The first question asked during an interview about playing Patsy Cline turns out to be the first question Megan Hilty herself had about the project.
“I asked what their intentions were with the hair,” Hilty says over the phone about her new Lifetime TV movie Patsy & Loretta, co-starring fellow Broadway star Jessie Mueller. “And they said, ‘It’s very big.’ It has to be! This could live or die with bad wigs. The hair has to be right because they had very specific styles and if it isn’t right, then people won’t be able to focus on anything else.”
People are happily able to focus on the extraordinary performances from the two leads: Hilty as Cline and Mueller as her mentee and friend, fellow country superstar Loretta Lynn. Over the course of the film, they share career advice, troubles, cocktails, and drama. But don’t expect a repeat of the rivalry from Hilty’s Smash days.
“People think that audiences aren’t interested in watching two women support each other,” Hilty says. “They think we always have to be in competition, and this film proves the opposite.”
Even more remarkable are the two leads’ uncanny performances of classic songs like “Crazy” and “Honky Tonk Girl.” For Hilty, recreating such an immediately recognizable performer is just par for the course with her career.
“I think a case could be made that everything I have ever done, other people have made iconic or it was a person or somebody did it better than I could have but I’m gonna do it anyway!” she says with a laugh, referencing a career spent playing roles made immortal by Kristin Chenoweth, Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe, and Carol Channing. “Every single time I got to be like, ‘Well, this is what I bring to the table based on the research that I have done!’”
That research led her to a realization about Cline. “She really didn’t want anyone to know, but she had a real tender side,” Hilty says. “And I think—wild speculation, obviously—but most of her hits, she didn’t want to sing, and I think I know why. I think because the lyrics hit too close to home for her. I know I do that with songs and I can only imagine she did not want to feel that vulnerable either. But when she got in the booth and sang those lyrics, they tapped into something very tender and very real, and that’s part of why her performances are so brilliant and why so many people have a physical response to hearing her voice.”
The same could be said of Hilty, as Cline or just as herself.
Patsy & Loretta premieres on Lifetime October 19.