‘Where would I be with­out Woody?’ Diane Keaton on a life in movies.

Diane Keaton has built a ca­reer play­ing de­light­ful odd­balls, and in real life she’s just as off-kil­ter

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Don­ald Clarke

Will Diane Keaton be like Diane Keaton? It’s not such an ab­surd question. Forty years ago, in An­nie Hall, she played a char­ac­ter with the ac­tress’s own real sur­name. Woody Allen could hardly have made it clearer that the warm, bright, slightly be­fud­dled An­nie was a ver­sion of Keaton. But that may have been a clever fi­nesse. Per­haps she’s as dry and abra­sive as new sand­pa­per.

She cer­tainly looks like Diane Keaton. Un­coil­ing from her pat­terned sofa in the Soho Ho­tel, she reveals a huge belt, a wide- col­lared shirt and won­der­ful boots with tongues the size of beach tow­els.

“You like them? Um, yeah. I know,” she laughs. So far, this is go­ing as we had hoped.

Keaton has turned out to sup­port a new ro­man­tic com­edy called Hamp­stead. I chal­lenge you to con­ceive of more de­light­ful cast­ing than Keaton as the mid­dle- class widow and Bren­dan Glee­son as the ec­cen­tric park dweller for whom she falls. That’s re­ally all you need to know.

“I didn’t know many of those films he was in. Harry Pot­ter? Right?” she con­fesses. “But be­fore we did it I saw In Bruges and he’s so great in it. Heart­break­ing and scary.”

We’re proud of him. “Oh, you should be, man. You should be. He’s great.”

The two ac­tors came from very dif­fer­ent places. Keaton is a Cal­i­for­nian who rose with the wave of post- clas­si­cal Amer­i­can cin­ema in the 1970s. Glee­son worked his way up through Ir­ish theatre. Was there a clash of ap­proaches?

Stage skills

“He’s such a de­cent per­son,” she says. “And he has pa­tience for peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent. I liked him a lot. You’d think it wouldn’t work. He’s clas­si­cally trained. His stage skills are ex­cel­lent. That can­not be said of me. It’s a dif­fer­ent way, but it doesn’t mat­ter.”

Yet Keaton is a very def­i­nitely a trained ac­tor. Born as Diane Hall in 1946, she was raised by mid­dle-class par­ents in Los An­ge­les. She grad­u­ated from a de­cent school in Orange County and, af­ter mov­ing to New York, stud­ied the Meis­ner Tech­nique while at the Neigh­bour­hood Play­house. Those lessons have re­ally stayed with her. Prompted, she launches into a short lec­ture on how Sandy Meis­ner’s strat­egy works. It’s all to do with re­act­ing to your en­vi­ron­ment.

“Like, I’d come into the room and say: ‘ Your glasses are on crooked.’ And then you would say: ‘ My glasses are on crooked?’ in a way that says: ‘F**k you!’ Be­cause that’s in­sult­ing. Right?”

So, it’s to do with rep­e­ti­tion? Do I have that cor­rect? “Well, yeah. It’s com­ing off the re­al­ity of the mo­ment. You per­ceive what­ever you can per­ceive from the per­son you’re with.”

There seems to be no un­pleas­ant edge to Diane Keaton. She throws her­self into con­ver­sa­tion with the en­thu­si­asm you’d ex­pect her to show for an old friend. The de­liv­ery is fa­mil­iar to the point of eeri­ness. In real life, she does that Keaton thing of drawl­ing the start of a sen­tence and then sud­denly rac­ing through the last few syl­la­bles. Like An­nie, she says “right?” a lot.

Per­fect per­sona

It’s the per­fect per­sona for com­edy. Was that what she al­ways felt she would do? Af­ter all, one of her break­through per­for­mances was as poor, mis­er­able Kay Cor­leone in The God­fa­ther.

“I didn’t know what di­rec­tion I was go­ing in. I was al­ways be­ing sur­prised. Right out of the Neigh­bour­hood Play­house, I au­di­tioned for Hair. I don’t know how I got it. But I was cast as a tribe mem­ber. Now, that was weird.”

I read that she was one of those who de­clined to dis­robe in that fa­mous hip­pie mu­si­cal. “Nah, I did not take my clothes off,” she laughs. “I didn’t need to. It was not worth it. But that was very strange. Then I au­di­tioned for Woody. I didn’t know how I got that. I didn’t un­der­stand. Why me?”

Even now, she sounds a bit baf­fled. Keaton won the first of many roles for Allen in the stage pro­duc­tion of Play it Again, Sam. Both the film ver­sion and Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s The God­fa­ther ar­rived in 1972. That’s the way to ar­rive. She was then 26.

“Yeah, I still don’t know how I got Play it Again, Sam. But I do un­der­stand The God­fa­ther. Hav­ing seen it re­cently for the 45th an­niver­sary, I now know why. I was not quite fully de­vel­oped. And that woman didn’t have a voice. She was lost in that world. She couldn’t stick up for her­self. So maybe I made sense.”

There was a won­der­ful pho­to­graph of the sur­viv­ing cast at that 45th an­niver­sary. They have aged at star­tlingly dif­fer­ent rates. Keaton still looks fresh as a spring daisy. Oth­ers look sog­gier at the edges.

“There’s not so may of us left,” she says. “But we’ve done all right. Jimmy Caan is ex­actly the same. He’s full of en­ergy and very funny. Frances was amaz­ing: so ar­tic­u­late and so full of sto­ries.”

Keaton has worked con­sis­tently ever since that aus­pi­cious de­but. She has been a busy pro­ducer. She di­rected a fea­ture film and – trivia, alert – one episode of the orig­i­nal Twin Peaks. But, af­ter all these years, her defin­ing per­for­mance re­mains that in An­nie Hall. The film seemed to dis­cover a ver­sion of mid- 1970s style that the com­men­ta­tors had missed. There’s noth­ing tie- dyed about it. There’s cer­tainly no whiff of punk about it. The film is all Allen and Keaton. So was that re­ally her on screen?

No reser­va­tions

“From what I told you al­ready, I would have to say yes. He asked me to do it and then he let me do it as I wanted. Yeah, he was smart. He’s a good writer. A good writer for women in par­tic­u­lar. I didn’t have any reser­va­tions at all. Fun­nily enough, he did. He kept say­ing: ‘ This is just like a sit- com’. I had to tell him it wasn’t.”

The pic­ture sur­prised many Os­car pun­dits – who ar­gued the Academy never hon­ours come­dies – by win­ning four awards, in­clud­ing best pic­ture and best ac­tress. We are told an Os­car changes things. Life is never the same again for ac­tor.

“It changes things a lot. But, you know, mak­ing money changes things the most. The movie was a big hit and that re­ally mat­ters. My ca­reer hadn’t re­ally been about mak­ing money and then I got re­ally lucky. An­nie Hall was ev­ery­thing. Where would I be with­out it? Where would I be with­out Woody? I wouldn’t be here.”

En­vi­able abil­ity

Keaton has the en­vi­able abil­ity of re­main­ing pals with her old boyfriends. She went out with Allen for a while. She dated War­ren Beatty dur­ing the mak­ing of Reds. Al Pa­cino is also an old flame. She talks about all of them with some warmth. Is there a trick to keep­ing re­la­tions civil?

“Just be re­al­is­tic. Right? I think that’s the thing. Right?”

And she never mar­ried. Did she ever come close? “No, no. Never close.”

I re­mem­ber talk­ing to Bill Nighy, who is only a few years older than Keaton, and, asked the same question, he replied that his gen­er­a­tion didn’t re­ally take to mar­riage. It came back into fash­ion later. But they thought it was a thing of the past.

“That’s so weird! I just met him yes­ter­day in a restau­rant,” she laughs. “I’d never met him be­fore. Did he say that? Well, I think he’s wrong. Maybe odd­balls didn’t get mar­ried. Ha ha.”

She gives no sug­ges­tion of dis­ap­point­ment. Life seems to have gal­loped along in rea­son­ably ex­cit­ing fash­ion. Res­i­dent in New York for 20 years, she even­tu­ally trav­elled west and set up house in the mar­itime LA sub­urb of Pa­cific Pal­isades. So as­so­ci­ated is she with New York – that’s her be­side the Queens­boro Bridge in the poster for Man­hat­tan – that it re­quires an ef­fort to re­mind one­self that she’s a Cal­i­for­nia girl.

“I am try­ing to think of what the down­sides are to fame,” she pon­ders. “Hmm? I am not a highly gifted so­cial per­son. So, I keep to my­self. I get up real early. I get up at five every morn­ing and never stay up late. I think I have farmer genes. I wasn’t even a night per­son in New York. There are demons in the night. You know what I mean?”

She’s not alone. In 1996 she adopted a daugh­ter. Five years later she adopted a son. That seems like a brave de­ci­sion to make in mid­dle age.

“It was late. You can say that. I had bro­ken up with some­body and I thought: that was my last go round. What are you go­ing to do with your life? I wasn’t sure.”

So what ad­vice would she have for any­body fac­ing the same dilem­mas?

“Oh, I would never give any­body any ad­vice in life. Never. Would you?”

I don’t sup­pose I would.

Woody Allen is a good writer. A good writer for women in par­tic­u­lar. I didn’t have any reser­va­tions at all. Fun­nily enough, he did. He kept say­ing: ‘This is just like a sit­com’. I had to tell him it wasn’t I am not a highly gifted so­cial per­son. So, I keep to my­self. I get up real early. I get up at five every morn­ing and never stay up late. I think I have farmer genes


Diane Keaton: “I didn’t know what di­rec­tion I was go­ing in. I was al­ways be­ing sur­prised.”

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