The Lifetime-produced biopic is now available on Netflix.
Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller really didn’t have to pretend too much while playing besties in Patsy & Loretta, the deeply affecting story of the friendship shared by country music icons Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Almost as soon as they were cast in the 2019 Lifetime-produced biopic, which now is available on Netflix, they forged their own close bond.
Mind you, this wasn’t the first rodeo for these acclaimed Broadway veterans. Hilty, who plays Patsy Cline, already had such impressive stage credits as Wicked and 9 to 5: The Musical, and a major continuing role in the TV series Smash, on her resume. Mueller, the movie’s Loretta Lynn, earned Tony Award nominations for her performances in Waitress and well-received revivals of Carousel and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever — and won a Tony for playing another musical legend, Carole King, in Beautiful: The Carol King Musical.
But the two women had met only once before, briefly, at a mutual friend’s baby shower, before they learned they would be co-stars in the Lifetime project.
“I’d been a longtime Jessie Mueller fan,” Hilty said after the 2019 premiere screening of Patsy & Loretta at the historic Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee. And her expectations were bountifully fulfilled when they started working together. “She’s just one of those people where, you just meet, and then everything’s easy. Very much like Loretta, I believe, she’s got the greatest heart. And she’s the most genuine person you’d ever meet. And that made my job very, very easy to be best friends with her. Because she’s just naturally a wonderful person.”
Keeping up her end of the mutual admiration society, Mueller eagerly responded to Hilty’s praise: “I felt like I had a very life-imitating-art experience on this movie. I was a little nervous the first time I really met you. I don't know, the idea of the public persona or something. You’re just very together — and I often don’t feel very together.” Laughing, she added: “I mean, I was really nervous the first time I met you. I felt like Loretta showing up in that hospital room the first time she meets Patsy, with those dandelions. Like, ‘Oh, what is she going to think of me?’ But that faded quickly.”
Which was fortunate.
Before Patsy & Loretta, Mueller said, “I had mostly done theater, so this was new to me. And I was trusting everyone to help me. Like, ‘You’ll tell me if this is not good, right? You won’t let me do something that will embarrass all of us, right?’ And I get the feeling that’s exactly what Loretta did — she looked at Patsy to see what to do. She had the best model to watch and learn from. That was my experience as well.”
Directed by Callie Khouri, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louise and creator of the 2012-2018 TV series Nashville, and written by Angelina Burnett, whose TV credits include Halt and Catch Fire, The Americans and Memphis Beat, Patsy & Loretta dramatizes the mutually supportive friendship that began when in 1961 while Cline, then an established star, was hospitalized in the wake of a near-fatal auto accident. She heard Lynn, a relative unknown, sing one of Cline’s hit songs, “I Fall to Pieces,” as a get-well-soon tribute during a live radio broadcast from Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop in Nashville. Pleased and impressed, Cline summoned the up-and-comer to her hospital room, and took her under her wing as professional mentor and close confidant.
Both of these country icons have been the subject of previous movie biographies — Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for playing Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), and Jessica Lange received an Oscar nomination for playing Cline in Sweet Dreams (1985). But, much like Mueller, Hilty decided not to re-view either of those “genius films” (her term) while preparing for Patsy & Loretta. “I didn’t want to base my interpretation on somebody else’s interpretation,” she said. “I wanted it to be based on the things I had read, and the things I heard from people who were there.”
Hilty and Mueller also placed their own unique stamps on their roles by doing their own singing as Cline and Lynn. “And that really made such a difference,” director Khouri said during a Q&A session after the Franklin Theatre screening. “Like, some of the incredible cast members from Nashville are here in the theater tonight. And, really, it made that show so much more real to have the actors actually doing their own singing. For me, it’s one of the most uncomfortable things in the world to see people lip-synch to somebody else’s voice. And when you have this kind of talent — really, it was such an easy decision once [Hilty and Mueller] were cast.”
Better still, Khouri added, her lead players were able to compellingly convey how personal regard and professional goals were inextricably entwined in the relationship shared by their characters. It was of the utmost importance, the director said, to avoid the clichés that are common in films about the bonds between women. More often than not, “You see a lot of catfighting — and that's not usually how it goes down. I thought this was such a beautifully told story of two women trying to make it in the business in a time where there weren't a lot of other women at the top. They were trailblazers. So I thought, ‘Let's put that out there right now.’”
“Coming in,” said screenwriter Angelina Burnett, “we wanted to tell the story of their friendship. And what I think I brought to the project was — well, look, All About Eve is one of my favorite movies. It’s a brilliant movie. But it’s a ‘There can only be one’ kind of movie. There’s the established diva, and then there’s the up-and-comer who has to take her down in order to be successful. And we’ve told that story so many times… that there’s this myth in our culture that there’s only room for one woman at the top.
“I saw in this friendship an incredible opportunity to tell a story about women in the same profession, at the height of their skills, taking care of each other. That’s what I cared most about.”
“These were two women with kids,” Khouri added, “who had to go on the road and [deal with] all the hardship that goes along with having a career, and packing up and leaving your family. And everybody who lives in and around Nashville knows what the price of that is. It’s the same thing in Hollywood when you have to go on location. As a friend of mine said: ‘It's revolutionary to be telling these stories.’ Because we really haven't paid enough attention to what the woman’s experience is.”