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FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN WITH

diane keaton

by terry keefe
photography firooz zahedi/jbgphoto.com

hair peter savic for redken
makeup sue devitt for sue devitt
stylist linda medvene for tiffany whitford
manicurist marsha bialo/opi
prop stylist david ross

Diane Keaton's new movie Something's Gotta Give reminds us of why we fell in love with her in the first place. And if you're a younger moviegoer who is new to her work, you'll understand immediately why she became a star some three decades ago. The film provides Keaton with her best starring role in recent memory, but it's more than that, as this particular part fits the actor so well that it's a little magical. Writer/director Nancy Meyers created the role of Erica Barry with Keaton in mind, and it shows. The role is a virtual playground for the acting pleasures of Keaton, who is at once hilarious, charming, neurotic, and touching as a successful, divorced playwright who finds her true love at middle-age with the eternal roving bachelor Harry Sanborn, played to perfection by Jack Nicholson. Erica has essentially given up on the prospect of love at this point in her life, and when her young daughter Marin (Amanda Peet) brings the womanizing Harry to Erica's house in the Hamptons, she certainly doesn't anticipate that her life is about to change. But Nicholson's Harry isn't as nimble in the bedroom as he used to be, and he has a heart attack prior to a romp with Peet, requiring him to stay with Erica until he is able to travel. The sparks fly as Erica and Harry, who never in a million years thought that they could want each other, find themselves drawn together.

The film is being marketed with a poster of Keaton and Nicholson accompanied by the title "Jack & Diane." Without having seen the film, this might just look like a clever promotion, tying in the names of the cast to a famous rock song. But the "Jack & Diane" who are being marketed here have such chemistry together that their sum is even greater than their already great parts, and selling them as a pair is thus very apt. Not only is this the hottest middle-aged romance ever put on screen, but it's one of the hottest romances in romantic comedy history, period. The sparks escalating between Keaton and Nicholson are so tangible that they transcend the already strong dialogue and story to create something far more profound than you usually get from a movie. Specifically, Something's Gotta Give takes you on a journey that reminds you very much what it is like to fall in love in the real world, outside of the three-act structure of Hollywood. Keaton and Nicholson build their relationship to a high boil very slowly. They blunder about, occasionally flirting, occasionally arguing, and then, boom! Before either one of them realizes it, they're there.

If Something's Gotta Give had a spiritual godfather, it would have to be the great writer/director Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels). Like the best Sturges films, Something's Gotta Give is a comedy where everyone sounds like people you know, only a lot wittier and smarter. At the same time, beneath the gags is a tenderness and humanity that most comedies never even bother to reach for. A prime example of where these paths cross is the first bedroom scene between Keaton and Nicholson, in which Nicholson's Harry starts to have heart palpitations and Keaton makes him check his blood pressure. This all goes down in the middle of a romantic moment which manages to not only stay romantic, but build to an even sexier level after the gags are over.

Like Nicholson, Keaton is now in the enviable position of doing some of the best work of her career many years into it, and will quite probably, and deservedly, receive an Oscar nomination for her performance. There is a whole younger generation of moviegoers who are going to be introduced to her via Something's Gotta Give, so now might be a good time to recap her career before launching into the interview proper.

Keaton was born in Los Angeles and moved to New York to study at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. She would appear on Broadway in "Hair" and then be cast opposite future collaborator Woody Allen in his show, "Play it Again, Sam," a role that she would reprise in the film version in 1972. That would also be the year in which her Kaye Adams met Al Pacino's Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Kaye was introduced to "the family" very much at the same pace the audience was, starting at the wedding party and ending with the dark scene in which Michael lies boldfacedly to Kaye about his role in the murders of the heads of the Five Families. The last shot of The Godfather is of Kaye's face as Michael closes the door on her, and at that concluding moment it becomes very much her story. She would once again play Kaye in The Godfather: Part II in 1974, and by then her character, like the audience, is devoid of any illusions that her husband can be redeemed.

Woody Allen would cast her as his comedic foil and romantic interest in a string of wacky comedies— Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975), but it would be with Annie Hall in 1977 that their partnership would bear its most intoxicating fruit. The film followed the roller coaster relationship between Allen's famed New York comedian Alvy Singer and Keaton's Annie, who comes to Manhattan as sort of a country bumpkin but quickly develops big city neuroses as varied as those of Allen's character. It was one of the first American romantic comedies where the characters almost lived happily ever after together, but not quite. The film also broke the mold in terms of its fractured narrative and skillful interweaving of different types of comedy. Keaton won a Best Actress Academy Award for her work as Annie. She then appeared in a far darker look at modern romance in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), and would close out the decade with two more Woody Allen classics, Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979).

A lengthy shoot followed on the epic Reds (1981), where she played writer Louise Bryant opposite director/star Warren Beatty, as well as future co-star Jack Nicholson, who appeared in a supporting role. The film garnered her a second Academy Award nomination, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. More Golden Globe nominations followed in Shoot the Moon (1982), Mrs. Soffel (1984), the Nancy Meyers-scripted and produced Baby Boom (1987), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), and the television film "Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight" (1994). Amongst her many other films are The Little Drummer Girl (1984), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Radio Days (1987), and The Godfather: Part III (1990). She appeared in a string of commercial successes in the early to mid-nineties with Father of the Bride (1991), Father of the Bride: Part II (1995), and The First Wives Club (1996). She earned a third Academy Award nomination for Marvin's Room in 1996. Keaton has also had success as a director, most notably with the theatrical features Unstrung Heroes (1995) and Hanging Up (2000), which she also starred in opposite Lisa Kudrow and Meg Ryan. In addition to her filmmaking endeavors, she's very involved with the Los Angeles Conservancy, a group which fights to preserve many of the historical buildings in town.

Diane Keaton met Venice for lunch in Beverly Hills the day before Thanksgiving.

Venice: Did you speak frequently with Nancy Meyers as she was writing the script for Something's Gotta Give?

Diane Keaton: Not really. When she was sort of finished with an outline, she talked to me about it, and then again when she had a first draft, she spoke to me about it. She told me the idea and asked me what I thought. What could I think but that it was a golden opportunity for me? My only question was, would it really realize itself? That was all. Otherwise, what? Of course, I wanted to do it. And I know Nancy and I know what her work is like. She always wanted to do it with Jack, and the opportunity to work with Jack again was thrilling. Besides the fact that I was terrified, I was thrilled. [laughs]

You were terrified to work with Jack again?
Yeah, I mean I hadn't seen Jack, besides passing him like twice in 25 years. [laughs] So I didn't know what he would be like. Because in that span of time, you know, Jack became larger than legendary. He became a national treasure, which has not exactly happened to me. You know, I would see him on television peripherally at a Lakers game or read about him on the cover of Time Magazine or see him at an awards show. I didn't know who he was.

Has his style of working changed much since you did Reds?
Yes, I do think so. When I worked with him in Reds, he was kind of Warren's friend. Warren had this huge burden, which was the making of Reds, which was really very difficult for him. He was so invested in that movie. It was the passion of his life. He had a lot of difficulties with it, because it was such a massive undertaking. So Jack came in, as his best friend, and gave him a tremendous amount of support, and relief, and added humor on the set. Jack was like a hero— he was a hero to all of us, in a way. I only had a few scenes with him, but they were some of the most enjoyable scenes I did on Reds, because they were free of the burden of the responsibility of this movie, something that was being carried about on Warren's back. So Jack was really Warren's hero and my hero. He was sort of the relief that came in, that just lifted up the day for us. So in that regard, he wasn't carrying the burden of the leading role in this movie. He would come in and be fabulous, like he is, and help everybody and leave. And I felt at the time that he was the most generous actor I'd ever been with on-screen, by far. He was always right there with you and he was always helpful and he would never let you down. Because of the technique that I come from, which is the Sandy Meisner technique, you're only as good as the person you're acting with. And it's really kind of a more reactive type of acting. Like I take from what you give me and that colors my performance. As opposed to going it on my own and forging my path to create a wonderful performance without the help of anyone. I always need the help of everyone! [laughs] He changed in that time, because we all change in 25 years. And because in this movie, he carries it. So it was a more real relationship. Sort of like in the movie, it's how you get to know somebody in all their complexities and their great aspects and their stubbornness, or their curiosity. Because the thing about Jack is that he lives with questions. And I don't like to question things on the set, you know? I just like to go there and do my work. But Jack is just filled with ideas and questions and details and specifics. And you're thinking that this guy can wear you out because that energy which he has to explore and be curious is singular, and it never stops. You're always being challenged when you're with Jack, that's the way I see it. And that's also a very enlivening thing when you're acting. So I'd have to say that it was a very profound experience for me, this one.

The film is obviously tightly scripted, because the comedy hits its marks constantly. At the same time, it felt very loose, almost as if it were improvised.
And yet every single one of those words is Nancy's. I never had a shot at improvising or junking up a sentence. I don't consider myself a great improviser, but I do like to junk up sentences and sort of like change the rhythm and just add a little here and... [laughs] ...make it all awful. And in a certain sense, to someone like Nancy, who's sort of a purist with words, it must be a living hell to listen to me destroy a sentence. If you notice, I don't have a lot of jokes. But Nancy knows I talk fast and she's just on you, she's watching you like a hawk and making sure that you're really delivering the message that you want to say. At the same time, she loves that loose look and loose feel of it. I think that's just about trusting the other actors and being appreciated by the director, and Nancy's really one of the best listeners that I've ever been around. And I like the fact that she pays so much attention to me, because I can frequently just get away with it. No director's going to come up and say that much to me anymore, and I don't think they even have that much interest. But Nancy really cares, because, basically, I'm playing Nancy in a way.

You and Jack did some really great long takes, particularly that one on the beach, where the acting just flowed and it was never cut away from.
That was fabulous. I love a two-shot. I'll always love that. Woody did that a lot as well. And as a director I appreciate that also. I just like a long walk and talk, with no cuts.

Do you find that a lot of actors can do those types of shots or is it rare?
I think a lot of actors can do it. I think it's just a question of what is the genre that you're working in? With romantic comedy, I think it's essential that you can be able to do that. I think it's part of the craft of doing a romantic comedy that you have to be able to handle a two-shot that goes on and on.

Another thing that really worked perfectly about the film was that all of the lead actors were very much on the same page, tonally and comedy-wise. You, Jack, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, and Frances McDormand all blended so well.
And they all have very different styles. I don't know how that happens. Jack has a very different style than I have and Keanu has a totally different style from Amanda, and of course, Frances is also totally different.

How was that tonal balance found? In rehearsal?
We didn't have any rehearsal, really. I think we had a couple of days before we started. I liked that; I don't like to rehearse.

Is that because rehearsal can mean doing the material to death?
Yeah, to me it's the death. The death of my performance. [laughs] I don't like having some sort of marker in the back of my head telling me, "You should do it like this. You were supposed " It's so delicate for me anyway. If I feel an audience is going to give me something, I'll repeat it instead of going on my own journey. So I don't like that.

One of the best scenes is the first bedroom scene between you and Jack. It had so many great comedic moments. But it was also a very sexy, hot scene.
In between takes, we were continually worried about how many kisses were we actually going to have to perform in front of everyone. [laughs] But it was heaven to perform. Once the camera goes, you can just let those inhibitions go and you just enjoy it. I had a fabulous time. He was wonderful, but it was hard to get there, that's all. Sometimes it's kind of difficult when you're doing these intimate scenes, as you can imagine. Think about it. You stay focused on that script and this beautiful actor. It's all about "action" and "cut." In between is when it's really the best, but after and before, it's so humiliating. [laughs]

And in this particular scene, you not only had to be sexy, you also had to be very funny!

Did you and Jack try different ways of doing your scenes?
Oh, we had a lot of takes and we tried different ways all the time. Jack wouldn't like to do a lot of takes. But I always like to do many, many takes, because I always feel like my performance is more dependent on riding an impulse that I can't really be sure where it's going to take me. I'm sort of flailing about. But he's more grounded and rooted in the idea of what he wants to do with the scene. I'm like a moving target. I like to move all the time. [moves back and forth] And I feel as though this is saving me in some regard. I believe that some people would think of that as "mannerisms." That I'm guilty of many mannerisms. [laughs] And I think that both Jack and Nancy helped me on that particular front with this movie. He would sometimes say, "Look me in the eye here, and slow down." [laughs] And Nancy, who was my total support system, would just do it over and over, until she felt that I actually sort of landed. But she wouldn't inhibit my impulses, for which I have to say, "Hats off to you." Because it's so easy to inhibit an actor's impulses, but she didn't. She accepted the fact that I would get it if we did it enough.

Had you always planned on doing the nude scene the way it appears in the film?
Uh-huh. Don't I have to do it? This woman becomes lost in the love affair of her life and she's this age, might as well as show it and say this is still here and it's great to be this woman in love. At any age. It's fun, it's a dream come true. Falling in love is rare. To have to play this for the first time, when you're age 55 is like, "Wow! That's a lot." Can I go back there and revisit the exquisite beauty of falling in love with somebody and getting lost in their face? Getting lost in their being. God, that's heaven. That is the human experience and that's why this is such a great role, the idea of playing someone in love.

Let's go back a bit. Your first major role was on Broadway in "Hair." What was that experience like?
I was just in the chorus. I was the understudy to Lynn Kellogg, and then I took the part over when she left. I didn't even know what that show was until after I saw it. Can you believe that? I was in that show for quite a while. I never saw it. I thought it was an excellent show. And I had had no real respect for the show at all. I was just doing my job, I didn't know what the hell it was. I liked the music, I thought the music was really good. But I didn't have a concept of what that show was. It was fantastic! See, this is why it's really good to see what you're doing sometimes. [laughs] To go away from yourself, your own little stupid, selfish thoughts, and see it as a whole. It was just like a revelation! It was an excellent show.

And then you played opposite Woody Allen in "Play it Again, Sam." How was he to act with on stage?
Hilarious. You know what I think I am? I'm a good audience. I really am. I'll go the distance for somebody who is that funny. I really loved Woody because he was so incredible to be around and so funny. It was like a great big treat.

Was the shooting atmosphere on the two wacky comedies you and Woody did together, Sleeper and Love and Death, as loose as the comedy would have you believe, or was it more formal than that?
It was loose, and I didn't understand it. He has never been a formal filmmaker. He's just like [quickly], "Okay, here we are, we're going, let's go." It just threw me off in the beginning. I didn't know what the hell was going on, at all. It just didn't seem like this was what my idea of making a movie was. Because I had done The Godfather, which was more formal. Woody was just going so fast. I just didn't understand his technique at that point.

Did you just sort of follow his lead then?
He'd just throw you in there. Some people spend time in preparation, but Woody has no respect for the actor's dilemma. [laughs] He just goes! "It's fine, don't worry about it, let's go!" He's always been that way.

Had his working method changed when you shot Manhattan Murder Mystery with him years later?
No. [laughs] He has no patience. None. And if you do more than like six takes, he's just bored out of his mind and has to rewrite the scene. And he's a genius editor on the set. He just gets rid of anything he hates right there. He thinks on his feet. He watches it, hates it, tears it apart, makes cuts, and then we shoot it again.

I know he always incorporates a lot of re-shooting into his production process.
Yeah, but even on the day itself, when he's not re-shooting, he did that. Especially on Manhattan Murder Mystery, because we had these four-page scenes, and that was his hand-held period. We had a four-page scene, all dialogue, and he'd just run around with that camera. We were just sitting there endlessly talking, no cuts. Then he'd take a look at it, slash that thing in half, get rid of it, boom! A whole new scene and we'd shoot that, all the way through. It was the most fun I'd ever had. C'mon, talk about giving me a chance to really move! [laughs] I was happy! No one was telling me to slow down. Give me a hand-held camera any day, as an actor. I love it. Instead of stepping into a static close-up. That's the hardest thing for me to do.

And I imagine that The Godfather must have been very much like that. A lot of static shots, right?
It was so formal. They [the three Godfather films] were all formal. [Director of Photography] Gordon Willis had a real approach to filmmaking that dominated the film visually. The first time Woody Allen worked with Gordon, he was consumed with anxiety over whether he should hire him or not, because he had heard that he was tough, and he didn't know if he could work with that, didn't know if he wanted to work with it. Because he's never looking for a real emotional connection on any of these movies, with anybody. It was the best decision he ever made because he learned more from Gordon Willis than he ever learned from anybody.

What was your first experience on The Godfather shoot?
We started with the party scene, and I didn't understand at all what was going on. People were really drinking. They were out of their minds. And I just didn't get any of it. We'd be sitting there for days, without doing anything. Al Pacino and I were just sitting off to the corner, because we were the outcasts. Finally they came around and shot us. Really, I was in another zone. I didn't experience The Godfather. Not once. It was too overwhelming to me. I was so scared. I was just 23 and I was an unself-possessed 23.

What was the most difficult scene that you and Al Pacino had to shoot over the course of the three Godfather films?
The most difficult and my favorite was in the hotel room [in The Godfather: Part II], the abortion scene [where Kaye tells Michael she has aborted his baby]. We had to stop. We didn't even shoot for a whole day because we had to rewrite the scene. It was so intense and so hard, because nobody knew where they were going. And, finally, it got set and then it was a really good scene. We rehearsed it a lot. There was a lot of tension though. I'd never done that before, when you just stop and don't work all that day. Except for with Jack and Nancy. [laughs] They like to talk.

How did it feel to step back into those roles again many years later for The Godfather: Part III?
Strange. Very strange. We started with a party again, right? But the party was so dour. It was the scariest party in Part III. There was no life to that party. And I thought, "Okay, either this is the masterwork of all time, because he has captured the essence of what happens to a person when they become a Mafioso boss, or it's really boring." One or the other, because the life had been sucked out of the party. I thought that was very interesting, because I didn't know whether it was going to work or not. So the movie felt very different. But still very formal, by the way. That same goddamn approach [laughs] where he's in a bed like 45 feet away, and I'm here having an intimate scene, talking with him. That's so hard for me to make that work, because I want to move. I want to touch him.

You’re always being challenged when you’re with Jack, that’s the way I see it. And that’s also a very enlivening thing when you’re acting. So I’d have to say that it was a very profound experience for me, this one.
Did you know that the final shot of The Godfather would be on your face?
Not for a second.

When you read Annie Hall for the first time, were you aware of how very unique it was?
Yeah, I knew that it was fantastic. I couldn't wait to do it. Woody had a lot of worries about it. He thought it was going to be a "Mary Tyler Moore" episode. He was just consumed with worry about the situational aspects of it. He didn't trust it. It was a real leap for him. It was a big moment for Woody and he had to be scared. It makes sense. But I wasn't. I was an actress. I saw the part, I got it. Sometimes your instincts, you just know. It was like Nancy's movie, I just knew that this was a good one for me.

Annie transforms quite a bit over the course of that story. Was your performance based on anyone you knew?
Oh, I just knew that part. I owned that part. Because I got everything about it. It was easy. It was the easiest part for me to play. Maybe with the exception of the singing. That was the hardest part of the movie for me. Because Woody just refuses to make a big deal out of anything. [laughs] You just sing. I felt like I needed more time. He was like, "No, three takes. It's fine. Moving on." That was the one part in the film that I was really worried about. Because I wanted to be good. I had already had such a lifelong ambition to be a singer.

Really? I wasn't aware of that.
Oh yeah, I had a nightclub act, going around singing. At Reno Sweeny's, this place in New York. But in my fantasy, I did not compute what that life was actually like. The nightclub circuit.

I watched Annie Hall again last night. I had forgotten how many filmmaking concepts he pioneered with that film.
He had so many beautiful ideas in that. It was just the beginning of his ability to try all these different storytelling techniques. His imagination is just astonishing.

Was directing something you always wanted to do?
No, it wasn't. But I was interested in photography and I did a couple of books. And I thought from there that I would do a music video. I did a documentary about my sister. Then I did an After School Special. It just really came out of a need to express myself in a visual way, where I was telling the story and I was responsible for what we were looking at. Because I was intrigued by that. I've always been intrigued by that, and it was a way also out of constantly "me and my performing and my career." It was just a great relief, and a way of looking out, as opposed to looking in. It really is an actor's dilemma. It's always going to be a problem for all actors, that you're just going to sit with yourself too much. So this was a great opportunity to expand. And I was really only too happy to do it in a very gradual way.

Unstrung Heroes is a great film. Did you search for the right script for a long time, to make your theatrical feature debut with?
No, not at all. The producers came to me and I auditioned. I just told them what I wanted to do, and what I thought the point of view should be, and they hired me.

Such a great cast. Michael Richards, Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Maury Chakin.
[The casting] was a very difficult part of Unstrung Heroes, because we were never going to make that movie unless we got somebody really famous. And Michael Richards' name came up. I had an experience with him earlier, because I was supposed to do a film called Pet People for Steven Spielberg, which fell apart. We were after him, offering him everything, and he would not commit to Pet People. So they said, "Okay, you've got to give this part to Michael Richards." And I was like, 'He's not going to do it. He can't make a decision.' But he made the decision like that. [snaps her fingers] He wanted that part so badly. He was the kind of guy on the set who was very emotionally involved in that part. He's very serious and very intent on creating this world for himself as a character. He made that movie happen. Without Michael Richards, there would be no Unstrung Heroes. So go figure, right?

How was working with Walter Matthau when you directed and acted in Hanging Up?
My favorite. My absolute favorite. I loved him so much. Walter is really the original authentic man. The only really authentic man who is a superstar... and Jack, too. Jack reminds me of Walter, not in their acting styles, but as people. Because they are so unique. They are so authentic. And they've earned that authenticity the hard way. They go their own way. They don't follow. They make their own rules. I love Walter, I wish he were still here. I can't bear that he is not here.

Are you preparing to direct anything now?
I'm working on a couple of projects and a couple of books that I own. I want to do something darker as a director. I feel comfortable with that.

I wanted to close by talking a little bit about your work with the Los Angeles Conservancy. You're a native Angeleno who is very proud of this city and its history, which is also very much a show business history. It seems like a very natural cause for you.
I'm a member of the board. We're fighting to save the Ambassador Hotel from demolition. It's owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District, and we really feel that the history of this building is too important to disappear from the landscape of Los Angeles. We're planning outreach programs to educate all of the citizens of Los Angeles to somehow take more pride in our incredible cultural history. We want to involve the film community with saving its own past, in the form of those picture palaces on Broadway (in downtown Los Angeles). We have this hopeful idea that each studio will adopt a theater on Broadway. And this is something we're going to try and approach some of these very powerful men and women with, and see if we can really engage them in servicing their own legacy, and the legacy of the 20th Century, in honor of the great art form that emerged in the 20th Century. I believe that the more people know, the more they'll take pride. We want to make Broadway as incredible and exciting as it once was, even comparing to a place like Soho in New York. Downtown L.A. is incredible, and now with the addition of the Disney Hall, right near MOCA, right near City Hall. This is an opportunity for all of us to seize the moment and really protect our treasures, our historic treasures in the form of these irreplaceable buildings which make L.A. this enriched place that it really is.