It’s late afternoon at a photo studio in New York’s Chelsea, and Lindsay Lohan is carefully reviewing a little stack of Polaroids at the end of a day in front of the camera. She is pleased with the results, although she does fret about the influence on younger fans of one picture of her with a cigarette. “A girl with asthma, smoking,” she says. “Great.” Of the bunch, her favorite image is the one on the cover of this issue. It shows Lohan and Meryl Streep, her costar in Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, in an intimate embrace that Lohan likens to that of a mother and child. The double portrait was, in fact, an idea that Lohan herself pitched to the magazine, and she marvels at the contrasts it reveals between herself and Streep”the old and the new,” she says. One could also say elegance and sex appeal or SPF 40 and Mystic Tan.
Suddenly Lohan looks up at the W team.
“What are you going to call the story?” she asks, pausing just a moment before she offers her suggestion. “Lady and the Tramp?”
The line gets a big laughit’s funnier than she seemed to expectif only because it perfectly captures this moment in Lohan’s rather exceptional career. The former moppet just recently graduated from the Disney academy (last year’s Herbie: Fully Loaded was surely her last kiddie role) and here she is playing Streep’s daughter in a film by one of America’s most esteemed directors.
To date, Lohan, still just 19, has notched up commercial success (Herbie grossed $144 million worldwide) and released two albums, but she is arguably better known as the hottest paparazzi bait among the generation of actresses too young to drink legally. (Not that the law seems to have slowed her down.) If every teenager believes that her personal dramas are matters of national import, Lohan knows that hers actually are, whether the subject is her jailbird father, her boyfriends or her weight. She is understandably ambivalent about her kind of fame and seems anxious to arrive at some future stage in her career when she will look back on these days from a safe distance.
“I’d love to be in Meryl’s position,” she says. “I want people to know me for the work that I’m doing, not for this party girl image, which is just vile and disgusting and not fair, because I work so hard. Maybe someone will look at my life one day and say, ‘Why don’t I do a cover with Lindsay Lohan?’”
In years to come, A Prairie Home Companion will likely look like just the right film at just the right moment. It not only launches a new, grown-up phaseher next role will be in Bobby, the story of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, with Anthony Hopkinsbut also introduced her to an important role model in Streep.