Finding and immersing themselves in a community that truly embraces them for their true personalities is a powerful, life-affirming journey for many creative people who feel as though they don’t necessarily fit into society’s typical norms. Actress Krew Boylan’s titular protagonist of the new musical comedy-drama, Seriously Red, Raylene ‘Red’ Delaney, embarks on such a journey, as she doesn’t fit in with the crowd of her office job.
The eponymous main character of the movie, which is set, and was shot, in Australia, embraces the personality and music of Dolly Parton. The American country singer-songwriter is unapologetically herself, no matter what circumstance she finds herself in. The musician’s attitude inspires Red to lead her corporate career behind and instead to pursue her dream job of impersonating the legendary performer.
Seriously Red marks Boylan’s feature film writing debut, as well as the feature film directorial debut of Gracie Otto. Boylan also executive produced the comedy-drama with one of her co-stars, Rose Byrne, who also played an Elvis Presley impersonator in the feature, through their production company, Dollhouse Pictures.
In Seriously Red, which had its world premiere at SXSW, Red is a vivacious, but at times also, misguided redhead. She ambitiously trades her nine-to-five career in real estate for a life under the spotlight, impersonating Parton.
While she’s initially an average impersonator, Red slowly builds enough confidence in herself to ultimately become fabulous in her performances. Her tumultuous journey subsequently becomes full of fake hair, breast implants and a romantic relationship with a Kenny Rogers impersonator (Daniel Webber).
The cost of success, however, is far greater than Red ever anticipated, and in order to find herself, she needs to lose herself in her musical idol.
Byrne and Boylan generously took the time earlier this week to talk about scribing, starring in and producing Seriously Red during an exclusive interview during SXSW. The movie had its world premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition section at the SXSW Film Festival.
Q: Krew, you made your feature film writing debut on the new musical comedy-drama, Seriously Red. What was the process like of developing the screenplay?
KB: Rose is a very old friend of mine, and she’s been on the project for a long time.
RB: Krew wrote the movie over a decade ago, and I read it very early on. After that, her and I, along with Jessica Carrera, our producer, and Gracie Otto, our director, and Shannon Murphy, another filmmaker friend of ours, formed our production company, Dollhouse Pictures, and this is our first feature film.
So this screenplay was really our impetus to start our company, and we’re very female-focused, obviously. This was our passion project, and the impetus to start this journey that we’ve had as a company and creatives.
It’s such a thrill to be here at SXSW, premiering the movie and talking to people. At times, this project has been a labor of love, and we’re thrilled to be here.
Q: Speaking of the fact that Seriously Red is a female-driven project, in terms of its characters and crew members, why is it important to you both to emphasize female-driven stories?
KB: We really wanted the best people for the job, and we have such great talent in Australia. Of course, we want to get as many people to the forefront of their careers. We’re not shy about helping females get their shot. So it was a mixture of wanting to tell this story, and telling this story right.
Q: Like you also mentioned earlier, Gracie Otto directed the comedy-drama. What were your experiences like of collaborating with her on the film?
RB: She was amazing. The film’s been on many journeys.
But once Gracie came on board, the film really took off. She brought the vision and energy that we needed to get it made.
She was also ready at that time. She had been steadily working at that time, making documentaries and a lot of television and short films. She’s always had a great visual aesthetic, and she’s obsessed with movies. She’s also very eccentric and eclectic herself.
So the timing was right [for her to direct a narrative feature film]. It felt so exciting when she came on board.
Q: What was the process like of casting the rest of the actors for Seriously Red?
KB: It was so fun, and is the best part, as you get to figure out who you’re going to jam with [during the production]. I love that whole process.
I’d been wanting to work with Celeste [Barber] for years, and we’ve known her for a long time. She was so perfect [in the role of Teeth, who helps get Red signed on to tour as Dolly with the Kenny Rogers impersonator].
Tom Campbell [who plays Red’s childhood friend, Francis,] is a really beautiful and well-known actor, especially for his stage performances, in Australia. He’s always been really emotional and interesting. We did have a casting process for Seriously Red, and he was just the right person for the job.
But casting the role of Kenny Rogers was hard. There are quite a lot of male actors out there who maybe didn’t quite understand what a great character piece it would be, or maybe they wanted a bigger part.
RB: It’s hard to get guys to do supporting roles, and everybody knows that! (Byrne laughs.) It was really hard, as we had to find someone with great charisma like Kenny Rogers had.
We also had to find someone with great musical chops, and Daniel was just wonderful. You had a great chemistry together, Krew, and he’s such a wonderful actor.
Q: Dolly Parton’s music in the movie plays an important part in Red’s emotional and physical journeys. How has music you as entertainers throughout your careers?
KB: As a writer, I get a lot of inspiration from music and theater, as well as from real life.
RB: Krew also has a long history of dance; she danced throughout her whole childhood, as part of a well-known youth dance group in Australia. The physicality is very much part of her performance, subconscious or not. This role in the film allows her to showcase some of those things.
Q: The costumes in Seriously Red also play a major role in Red’s journey throughout her journey. What was the process like of creating the costumes for the movie, particularly for Red as she impersonates Dolly Parton?
KB: Tim Chappel was our costume designer, and he also did Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. As soon as he came on board, he just exploded with creativity; you can’t hold him down.
He’s also very collaborative, so we had fittings, during which we choose what the actors would put on. So some of the costumes accidentally came together. He’s really into what the story is and what the characters are doing, so he’s an overall great talent.
I think he just did your show, America’s version of The Masked Singer, last season.
RB: Oh, he did?
KB: Yes, it’s a crazy show!
RB: Yes, people love it! The show was perfect for Tim because he’s so eccentric. He’s a true artist who can change on a dime.
Elvis’ first fitting wasn’t right because the costume was too tight and looked to womanly. It just didn’t work for the story and the role, so Tim just changed it on a dime.
We had a limited budget to make the movie, so it was working with what we had and calling in favors. But Tim was brilliant.
Q: What was the process like of also creating the overall impersonations for your portrayals of Dolly Parton and Elvis for the film?
KB: I loved playing Dolly, and sometimes I miss playing her. Sometimes it was really interesting to develop a different physicality than what you normally have.
I really got used to having the bigger breasts during the production, for example. To some degree, I really understood people who have a bigger chest, and people who choose to have breast augmentations, as closely as I could, without going through the operation myself.
I also loved the wigs – I look great in wigs! (Boylan and Byrne laugh.)
RB: Krew is a true chameleon! It’s such a skill and gift to have that ability as an artist.
KB: So does my [acting and producing] partner, who has such skills to glide between whatever she wants – comedy, stage, Elvis, Damages, Bridesmaids…
RB: You’re hysterical! But I loved playing Elvis, and it was really fun. The character really evolved into becoming a mysterious figure. I felt really protected by them by the end [of the production]. He served a really goo purpose in the story.
But it was so much fun as an actor to hide everything, and also having so much freedom to do such raunchy things. Who’s a better performer than Elvis Presley? He’s so iconic for a reason, so I really immersed myself in his work; I read books about him.
Q: Did you both improvise at all while you were shooting the film, or did you mainly stick to the script?
RB: It was a mix – a little bit of both.
KB: One of my favorite lines in the movie was improvised; we don’t actually see Rose say it…
RB: …It’s a bit silly, and a bit of an inside joke. But when Elvis is hosting at the Copy Club [the impersonation establishment where Red first performs as Dolly], he’s making these little small talk jokes, and he asks, “Who’s wearing a wig out there?,” and obviously, everyone’s wearing a wig! [Byrne laughs.]
Q: In addition to starring in Seriously Red, you both also served as two of the feature’s executive producers. What was the experience like of producing the comedy-drama?
KB: It’s a really big job, and anyone who’s produced a film will agree with that. But we made it, and we’re here, and we’re so grateful. Producing is definitely a collaboration.
But our lead producer, Jessica Carrera, has really been part of the fabric since the beginning of the production years ago. She was the heart that kept us all moving forward.
I’m also really grateful for Rose, as we couldn’t have done it without her. She really helped us connect with Dolly and her manager, as well as get her blessing to get her music.
Q: Like you mentioned earlier, Seriously Red is having its World Premiere at this year’s SXSW. What does it mean to you all that the movie is playing during the festival?
RB: SXSW is a wonderful fit for the film. There’s a legacy of music in Austin [where the festival is held], and the spirit of the city’s motto, Keep Austin Weird. That’s very much in line with the spirit of our film. So we felt this festival is a great fit for the movie.
I met Janet [Pierson, who’s the VP, Director of Film at SXSW, the night before the interview, when the feature had its initial screening at the festival]. I was very excited to speak with her, and expressed my gratitude for [the festival] having us.
This festival is a great launching pad for us, and we don’t discount that in any way.
Seriously Red had its world premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition section at the SXSW Film Festival.