Larry (left) and Gary Lane have been Dolly Parton fans for years, which inspired their documentary, Still Working 9 to 5, set to screen at the upcoming American Documentary and Animation Film Festival in Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY GARY AND LARRY LANE
Identical twins Gary and Larry Lane have adored Dolly Parton since listening to her music during childhood in North Carolina. So much in fact, that they directed 2011’s award-winning Hollywood to Dollywood, which followed their journey to meet their idol and present a script they had written for her.
Their latest project, Still Working 9 to 5, is also a testament to Parton and her 1980 women empowerment comedy, 9 to 5, that costarred Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, who also co-produced. The film, directed by the late Colin Higgins, was a massive hit upon release and Parton’s theme song became an Academy Award-nominated anthem for the working class. The story continues to resonate, having been translated into a long-running TV sitcom, a Broadway musical, and rumors of a sequel have also endured.
The new documentary, which Gary co-directed with Camille Hardman (Larry executive produced), offers both an entertaining and informative deep dive into the making of the classic comedy and its legacy. It also offers an insightful examination of the second wave of feminism and the women’s fight for equal pay in the decades that led up to the filming of 9 to 5 and features interviews with the stars, as well as many of the key figures in the women’s movement. Still Working 9 to 5 will screen at Palm Springs’ American Documentary and Animation Film Festival at 7 p.m. April 9 at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. Expect special guests.
Gary Lane shares the twins’ journey creating the film with Dolly, Jane, and Lily and playing with Leslie Jordan in the desert.
Your documentary reveals that the studio executives didn't expect the film to become such a big hit, yet it grossed more than $100 million in 1980 and we’re still talking about it. Why do you think it continues to resonate so strongly?
Well, I think people just automatically relate to Dolly. Plus, Lily and Jane have had a huge hit with Grace and Frankie. They've all stayed connected through the years. When you think of 9 to 5, it just takes you to this happy place that everybody can relate to. They hit on feminist issues and we're hitting those issues even more, because we're literally editing this thing in real time with the Equal Rights Amendment still not passing.
I was surprised to learn that Lily Tomlin turned the film down when was first offered the role. During shooting, she begged to be replaced, yet I think the scenes of her character having that meltdown in the hospital are the funniest thing in the entire movie.
Yeah, the thing that really got her was with those dailies. Back then they had to draw every one of those little blue birds and all those little animals, like when she was Snow White, they had to be colored in on glass. When she watched those dailies which didn’t yet have the animation, she thought she looked stupid. She even told us she never watches dailies anymore. She doesn't like to see herself on camera.
And as far as the script, she just didn't like some of the dialogue. She tried to weigh in with Colin, he'd push back and then he would take her to the test screenings and show her how the audience would laugh at those parts she wanted to change. So, she just began to respect his process and him as a filmmaker.
Right, and I guess her wife Jane Wagner twisted her arm.
Jane really laid into her and said, "Jane (Fonda) developed that for you and Dolly, how dare you throw that back in her face." So, I think Jane really kept her on the film and you just can't imagine anyone else in those roles anyway, you can't imagine Lily not being Violet.
The studio wanted a major male star, like Richard Dreyfuss or Steve Martin, to play Mr. Hart. I think a big male movie star would've thrown the film off balance.
Back then women did not lead pictures, so it was Bruce Gilbert, Jane's producing partner, who said, "Listen, the women are the stars of this picture." Dabney (Coleman) was a TV actor, and TV actors and film actors were just in a completely different field back then. They really had to fight for Dabney. He plays that part so well. You just can't imagine anybody in the role.
You also depict the second-wave feminist movement which helped inspire the film. What were some of the challenges in creating this dual narrative?
Well, we had a 9 to 5 timeline that followed the film, the song, the TV show, and the musical. Then we chose key moments in the working women's movement to fight for equal rights and equal pay and intersected them. We had to show those issues because that leads up to what we're still fighting for, and we needed to show you that we've still got a long way to go for women's rights.
Your previous documentary Hollywood to Dollywood was about your and Larry’s love of Dolly. How did you two discover her?
We grew up in the south, so our parents loved all the old country singers, like Dolly, Kenny Rogers, and Loretta Lynn. We grew up with all of them, but Dolly was just always somebody we would especially notice. “Islands in the Stream” was probably when she really hit our radar, because our mom played that song over and over again.
How was your first experience meeting Dolly?
Dolly is everything you would think she is, and then some. She never lets you down. I don't know anybody who doesn't like Dolly. I think it would be hard to find somebody in the world that didn't have something positive to say about her.
The country music industry has long had a reputation for not been very progressive toward LGBTQ people. Why do you think Dolly responded to you two as gay twins so immediately?
I think Dolly loves everyone and doesn’t judge anyone, which is the way it should always be. We need more love and understand in the world. Why couldn’t Dolly be a twin? We would have twice as much love in the world.
Dolly has constantly been in the news the past few years. She made a huge donation to research the coronavirus vaccine, she's changing the lives of children with her Imagination Library. And recently, she declined to be considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to not syphon votes from other musicians.What do you think drives her to be a person who generates such goodwill into the world?
She's just such a loving and caring person. It's more about giving it back and giving back anywhere she can. I mean, who can say, "I've got a theme park where I've got 5,000 employees and I pay for every one of them to go to college. I've also got a literacy program that's gone all over the world with 150 million books to help children read." I mean, she's in the sainthood level. I just think that there are people in the world who are put here to do good, and Dolly is one of them.
You and your brother have interviewed a lot of celebrities on red carpets as the TwinZZone. What are some of the best reactions you've had people when they realize they're being interviewed by identical twins?
We've had some fun ones, like with Suzanne Somers. We got halfway through the interview with her, and she goes, "Oh my God, I just realized you're twins." Then she did the Chrissy Snow [her Three’s Company character] snort. We put a montage together of Carol Burnett and all the fun people when they do the twin takes, just their reactions as we first started interviewing them.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ADRIAN LOPEZ
Gary and Larry Lane previously submitted Hollywood to Dollywood to the AmDocs Film Festival.
This film brings you two full circle, because Hollywood to Dollywood was the first ever submission to the AmDocs festival in Palm Springs 11 years ago.
Teddy Grouya [AmDocs director] had just launched it. Ours was the first film submission he received. He watched it that night and then sent the letter that we got in. We were the first film he ever selected there 11 years ago. Since then, he's kind of followed our journey. We've stayed friends with him. And so now once Still Working 9 to 5 started getting that buzz, he reached out and he said, “I would love to have the film."
That must have been gratifying.
We're so excited and we're going to have some folks from the film there. The festival is going to present Dolly, Lily, and Jane with a humanitarian award for their efforts through social issues and fighting for women's rights and equality and their contributions to the entertainment industry.
You and Larry have spent time in Palm Springs with Leslie Jordan working on a reality show.
We've been friends with him for many years. A few years back, we were going to do something we called “the Leslie Jordan Pony Show.” So, we filmed him at some awards show in New York. We followed him to San Francisco and then we went to Palm Springs. He gets recognized everywhere you go. He's just a fun little presence and he makes you laugh all the time. He's a lot like Lily and Dolly, because they're just great people who put joy out into the world. But trying to follow Leslie is like wrangling cats, especially when you're trying to film him. We had such a good time with him in Palm Springs and anytime we're around him.
I know you've spent a lot of time in the desert. What are you most looking forward to about returning to Palm Springs?
We love Palm Springs because it’s very laid back. We're going to come in on Friday, have a nice dinner, relax, and then do the show on Saturday and just enjoy that pace of Palm Springs.
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