Performing is a way for Red (Krew Boylan) to blow off steam in “Seriously Red,” heading down to the local pub to sing Dolly Parton hits after the exhausting work of spending her days trying to sell houses as a realtor. It may be fun for her, but she’s become good enough to pass for the real thing after covering up her strawberry locks with Dolly’s blonde curls, quoting her quips like scripture and able to play the percussion to “9 to 5” using only her long nails, so it’s no surprise after being spotted by someone (Celeste Barber) who handles celebrity impersonators professionally that Red can start to envision another life for herself entirely when discovering there’s an opening on the tour — after all, there’s no way that Kenny Rogers (Daniel Webber) can manage the duet “Diamonds in the Stream” all by himself.
Still, as powerful as Red can feel slipping into Parton’s particularly big persona, there’s only so far one can go in acting as someone else as its writer and star Boylan could feel before she poured her heart out into the film, which she’s spent the past decade honing before its celebrated premiere at South By Southwest this week. A breezy comedy on first blush, “Seriously Red” lingers longer than the many laughs it inspires when Boylan considers how one often needs to try on a number of different personalities before finding an identity of their own amidst a world of pretend celebrities. If it’s a lonely road for Red, however, it was less so for Boylan, who could draw strength from the group of strong fellow Aussie women who lined up behind her, from director Gracie Otto, producer Jessica Carrera and Rose Byrne, who eight years ago drove from Atlanta to Nashville to take on the even more arduous task of securing song rights to Parton’s catalog. (The collaboration was so strong, the quartet along with “Babyteeth” director Shannon Murphy, have formed the production company Dollhouse Pictures.)
Both funny and poignant, the time it took for “Seriously Red” to reach the screen was clearly worth it and after its premiere in Austin, Boylan spoke about the emotional release she had in finally presenting it to the world, the film’s outrageous and enlivening cosmetic touches and getting at something authentic in all the impersonation.
How did this whole crazy thing come about?
I wanted to make something that I could do and cast myself. This is my first screenplay and I like to write to figure out something, so I wanted to figure out why I wanted success and what that looked and felt like? And I landed with my answer, which for me is Dolly Parton. She’s an obviously talented singer/songwriter and comedian, but a businesswoman and she looks like she does, but she “thinks like a man and looks like a woman” — all those amazing quotes she’s said over the years. That was how I started my journey delving into Dolly and [figuring out] how does she navigate life and her career and be the success that she is.
What was the actual transformation into Dolly like?
We really wanted to focus on her journey as dressing up as Dolly and being Dolly. She’s like the not-so-good Dolly in the beginning with the bad wigs and the weird, funny outfits the more she immerses herself into being someone else and trying to perfect that. Then Dolly becomes more gorgeous and more like Dolly, which is an angel, but there’s [still] a lot of wigs and crazy outfits. Tim Chapel, our costume designer, is extraordinary. He just did “The Masked Singer” and he came on board and just exploded, because in film, you don’t often get to explode creatively if you’re in costume. It’s a lot of jeans and T-shirts [that] might be period, but it’s all quite restricted, but he’s incredibly creative. And Cassie Hanlon, who did all the hair, makeup and wigs is very similar to Tim — they both worked together on “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and they were a formidable team bringing all the different looks and the Dollies together.
As a performer, you’ve got audiences there for some of the concert scenes and those sets are so lively. Did the environments help get you into this role?
It really did. And we had such a cool set of impersonators and extras that were really giving and they’re performers as well, so they really felt like a part of the family. I say that because sometimes you do jobs and the extras are really separate to the actors or the action, but with this, it was just like a little great tight little family of just big hair, crazy costumes and weird, wonderful ideas and we definitely fed off all of everybody’s energy because making a film is a collaboration for sure.
There some wild scenarios that led me to wonder, were there situations on set where you’re like, “What did I write myself into?”
Not really. One of the first moments was we were l chilling out between takes and Rose [Byrne] was sitting over there as this kind of fat Elvis, just scrolling through her phone and I looked across and I was like, “What a have I done? She looks hilarious.” I love making her do that to some degree because it was just so funny. But I think it’s not worth it if you’re not being you, especially in art [when] you want to put yourself out there, you want to break your own boundaries and you want to be vulnerable. You can’t necessarily control how that lands, but that’s worthy for me as an artist to push myself.
I almost don’t want to spoil one gag, but it’s so subtle it may slip past – what was it like to actually get Dannii Minogue among the impersonators, playing herself?
I could not. [laughs] I was so starstruck when she came on set, I was like, “Is she here? Is she here?” She’s such a cool chick and it was such a beautiful moment for us to have her because she had to fly. It wasn’t like “Oh yeah, I’ll drop around.” She’s such a good sport and of course Kylie, her sister, lent her some music. We really wanted to have both of their essence in there, and Dannii Minogue was stuck together with Mimi Minogue, an impersonator of Kylie Minogue who a really famous woman who has dressed up as Kylie for years and is friends with the Minogue family, so they knew each other and that was cool. I was so starstruck and [Dannii’s] so beautiful and kind, and she’s such a great sport. It was completely our honor that she came and did that with us.
Was there anything that happened that you may not have expected, but, is now in the film and you really like about it?
Loads. I’m such an actor, so all the little moments that I go, “Oh, that was just such a great in-the-moment thing that just makes that scene,” whether it was Celeste or Bobby [Cannavale, who plays Red’s manager] or Rose [Byrne] or Daniel [Webber] or Tom [Campbell, who plays Red’s co-worker Francis] — this cool cast we’ve got, all the little nuances I’ve always really loved. But what I didn’t anticipate is that writing this story about wanting success is the catharsis of filming this story would be enough. Because when you think about success, you think about money or fame or the aftermath, and what was surprising to me [after] I finished filming it, I went, “Huh. Well, that’s good. Whatever comes after is just going to be a blessing If two people see the movie or if thousands [do], it’ll just be a blessing because the catharsis of filming that story filled me up.
What’s it like getting to the premiere after working on this for close to a decade?
It’s so wonderful. Last night was such a highlight all of our hard work and all of the years of trying to get it up and hustling and filming. All of it came together for last night. It was just such a positive high. You’ve got to you got to celebrate the little things, but you also got to celebrate the big things and last night was big. And I really feel that part of this festival is so charged with humans being reconnecting and finding joy. Because in the face of the crises that are happening around the world, you’ve got to also experience joy to remember that you’re human and hopefully we can all get through it.
“Seriously Red” will screen at SXSW on March 18th at 8 pm at the Stateside Theatre.