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

“Hello!” Diane Keaton sings, walking into a beachside restaurant in Santa Monica wearing a black Marni dress with ­electric-blue rivulets over a long-sleeved white shirt, buttoned to the collar, and black-and-white polka dot pants. Her chunky black boots seem just the thing for climbing telephone poles. It’s a getup few could pull off, but Keaton, 68, owns it: She looks fantastic.

Keaton has always been known for her quirky style; her menswear look in 1977’s Annie Hall, the movie that earned her an Oscar, made her a global icon. She later turned her eye to architecture, authoring two richly photographed volumes on remarkable houses. “I think what drives her is that she wants to explore beauty in every form,” says her good friend, actress Carol Kane.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, Kea­ton’s new book, is an honest, moving, eloquent and sometimes funny pastiche of memories and contemplations of beauty and aging, family and friends (see excerpt, right). She says she wrote snatches at a time, editing as she went. “What I really like to do, because I’m not a writer, is to talk it,” she says. “I read the whole thing out loud, over and over.”

Keaton, who has lived in 15 homes in 18 years, writes that she is a real estate “junkie” who’s searching for “a beautiful life lived in a beautiful home.” She and her daughter, Dexter, 18, and son, Duke, 13, now reside in L.A.’s Pacific Palisades, where, she says, “you feel like you’re part of the neighborhood.” Meanwhile, she’s building her dream house in nearby Sullivan Canyon, a bucolic area where horses clop down the road. But Keaton still isn’t sure she wants to leave the neighborhood where she runs into friends while walking her dog. It’s “the neighborhood versus the dream,” she says.

The same quandary influenced her romantic life. She had relationships with Warren Beatty and Al Pacino but didn’t marry. “I told myself I wanted to,” she says, “but I didn’t really want a man that I could have. The dream or the neighborhood? I wanted the dream.”

The former boyfriend she’s closest to is Woody Allen, with whom she’s made six movies, including Annie Hall. In January she accepted a lifetime achievement award on Allen’s behalf at the Golden Globes. Three weeks later, Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Allen and his onetime partner Mia Farrow, spoke out in the New York Times, resurfacing allegations that Allen had sexually abused her when she was seven. “All I can say is that I’m Woody’s friend and I’ve been Woody’s friend for 45 years and nothing’s going to change that,” says Keaton. “That’s my only response except to say obviously it’s a sad, sad, painful story.” Farrow called her out personally in her open letter—“You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?” Keaton counters, “But I didn’t know her. I did meet her a few times, like a 42-year-old adult meets a kid. But I didn’t know her.”

Approaching her next decade, Keaton says she wants to “keep doing what I’m doing, keep seeing things and expressing myself.” Later this year she appears in And So It Goes, with Michael Douglas, opening July 11, and Life Itself, opposite Morgan ­Freeman—with whom she sang Sinatra and show tunes before takes.

She and Freeman kiss in the movie, a perk of the job that for Keaton never gets old. (“I have a list of all the men I’ve kissed,” she says.) When she received a lifetime achievement award of her own in Berlin three months ago, “I mentioned all these men who I got to have these wonderful love affairs with in the movies,” she says. “And I mentioned that the only one I’ve missed, really, is Matthew McConaughey.” He was in the audience, “and he comes up to the stage and he gives me a kiss. It was so much fun. I’m going to use that trick a lot! I’m going to play that out all over.”

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty
By Diane Keaton

I’ve always loved independent women, outspoken women, eccentric women, funny women, flawed women. When someone says about a woman, “I’m sorry, that’s just wrong,” I tend to think she must be doing something right. Take Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue. Vreeland was many things, but a classic beauty wasn’t one of them. Her mother called her “my ugly little monster.” Guess what? That didn’t get in her way. Vreeland paraded around with a head of glossy pitch-black hair until the day she died, at age 92. She defied every rule of aging gracefully.

I respect women who aren’t afraid to push the envelope, women who are inappropriate, women who do what you aren’t supposed to. Women like Katharine Hepburn. Didn’t she wear pants under a Chairman Mao tunic to the Academy Awards? Outrageous! And what about 27-year-old Lena Dunham, who has redefined what a star can look like. I think she’s one of the most beautiful women on TV. “There’s little doubt Girls will be too explicit . . . and too young-and-female-centric to appeal to everyone,” wrote Robert Bianco in USA Today. That’s the point: Why try to appeal to everyone?

I admire women like Joan Rivers, even though I can’t count how many times she’s hauled me before her Fashion Police. Joan was among the first to openly discuss her multiple cosmetic surgeries. It takes strength to fess up to your imperfections. People have asked me why I’ve never had work done. The truth is I respect women who have had work done just as much as I respect those who haven’t. We’re all just trying to get through the day.

To me, the most beautiful women are independent, like fierce and sassy Jennifer Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe alone in the desert, strong Kathryn Bigelow, defiant Kate Moss, Grace Coddington and her orange hair, unstoppable Hillary Clinton, brilliant Tina Fey, fearless Joan Didion, and and and and . . . each found her place in the world. Each has her own style, her own voice, her own stamp, her own method, her own wrong that she’s made right.

Just yesterday Dexter, my daughter, found a story online called “Top 10 Female Celebrities Who Are Ugly No Matter What Hollywood Says,” by someone named Valdez_Addiction.

There was a picture of number one, Angelina Jolie, with this assessment: “She looks like Skeletor from He-Man.” Number four was Reese Witherspoon, and number five, the fifth-ugliest female celebrity no matter what Hollywood says, was Diane Keaton.

“How this chick got a lead role in anything is beyond me. And I know what you’re thinking. It’s not because she’s old as dirt and they still try to give her sexy roles. She’s even ugly in The Godfather when she was young.”

Old as dirt. Wow. I went to my bathroom and looked in the mirror. “Let it go, Diane. No wallowing in self-pity. You have a family. You have a brother and two sisters. You have a daughter and a son. You have work. You have friends. You can feel. You can think, up to a point. You can see. Seeing is the gift that keeps giving. It’s much more engaging than being seen.”

These old-as-dirt days have one advantage: I’ve learned to see beauty where I never saw it before. But only because my expectations are more realistic. My favorite part of my body is my eyes. Not because of their color and God knows not because of their shape, but because of what they see.

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.

I wasn’t prepared for Al Pacino. We’d been cast in The Godfather. Neither of us had a clue that we were going to make a movie that would be considered one of the greatest films in American cinema. Try to picture this: We met in a bar in New York. I was awkward, and Al? Al was as mysterious as the love I felt for him the moment I saw his face. I didn’t want to be friendly—“Hi, I’m Diane”—or go through the “Nice to meet you, Diane” bit, either. There was nothing nice about my thoughts. His face, his nose, and what about those eyes? I kept trying to figure out what I could do to make them mine. They never were. That was the lure of Al. He was never mine. For the next 20 years I kept losing a man I’d never had.

After Al, I began building a wall around my vulnerability. More hats. Long-sleeved everything. Coats in the summer. Boots with knee socks and wool suits with scarves at the beach. Woody said it best in a phone message: “I’m standing in front of your house, 820 Roxbury. It’s very beautiful. I’d like to get in, but I don’t have a hammer.”

Of all the beauties I’ve shared a bed with, Al’s blacker-than-midnight version was unmatchable. It was his love of language. It was the sound of his voice. It was his continuously evolving face. That was the miracle of his beauty. Evolution. As we got more familiar, I took every opportunity to make him marriage material. My project did not work. All my failed efforts only increased my obsession. What did I learn? Never fall in love with the Godfather. Never stumble over a dark knight with shadowy beauty and deep talent.

I will never marry. My love of the impossible far overshadows the rewards of longevity. I fell for the beauty of a broken bird. The ecstasy of failure. It was the only marriage I could make with a man. Black with a little white. Pain mixed with pleasure.

One day last summer, while making a movie in Stamford, Connecticut, I took the train down to New York City. In front of the Guggenheim Museum, I heard someone calling my name through the crowd. I looked over to see a stunning woman getting out of a limousine. “Diane, it’s Ricky.” “Oh my God, Ricky, you look great.” And she did. Ricky Lauren, Ralph’s wife, looked great. “No, Diane, no, you look great.” And I didn’t. I looked like a woman my age.

Yep. I belong to a group of 65-and-older show business folk. Sometimes I wish I could talk to my contemporaries about how they’re grappling with their senior years. Do they wake up every morning and, like me, look in the mirror with a big sigh? For those of us who’ve been separated from reality by fame, being old is a great leveling experience.

I had a few hours to kill that day, so I took a chance and called Woody.
I asked him if he wanted to take a walk on Madison Avenue, like we used to. We started at 70th Street. We didn’t hold hands, like in the old days, but I swear he wore what must have been one of his beige bucket hats from Annie Hall. We looked in the windows of stores. We passed the Whitney. We took in the people. They took us in, as well. Woody made fun of me, saying I had “the kind of beauty that requires a beekeeper’s hat.” We laughed. When we reached Campbell’s mortuary, we looked at each other. He was 77. I was 67.

Around 79th Street, we ran into Paul McCartney and his wife, Nancy. People gathered around us. It was almost like it used to be, only sweeter, because I knew it couldn’t last. Paul waved good-bye as we headed back. I could almost hear Jimmy Durante sing, “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.” We’re there, Wood. We’re in September.

I didn’t say it. I dropped him off at home, took a cab back to Grand Central Terminal and rushed alongside fellow commuters to get on the train.

From the book Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton. Copyright © 2014 by Diane Keaton. Published by Random House, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC.

Margot Dougherty profiled Anna Gunn for More in March.

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First Published Fri, 2014-04-11 10:22

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