Asheville comedian and actor Hilliary S. Begley just tells it, and you might as well follow along and laugh, because otherwise it’ll make you cry.
On growing up in Brevard and Asheville: “It was not fun being fat and poor, because they did not make cute clothes for fat girls when I was a kid,” the 32-year-old Begley says, adding that she got the all the “pregnant clothes hand-me-downs from my aunt because that’s all I had.”
On her Reynolds High School years: “I was the first fat girl to walk homecoming court at Reynolds, and I won,” Begley says. “Then I walked again, because I didn’t graduate on time.”
On her comedy act, which she’s been perfecting around Asheville since 2012: “I do talk about my weight in my act, and where being fat has caused me issues, and where I’ve been liberated because I’m fat, but I don’t want to be the fat girl that’s funny,” she says. “I want to maintain some substance on other topics,” such as religion, another big theme of her act.
So yes, this 32-year-old comedian makes jokes at her own expense. But now her charisma has made her big with fans of a new Netflix original movie called Dumplin’.
The coming-of-age movie set in a small Texas town tells the story of a plus-sized teen named Willowdean, played by Danielle Mcdonald, who grows up the daughter of uncaring beauty pageant queen Rosie, who is played by Jennifer Aniston, also a producer on the movie. Willowdean, who decides to enter her mother’s pageant, idolizes Dolly Parton, whose music forms the movie soundtrack, and the story moves from there. Parton also wrote new original music for Dumplin’, which is based on a young adult novel by author Julie Murphy.
A casting director caught one of Begley’s stand-up acts at The Orange Peel and loved it, Begley says. That led to a call-back audition last August in Atlanta. She landed the role of Aunt Lucy, Willowdean’s loving role model and the basis of the first five minutes or so of Dumplin’.
It’s been a whirlwind ever since, Begley tells me on a drive back to Asheville from Atlanta. She spent last week on the West Coast for the big movie premiere and red carpet walk, which Begley says she almost missed.
“I got there at the perfect time because Dolly Parton and Julie Murphy and Jennifer Aniston had just gotten there. So I got in the picture with all the people,” she says.
“The paparazzi is insane, screaming and yelling at Dolly and Jennifer, and I asked Dolly: ‘Is it always like this?’ And she squeezed my hand and said, ‘Just keep smiling,'” Begley says, adding that she did have a quick chat with Aniston, who “just squeezed my cheeks and said, ‘My sweet baby!'”
And once again, Begley is just telling it like it is:
Is Begley a fan of Dolly Parton? “Yes! I’m from Western North Carolina, baby. It’s in my blood.”
What’s it like being a working comic in Asheville? “I’ve struggled. I’ve lived in my car. More than once, someone has put me up just to make sure I made it through. If it weren’t for my friends, I don’t know where I’d be.”
On how the story of the movie parallels her own life: Begley says she was asked by one interviewer what her current self would tell her 11-year-old self right now: “All I could come up with is, ‘You are enough.’ I wish I had known that when I was 11. If all girls could know that they are enough, by age 11, to love yourself, I don’t think there’s a better message than that.”
Begley, who hosts an open mic night at the Fairview Tavern every Sunday night, says she hoping for more acting gigs. She recently finished up a Hallmark movie called When We Last Spoke.
“I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy it,” she says. “It felt good.”