June 8, 2006

Altman admits to nerves ahead of “Prairie Home”

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He is 81 years old, has an honorary
Oscar and 50 years of television and classic movies like "MASH"
behind him, but director Robert Altman admits he still gets a
case of nerves ahead of a film debut.

His latest movie, "A Prairie Home Companion," hits theaters
on Friday. Reviews are mostly good and the cast, which includes
Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and teen idol Lindsay Lohan, is

But the film, which is based on Garrison Keillor's
long-running radio show of the same name, covers the difficult
subject of death, and Altman noted the movie likely will not
draw the young fans for whom Hollywood's studios hunger.

"I'm scared shitless. I get very sensitive about reviews
and what people have said," Altman said. "As long as I've been
doing this, I still take it personally. I don't know why. I
guess that's just my nature."

The reaction to "Prairie Home Companion" is made even that
much more personal for Altman, a native of Kansas City,
Missouri, because he grew up listening to old radio dramas, and
his first job in entertainment was writing for radio.

"Prairie Home Companion" laments the passing of radio and
tells people to laugh a little in the face of death. One
question audiences may have is whether Altman was contemplating
his own life and death when making "Prairie Home Companion."

But the director of classic films such as "Nashville," "The
Player" and "Short Cuts," laughs at that suggestion.

"You'll know which (movie) is the career capper for me when
you read about my death," he said.

Altman plans to begin shooting this fall a new movie, a
fictional story about 24 people competing to win a car.


"Prairie Home Companion" attempts to recreate Keillor's
radio show, which draws some 4.3 million listeners weekly on
U.S. public broadcasting stations.

The program takes place in front of a live audience from
its home in St. Paul, Minnesota, and blends country music,
folksy jokes, Depression-era advertising jingles and common
sense wisdom about current issues and popular culture.

The movie's structure is fairly unique as it combines
elements of Keillor's real show with a fictional tale taking
place behind-the-scenes after a big company has purchased the
radio station and plans to shut down the show.

On the radio program's final night, characters like the
singing Johnson sisters, Yolanda and Rhonda (Meryl Streep and
Lily Tomlin), and comic cowboys Dusty and Lefty (Woody
Harrelson and John C. Reilly), are forced to contemplate their
future. Lohan portrays Yolanda's daughter Lola, who represents
a new generation of kids.

The veteran director lamented that fans of Lohan, 19,
likely would not see her in "Prairie Home Companion" because
the movie doesn't have the special effects and car crashes that
today's kids seem to most enjoy in summer movies.

"Her audience is not going to understand our film," he
said. But actor Reilly, 41, gave younger audiences more credit.

"The format of the show may pretend to be old, but it's
very topical at the same time," he said. "Garrison doesn't
steer away from the realities of modern life, and I think
that's cool."