Diane Keaton's Slant on Life

Regrets? She has a few. But at 61, Diane Keaton counts the joys: two young kids, three book projects, four new films (including the February release of "Because I Said So"), a slew of awards, and one great sunset after another.

by Margy Rochlin
Diane Keaton
Photograph: Photo by: Suzanne Tenner/Universal Pictures

Keaton the Renaissance Woman

It’s cocktail hour in the lounge of Shutters, an oceanfront hotel in Santa Monica, California, that’s ordinarily a model of gentility. But today, Shutters’ lobby has become the ad hoc headquarters for the American Film Market — the convenience-store equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival. B-movie producers from around the globe are in full hustle mode, looking for distributors. So preoccupied are they with The Deal, in fact, that they fail to notice Diane Keaton picking her way toward the hotel’s restaurant. It’s not as if she has come incognito either. From her attire alone, you can guess her identity: She wears a full-on Keaton uniform — a black beret jammed down to her eyebrows, tinted blue glasses, black fingerless gloves, a black turtleneck sweater, a fat black belt, black Marc Jacobs flats, a black flared skirt and…a pair of straight-legged blue jeans. ("It’s easier to throw a skirt over jeans than to have bare legs," she says later when asked about the genesis of this farm-girl touch. "And I like the way it looks.")

The aspiring film moguls at the hotel might do themselves a favor by heeding the showbiz veteran in their midst. Denim leggings included, Keaton, now 61, is a study in star charm, acting versatility, and professional longevity, the latter made all the more remarkable by the fact that she has forged a unique path in life and work. "If she had wanted to, she could have been as big a comic star as Lucille Ball, but she is so creative that she has got a dozen other interests that occupy her attention," is how filmmaker Woody Allen sums up his onetime flame via e-mail, perhaps referring to the fact that Keaton is the director of short films, rock videos, and feature movies; a photographer; an art book editor; an adoptive single mother of two — a girl, Dexter, 11, and a boy, Duke, 6; a model for L’Oreal anti-aging beauty products; and a tireless celebrity spokesperson for the Los Angeles Conservancy, an architectural-preservation organization. In her spare time, she has been known to restore sagging landmark residences, such as the Colonial Revival-style home in Bel-Air that she bought for a reported $6 million, returned to its vintage hacienda-style glory, then flipped for a reported $17.2 million.

But Academy Award geeks prefer to think of her less like a Renaissance woman and more like the only leading lady to be nominated for best actress in each of the past four decades. Conveniently, those particular performances seem like touchstones in an ideal career trajectory for a woman in the movies: the girlfriend whose quirks are funny and whose seriousness is heartbreaking (Annie Hall); the committed, brainy, passionate lover (Reds); the selfless caregiver (Marvin’s Room); and the smart, sexy older woman who gets to choose between two men, one younger and one age-appropriate (Something’s Gotta Give). Mandy Moore, who costars as the teen daughter to Keaton’s interfering mom in this month’s Because I Said So, a romantic comedy (with both Moore and Keaton having romances), says it’s hard not to take mental notes regarding on-set conduct when working with an actress with such an illustrious track record.

"It’s quintessential Diane to make everything seem off-the-cuff, sort of fun and spirited," Moore says. "She makes it look like she’s just coming up with it on the spot. But part of her process is putting in all this hard work. She’s on her game: She knows her lines, what she’s doing — she shows up on time. There’s no phoning it in."

Moore also recalls a moment during filming when Keaton picked up on her costar’s insecurity about a just-finished take, and suddenly the man calling the shots from behind the camera, director Michael Lehmann, had a collaborator.

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