Growing up in Bellevue, actress Megan Hilty (“Smash”) never questioned her life would involve music. But she also never envisioned singing as Patsy Cline as she does in Lifetime’s “Patsy & Loretta” (8 p.m. Oct. 19), a cable movie about the friendship between the two country-music stars.
“It was never a question of if I was going to sing but how, what capacity and what training do I need?” Hilty says of her early start, which included Bellevue Youth Theatre productions every summer (“Annie,” “The King and I, “Oklahoma,” “Oliver”) from age 11 on.
“It sure gave a lot of kids a purpose during the summertime,” Hilty says of the summer program. “It gave us something to be excited about and we were learning things like teamwork and building sets and helping with costumes. I credit that for just about everything.”
Hilty came to “Patsy & Loretta” well-versed in Patsy Cline’s iconic music — but not her role as a caretaker in her family and among other singers.
“Numerous country-music artists came forward and said, ‘She sat me down and talked to me sternly but lovingly about how to get paid, how to dress, how to be aware of the keys of each song so as to talk to their musicians,’ ” Hilty says. “She wanted these women to take care of themselves so they could succeed. I find that remarkable and deeply inspiring. We need more stories like this so we don’t just assume that the women are always in competition with each other because that’s what we’re fed.”
Singing as Cline in “Patsy & Loretta” proved a challenge, Hilty says, noting outright mimicry wasn’t an option.
“If you go into a project where you’re strictly trying to sound like somebody, you’re not bringing yourself to the performance,” she says. “It has to be a balance of paying homage to the essence of the person that you’re playing and bringing yourself to it and being OK with it. You can find fault in just about everything I do but I have to be OK with what I bring to the table and that’s a massive difficulty in playing somebody that is real.”
Hilty attended Sammamish High School — her parents, Jack and Donna Hilty, still live in the same Bellevue house Megan grew up in — before transferring to the now-defunct Washington Academy of Performing Arts in Redmond and later the Chrysalis School in Woodinville.
She studied in the musical-theater program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh before playing Glinda in “Wicked” on Broadway and later the Dolly Parton role in the Broadway musical adaptation of the movie “9 to 5.”
Her breakout TV role came in the two-season, 2012-13 NBC musical drama “Smash,” which she continues to get questions about to this day (Hilty says she’s heard some rumblings that some iteration of “Smash” for the stage may be in the works).
In addition to her voiceover role in the current Disney Junior show “T.O.T.S.,” Hilty plays a country-music star in the first Lifetime movie of the 2019 holiday season, “Sweet Mountain Christmas” (8 p.m. Oct. 25).
Hilty lives in Los Angeles with musician husband Brian Gallagher and their children, ages 2 and 5, but she tries to get back to Seattle as often as possible, including for her sister’s upcoming wedding.
Hilty wants to bring a concert tour with fellow Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, who grew up in Northern Idaho, to Seattle.
“We’re both from the Pacific Northwest so we’re trying to make that work, but there are more details that go into it than anybody would imagine,” Hilty says. “The first time I saw Cheyenne was at a theater in Issaquah in ‘West Side Story,’ so to come back and do something together in Seattle would be a dream.”
“Patsy & Loretta,” 8 p.m. Oct. 19, Lifetime