So she and Michell settled on good lighting to make Colleen appear suitably perky. “And I’d be like, ‘Not too close!’ ” Keaton says, referring to the camera position. “It’s come to that.” She grins ruefully. “But there’s nothing wrong with [cosmetic procedures]. A gal’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. I’m not going to say that I wouldn’t. Sometimes now I have a different feeling about [aging]. But you can’t beat it; even if you do all that stuff, you’re still not going to beat it.” She shrugs and digs into another molecule of cheese.
In taking on the role of an aging beauty who won’t go down without a fight, Keaton, 63, is doing what she’s always done best: addressing the real-life dramas of the generation of women who came of age with her. In 1977, in her early thirties, she played a free spirit falling in love in Annie Hall, for which she won an Oscar. Ten years later, she was an executive struggling with child rearing in Baby Boom. At 50, she played a character whose husband dumped her for a younger woman in The First Wives Club, and at 57 she found romance again in Something’s Gotta Give. Although this progression wasn’t intentional, Keaton says, “I always felt that in some way I was ordinary—that I was somebody you could identify with. In spite of my being borderline odd, women still felt that I was more like one of them.”
More than anything else, Keaton is palpably human. She was never a perfect, cookie-cutter starlet; she represented every woman who felt she was outside the norm. Her characters contradicted themselves, shot themselves in the foot, behaved ridiculously. When men drove them crazy, they snapped; when they were disappointed, their faces sagged. You could feel their hearts breaking. That’s a big feat, especially in comedies.
“Look at the crying scenes in Something’s Gotta Give,” says Nancy Meyers, writer-director of the hit that grossed $124 million (she also wrote Baby Boom and the Father of the Bride movies). “Diane’s character is completely miserable, but she’s writing a comedy. The crying cures her writer’s block, then her writing makes her laugh. And then the thought of it making her laugh makes her cry more. You give a scene that layered to most actresses and they’ll go, ‘Huh?’ But Diane lets it rip.”
Now Keaton’s opening herself up in a new way: She’s writing a memoir, contrasting her life with her late mother’s. Dorothy Hall, née Keaton, died a year ago at 86, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. (Keaton’s father, Jack Hall, a civil engineer, died in 1990.) She’d been a full-time homemaker, and an archetypal one—she baked, sewed and was once a finalist for Mrs. California in a Mrs. America contest. She doted on Keaton’s two younger sisters and younger brother, but she and Diane were especially close. She encouraged Keaton’s fierce ambitions and served as the main sounding board for her daughter’s projects.
Keaton is certain that her mother had artistic ambitions of her own, however quiet or unrealized. Dorothy was an obsessive journal keeper, cramming scores of brick-thick notebooks with thoughts, photographs, doodles and collages. “My mother had that fantasy of more, a bigger life, expressing herself,” Keaton says. “You don’t write all that unless you need to get the story of your life out. You’re saying, ‘I’m here. I want to express what it meant to me.’ ”
For the memoir, which will be published by Random House, Keaton is combining excerpts from those diaries with stories from her own life. “It’s not so easy!” she says. “But I’m sending in little chapters to my editor. There’s a sweet section where Mother is reflecting on her childhood, then I reflect on mine, on who we were and what that meant. There was my father’s death—what it was for my mother, what it was for me, what it meant about my relationship to men. It’s been really interesting for me.”