Diane Keaton: The Art of Being Yourself

In our May cover story and exclusive excerpt from her new book, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, the iconic actress celebrates “inappropriate” women, reflects on male aging and rejoices in enjoying beauty rather than in being beautiful. Still Keaton after all these years

by Margot Dougherty
Keaton is wearing her own suit (from Thom Browne), bow tie, shirt and pocket square.
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

I’m talking about that overwhelming feeling you get when you stand on a cliff and look out at the ocean. I’m talking about the flaws that eventually take on a life of their own. The ineptness that makes you who you are. I’m talking about women who make us see beauty where we never saw it; women who turn wrong into right.

Sharing space on my living room wall are 48 portraits of men I’ve collected over 25 years. I call them my prisoners. There’s Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of the artist Francesco Clemente, who presents his hands from under a black coat. There’s Marion Robert Morrison’s face before he became John Wayne. The face of the Russian revolutionary and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky stares out in shaved-head resistance. He brings up longings. I’d carry his coattails. I’d be his lackey. There’s Sam Shepard. Ryan Gosling. Abraham Lincoln.

Warren Beatty is not one of the prisoners on my wall. He is a person I loved in real time, not reel, and not in a photograph. One moment Warren was stunning, especially from the right side; the next, I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. These variables kept me curious. Was he a beauty or wasn’t he?

Yes. Warren was a beauty. That stood out with particular intensity during our bittersweet breakup.

I was in Germany working on The Little Drummer Girl in the early ’80s. It was a difficult shoot. Picking me to play a British actress who finds herself embroiled in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was bad casting. No matter how hard I tried to look butch holding an Uzi assault weapon, I failed. To make matters worse, Warren and I weren’t speaking. On my days off, I would wander around Munich feeling sorry for myself. One Sunday at a flea market I came across a big picture book on the films of Warren -Beatty. I bought it. Back in the hotel room, I cut out a picture of Warren from Bonnie and Clyde, folded it into small squares, put Warren in my jacket pocket and brought him to work the next day. Before a particularly emotional scene, I took it out, unfolded Warren and touched his face with my fingers. When I put my lips to his, all those months of straining for a crumb of feeling came flooding back. That’s what Warren’s face on the page of a broken-down book printed on cheap paper did to me.

A question for Warren, and all of my prisoners on the wall: When did they begin to worry about time’s effect on their faces, if they did at all? What was it like for 51-year-old Gary Cooper to see his close-ups in High Noon? What was it like for John Wayne? Tom Cruise, who turned 51 recently, is on the eve of losing his looks. Brad Pitt is 49. Johnny Depp is 50. How are they dealing with the first signs of loss?

Warren Beatty, and his pal Jack Nicholson, both 76, have let it go. They’re over the hump. Al Pacino, too. Maybe letting go is the only graceful thing to do.

I think I’m like most women: In the mirror most of us find a few disappointments. We each deal with them the best we can. We slather, we dab, we rouge, we nip, we tuck, we ignore. I don’t regret that the face I present to the world is the same I was born with. I’ve been banged up a bit. I’m older. Actually, I’m a senior citizen. I hear with my ears. I eat, speak and breathe with my mouth. I have eyebrows, eyelashes and two eyes that see. That’s my favorite thing about my face. I can see trees and sunsets. I can see my daughter Dexter’s oval face and the color of my son Duke’s eyes. I can see the ocean from a bluff. I’m not complaining. I know from experience how lucky I am. But the most thrilling aspect of my face is its ability to express feelings. All my feelings and all my emotion come out on my face—my 67-year-old face. You see, my face identifies who I am inside. It shows feelings I can’t put into words. And that is a miracle, an extraordinarily ordinary miracle, one I’m not ready to change.

First published in the May 2014 issue

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