The accidental actress

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Sep 16, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

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Keaton has been famous for most of her life. She was 22 when she was cast in the original Broadway production of Hair; by 31 she’d starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather movies, three Woody Allen films and won an Oscar (and a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA) for her role in Annie Hall. She’s sub-sequently been nominated for three more Oscars, and won a Golden Globe for Something’s Gotta Give.

Born in Los Angeles in 1946, the oldest of four children to her charismatic, stay-at-home mother and civil engineer father, Keaton always wanted to be famous. “I figured the only way to realise my No. 1 dream of being an actual Broadway star was to [avoid] loving a man and becoming a wife,” she wrote in her 2011 memoir, Then Again. “I was looking for an audience. Any audience.” She pursued this dream with tenacity: she has never married, never become a wife (though she has loved several men, some of them the same men we’ve all loved: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson) and she’s certainly found an audience. Her films have grossed more than $US1.1 billion in North America alone.

You would never know any of this from Keaton herself, who is ridiculously modest. (Director Nancy Meyers has said of her, “Diane is the most self-deprecating person alive.”) Keaton tells me she’s “not really an actress”. “Well, Annie Hall was the easiest thing I’ve ever done, professionally,” she explains, as if this justifies it. “There was nothing to it.” But you won an Oscar, I say. “But was it even acting? That’s why I say I don’t know what I am … maybe I’m not an actress. I flaunt my personality around.”

Of course, she is an actress, and she is famous. And perhaps because of this, and because of the lovers like Beatty and Pacino, and the lack of real-life detritus like husbands or (for a long time) prams in the hall, you don’t expect Diane Keaton to be, well, fun. She seems too intellectual, too committed to black polo necks. She’s fabulously appealing on film and her best roles – Annie Hall, J. C. Wiatt (Baby Boom), Annie Paradis (The First Wives Club), Erica Barry (Something’s Gotta Give) – have become the beloved everywomen of a generation. But somehow you don’t expect her to be really one of the girls. And yet she is.

Like many girls of every age, Diane Keaton is preoccupied with beauty. Specifically, having just written a book about it, she’s interested in how beauty changes as we age. Sitting in a hotel room with both knees up, one foot levered under her tiny bottom like a very slim, supple Buddha (though she’s one of the few celebrities I’ve ever met who appears to have, blessedly, no knowledge of Buddhism), she talks just like Annie Hall, swiftly and elliptically, in a rush of jokes and irrelevancies and sudden truths.

She has never thought of herself as beautiful, she says. This is, patently, ridiculous, but there’s no arguing with her. “Are you kidding? No! Right from the moment I realised I didn’t look a single thing like Doris Day, I knew things were bad. But I was always a great believer in improvement.” She clenches a fist like a suffragette. “And so I went to work.” Aged 14, she directed herself in her diary: “Sleep with a bobby pin stuck on top of my nose. Tilt to the left where the bulb is fat, by fat I mean swollen to the extreme. If pressed on a regular basis the bulb will eventually be squeezed out of existence.” Bulb? Fat? Swollen? You might almost feel sorry for her, except that she seems not to feel remotely sorry for herself – mostly because she’s mining her sense of dismay for humour.

Woody Allen once said, “There’s no human that makes me laugh like Keaton,” and in person she’s incredibly funny. I point out that despite her belief in improvement, she’s actually famous for never having had work done on her face: no fillers, no Botox, nothing. “Yeah, and look where that’s got me!” she says. “I mean, I found this list online with all the people in Hollywood who’ve had nose jobs.” She touches her own nose, leaning forward. “Ninety-nine per cent of them looked a zillion times better afterwards! A zillion times! So I was right all the time! I could have been beautiful!” She mock-clenches her fists. “But then I wondered, to justify my envy, do they feel guilty? Because if they feel guilty, that makes me feel better!”

I start laughing, and she laughs, too. “Then comes the point where I have to say, ‘You’re an asshole, Diane! Why don’t you just appreciate what they are, and be sorry you were so stupid you didn’t get it done when it would have been a good idea?’ But then, I don’t think it would have been a good idea because me, being Diane, I would have been riddled with guilt for the rest of my life.” She sits back, miming exhaustion. “You see! It’s an endless cycle, so why take it on? Except to say, ‘God, that woman is beautiful.’ ”

Do other Hollywood women have these conversations, I wonder? Does Keaton talk about this with all the women she’s worked with over the years? “I don’t really know the crowd,” she says. “Is it a crowd? Okay, so say it’s the Golden Globes. Afterwards, you go to a party and you see a lot of these people. But do I know them? No. Even the people I’ve worked with, I don’t really know. I don’t know Meryl; I don’t know Sarah Jessica Parker, not really. I mean, we’re acquaintances, and I like her. And of course I like Meryl – what’s not to like? – and Jessica Lange and people, but there’s no real dialogue. And so whatever that group is, it doesn’t exist.” She pauses, grinning. “I don’t think. Maybe I haven’t been invited into the gang! That’s concerning … now I’m going to go home and worry.”

Her own sounding board about issues like the depredations of age on beauty are “my friends Kathryn and Carol, and my sisters, Dorrie, who’s 61, and Robin, who’s like, 66 … 65! No! That’s my brother! I’m really ageing her up! She’s going to kill me.” She laughs. “When I was young, I did volunteer work at old people’s homes. And I remember that much as I really liked the people, and appreciated them, I was not them. They were in another world. And now I’m there.” She nods, and for the first time looks vaguely serious. “And it’s a world that doesn’t have any answers: that’s the way I feel about it. So what you’ve got is the moment. Living truthfully in the moment.” A very Buddhist lesson, I say, being fully present in each moment. “Is it?” says Keaton. For her it’s something else: a lesson from her first and most enduring love. The theatre.

From the outside, sometimes you wonder if acting was the right choice for Diane Keaton. It seems to have taken such a toll on her. In both Then Again and Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, she discusses her insecurities: her bulimia, her failed relationships, her fears about her abilities. When she was living in New York, she had analysis five times a week. Might she have been happier doing something else?

“No!” Keaton looks horrified. “I would have been a mess without acting! Well, even more of a mess! Acting really helped me, I think. It gave me a point of view, and a way to approach things.” The approach came from Sandy Meisner, the legendary acting teacher at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York, where Keaton became a student in 1965. He developed the Meisner Technique, in which actors are encouraged to respond truthfully to each other within the confines of theatrical artifice. (A perfect example of Meisner is Keaton in Annie Hall.) “I really took him to heart, Sandy Meisner, on a much broader level than I realised I was doing,” she says now. “That idea of, ‘Live truly in the given imaginary circumstance, moment by moment.’ That became not just acting or performing, but life.”

Oddly, she also liked the effort and hard work – the cost – of acting. “I was always ambitious,” she points out. “I had setbacks but it never stopped me. I get that from my dad. He worked very hard.” She seems to feel, on some Protestant work-ethic level, that work has value. “Dad would get up early in the morning to study. I used to think, ‘Oh my god, that is the most miserable life I can imagine.’ But here I am! And I like to get up early.” Just as well: large parts of her new book, it seems, were written at 5am in the car park after delivering her daughter to swimming training.

She still loves making movies: two last year alone. Indeed, Keaton is one of the few actresses to confirm what most women have always suspected: that kissing a young Al Pacino or Warren Beatty or Mel Gibson, even for the benefit of the movie cameras, is glorious. “It totally is!” she says. When she was making Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson, she explains that the moment they kissed among the candles was so titillating it wiped every other thought from her head: for take after take she couldn’t remember her next line. “So we had to do the kiss again and again. What a struggle!” And in Mrs Soffel, with Mel Gibson: “Well, all I can say is he was 26. He was beautiful.” She rolls her head back on her shoulders. “Oh my god, was he beautiful. And he kissed me, and I remember that the driver drove me home afterwards, and all I did the whole way was try to relive that kiss.”

Of course, there have been real-life romances with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. But her dominant emotion in real-life love seems to have been worry. “I never had that experience of first love or infatuation or whatever where you’re just so besotted with each other that your brain just falls away,” she admits. “I think it’s just not possible for my brain to go there, except when I’m playing a part. Because with love there just seems too many expectations. ‘In love’ seems to be a separate line item.” She grins. “I don’t know … it’s just that there was always this little bit of my mind going, ‘Little too much, little too much. Don’t fall for this, Diane.’ ”

She’s stays in touch with Beatty and is close to Allen. Nicholson, with whom she was never romantically involved despite the kiss, gave her part of his back-end percentage for Something’s Gotta Give at a time when she was considering giving up acting and renovating houses for profit (she’s owned 50 and gutted at least 15). His gift transformed her financial life and allowed her to maintain her professional one. Given this obvious love by the men in her life, why does she think she has never found herself in a permanent relationship?

“Well, management of my life in general has not been something I’ve excelled in,” she says. “You have to be a team when you’re with someone you love and you commit to them for a lifetime. I look at Warren and Annette [Bening, his wife], and I think, ‘They did it, they’ve hung in.’ And that is something I could never have done. Ever. I saw no value in it. I was happy to do the dishes, but then count me out.”

She thinks about this for a while. “And yet I told myself I believed in true love and all of that … It’s kind of unfathomable to me now. What was I thinking? What did I think a relationship was?

“I do think my mother never really taught us the joys of being a homemaker and a mother,” she continues. Keaton’s mother Dorothy Hall (nee Keaton) was a photographer, artist and writer, as well as a Mrs America contestant – she was Mrs Los Angeles. “What she taught us about was dreams. She was a wonderful mother, but there was always this sense that she never had the opportunity to carry out her dreams. So when it came to me, I pursued my dreams at the expense of any kind of domestic life.”

But still, I say, you were dealing with difficult material: Al Pacino, Warren Beatty. Hardly domesticated men. “No!” Keaton laughs. “With Al, you’d see him and he’d be wearing his jacket back to front, and you’d think, ‘Well, was he raised by wolves?’ It was like capturing some wild creature. But I like that, I really do. It’s a different way of being: it’s irresistible.”

Keaton says there’s “no chance” she will ever marry now. But she feels a sense of peace about – almost a kinship with – the men who’ve been part of her life. Once again, this is an unexpected upside of ageing. “Basically, our generation is over,” she says. “It doesn’t mean we’re not doing amazing things, but it’s not ours for the having. So that puts us all on a level playing field, to me. And that means whatever it was – what-ever I imagined it was that was so mesmerising about these men – is all but gone. That makes it a different experience being with them. We share something.”

She still sees Allen whenever she’s in New York. What does she think about the recent abuse allegations from his adopted daughter? “Well, as you know, Woody’s my friend,” she says kindly. “So I, of course, believe Woody. And that’s the end of what I can say because I love him.” This strikes me as one of the sanest, calmest things anyone has said about the whole horrible business. And it suddenly seems that despite her reputation as eccentric and unusual, and despite her obfuscatory modesty, she is actually deeply, solidly grounded. “Oh, no,” says Keaton self-deprecatingly, and predictably. “I’m just an idiot.”

When Diane Keaton was 50, she adopted a baby girl. Five years later, she adopted a baby boy. These children, Dexter (the morning swimmer) and Duke, are now 18 and 13 respectively. “Figure that out!” she says, shaking her head. “I remember noticing someone who’d adopted a child at 50 when I was maybe 40, and thinking it was just horrible. But thank God, that’s another thing about getting old: all those judgments drop by the wayside.”

You’re not supposed to adopt at 50, and Diane Keaton did, and it’s been the great joy of her life. All the things that were impossible with a man – domesticity, commitment, routine – have been encompassed as a mother. “Well, I’ve made a commitment to both of them,” is how Keaton puts it matter-of-factly.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty is full of Duke making fart jokes and Dexter enraged about pet rats and everyone shouting, “Mom! Mom! MOM!” But Keaton sees its value. “You know, you asked me if I ever felt beautiful?” she says towards the end of our conversation. “I never do. But I don’t think about it – I don’t care – when I’m distracted. And this is the saving grace of having family. It’s the grace of having a job, and having kids. You don’t have the time to worry about losing your f…ing hair or your wrinkly neck, or whatever! Because you just have to get out there!”

She may be nearly 70, but Diane Keaton seems more alive than most people. On my way home from our interview, to round out my celebrity day, I see Paris Hilton filling the gas tank of an enormous black SUV near my hotel. As my cab waits to turn, I get a good look at her even features and caramel tan and long, golden hair. Diane Keaton, I’m pleased to report, is far more beautiful.

Lead-in photograph by Ruven Afanador/Corbis Outline.





1968: Hair

Keaton gained notoriety in the original Broadway production for refusing to take her clothes off on stage, despite the $50 bonus offered to cast members as an inducement.

1972: The Godfather (All of them)

Keaton plus wig. She was arguably forgettable in Coppola’s award-winning trilogy, but she met Al Pacino, one of the significant men in her life, on set.

1977: Annie Hall

The role that made her career and defined her. She writes in Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty: “As for Woody, the man who gave me this future, I am full of love. All of it came to be because [he] cast an unknown [me].”

1981: Reds

Warren Beatty saw her as Annie Hall and clearly thought, “There’s the woman I want to play the feminist journalist in my Russian Revolution epic.” It earnt her a second Oscar nomination.

1996: Marvin’s Room

Who remembers it? For the record, it featured Keaton (in her third Oscar-nominated performance), Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and leukaemia.

1996: The First Wives Club

In the same year as Marvin’s Room, Keaton starred with Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler in an unexpected hit about three spurned first wives taking Ivana Trump’s advice – “Don’t get mad, get everything” – to heart.

2003: Something’s Gotta Give

In Keaton’s words, “It will always be my favourite movie.” Director Nancy Meyers took a punt on her after a long string of duds, she got to kiss Jack Nicholson and he gave her a percentage of his profit. Oh, and she was nominated for an Oscar.

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