DesMoines Register

"'Prairie' film with cowboys"

June 2, 2005

Pick up the phone and talk to public radio icon Garrison Keillor and that trademark, self-depreciating humor begins to drip through the receiver.

He's going to be in a Robert Altman film, about the final broadcast of a long-running radio show. Perhaps an explanation is in order.

"It originated with Mr. Altman, whose wife is a fan of the show," Keillor said. "She listens to it regularly so he's been forced to listen to it from time to time. He got the idea of making a fictional documentary about the radio show."

Altman did something similar with ballet when he made "The Company," but I don't suspect you'll see Keillor in pointe shoes.

"He asked me to write the screenplay," Keillor said. "I didn't really want to write the screenplay but I didn't want anyone else to write it, either."

The result is a film called, at least for now, "A Prairie Home Companion" and filming starts this summer in St. Paul, Minn. The story involves two singing cowboys, a country music star played by Meryl Streep, and other assorted characters played by Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Maya Rudolph and - I'm not making this up - Lindsay Lohan.

"He's been arguing with me for greater fidelity to the show," Keillor said of Altman, "and I've been arguing for fiction. I seem to be winning so far."

I point out that Altman may get the last word because he is, you know, editing the film, and Keillor hems and haws for a moment. Keillor has written other, unfilmed screenplays and you can literally hear the pain in his voice.

"The (radio) show itself is nothing you would want to make a movie about. It's very quiet backstage. We're all Midwesterners and so we're self-effacing and quiet. It would be boring," he said.

"I'm trying to put a little flame and smoke into this and that's fiction."