Midwest premiere of "Prairie Home Companion" drew the stars to St. Paul.
"A Prairie Home Companion" stars Virginia Madsen, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline and John C. Reilly posed for a picture outside the St. Paul Hotel before Wednesday's premiere at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Hollywood came to St. Paul Wednesday for the Midwest premiere of "A Prairie Home Companion," and while Minnesotans were fawning over the visitors, the visitors were fawning over us.
"Everyone is so warm and friendly," Meryl Streep said.
Hundreds of those friendly faces greeted the actors as they left the St. Paul Hotel in horse-drawn carriages for the six-block ride to the Fitzgerald Theater. There haven't been that many people lining Wabasha since October 1987, when the Minnesota Twins filled downtown with a World Series victory parade.
At the theater, another mass of onlookers pushed up against the velvet ropes that lined the 100-foot red carpet leading to the door. Squeals of recognition and delight greeted the stars as they arrived. Fans begged for autographs and pictures, and the actors obliged.
Some residents of nearby senior citizen apartments came down in wheelchairs, and Streep stopped to shake hands with 99-year-old Bertina Peterson. Peterson said she won't wash her hand anymore.
Jennifer Plum and Andrea Crawford rushed from their teaching jobs at St. Paul's Face to Face Academy to get good spots on the sidewalk in front of the theater. They held up signs for Kevin Kline and Lindsay Lohan, and got to see both, relatively up close.
"We made eye contact with Kevin Kline and he said, 'Hey, thank you.' " Plum said.
Thank you for what? "The way the people have been embracing us is amazing," Kline said. "We came in here as outsiders, and they made us part of their community."
The warm and fuzzy feelings started with a news conference with the cast that turned into a lovefest. They love St. Paul. They love director Robert Altman. And they love writer/star Garrison Keillor.
"This is like a family reunion," Lily Tomlin said.
"We all came out for Bob [Altman]," Lohan said. Then she turned to Keillor and added, "And we all came out for you."
They teased each other and laughed at lot. Nothing new there, they said. They did a lot of laughing during filming.
"We've all seen movies where it looks like everyone is having fun," Kline said during an interview. "But we really were having fun. ... It was hard keeping a straight face."
"It was a joyous experience," Streep agreed. "I know it's a cliché, but it didn't feel like work. You got up excited about coming to the set. And when the shooting was done, you didn't want to leave."
The same could be said for Keillor Wednesday night. At a post-screening party at Landmark Center, he fulfilled a promise to local TV stations to sing a song for the 10 p.m. newscasts. But he got into the spirit of things and kept going long after the cameras were turned off, eventually doing a half-hour set that included leading the crowd in a spirited rendition of the "Minnesota Rouser."
The story centers on the fictional last performance of Keillor's radio show, which has been sold to a conglomerate that is canceling it. Streep, Reilly, Tomlin and Lohan play musicians on the show.
Shooting the film in the Fitzgerald Theater, which houses the real show, was not part of Keillor's deal with Altman, but he's glad it worked out that way. "The reality is that movies can be shot just about anyplace," he said. "I think that everybody in the cast enjoyed being in St. Paul."
John C. Reilly certainly did. "I do a lot of stage work and have been in a lot of theaters," he said. "But there is something special about the Fitzgerald. The first time I stepped on that stage, there was a palpable sense of creative energy."
It was the second-best thing about working in Minnesota, he said. So what was No. 1?
"No one beeps their horn here," he said. "You can be sitting at a red light that turns green three times, and no one will beep their horn at you."
The movie, which opens nationwide June 9, includes radio show regulars Tim Russell, Sue Scott, Jearlyn Steele, Tom Keith, Prudence Johnson and Robin and Linda Williams.
They didn't need to worry about holding their own opposite the Hollywood pros, Streep said. "We were the ones horning in on their territory," she said. "They are the real things. We were just pretending."
Keillor plays himself and came away with a newfound appreciation for acting. "It's painful to look at yourself," he said. He pointed to Altman and intoned in perfect Scandinavian deadpan: "But he did pretty good. It could have been worse."
A couple of the actors expressed reservations about the screening, noting that the movie was going to be scrutinized by Keillor's devoted fans.
"They all want to see what Hollywood has done to their radio show," Streep said.
Regardless of how the movie fares at the box office, the memories of making it will be pleasant.
Said Keillor: "I don't expect to have that much fun again anytime soon."