Everything at Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park located in her native east Tennessee, is deliciously on brand. Sometimes literally—the park's famed cinnamon bread, made on-site at the still-working grist mill, was worth the 20-minute wait it took to get. Taken on their own, you might not see how attractions as varied as the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world and a 30,000-square-foot aviary of bald eagles are connected to the singer, but it's obvious once you're there and see them in context. Parton's joyous, positivity-is-king spirit is coursing through every inch of the park, from the Cozy Bear Cove gift shop to the nightly fireworks display.
The universe just feels a little more magical when you're at Dollywood, a phenomenon host Jad Abumrad describes in his popular podcast Dolly Parton's America. In episode three, "Tennessee Mountain Trance," Abumrad describes feeling an almost dreamlike sensation while touring the park. I felt it firsthand too: While I was there, I received some disappointing personal news and started tearing up. When I turned around, looking for a place to sit and take a moment, I saw a giant display of red birds—a symbol I always associate with my late grandmother. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not. What's important is that it felt significant to me, a message of kindness from the universe among the butterfly T-shirts and sequined Koozies.
Parton, I think, would be pleased with this sentiment. "I always ask for God to use me and to help me do something," she told me earlier that day. "To throw a little light on things and lighten the burdens a little bit if I can."
We were discussing her new anthology series, Dolly Parton's Heartstrings, which is now streaming on Netflix. Each episode is inspired by a different Parton song and features actors like Melissa Leo and Bellamy Young in heartwarming tales about friendship, family, and love found and lost that always, always end happily. In "Jolene," for example, the story is more about Julianne Hough and Kimberly Williams-Paisley's characters forming a friendship than any dated "other woman" tale. "These Old Bones" features Ginnifer Goodwin and Kathleen Turner as two women who seem opposite on the surface—Goodwin's an overworked lawyer representing a big corporation, Turner's a prophet of sorts who prefers hanging out with goats over people—but discover they have a deep, surprising bond. It's all extremely Dolly: kind, flashy, humble, and timeless.
But here's the thing: It's hard to write about Dolly Parton or review her series when all anyone really wants is to hear from Parton herself. Our conversation about Heartstrings, being a fashion icon, and the things that bring her joy, below.
You've said Heartstrings is meant to be emotional and heartwarming for people. What else do you hope they take away after they watch?
Dolly Parton: I hope I've made them feel things—things they might have forgotten, things maybe they hadn't felt before—but I hope they go away entertained more than anything. I hope they go away thinking, Oh, I'm so glad I saw that. I hope they think about it and watch it again. And they can on Netflix!
Do you hope it'll inspire people to be a little kinder?
In every song I write—and everything I do—I wish people could be a little kinder, better, more special toward humanity. And I wish people could be kinder to themselves as well. I think a lot of these [Heartstrings episodes] go in depth with the characters and their own individual personalities, in the way they express themselves, the way they see themselves, and the way they want other people to see them. So I think that every one of these episodes has really good meaning and things to make you think. It can make you be a better person, if you want to be.
A lot of the stories in Heartstrings, even though they take place in different decades, are relevant across any time. So why do you think right now, in 2019, is a good time for this?
Well, we don't know that it's a good time. We don't know how people are going to react.
I think it is.
We don't know if people are really that interested in that kind of stuff. I just know for myself, I'm such a hopeless romantic, and I love love stories. We had a lot of love in the show. But we touched on all kinds of subjects. We touched on things that are sensitive to people, but also things that are meaningful. We touched on things that really need to be addressed in ways where everybody could have their own part in it. I just felt like it's important to explore all the human emotions and get it all out there.
I hope that people are going to like it. You don't know if people are really going to be into it because they have so many choices now. But I know myself: I miss a lot of those movies that we used to watch that deal with the heart, that pull at your heartstrings and make you think, Oh, that's so sweet. That makes me think of back when... We'll see.
The first two episodes, "Jolene" and "These Old Bones," feature women who are judged and undervalued. That's a theme that comes out in your music a lot too. Was that important for you to show?
Well, I think it's always important for us to be allowed to be who we are, all that we are, and appreciate that. And I know being a woman in this world...I've always been proud that I was born a woman, and I've joked that if I wasn't, I would have been a drag queen. That's my favorite line, but it's probably true. I love being able to express myself, and I want to be seen and appreciated for who I am. So I've always appreciated and loved people for who they are. Because we don't need to all be the same.
But as far as addressing the issues of women in these movies, that's a natural thing for me as a woman and being a writer. That's what naturally I would write. But being from a big family of brothers and men that I love, I'm able to write from their perspective as well. I just know that it's important, like with "Jolene," how it turned out that it's about women supporting women. [I play a] mentor for Jolene, the mother figure who's trying to keep her in line and help her and guide her. It's about friendship and women helping each other. And Old Bones—she's a strong woman who has the gift of clairvoyance and knows more about everybody and everything than anybody. I love that character. She can survive up there in the woods all by herself with her garden and her goats. I love showing that pioneer woman, in a way. We survive.
And it's interesting to see her dynamic with Ginnifer Goodwin's character, who is...
Oh, Ginnifer's so great in that.
...a lawyer who's got a lot to prove to the men who doubt her.
Well, and that's what we tried to do. I think that's a great compliment to the writers, how they actually were able to get those elements in there because it's true. We wanted to show all the different colors of the women—the career woman working night and day try to make it, who then comes back to her home. And then just saying that goodness wins out, the right thing will win out. People were being crooks, and she saw it. I love that about the shows: They all have such meaning.
Were there any songs you were particularly excited about turning into an episode?
Well, they're all my kids, so I was excited about all of them. Some of them made me sadder than others, like I cried my eyes out with "Sugar Hill." That is so touching. I cried a lot when I watched "Old Bones." That one touched my heart because it was my home; it was people that I loved. I saw so much of my mama and so much of my family and the people that we knew in "Old Bones." That one was very emotional, but they all mean something different to me. They're all very important to me. I'm hoping that the people watching are going to feel the same way. Of course, it's more personal for me because they're my stories. They're my kids. I'm just proud of all of them.
Any songs you didn't include that you wish you had?
Oh yeah. If we continue with this...if it's a success, we will continue. But I've got hundreds, even thousands, of songs, and a big portion of them are stories. Any one of them would make a good episode. If we continue Heartstrings, we may do an "I Will Always Love You" or we may do "Here You Come Again." So we'll see. If this works well, if people take to it, there's no end of stories for me.
One thing I love about Heartstrings—and your music—is that so much of it feels hopeful and positive. So I want to know what brings you hope?
I'm just always praying for better things to come. I always ask for God to use me and to help me do something. To throw a little light on things and lighten the burdens a little bit if I can. We hope we've done that [with Heartstrings]. Sam Haskell, who is my partner in this and the executive producer, worked so hard. He works with the writers; he chooses the directors. He's the one that helps bring in all the actors. He was an agent for so many years, so he knows everybody in Hollywood. I have a great advantage having him in my corner, because he can do things I could never dream of. I'm more on the creative end of that.
We're just hoping that we're doing something that will be like when we did Coat of Many Colors and Christmas of Many Colors, Circle of Love. Something that's faith-based and catering to families and people that are looking for a brighter day and to not be thinking about fighting and conflict. We're going to have that no matter what. So if you can lift yourself out of that as much as you can, any way that you can, then that in itself is a blessing. That's what I hope that I can be: a blessing.
If people want to channel or bring a little Dolly into their own lives, what would you tell them to do?
Try to be a little kinder to one another. Live by the golden rules and certain Scriptures that say to treat people the way you'd like to be treated and to love one another and know that every single person is exactly like you. We all cry. We all got blood, we all got tears, we all got problems. We all got the same feelings inside us. People have different opinions. They belong to different groups, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or Baptist or Pentecostal. We're just people. We're just people. And we need to be better to one another—and to ourselves.
We need to try a little harder not to see how much trouble we can start, but how much trouble we can clean up. We need to see how many problems we can solve rather than how many problems we can create. I just try to keep myself in the road. I try to lean on God. I try to write my songs and say in my songs what I want to get out there, and I ask God to lead me and direct me. I hope that through my movies or my songs or my words and my presence, somehow, I can touch somebody and make the world a little better than it might have been a minute ago.
What about fashion and beauty—how can people channel some of your energy when they're getting ready for the day?
I always laugh when think about me as [a fashion icon]. I have good people. If I've got any kind of fashion sense that's because of Steve Summers and the other people that dress me. I just like to shine. I like to be sparkly. I think it goes back to what I said: Everybody should just be themselves. You should be your own individual self and wear whatever makes you feel good.
If you want to wear a lot of makeup or no makeup or a little makeup, if you want to wear a gaudy sweater like me, wear a gaudy sweater. If you don't, wear simple, beautiful stuff like you. [Gestures to my outfit.] I just think everybody should base how they live in this world with what they're comfortable with. I may make some people uncomfortable with the way I look because of their ideas about fashion and beauty. But if I'm comfortable in myself, not only in my own skin but in my own clothes, then something's going to radiate from me that's going to make other people feel comfortable with me.
I think people should do what's best for them and not try to be fashionable and not try to dress like this one or that one. I'm too stingy to be fashionable. Ain't no way I'm going to spend the kind of money some people do, to spend $2,000 on one coat when I could buy 14 for the same money and in different colors! I don't care because I like them, no matter what the cost.
Anna Moeslein is a senior editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram at @annamoeslein. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on Glamour