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Diane Keaton: Here I Am

From facing your past to finding your passion, the Oscar-winning legend offers her age-defying advice

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Diane Keaton, 66, says it is important "to live life all the way."
Ruven Afanador

It's barely 10:00 in the morning on a sparkling day in Beverly Hills, and Diane Keaton has practically run a decathlon already. Before dawn she was energetically typing at her computer, fine-tuning the afterword for Then Again, her endearingly unguarded best-selling memoir about herself and about her mother's 15-year struggle with Alzheimer's. At 6:15 she woke her 16-year-old daughter, Dexter, one of two children Keaton adopted in infancy, and shuttled her to the bus stop. "You really should get extra points for rallying a teenager at that hour," Keaton says, laughing. She swung home and got her son, Duke, 11, to school before 8:00. "Then I did a half-hour run with the dog, answered e-mails, looked at designs for the house I'm building, and — well, hey, can you believe it? — here I am!"

And, la-di-da, despite the morning frenzy, Keaton looks as striking and original as she did in Annie Hall, showing off her pouffy black miniskirt over leopard-print leggings and shiny black pumps, flashing her nails — "Don't you love these?" she says — which shine from plaid appliqués rather than polish. Famous for her turtlenecks ( like the one Jack Nicholson seductively scissored off her in the 2003 comedy Something's Gotta Give), Keaton, who turned 66 in January, today has chosen a black version with extra-long sleeves that sling around her thumbs. "At my age," she says with that infectious smile, "I try to hide anything I can."

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The truth is, Diane Keaton is a woman willing to reveal herself, as she demonstrates in a candid interview. She's had a lifetime of unimaginable success (she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar during four consecutive decades) and remarkable romances (Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino), and is frank about, well, you name it: single parenthood, dating, aging, mortality, and whatever else keeps her up at night.

"I worry all the time about everything, actually," says Keaton, sounding a lot like the lovably neurotic characters she plays. "I don't know how you can't worry when you're my age." She frets about what she calls the "memory sicknesses" — Alzheimer's and brain cancer — that ravaged her mother and father, respectively. She admits she has misgivings about being single even after all these years of being unattached. "As a parent I provide all I can," she says, "but I think in the best possible scenario you need to have a man." And she acknowledges how challenging it is to juggle a still-busy career with a teen and a preteen at an age most women are feathering their empty nests with IKEA guest beds.

Not that Keaton would want it any other way.

"At this point in life, everything's throwing me punches from left and right, but it's certainly been an amazing adventure," she says over coffee at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, a locale that holds a special fondness for her. Years ago Keaton used to meet Warren Beatty in his bachelor pad on the top floor of the hotel, a thought that gives her a laugh now. "It's all unbelievable. Every little bit of it. I look back on experiences like that and think, 'Did I really do that?' It's a big collage. A piece here, a piece there. That's my life."

Keaton's latest "piece" is a charming ensemble comedy, Darling Companion, opposite Kevin Kline, about a woman who cares more for the sad, old dog she rescues than the husband she has lived with forever. "It's like The Big Chill for the AARP set," Kline quips. "Diane displayed no vanity or inhibitions whatsoever about being a sexy 60-something woman on-screen." She just wrapped another grownup comedy called The Wedding, out later this year, costarring Robert De Niro, about a divorced couple pretending to be married again. Meanwhile Keaton, who for the past 15 years has helped preserve several old California homes, has an architecture book in the works for Rizzoli New York. She is also a spokesperson for L'Oréal Paris, and late last year signed on as the "face" for a line of clothing at Chico's.

"I never understood the idea that you're supposed to mellow as you get older," Keaton says, her blue eyes glinting behind tortoiseshell frames. "Slowing down isn't something I relate to at all. The goal is to continue in good and bad, all of it. To continue to express myself, particularly. To feel the world. To explore. To be with people. To take things far. To risk. To love. I just want to know more and see more."

Santa Ana, California, in the 1950s wasn't a place that turned out movie stars. Oranges were the bumper crop. The board-and-batten tract house Keaton grew up in was surrounded by acres of citrus groves until developments with names like Sun Estate Homes cleared them away. When Diane, the oldest of four siblings and the most theatrical, told her father, Jack Hall, a civil engineer, how sad she was to see the world change around her, his characteristically icy response was, "That's life, Diane."

He was right, though. The world never stopped changing around Diane Hall. One minute, it seemed, she was eating tuna-casserole dinners and raiding Dumpsters behind Bullock's department store for cast-off "treasures" with her spirited mom, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall. The next, she was 19 and flying solo to New York City to see if she could parlay her success playing Nancy Twinkle in a high school production of Little Mary Sunshine into the big leagues. At the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in Manhattan, she shivered in the presence of legendary drama teacher Sandy Meisner and kicked herself as fellow up-and-comers like Sandy Duncan landed the choice parts. In those days, Diane Keaton, as the name on her Actors' Equity card soon read, stressed over every penny (rent, $98.32; singing lessons, $40 a month; dancing lessons, another $30) and, as she revealed in her memoir, developed a nasty five-year bulimia habit that left her with 26 cavities and an emotional hole much harder to fill.

"With bulimia, I never expected sympathy or for people to understand," she says now. Keaton has both hands wrapped around a cup of coffee as she talks. "What I cared about was the secret I kept. It felt like a burden. I never told my mother. But when I finally told my sisters many years after the fact, they weren't that shocked. My sister Robin said, 'Yeah, you ate a lot of hamburgers back then.' It's amazing how the dark secrets inside us don't matter much to the outside world."

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Then again, some secrets hold more power than others. In the 1970s, on a visit home, she came across her mother's scrapbooklike journal. Keaton was already a superstar. She exploded onto the scene in the original Broadway production of Hair, scored a monumental movie hit with The Godfather, and was on her way to winning a Best Actress Oscar for Annie Hall. But what she found in her mom's journal cut through the glitter. An entry dated August 2, 1976, read: "WATCH OUT ON THIS PAGE. For you, the possible reader in the future, this takes courage." Then came an entry full of vitriol about Diane's dad — or "you frigin' bastard," as Dorothy labeled him. It wasn't until Dorothy's death in 2008 that Keaton found the courage to look again at the journals — 85 in all — and the torment hidden within.

On the outside, Dorothy was just another suburban housewife ( her glory moment was winning the "Mrs. Los Angeles" pageant for homemakers in 1955), but inside she felt trapped by domesticity, by her failures as an aspiring writer and photographer, and, in later years, by "that strange and cruel disease" that took away her memory.

"Reading her journals was really difficult," Keaton says, her voice softening. "I felt for her so much. Though we were very close, I got to know her in ways I never thought of." Keaton hadn't realized the extent to which her mother stifled her own ambitions or used Keaton's dad, who was occasionally abusive toward Dorothy, as a scapegoat for her lack of success. The more she read, the more Keaton would "get all upset about my mom, and the sense of frustration she felt," she says. "But also about how selfish I'd been, how I didn't always address her as a person, how I failed her sometimes."

One passage in particular still pains Keaton to ponder. In 1975, fearful that her mind was starting to give way to dementia, Dorothy wrote, "I'm no one to anyone. People look at me and see a midlife woman on the downhill slide. 55 is approaching. My brain is getting thinner. If there's one thing I don't want to lose, it's my ability to think. I feel old and intolerant. It's like I'm shutting the world out."

At 66, Keaton could not have a more different view of life than the one her mom had.

"If anyone embraces the world around her, it's Diane," says Lawrence Kasdan, who directed Darling Companion. "When you consider she's been a leading lady for 40 years, it's remarkable how much vibrancy and determination she has." He tells the story of a scene where Keaton and Kline are caught in a rainstorm in the wilderness while searching for their runaway mutt. "We shot in a downpour in the woods, and it was freezing cold," Kasdan says. "Diane's character ends up sliding down a hill and landing on her butt. She insisted on doing her own stunts. She got soaking wet and filthy but managed to do this very intimate scene at the end with Kevin. She's different from any person I can think of."

Sarah Jessica Parker, who befriended Keaton while filming the 2005 comedy The Family Stone, says, "Diane has never subscribed to the conventional way of doing things. She's endlessly curious and lives boldly. It doesn't matter if she's at dinner with you or on the Today show, she's going to tell you what she thinks. It's never to shock or show off. It's just, Diane is who Diane is, unapologetically."

That's for sure. Any conversation with Keaton is a slightly skittery affair, popping quickly from topic to topic, and each new subject stirs Keaton's passion as much as the last.

"My thinking about plastic surgery is this," she says the second the question comes up. "I haven't had it, but never say never. Because when you do, you are definitely going to go there. I said I would never have intercourse before I was married, and I did. I said I would never go to a psychiatrist, and I spent much of my life in psychoanalysis. I've done all kinds of things I said I wouldn't do and, of course, now I'm glad. Thrilled."

For a long time Keaton believed she would never have kids, but all that changed when she turned 50. Happily-ever-after wasn't in the cards with the three great loves of her life: Allen, Beatty, and Pacino. "I never found a home in the arms of a man," she writes in the book. Asked now what held her back from ever getting married, Keaton is cryptic. "I think it was just my whole life. How I responded first to boys and then to men. It had nothing to do with reality." She adds: "Relationships are hard. You're lucky if you find someone."

But instead of being alone, Keaton filled her home with love. Dexter and Duke entered her world as Dorothy was fading from it. Simultaneously, Keaton became increasingly attuned to the realities of being an older mother herself. "I'm very aware that my dad died when he was 68, and my mother was in her early 70s when her brain really started to go," she says. "When I think about my kids in their 20s and 30s, and me in my 70s and 80s, I worry about that, definitely. I want to be there for them. I want my body and mind to stay strong, and to share all these life lessons. But I also know they need to have the freedom and independence to learn on their own."

Not that it's easy to stand back. "You see them growing and perceiving and changing," Keaton says. There's a look of awe in her eyes. Being a mother is a joy, but " love is work, too," she says. "It takes everything I have sometimes to not snuggle with Dexter. You know, at 16, you don't want to be snuggly any more. Sometimes I can pat her hair. Or if I'm lucky, I get a hug."

Dinner is Keaton's favorite time of day. With swim-team practice done and all eyes off gadgets, phones, and computers, the three Keatons sit and talk. "Oh, sure, I drive my kids crazy with, 'What do you think about this? What did that mean to you?' They're like, 'Stop, Mom!' So I'm learning to say less now." You can tell by her suppressed grin that Keaton isn't succeeding. "That's right. I'm learning to zip it up." Now she's laughing. "Well, I'm trying, at least. I really am."

Keaton's dream project isn't another book or movie, though she admits she'd love to find "a really out-there role where I let it all hang out. Get totally enraged. Go to an extreme. I have not really had that opportunity, and I hope it will happen." She's also not yearning for romance at the moment. "It's not something I can visualize right now. The best relationships develop out of friendships. That's the shame. At this stage I don't correlate any of the friendships I have with sex, and, honestly, once you bring sex into a friendship — Ooh! Whew! Oh! — that's a slippery slope into disaster."

So she channels her passions into building a house. Known locally for her restoration efforts, Keaton now wants a new challenge. "The easy thing — and part of me wants to do this — is just to go buy a house and redo it, but I've done that already," she says. It's much harder, she says, "to create something out of thin air. I never want to stop growing and learning."

A thoughtful look comes over Keaton's face. For the first time in the long conversation, there's silence. Not that it lasts. It never does with Keaton.

"Let me tell you the best part about getting older," she says without prompting. "The best part is that I'm still here and, because the end is in sight, I treasure it all more. That's why I don't worry about crying in a scene anymore. Now it comes easily. I know the emotion's all there." She smiles — but, in fact, a shimmer in her eyes suggests Diane Keaton is feeling something right now. "You have to live life all the way, you know? Take risks. Do things you can't imagine. 'Cause, hey, why not, right?"

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