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Diane Keaton is sitting in the rooftop bar of one Rome’s most exclusive hotels. She is offered a glass of water but wrinkles her nose. “I think we’ll have a real drink,” says the 76-year-old Oscar-winner before two glasses of Lillet, a French aperitif, arrive at the table.
As we clink our glasses in a toast, she admires the panoramic view of the Eternal City. The Venetian Palace looms to the left, Vatican City to the right. “It’s just the most beautiful place,” says Keaton, who’s in the Italian capital to shoot the sequel Book Club 2: The Next Chapter, which reunites her with co-stars Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen.
Has she been touring the ancient architecture and soaking up the spectacular high-culture sights when the cameras aren’t rolling? She smiles sheepishly. “Today we went to the [retail] outlets. You can see what sort of person I am. I love the outlets. I just bought this outfit.” Her clothes look expensive—a blue pantsuit with a white pinstripe—but she laughs at the illusion of Italian priciness. “It was so cheap!” she says, beaming.
Clothes shopping is one of Keaton’s great loves; she has always been something of a fashion icon with her turtlenecks, flowing outfits and wide-brimmed hats. And it’s a passion that stretches back to her childhood in California, where she would pester her mother to take her to Goodwill stores to rifle through the vintage clothing. It’s also a trait that stitches into her latest movie, Mack & Rita (in theaters August 12).
The film, in a similar vein to age/body-swapping comedies like 13 Going On 30, Big and Freaky Friday, features a 30-year-old, self-proclaimed homebody, Mack (played by Elizabeth Lail), who unleashes her inner 70-year-old, literally—when a supernatural experience transforms her into her future self (Keaton), an older woman with a passion for life…and a penchant for vintage apparel.
“I liked the gags a lot and the people were nice,” says Keaton of the film. “I got to be an idiot in a movie; you don’t get that opportunity very often, to be goofy. It was easy.” While many actors claim that comedy is harder than drama, she offers a dissenting voice. “Comedy isn’t harder, at least for me. I am not that great at good drama. I wish I had been more of a physical comedian.”
An Aspiring Beauty Queen
Keaton’s love of performance, and goofing around, can be traced back to growing up as Diane Hall in Highland Park, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, as the oldest of four siblings. “I was the first born, which by the way was probably easier,” she says. “And both my mother and my father were very supportive about the things I wanted to do.”
One of the first things she wanted to do was to emulate her mother, Dorothy. “I remember as a kid I saw Mom crowned Mrs. Highland Park,” a socialite honor promoting marriage and family values. “I was about 6, and I saw her get the crown, and then they opened the curtain and there was this group of prizes, like a washer-dryer, and I said, ‘OK, I want to be up there. I want to get the crown.’”
Her mother’s reign continued when she went on to claim an even bigger crown as Mrs. Los Angeles. “And then we moved to Santa Ana and that all stopped,” says Keaton, thanks to her dad’s new job. “He was the money earner. It is so typical in a lot of families.”
Her father, John, worked as a civil engineer and a real estate broker, while Dorothy was a homemaker, putting aside her own creative aspirations to raise her children. (Diane would change her surname to Keaton, her mother’s maiden name, when starting her acting career.)
Dorothy was a prolific journal-keeper (which inspired Keaton’s own writing, including the 2011 memoir Then Again), a keen photographer and a scrapbook enthusiast. She went on to get a teaching degree, “but it was too late for her to stick to being a teacher at the age of 45, especially when the kids had all gone.”
Many of Keaton’s fondest, most idyllic memories come from their time in coastal Santa Ana. “My family was always at the beach,” she recalls. “Dad loved surfing and everything related to the ocean. We were that kind of family.” Did Keaton ever venture out into the waves on a surfboard? “I did, but I was bad so that was the end of that.”
Her love of the ocean remains a constant to this day—she currently lives in Los Angeles, very close to the sea—and it helped prompt one social media influencer to coin the term coastal grandmother, defined as anyone who “loves Nancy Meyers movies [It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday], coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garten and cozy interiors.” Keaton has been cited as the poster girl for the trend.
She mentioned it on her own Instagram, although she looks baffled when the subject is brought up. “I don’t know what on earth that is,” she admits with a laugh. “I saw it and thought, OK…but I don’t really know what that means. I swear to God, though I wish I did. I didn’t adopt it. I’m just going to say thank you.”
Related: Diane Keaton’s 20 Best Roles
A Bite From the Big Apple
Despite all her passion for the western seaboard, as a young woman Keaton swapped coasts, moving to New York to study theatrical arts under the celebrated teacher Sanford Meisner.
“I spent two years with Sandy, and I always enjoyed singing, but I wasn’t so good at dancing,” she says. “Sandy told me that I really needed to grow up, because I was going to be OK at doing all this stuff.”
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She proved more than OK in the original 1968 Broadway production of Hair before securing a role in the stage production of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam the following year, for which she won a Tony Award. She forged a romantic relationship with Allen, although by the time they began their run of hugely successful films together, they had reverted to a platonic friendship.
Their films in the ’70s included the screen version of Play It Again, Sam, as well as Sleeper, Love and Death, Interiors and Manhattan. But it was Annie Hall that had the greatest impact in 1977, earning Keaton an Academy Award for Best Actress. Audiences fell hard for her ditzy title character, and her recurring nonsense expression of “La-dee-da,” used mostly when Annie was nervous.
“Annie Hall was so easy it was ridiculous,” she says. “It just went fast, and we could talk loose and not be too on the script, exactly like Sandy Meisner had taught me.” Her performance looked effortless…and it was, sort of. “I didn’t even have to think about it, and I had no idea what it would be at the time. I didn’t have a clue. And then when I saw myself, I thought, I don’t like it, at least not me! I don’t like seeing myself onscreen.”
Audiences, however, loved her onscreen and elsewhere. She had already proven herself a hugely talented dramatic actress in the first two parts of The Godfather trilogy, in 1972 and 1974, in which she starred opposite Al Pacino. (She reprised her role in the less-celebrated third installment in 1990.)
“I was completely enamoured with Al,” she says. “I had a huge crush on him. I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ He was so amazing. And he is such a great actor.”
The Single Life
Keaton would have romantic relationships with Pacino as well as with Warren Beatty, her co-star in another of her critically acclaimed films, 1981’s Reds, which earned her another Oscar nomination. “I think I am just a great lover of talent, that’s a good way of putting it,” she says. “And Al in particular was special.”
She did not marry any of her talented collaborators and remains unmarried to this day—though when she reached 50, she decided to adopt, first her daughter, Dexter (in 1996), and then her son, Duke (2001). She’s mostly mum on being a mom. “I don’t want to tell you anything about them because it makes me nervous,” she explains.
Was she ever worried about being a single mom? “I wish I had found someone that I was with to be that person, but my relationships didn’t work out, and that’s OK, so I thought, Now I am this age, and I could adopt a child.
“Our lives are all different and we can do what we want,” she says as we finish our wine. “We don’t have to be perfect and be married.” We clink our glasses once more. Cheers to that.
Fashion must-have: Turtleneck. “My neck is disgusting, and I hate it. But I don’t want to chop it off because I want to stay alive!”
Most hated chore: Picking up dog poop. “I take the dog [Reggie] around various neighborhoods because I like looking at houses and the dog has to go to the bathroom, so I always bring a lot of those bags. I don’t like doing it, but I have to!”
Screen idol: Katharine Hepburn. “She was smart and so sharp and just incredible.”
Favorite dish: Tacos. “I don’t eat meat, so I make them with cheese, tomatoes, onions. Although I am not a keen cook!”
Song to sing: “What’ll I Do” by Frank Sinatra. “What’ll I do when you are far away and I am blue…”
Secret talent: Home design. “Houses are really fascinating objects, if you have the opportunity to play around with them or to even build one. The house I live in now, I built from the ground up.”