“She’s in command of the art form,” Streep says with high seriousness. “Whatever acting isI don’t know what it isshe’s in command of it. I think she could do anything she puts her mind to.”
A few minutes past the appointed hour, Lohan arrives in a rush and Streep calls out to her: “Hi, Peanut!” But Lohan is agitated and breathless when she plops in her seat, and pulling a knit cap farther over her hair (dark again now), she tells how she was followed from her hotel to the restaurant by paparazzi. Streep gets as flustered as a wet hen. “This is outrageous!” she snaps. Her maternal ire calms Lohan somewhat, but still she doesn’t eat, claiming she had gorged on a late breakfast. (Later, after Streep leaves, Lohan will say that her recent confession of bulimia in Vanity Fair was “not true, or taken out of context or whatever it may be.”)
On the subject of A Prairie Home Companion, Streep says that she has been listening to the show for years, and she heartily endorses Keillor’s effort to keep live radio on the air, even if individual shows may be, in her judgment, “hit or miss.” Lohan, on the other hand, had never heard of Prairie Home when she got the part; she called her grandmother for a quick rundown.
The radio show, a spoof of small-town Midwestern life, is broadcast from the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where, according to the Prairie Home mythology, “the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the children are above average.” The movie that Keillor wrote for Altman is like much of the director’s earlier work in that it is less concerned with pushing forward a plot than with allowing actors to play off one another. Keillor says that he adopted the “last broadcast” structure because it was the simplest storyline he could imagine. “It’s a movie that’s not about the story,” Keillor says. “It’s about all these little acting turns, a variety show made into a movie. We’re aware of the story as much as we need to be: It gives us the ending.”
The biggest character on set was perhaps Altman, who is now 81. The grand old man had hired director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) as his day-to-day assistantone who could finish the film if he became indisposedand found humor in exaggerating his decrepitude, Lohan says. “The first thing Robert said to me when we met was, ‘I’m probably going to croak any day, so this is Paul Thomas Anderson,’” she recalls, adding that she was speechless until she realized he was kidding.
Both Streep and Lohan thought the director was kidding again when he announced that he intended to shoot 10 pages of script in the first day on set. The idea seemed preposterous, Streep explains, since a page or two a day is the typical pace on most shoots. But Altman commenced with Prairie Home‘s juicy opening scene, in which Streep, Tomlin and Lohan sweep into their dressing room while talking a blue streak. “We didn’t have time to have any nerves,” recalls Streep. “We were just scrambling for our lives. And when we couldn’t remember our lines, we would just make something up.”