Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller were well aware that they had a formidable task ahead of them when they signed on to play Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, respectively, in the new Lifetime movie Patsy & Loretta, premiering Saturday, Oct. 19.
The Broadway veterans — Hilty was nominated for a Tony for her work in Noises Off and Mueller nabbed one for her portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful — had both been fans of the women but some pretty high profile projects had already attempted to capture the country star’s separate lives. Wisely, the Lifetime film helmed by Callie Khouri — who knows a thing or two about female friendship given the Oscar she won for the screenplay for Thelma & Louise — zeroes in to tell the story of the friendship between the two legends, which ended with Cline’s untimely death in a 1963 plane crash.
EW recently chatted with the fast friends about stepping into the shoes of two giants of American music, and following in the footsteps of some equally revered American actresses.
On how daunting it is to play not only real people but ones who have been played previously to great acclaim by several actresses including Jessica Lange (Cline) and Sissy Spacek (Lynn)
“It’s incredibly daunting just to be playing a real person to begin with,” the Smash star says, with a laugh, about the “Crazy” singer. “And then yes, add on the fact that all of these incredibly, insanely, talented actresses have already played her before. It’s all ridiculously intimidating if you stop and think about it. My trick is not thinking about it!” So, she avoided watching Lange in Sweet Dreams as well as other portrayals because “I didn’t want to base mine off of theirs.”
Mueller agrees the task was fear-inducing but, she did watch Spacek in her Oscar-winning turn in Coal Miner’s Daughter before starting Patsy & Loretta, partly out of sheer curiosity. “I loved the film and I think Sissy Spacek is incredible in it,” says Mueller. “I was still learning about Loretta at the time, but what was so moving about the portrayal was that I just bought it. In some ways, that was intimidating, but I think it was also in some ways freeing, because I just thought ‘Well, that’s what we’ve got to strive for.’ We’re never gonna be a carbon copy of these women. That’s why they are so revered, because there was nobody like them. To me, it was all about trying to find a way to interpret the authenticity that drew people to them.”
On preparing to play the famous singers
“I was a huge fan of her music and her voice but I didn’t know anything about her personal life, really, except for that it ended too soon,” says Hilty of Cline. “The more research I did, the more madly in love I fell with her, and I got increasingly upset about how quickly her life was taken, from her and from us. Could you imagine the amazing things she would have done in music and for women in music?”
Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell — named for Cline — and Cline’s daughter Julie Fudge both served as consulting producers on the film and the actresses found their input invaluable. “Julie is extremely kind and supportive, and I don’t think I could have done this without the blessing of their family,” says Hilty, among whose various research methods included visiting the Patsy Cline Museum in Nashville and examining artifacts like handwritten letters. “She was so funny and self-deprecating, but with that Southern charm,” says the 38-year-old Washington native. “It was funny how many times she wrote ‘ha!’ with an exclamation point.”
Mueller did a similar deep dive on the coal miner’s daughter. “It was so fun to do the research, read her book, and find out who she was listening to growing up,” says the Illinois-bred actress. “It just sends you down this amazing rabbit hole.”
On portraying a strong, and complex, female friendship
“I feel like so many networks really think that the stories about women pitted against each other in competition is the way to go, and that’s what people want to see,” says Hilty. “This shows us that we can support each other and celebrate each other…. friction-free, and it’s still interesting and it’s worth watching.”
“That’s the reason I wanted to do it,” says Mueller, 36. “My relationships with the important women in my life that I’ve been able to form, especially over the past five years, have been so impactful and hard and challenging and rewarding. And that’s what I got from the script: ‘These are real women. They’re really going through it together.’ They love each other and get pissed off by each other and work through it. They have each other’s backs. That’s how we get through life. We have to have our people.”
“It wasn’t just Loretta Lynn that she took under her wing,” says Hilty of Cline, who instead of viewing the newcomer as a rival showed her the ropes. “There are countless other women in the books that I was reading that talked about how she would sit women down, and sternly but lovingly tell them how to get paid, how to handle themselves, how to dress themselves, that it’s important to know the keys your songs are in so that you can tell your bands. And that [sense of women helping women] is what I hope everybody takes away from this film.”
On filming at the revered Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, referred to as the “Mother Church” of country music
“It was so important to be there to film it,” says Hilty. “Subconsciously [the space] infuses [the film] with the history that it needs, and goodness gracious, being at the Ryman and getting to film a performance on stage was, I mean, that’s a bucket list thing that we can cross off now. Every five minutes we looked at each other, saying, ‘We’re going to call each other once in a while and say, ‘Hey, remember that time we got to sing and dance at the Ryman as Patsy and Loretta? We should never, ever forget.’ ”
On attending an all-star tribute concert for Lynn in Nashville that coincidentally took place the same day they filmed at the Ryman
“It was incredible,” says Mueller of the event that featured everyone from George Strait to the Highwomen to Kacey Musgraves to Keith Urban sending love to Lynn, who was in the audience. “Anybody who was anybody in country music was there. And we just kept looking around like we were the kids that got into the cool senior prom or something, like we had busted in. The family had given us ‘friends and family’ passes. So we were walking around backstage and we were able to watch from the side of the stage, which was really neat and special.”
“It was insane, absolutely insane,” agrees Hilty. “It was actually really beneficial for us to see the inner workings of the country superstars, and how they come together. On top of being a fan and stuff, it was actually a really great learning experience too.”
On why this story is important to tell now
“We are in this moment where so much of our world is obsessed with the idea of ‘me,’ and what I want and what I get and what I can do and what I can prove and what I can achieve,” says Mueller. “We are in this together and you can’t move forward without people. You can’t create art without people. You can’t acknowledge genius without people. You can’t foster good things without people and without love. And I think hopefully to see something like this right now, people will be reminded that we need each other right now.”
On meeting Lynn one day
“I haven’t met her yet,” says Mueller. “I’m totally nervous. I hope it happens and it’ll feel like the whole experience came full circle. I just hope she feels like we’ve honored her, and her friends and her family. That’s my hope for the whole project.”
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