BWW Interview: Jessie Mueller Talks Playing Loretta Lynn in Lifetime's PATSY & LORETTA
The film is based on the untold true story of the friendship between the music icons. When they first met, Patsy (Hilty) was already one of the biggest stars in COUNTRY MUSIC while Loretta (Mueller) was just a coal miner's daughter, starting off with little to her name but a $17 guitar. Instead of seeing Loretta as competition, Patsy took Loretta under her wings to help her make it in Nashville.
Jessie Mueller took the time to talk to us about what it was preparing for the role and getting to tell this story!
How did you first hear about the role?
The team reached out to me. I think, actually, I was one of the last people sort of sign on to the project. I think it had been in the works for a while and I think they'd had some other people attached to it, and then my agent got a call from Callie [Khouri], who directed it, and Neil [Meron], who was producing... floated the idea of playing Loretta and I was shocked. I was like, 'Wait, they want me to do what? They want me to play who?' It really kind of threw my off. I was like 'I don't get it. I don't think I could do this. I don't really play the guitar. It sounds really cool.' And I've met Megan a couple of times in social situations, but she and I have never gotten to work together before, I mean I've certainly seen her do things and I think she's incredible, but it's funny now looking back, I was so scared of the project, but I'm just so grateful that I got to be a part of it. It turned out to be a huge blessing, but I was really, really scared.
Were you able to chat or meet with Loretta Lynn before filming?
You know what? No, and I haven't actually met with her yet. Like I said, I was trepidatious, but I think one of the things that turned me around, in addition to Callie and Neil being so kind and sort of brave and say[ing to me], 'No, we think you can do this. We know you can do this,' was that the families were so on board for the project. That was really important to me because it's someone's real life that you're portraying. I wouldn't have wanted to attempt it if the families weren't behind the project, which they were, so that was pretty amazing. But no, I haven't had the chance to meet Loretta Lynn yet so I hope that I get to do that at some point.
The relationship between you and Megan, as Loretta and Patsy, is such an important friendship to show audiences.
I agree. That was the thing that really drew me to it. And like I said before, there were many things about the project that I was trepidatious about. One being how iconic these women were, and are, and also, just being completely honest, I feel like I even knew more about Patsy than I did about Loretta like, I just didn't feel first in the in the sort of culture of it all, but I had a feeling in a respect about how dear these people are to their fans and to COUNTRY MUSIC and so, but the other side of it was the friendship like you're talking about and I think that was the thing that kept drawing me back. And I was like, 'Well, I might not know a lot about this part or this part and we'll have to see how that unfolds when the work starts,' but I was like, 'the friendship I feel like I get.' The friendship is what kept bringing me back to the project.
I think I'm just at a time in my life too that I really, really value my friendships and I'm really kind of digging into them and examining them and finding out which ones are important; which ones serve you and which ones don't serve you. And I think the fact that the film explores how much these two ladies supported each other is a really important thing to see right now.
It also shows something we don't see very often portrayed in film - a strong female friendship.
Isn't that interesting?
Yes, not to mention how they had to deal with being the successful partner in their marriage, and the fallout that caused with their husbands.
I agree, and I think the thing that I kept realizing as we were working on it was there be days where I thought like, 'Oh, gosh, I'm just so grateful to be a modern woman and all the things that we've sort of moved through and, and gosh, look how far we've come.' And then the next day, I would feel like, 'Man, look at all this stuff we still haven't moved through and look how much farther we have come.' It's just the opposite sides of both of that Spectrum and it could like turn on a dime. And I just also found that fascinating. I just think like you said, it's really important for young women, for older women, for females in general to just see actually female relationships and honest one. And like you said, not women competing, not women always talking about their appearance, or women talking about who they are just in terms of what they're doing or what they're accomplishing, but women actually talking about what they're going through and where they feel their shortcomings are but also lifting each other up like real relationships. I think we, in the media, we see a lot of complex male relationships portrayed but we don't see that as much with females. I think that's starting to change.
I think a movie like this not only shows audiences two women who paved a way for women today, but at the same time, it reminds us of how much we still have to overcome.
That's awesome. I love you got that from that. I've always been fascinated by other periods, other periods of history and especially how women navigate other periods of history because I think it's also really important to see where we've been. And to see these sort of cultural grooves that have been caught like there's a reason we I think it is important to know sometimes where these pathways start and where these choices were made, and where we've decided to cut a new path and to me, it just doesn't bring me down, it gives me hope. And I like to know the reasons for things. I'm a very orderly person, so I think it's actually really refreshing to look back and see, 'Well like yeah it's hard because you know what? This is really ingrained in our culture.' There are things that have been taken for granted for a long time, things that were just accepted as part of society and, you know, the good, bad, the ugly, whatever. I think it's important to look back and see what choices have been made and what choices can still be made. Does that make sense? This stuff didn't come out of nowhere. And what we're working against doesn't come out of nowhere, like it is big. It's deeply, deeply rooted.
What was it like preparing to play Loretta Lynn, from learning guitar to embodying her look and sound?
It was a process. It was like an exercise in letting go and an exercise of trust. I had a dear friend of mine here in New York City, Meg Toohey, who's a guitarist I worked with on the show Waitress and I called her up, I texted her and I was like, 'I need to bar chords and I need to learn them really fast. Will you help me?' And she did. She was instrumental in me getting over that first hurdle. I played a little guitar, I mean, I played some chords, but Loretta Lynn basically, she was a self-taught guitarist, she played bar chords. And I didn't know any bar chords. So Meg took me through like bar chords 101 and some basic theory on the guitar. And it got me actually making sounds and moving along the guitar neck in the right way. And then our music producer who worked on the film, Tim Lauer, was also amazing and kind of guiding me through it, and then it was just picking the keys and adjusting accordingly. But that's felt like a huge hurdle. So that was a lot of hard work. That was sort of every day and night. I guess I got signed on to the project and I think maybe I had a week a week or week and a half before I left to start for Nashville. Sort of two weeks preparation. So people were telling me to do just a little bit every day, you know, you don't need to sit and play for two hours, but just pick it up for a few minutes and keep getting acquainted with the guitar. Which was great. It's really frustrating and really a lot of fun at the same time. So yeah, that was a big part of it.
And the amazing, amazing costume department. And the hair and makeup department were so instrumental to creating a character of Loretta that we created for the film and the process of developing who that was. And they were so kind in inviting you into the conversation. It was just a lot of research, just kind of reading every I could. And I mean, the Internet's great. It's so cool that those two ladies were sort of coming up in the time of television. So it was the first time that entertainers like them were being welcomed into people's home so you can find all these great appearances on these TV shows. I think at first I tried to get too specific too fast, especially with the listening and the vocal work and I just kind of had to back off a little bit and sort of approach it as a fan first and just listen, listen, listen and take it all in and then it felt like it started to marinate a little bit. And then it was getting on set with everybody else and figuring out this role, what we're doing and trusting Callie to kind of guide it and shape it and then and then working with Megan was a huge part of it too. I think there's a little bit of Patsy and Loretta is both of us. So that dynamic I think, kind of came to life on set as we were doing it.
The connection between you and Megan is so strong in the film. How was building that bond?
.We were laughing the other day because we realized we sort of had a first date when we first got to Nashville. But it was shortly after that, I don't know something just kind of clicked. I think she's a tremendous person. She's open and she's so kind, she's strong, she's such a hard worker. I really admire her and I think I had a little bit of life imitating art in the process of kind of getting to watch her on set because she has a lot more experience than I do with that sort of thing. And as I think Loretta watch Patsy, I was like,'Oh, cool, cool, cool. That's how you do it, that's how you show up. that's how you be kind to people. That's how you establish your work ethic, that's how you treat people.' She was an amazing person to watch and process.
This was your first time performing musically on television and film, so what was it like taking your stage experience and translating it on screen?
Well, the other thing that was involved was it wasn't me performing as me and I was trying to incorporate a different sound, a different body, a different person. And I was I was trying to bring an essence of her and how she performed. So there were certain things that I was like, 'Oh gosh, well, I would have done this, but I'm going to try to do this instead or hold myself this way.' But I guess the thing that was reassuring about shooting the musical sequences was that Callie and Michael, our DP, knew what they're doing. They know where to put the camera and they'll tell me whether they need to do more or less or whatever. But all those performance sequences were performance sequences. It's not like a character monologue in a musical where you know there's an element of singing what you feel, but I was portraying a performer so usually if there was, she was performing in front of an audience at the Ryman like we did, there was an audience there we were on stage so that all felt strangely comfortable in a way.
Again the guitar play, that was that was a little nerve wracking because I really wanted to get that right and my hands got really tired because we had to do a lot of takes, but they were they were awesome. It was really fun, like the day we shot at the Ryman, I'll never forget it. That place has such an energy about it and I was actually able to go to a concert there before I left town. I saw Lori McKenna and Patty Griffin perform there. It's a magical space. You understand in there and you understand why they call it the Mother Church of Country Music.
I do have to mention, during the film when Loretta talks about how she met her husband, she reveals it was because of a pie, and I loved that moment. It felt like it was perfect given your history with Waitress. I feel like a lot of Broadway people watching the film are also going to have a little moment there.
Wasn't that funny? I was like, 'Really? This is really the line?' I mean that's really what happened. That made me laugh on set. I was like, 'Y'all, I don't know if I can really say this.' I was having a little bit of a character crisis. It felt like Jenna a split second. And I had to like come back to Loretta Lynn.
I bet you're looking forward for people to finally see the film on Lifetime.
I'm excited. I think and hope and pray that they'll be a ton of people who tune in because they know and love these women and their music and I hope they'll feel like we we honor them. But I'm also excited about the people that don't really know their music. And I hope this will be an exposure to their brilliance, you know, because they, they really were trailblazers and just created some tremendous, tremendous music, and even people who aren't country fans, like I feel like you're going to watch it and there's just something so authentic about that kind of music. I've really just found myself drawn to it over the past couple years. I just think there are great country writers, they're just right up there with the great Pop writers and the great show writers. You know, the melody and lyrics of like a good Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe like, there's a lot of, there's a lot of similarities there - structurally, lyrically - so I hope people really, really enjoy it and that new people are exposed to it.
I agree. Country songs are full of storytelling and I feel like the theater fans that are going to tune in to see you and Megan are going to realize what a connection there is to musical theater.
Yeah, I mean, they're great story songs. They're just relatable. And you know, Loretta said it in interviews. She's like, 'It's just life. I just write about life. I either saw it or I lived it.' And you know, I love that. I think that's why it reaches people.
Patsy & Loretta premieres on Lifetime on October 19!