Diane Keaton: why I'm not the marrying kind

Gabrielle Donnelly / 24 May 2013

Diane Keaton doesn’t believe in taking it easy. Not only is she mum to two teenagers she adopted at the age of 50, but she has a new comedy out. Here the star of Annie Hall, now 67, talks about life as a movie star, men and why she never married.

It’s not that Diane Keaton hasn’t done other work since Woody Allen’s masterpiece of 1977. In fact, she’s put out a steady stream of films every couple of years since then, mostly comedies such as Father of the Bride and Something’s Gotta Give, but with the occasional Mrs Soffel or The Family Stone or The Godfather thrown in for variety.

But if she makes films for another three decades and reinvents herself along the way as a bordello-owning, tap-dancing porn queen wielding a machine gun – for all baby-boomers a little part of her will always and for ever remain the lanky young WASP who swung her tennis racquet through the streets of a sun-dappled Manhattan and inspired a generation of women to dress in well-cut tweed jackets and waistcoats (many of them parroting her catchphrase ‘La-di-da’). 

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A free spirit 

If Annie was a free spirit, so is Diane. After a string of failed love affairs (asked about marriage recently she said, ‘What happened was nobody ever asked me,’) she decided to adopt at the age of 50 – of which more later.

She’s 67 now and, refreshingly, actually looks her age (a change in Botox-ridden Hollywood) as she drifts into the Four Seasons Hotel in one of her trademark black-on-black jacket/sweater/skirt combinations. ‘I find life’s colourful enough, don’t you?’ she murmurs, mildly, blinking benevolently behind black-rimmed glasses, feathered hair framing delicate features.

She’s now appearing in The Big Wedding, yes, another comedy, a sly and grown-up tale directed and co-written by Justin Zackham (The Bucket List) in which she and Robert De Niro play a divorced couple who pretend to be still married to save face at their son’s wedding. Annie 35 years down the line, perhaps?

Annie Hall 

She smiles. ‘Anything I’ve done is based on Annie Hall,’ she admits of the film that won her an Oscar and rocketed her to international stardom. ‘It’s been the foundation for everything that I’ve had the opportunity to do, to experience, to learn. And it definitely changed things for Woody and me.

‘Everything that he and I had made up until that point – Sleeper, Love and Death, Play it Again, Sam – had been so easy. It had been a breeze because nobody had expected anything of us, and we never really thought about what we were doing – we just went out there and made movies. But after Annie Hall won the Oscar, it all became much more important because suddenly you were riddled with, “Oh, my God, what now? We’ve got to do something great”.

‘You know, you have a fantasy of what it would be like to have your dream come true, but the reality of having it actually happen is quite different, and it does take a certain... managerial skill and a sense of what your values are in life to make your way through it.

‘I was lucky in having the opportunity to be in the film… but I also had to stay strong in order to stay grounded through what came after. I think I did OK, though.’

Dreams of show business 

She is a California kid to her bones. She was born Diane Hall in Los Angeles (she chose the name Keaton partly because it is her mother’s maiden name, and partly in homage to silent movie icon Buster Keaton) and raised in the suburb of Santa Ana in Orange County, where her father was a real estate broker and engineer, and her mother a rather glamorous housewife (she once won the Mrs Los Angeles pageant) with dreams of being a photographer. Diane says she knew when she was six years old she wanted a career in show business.

‘I mean, I didn’t sit there and say to myself, “Gee, I want to be an actress in the movies”. But I definitely knew I wanted to perform. I originally wanted to sing, like Judy Garland. ’

Diane enrolled to study acting at Orange Coast College, but soon dropped out to move to Manhattan, where she joined the renowned Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. In 1968, she joined the original cast of Hair.

Performing in a musical 

‘They had an open call and I went along,’ she shrugs. ‘I didn’t really have an agency or anything but I guess I heard about it somehow, so I went and sang, then I got a callback and got the job. I didn’t even know what it was, do you know what I mean? I hadn’t seen it before and I didn’t know anything about it, but I joined the cast – the “tribe” we called ourselves – and it was a very interesting experience.

‘A lot of kids were great singers but – again – a lot of them didn’t know how to handle the fame thing when it came along. A lot of strange stories came out of that time… but for me it was just something interesting that I did.’

After nine months in Hair, she auditioned for a part in a play called Play it Again, Sam, written by and starring an up-and-coming New York comedy writer called Woody Allen. After nearly losing out for being too tall (at 5ft 7in), she finally landed the lead role… and soon afterwards began a romance with the man himself.

Never married

‘Woody was so brilliant,’ she says now, affectionately, of the man she still regards as a close friend. ‘I never understood his talent because you can’t with another person, can you? It’s their talent, not yours. But the most important thing he taught me was that in order to get on, you have to work constantly and you have to be dedicated to your work – and that has made all the difference to me.’

Despite three romances with high-profile men – as well as Woody, she has been linked with Warren Beatty and her on-screen husband in The Godfather, Al Pacino – she is one of the few female Hollywood stars who has never married.

‘I don’t know why not,’ she says, a little bemusedly. ‘I’ve known people who have had very long and happy marriages, like Walter and Carol Matthau, who were always very much in love, so I know it’s possible. And I know people who make commitments to each other and they weather the ups and downs, so I know it can be done… but it never happened for me.

Loving her dog 

‘When I was with somebody I was always monogamous, so I always went down that sort of path… but I tended to take my cue in those things from my mother – whom I adored – and she never mentioned marriage to me, although she and my father stayed married for ever. But neither of them promoted it as the perfect life for a woman…’ She stops and laughs. ‘It’s not too late though,’ she adds. ‘I’m out there on the dating services. I’m gonna get me a boyfriend soon! You know anybody?

‘Just kidding,’ she adds hastily. ‘These days, the one I’m in love with is my dog, Emmy. She’s an idiot, a moron, and I’m enchanted by her. Human relationships are too complex! It’s never complicated with a dog.’

Diane lives in Los Angeles with her adopted children, Dexter, 17, and Duke, 12, and says bluntly that her decision to become a mother has changed her more than any romantic relationship. ‘I was 50 when I adopted Dexter, which is very late in life to take on something like that, but having her and Duke has changed my life and made it so much more meaningful. It’s given me a purpose other than myself, which is really nice.

Listening to her mother  

‘I learned how to be a mother from my mother and the most important lesson I took from her was, “Shut up and listen”. As soon as you tell kids what to do, they go, “Oh, forget it”. My mother hardly ever told me what to do; she’d just sit there and listen and go, “Oh, honey… yeah…” and it was like therapy. If you’re allowed to talk things through, eventually you will figure a lot of stuff out for yourself. Kids need the opportunity to do that.

‘The only way you can help them is to be supportive. And to live a life in which you hope they will see that you are moderately decent and be influenced by that. If I can pull that off, I’ll have done a good job.’

She admits that 50 was a… let us say, unconventional… age to be embracing motherhood. ‘It’s kind of arrogant to assume that you’re going to be OK when you adopt a baby at that age. If you think about it, it’s probably not the best idea. But the kids know they have an old person for a mother, and they’re managing to live with it. Family life is different these days, and especially in…’ she stops, wondering how delicately to refer to the fact that she happens to be an ‘A’ list movie star ‘…in our circles,’ she finishes a little shyly. ‘We have more opportunities to do things differently from most people. Privilege does that.’

Nevertheless, she says, she does sometimes worry about what the future will bring for Dexter and Duke. ‘Because you really don’t have control over everything in life. I mean, I’m 67 now, so I just keep thinking, OK, Diane, it’s not gonna be easy for these kids. You gotta be there for them as long as you can, work hard, stay healthy, do all you can to make it till you get to 80. And I’m doing OK. I’m very busy and I’m very active and… well, I seem to be healthy so far. Everything seems to be running rather well.’

She stretches out her hand and then laughs. ‘My fingers are working, anyway...’

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