Megan Hilty’s Motto: “What Would Dolly Do?”
Typically when actors step into a role another performer made iconic, they don’t have said star staring them in the face every day. But Megan Hilty not only had to breathe new life into Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” role, but she had to work hand-in-hand with the country legend on a daily basis since Dolly wrote the score!
Oh, and she had to do all that dressed as Dolly’s Mini-Me in Lee Press On Nails, oversize blonde wig and double D fake boobs. Needless to say, it’s been the most fun Megan’s ever had! And after checking out the show, I can definitely say the fun is infectious.
I chatted with Megan about working 9 to 5 with Dolly, relearning to breathe in that costume and her life aspirations — hint: it might involve a theme park!
PopWrap: Congrats on opening night, was it crazy to have Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda come out to support you?
Megan Hilty: A little bit, I kept trying to remind myself to soak it all in and remember the moments because who knows if they’ll ever happen again!
PW: This is the first show you’ve been with from rehearsals to debut — how is it different?
Megan: It’s not that I wasn’t proud to be a part of “Wicked,” but there is something about being a part of the process from day one that you feel like the show is your child because you were there for its conception. You’ve put your handprint on a show that will hopefully stick around for some time.
PW: Now, I know the show didn’t clean up with Tony nominations, but you did snag a bunch, that’s got to be exciting?
Megan: Yeah, unfortunately our show wasn’t nominated so we won’t be a part of all the celebrations, but I am so proud of Dolly [best original score], Allison [Janney, best actress] and everyone else — our show is such a group effort that any success the show sees feels like a win for everybody.
PW: How did the role come about?
Megan: I was on tour with “Wicked” in Toronto when my boyfriend told me they were doing a “9 to 5” musical and asked why I wasn’t auditioning for the Doralee role. The very next morning I got a call from the director, Joe Mantello, who I worked with in “Wicked” asking if I would come be a part of the first reading.
PW: And the rest is history — how has the show changed since that first reading?
Megan: Well, that was more than two years ago, so it’s hugely different. There was a point when the song “Backwoods Barbie” was taken out because they were afraid it was a little too close to Dolly — but the whole character was written based on her, so it just didn’t feel right not to have that song, which perfectly captures Doralee, in there.
PW: You have a very Dolly-costume, which aspect — hair, boobs, nails — helps you find the character the most?
Megan: I would say that the nails help a lot. People think that’s weird because the audience can’t see them, but you act differently with those long nail on. You use your hands in a totally different way. And the underwear helps too, it completely changes my shape and the way I walk.
PW: How tightly pulled into that costume are you?
Megan: Well, the waist cincher makes me about 4 inches smaller than I usually am. As soon as I put it on I hold myself differently and breathe differently/ But I think it’s fun to wear things like that, especially when it makes me look like a Barbie doll!
PW: Dolly is a tough act to follow, talk me through your train of thought when you realized you’d be playing a version of this woman who is basically on set every day.
Megan: It started out being one of the most stressful things I’ve ever dreamed of. When I realized she would be in the room, I panicked. But she is the most genuinely kind and down to earth person I’ve ever met.
PW: What was it like the first time you two met?
Megan: I was really scared. I thought, “oh god, I’ll never live up to her expectations.” But all those things went out the window immediately. Dolly has been nothing but supportive and gracious — something that started out so scary turned into an experience that I’ll cherish my whole life.
PW: What have you learned from her?
Megan: Well, I’ve come up with an expression — and I just told Dolly about it, which I hope didn’t freak her out. But it’s, “What would Dolly do?” And I’m going to make bracelets! She’s just got this positive attitude without an ounce of fakeness. She sets the bar really high which makes everyone try to match her. So if I’m having a tough day, I just think, “What would Dolly do?”
PW: The show has an awesome message of empowerment — do you feel at all like a Spice Girl, touting “Girl Power!” every night?
Megan: A little bit, but at the same time, I feel like this is a people power thing. Yes, there are so many important women’s issues in the show, but I feel like this is a story about the underdog. Everybody knows what it’s like to be mistreated and to see these three people get what they deserve is so gratifying.
PW: What was the very first show you were in?
Megan: I think the very first thing I ever did was play Bet in “Oliver!” I must’ve been 7 or 8 years old.
PW: And did you know, then and there, that the stage was the place for you?
Megan: Oh, absolutely! I’ve always been singing. My mom read this article when she was pregnant that tone deaf women shouldn’t sing to their children because that can be passed on. So when she refused to sing to me, I became obsessed with the recordings she’d give me. I would try to mimic the voices on the albums and that just had a snowball effect on me. It was never a question of whether or not I would do this, it was a matter of when and how.
PW: What are Megan Hilty’s dream roles?
Megan: I would love to play the witch in “Into The Woods” and Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd.” But I have some time till I’m able to play those women … hopefully I’ll have more work between now and then! [laughs]
PW: I know you have a coffee and tea line — what else would you like to try?
Megan: I would like to do everything, and I don’t think that’s too ambitious. I’m not a one-trick pony!
PW: Just like Dolly!
Megan: Yes, but I might not go for the theme park.
PW: Why not?!?
Megan: You know what, I could try!
PW: Hilty-Wood has a nice ring to it.
Megan: What, you don’t like Mega-Wood? [laughs] Wait, that sounds dirty … I might get he wrong kind of patrons!