This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Robert Altman's Nashville, an American allegory that helped define the '70s, and wacky comedian Lily Tomlin is taking the opportunity to fondly recall her unorthodox role and the eventful, angst-filled making of the film.
"I found out sometime later that Louise Fletcher was supposed to have been Linnea [the gospel singer with deaf children]," Tomlin tells Premiere. "Louise's parents were deaf, and she knew sign language. Ironically enough, Michael Douglas came to see me around that time for Nurse Ratched [in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which Douglas produced]. I never got the part; Louise got the part. And somehow I wound up with Linnea.
Tomlin was not born to play Linnea. "I studied sign language for about three months before I went on location," she explains. "It's very hard for me, so I memorized a lot of stuff. Linnea's children were played by the first two kids that showed up [James Calvert and Donna Denton]. Bob just hired them. They were both profoundly deaf. James was completely extroverted. He would throw himself into us to greet us. It was like he couldn't put enough force into it, like the feeling of the body made up for the lack of sound. I'm still in touch with him. He's an electrician and lives in New Mexico."
Not every relationship Tomlin made during the filming was a friendly one. "Karen Black was the only one who didn't have to come [to Nashville] and stay the whole summer. And whenever we all started to protest, Bob said, 'Well, you're not supposed to like her.' "