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Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin Talk About A Prairie Home Companion

Sisters Onscreen, Streep and Tomlin Team Up to Discuss A Prairie Home Companion


Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin Talk About A Prairie Home Companion

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin star in A Prairie Home Companion.

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Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin play Yolanda and Rhonda, the singing Johnson Sisters, in the comedy movie A Prairie Home Companion, also starring Kevin Kline, John C Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Robert Altman and written by Garrison Keillor, the film tracks the final performance of a radio variety show and how each of the show's stars handle the drama of putting on a great performance before the curtain falls for the last time.

Playing Sisters in A Prairie Home Companion: Tomlin couldn’t help but point out the obvious – she and Meryl Streep bare little resemblance to one another. “You want to hear something hilarious? Because I thought we looked so different, ‘No one’s going to believe we’re sisters.’” Speaking to Streep, Tomlin said, “I tried to make your nose like mine. I mean, I tried to make my nose like yours!” Tomlin went as far as to have noses molded to try and make her look more like Streep. But, according to Tomlin, her nose was too wide to make it work.

Despite the fact casting the two actresses as sisters may have seemed like a stretch, it works in the film. “Somehow, it was just an absolute blessing, wasn’t it? Bob [Altman] must have known. I don’t know how he would have known because I looked and thought, ‘We just don’t look anything alike. Who’s going to believe we’re really sisters?’ I believed that [the audience] would believe it, but in my mind I had doubts. Plus, you have busywork to do so I spent a lot of time have noses sculpted.”

Adapting to Different Comic Sensibilities: Lily Tomlin said she didn’t have any difficulty adapting to Garrison Keillor’s sense of humor in the script. “I’m a big fan of Garrison’s,” explained Tomlin. “I’ve listened to Prairie Home Companion for a very, very long time. Except for one period where he went someplace and we didn’t know where he went. We felt abandoned. Anyway…”

Writer Garrison Keillor said Tomlin redid her part completely. Tomlin acknowledged that’s probably the truth. “Oh yeah, I did. I redid [Meryl Streep’s] too,” laughed Tomlin. “I was very busy. I didn’t think about it. You think of yourself as an actor and you come in and do it. I love Garrison’s sensibility anyway. It’s something I relate to and have a rapport with. You just want to do the part. You want to come in and do justice to your character and serve the movie and the story. And I don’t want to embarrass myself with Miss Streep.”

Tomlin says she was taken by Keillor’s stage presence after watching a live production of A Prairie Home Companion. “I’ve only seen it once live. I saw it last summer at the [Hollywood] Bowl and Garrison is so funny. On the radio you don’t get to see him. His expressions standing up there, I thought, ‘This is so good for the movie.’ I said, ‘This show’s even funnier live than it is on the radio.’ The sound effects, everything that went on that night at the Bowl was so hilarious. Doubly hilarious.”

Meryl Streep on Reuniting with Kevin Kline: A Prairie Home Companion marks the first time Streep has shared the screen with Kevin Kline since the two starred in Sophie’s Choice. However it’s not the first time the two have acted together since that film's release in 1982. “Well, actually we did The Seagull and I wrestled him to the ground in that in Central Park about five years ago. He's a good old friend and so when you say that you haven't worked with him…it seems more like he's never been out of my life. But I love working with him. I really loved watching him do this part because it's like Kevin unleashed. It's like, 'How can I make my part bigger?'

He's endlessly inventive and shameless and it reminded me of the first time I'd ever seen him perform in On the 20th Century, which was a play on Broadway. I thought, 'Boy, this guy should be drummed out of Actor's Equity for what he just did.' He was hamming it up and pushing it so far. People were screaming with laughter. But on film Kevin’s not really known for that kind of thing, so it was really great to see him do it.”

Warming Up to Sing in A Prairie Home Companion: “I didn't prepare too much,” said Streep. “We just had like three days to get ready and I like to sing. It's just really fun to sing and I don't get to much. And at my house I'm not allowed to because your children can't stand it when you sing. …It's been hard to wait until everybody’s out of the house because there are a lot of them, and sing. Anyway, I was really glad to be able to do it. It was so much fun, so much fun. Pure joy.”

Page 2: Robert Altman's Style and Working with Lindsay Lohan

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