Beth Ditto and Anna Friel in the series premiere of Monarch.
In the pilot of the new Fox drama Monarch, Susan Sarandon — as country-music matriarch Dottie Cantrell Roman — tells her daughter Gigi, "You're so stubborn, and strong, and know who you are. I love that about you."
Beth Ditto, who plays Gigi, comes across as far more sweet than stubborn during a phone interview, but she's been unquestionably, unapologetically herself for years now. Out as a lesbian since the mid-'90s, she's an advocate for the fat-positivity movement — "The word overweight is so outdated; we stopped saying that there's a right weight to be" — and the designer, a few years back, of a plus-size clothing line of bold prints and body-hugging styles.
The frontwoman for the indie punk-rock band Gossip might seem a surprising choice to play a singer who may be the next queen of country music. In reality, Ditto says, "I am a Southerner, born and raised in Arkansas. I grew up around country music, going to honkytonks." So she brings to Monarch "a vast knowledge of country music and an appreciation of it."
Having been a regular on the 2019 Showtime dark comedy On Becoming a God in Central Florida, whose second season was derailed by Covid, Ditto had been auditioning for other projects. When the role of Gigi, a big lesbian country singer, came up, "I was like, 'Oh my God, that's me. I can do this.'"
Ditto worked with the production to make her character more authentic, such as dressing in jeans and shirts rather than country glam and avoiding expressions that didn't ring true in her community.
She also studied up on the show's modern pop-country sound and the hours-long effort it takes to record a single song. "I learned a lot of words about the voice," she says, "like glottal. I can't tell you what it means now."
Ditto is equally honest about her family story. Articles note that she was born Mary Beth Patterson, so where did the surname Ditto come from? She recounts that her mother married and divorced a man named Homer Ditto, met the man who became Beth's father and then remarried Homer, whom Ditto thought for years was her biological dad.
"I like answering the question," she says. "A lot of people think it's a stage name. And I'm always like, 'Oh my God, if I had to make up a stage name, it wouldn't be Beth Ditto!'"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #10, 2022, under the title, "Country Callin'."
For more on Monarch's music, click here.