Diane Keaton is eating the smallest pieces of cheese you’ve ever seen. Sitting in the Oak Bar at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, she readies each bite the way a scientist might prepare a slide for a microscope: She snaps off a teeny-weeny corner of flatbread, tops it with a dot of cheese, then daubs it with apple compote. She’s not fussy about it—she does it gracefully—and she maintains a kaleidoscopic conversation throughout. It’s hard to see this as actual eating though, since after two hours, more remains on her plate than was consumed. But the ritual keeps her busy, and she likes to be busy. And it quickly becomes obvious that Diane Keaton doesn’t run on food. She’s fueled by her bottomless curiosity and delight.
On this summer afternoon, her outfit is quintessentially quirky—oversize gray bowler hat, small square glasses with green lenses, a pair of leather necklaces, a crisp white shirt, a black leather belt with silver studs, jeans with extra-large cuffs and black suede peep toe wedges, through which dark red nail polish glints—and every diner entering the bar does a double take when they spy her. “Isn’t it great that we’re here in this historic place, which I love?” she asks. (She has good reason to think fondly of the Plaza: Her adopted son, Duke, now eight, was delivered to her in a hotel room here one Valentine’s Day, five years after she adopted her daughter, Dexter, now 13.) In fact, Keaton is loving everything about New York today: the new High Line park (“It’s a magical spot”), the New York Stock Exchange (It’s the most beautiful building!”), even the arms and armor room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a collection she had never been attracted to before.
“My kids became entranced with the armor, so I started looking at it, and it’s fantastic!” Keaton says. “It’s like, what were they doing wearing these things on their bodies, and how did they move?” She lives her life in question marks and exclamation points, and listening to her is like drinking Champagne: Pretty soon you feel giddy too.
“Diane is so enormously fun,” says Martin Short, a friend since he worked with Keaton on 1991’s Father of the Bride. “Her laugh is contagious and generous, her take on life and how it should be lived—you’re envious of it and want to emulate it. There is no one like her, and if anyone is, it’s because they’re trying to be like her.”
Keaton has been in New York for a month shooting the comedy Morning Glory, directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill). In the film, due for release next year, she plays Colleen Peck, a yappy, testy former Miss Arizona who anchors a failing morning news show and gets riled when her producer (Rachel McAdams) brings in a fading news heavyweight (Harrison Ford) to goose the ratings. “I can’t stress enough how much fun it was to work with her,” Ford says. “Diane’s skill as an actress is remarkable. She creates a very realistic structure for all her energy, so it’s not just yakety-yak; it’s storytelling. And we had great conversations about art and architecture, about which she has well-developed expertise. Even if she does put ice in her red wine.” They became friendly enough that Ford flew Keaton back to L.A. in his jet—which he piloted. Because she’s an anxious flier, Keaton jokes that she armed herself with medicine to calm her nerves. Ford says she was fine. “She was also stoned out of her goo-goo,” he deadpans.
Keaton claims not to know the difference between collagen, Restylane and Botox. But she knew that her character in Morning Glory would be well versed in all things antiaging. “She’s a warhorse, and I felt like she should be extraordinarily vain,” Keaton says. “I think these anchors—if there are any my age left, which is why I was sort of amazed they cast me—they all look fantastic.”
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.”
This intimate access to her mother’s mind has made Keaton aware of how little she knew her father and how little she understands men in general. “My mother wrote reams, but from Dad, we got nothing—a couple of letters,” she says. “I’d read into those small messages sent from my father’s brain to me. He’s much more of a mystery.” She pauses. “All men are. Mm-hmm.”
Although Keaton has never married, she has dated some complicated men, including Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. But she swears that there is no man in her life now (her ex-act words are, “No, oh-ho, none”), and that she can’t imagine one in her future. “It’s a huge part of life that’s missing, yeah, but I don’t miss it,” she says. The very idea of couples falling in love later in life—so memorably portrayed in Something’s Gotta Give—makes her explode with questions: “Do you think they kiss?” she squeals. “They have sex? That’s something I can’t imagine at all. For me it was always, ‘Oh, no!’ ” She mimes backing away, waggling her hands. “And then I couldn’t help myself, because just, biologically, you can’t help but go toward it. It’s too exciting.” She shakes her head. “Ugh! I don’t want that excitement. Too scary. I see it as a danger zone. Who would we become, together? I just . . . unnnh.”
What fascinates Keaton today is the way her teenage daughter is handling the opposite sex. “With Dexter, it’s [all about] boys right now. Could she be more different from me? She goes to them, talks to them. She makes the dates. It’s refreshing, not waiting for someone to pick you. Which seems to be the story of my life regarding men and being an actress.
“I don’t think men even look at me anymore,” she continues. “If anything could work in that area, it would probably be if I paid him. Then I think we could work out an affable relationship. ‘Remember, at eight we’re going to dinner. Until then you’re free, take care of yourself.’ ” She grins; she’s joking, of course, though so seamlessly that she had you for a second. “I’m totally for it! I pay for everything else.” She snorts at herself. “I bet I’ll have a lot of suitors now, right?”
Kidding aside, Keaton calls her independence “wonderful. I’m free to do what I want to try to do. I don’t have to worry that I’m not living up to some responsibility as a partner to somebody else.” And what she wants to do is a lot. She wants to keep making movies. She spent part of the past year talking to women’s groups about her work and her mother’s illness on the Unique Lives & Experiences lecture tour (former speakers include Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda). She’s set to star in her first TV series (untitled at presstime), for HBO, as a Gloria Steinem–like feminist icon who attempts to reignite the movement by starting a porn magazine for women. Keaton’s also working on two new architecture books (she’s already published several); she’s trying to sell her Spanish-style home in Beverly Hills and develop another property that she owns; and through the National Trust for His-toric Preservation she’s fighting to prevent L.A.’s Century Plaza hotel from being demolished.
“I don’t really relax much,” Keaton says—the understatement of the after-noon. “Like, I can’t go and nap, ever. I’m not interested in relaxing until I hit the sack, and then it’s like [crash noise]. I wouldn’t know what to do with a week off. Except for one little area, m-e-n, I’m excited, I’m ready to go, sign me up.”
She’s full of admiration for actresses such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Sandra Bullock, “strong, feisty women who take a monumental responsibility for every aspect of their careers,” Keaton says. “It’s not just acting, it’s also producing, being a spokesperson, a beauty campaign representative. They’re a brand.” Back when Keaton broke through in Annie Hall, “the tone of those times was, ‘Be very choosy and don’t do too much.’ ” She pauses for the fraction of a second that for her constitutes a pause. “Mistake. I don’t agree with that at all anymore. You might as well just dive in and really take it on.”
Keaton says she’s “proud of the fact that I’m still here, still working. That I’ve been able to take care of things.” But she’s also been feeling her mortal-ity a little more. On her first day of filming Morning Glory, she did a scene in which Colleen interviews a sumo wrestler while dressed in a sumo fat suit. Keaton thought it would be funny if she charged headlong into the wrestler; she ended up banging her head on the sidewalk, hard enough to send her to the hospital. She was fine, though she felt some vertigo for weeks afterward. “It did make me realize that there could be an end to me,” she says. “It changes your outlook . . . You’re aware of time and that nothing is permanent.”
Keaton wouldn’t call this phase of life easier, she says. But it is “more challenging, and more full. The experiences you have are deeper. Just being alive has so much more meaning.” She remembers how her Grammy Hall would sit watching the local news and cluck, “It’s a weird old world.” As a kid, Keaton thought that was odd. But now she understands. “The older I get,” she says, “the more I go, what? That’s astonishing! How could that be?” Being with her feels the same way.
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