Streep, Tomlin Sing a Different Tune for 'Prairie'
Actresses play singing sisters in this adaptation of the hit radio programLOS ANGELES --
In the fictional behind-the-scenes film, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin blur the line between the two groups by playing family members Yolanda and Rhonda, whose Johnson Sisters singing act performs on the radio show. The siblings have been working together for so long, they often complete each other's sentences, an idiosyncrasy the actresses explain in similar fashion while discussing a chaotic scene:
Tomlin: "We overlapped each other telling it because it was a 20-minute scene that we shot in one take each time we did it ..."
Streep: "And when we would sense that the other was losing the plot, we'd fill in ..."
Tomlin: "Yeah, the other one would jump in and carry on and it makes for a certain amount of spontaneity."
At first, Tomlin didn't think she and Streep looked enough alike to be sisters and had a prosthetic nose created for her, which she eventually decided against using. Instead, she concentrated on the sisters' history to create the proper bonding relationship.
"There was part of the back story which did not make it to the screen. As little girls, as the Johnson Girls, of which there were original four, we auditioned for Lawrence Welk and we didn't make it," says Tomlin. "My character has been bitter ever since. [Yolanda] has gotten over it and is more philosophical and stoic, but 50 years have passed and I still resent [it]."
The actresses perform several duets together in the film, including "My Minnesota Home" and "Goodbye to My Mama." Of the two, Streep is the more accomplished singer and gets to show off her ability, something the actress relished.
"It's just really fun to sing, and I don't get to much," says the two-time Oscar winner. "At my house I'm not allowed to because, you know, your children can't stand it when you sing at home. So it's been hard to wait till everybody's out of the house -- because there's a lot of them -- to sing. And anyway, I was really glad to be able to do it: so much fun, pure joy."
While Streep only rehearsed singing for about three days before shooting, Tomlin wasn't as confident.
"I practiced for two months singing, almost every day because I'm not accustomed to singing, and I had to sing the harmony, and it's not so easy for me," Tomlin admits. "I called [the director] part way in, and I went, 'Bob, I don't know if I'm going to be able to sing that well when I get there.' And he said, 'Ah, well if you don't sing well, you just don't sing well.' And it's just that easy. However I would have sung, that's how Rhonda would have sounded."
Yolanda's daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) is embarrassed by her mother and aunt, but too obsessed with writing poetry about suicide to pretend to care. Over the course of the film, the other "Prairie Home" players convince Lola to sing since this is the show's farewell performance. While her proud mother looks on, Lola belts out "Frankie and Johnny," forgetting most of the words along the way.
"I was definitely nervous," admitted in an earlier interview for "Just My Luck." "Everybody was that day on set. And I only rehearsed that song I think three times, and they kept changing it."
"It's very easy to feel motherly towards [Lindsay], and in fact she was younger than three of my kids," says Streep. "It's so hard for these young actors. It's a different world that they're coming up in. There's so much money to be made off of their personal lives, and people are bound and determined to make that money. And I felt protective of her. I felt bad for that world that we have given her and a generation of kids."
"She was maternal, and I couldn't believe that [Lindsay] didn't relate to me as a contemporary," jokes Tomlin. "I wanted to go to a rave club."
"A Prairie Home Companion," which also stars Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson, opens nationwide on Friday, June 9.