie and do is make the audience forget about their persona as a singer.

“You have such a persona about you, and I think that’s what puts you head and shoulders above any singer that wants to go do movies…right off the bat, you’re into your character and you’re aren’t looking at Dolly Parton anymore…that’s an incredible thing to do and a hard thing to do.”

“I love country music and I started out with that dream of just being a songwriter and a singer, and wanted to be on the Grand Ole Opry and wanted to travel the world, but as you go along, you learn new things…and you think, ’Well, I can make something more out of that’…so I just always left myself open to working in open and honest ways the best that I could, and I loved doing it. It just seemed to fall naturally for me,” the 75-year-old country music star told McGraw.

Before 1980, Parton had been asked to be featured in several movie projects, but didn’t feel “ready.” Then when 9 to 5 came along—featuring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who Parton said, “were both so hot at the time”—she thought, ‘Well, if there’s any time to start, this would be now because if it’s a big hit, then I can share in the glory of it. If it’s a failure, I can blame it all on them and I’ll walk away free.”

When she read over the script, Parton saw much of herself in the girl from Texas. In taking the role, Parton cut a deal that she could write the theme song.

“I actually wrote the song on the set as we went along,” Parton said about her No.1 hit single “9 to 5.” “As I’d watch things and I’d work with my fingernails, my acrylic nails making it sound like a typewriter, I wrote a lot of stuff on the set. So I made it fun, but I knew I had that part under control.”

She wasn’t worried about her ability to write and rhyme. But with all her boldness, Parton admits the acting made her nervous. “I was a little unsure myself, but like I’ve always said, my desire to do things is greater than my fear of it,” she told McGraw. “So I just leaped right in there like I do everything else because I knew if I said I’d do it, I would do it. I would make it work.”

Parton adds, “So it did turn out to be pretty good. So that was when I got a taste of it and I thought, ‘Well, what took me so long?'” 

And like she anticipated, Parton did hit her acting stride, and two years later she took another step into her acting career when she played the role of brothel boss in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).

“I made a better whore than I did a secretary,” Parton laughed. “But it was still parts of my personality I could relate to.”

The catch, she says, is to only take character parts that align with her distinctive personality. “I have never yet done one of those scenes that were that far-fetched. Even when I did Steel Magnolias, I played a beautician. If I hadn’t made it in the music business, I would have been a beautician. So I understood that,” said Parton.

Hear the full interview on Apple Music as Parton and McGraw further discuss movies, God, and following their intuition.  

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