Diane Keaton Can't Stop
Her take on her one talent, raising teens at 69, the movie stars she's loved (and been loved by!) and her search for 'home' — in house after house after house
Diane Keaton can't stand still. That much becomes clear the moment she opens the door to her sleek Connecticut-style farmhouse in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. Dressed in a black beanie, black bolero jacket, red-and-black plaid pants and unlaced black dance shoes, she instantly launches into a house tour — starting with the 1930s and '40s California Monterey furnishings in the living room. (Her sister Dorrie Hall is a dealer.) In the basement, Keaton flits from one side of the room to the other, chattering excitedly about how she intends to create a library in her next house with all the picture books scattered around here.
Keaton, 69, has made a career of playing characters very similar to her real self, a peripatetic, self-deprecating eccentric (roles such as Annie Hall in the namesake film, for which she earned an Oscar; Reds' Louise Bryant; and Erica Barry of Something's Gotta Give). She is charming and funny, daring (she started a family late and is raising daughter Dexter, 19, and son Duke, 14, on her own), and often unable to commit (among her great loves: Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino). She is always, literally, on the move, one way or another: In addition to acting, she writes. She takes photographs. She sings!
Her one consistent passion for the past 25 years, however, has been serial nesting, something she describes as an addiction. She has renovated at least a dozen houses so far, including a Lloyd Wright (son of Frank) in Los Angeles, a Spanish Colonial revival in Beverly Hills and an urban farmhouse in Laguna Beach. "I've always been looking for home," explains Keaton. "I feel like I've chased the concept of home with all the renovations and building I've done in my life, and I can't stop. I can't seem to stop having the dream of it."
It's not that she doesn't make each of her homes beautiful: The last four have been featured in home style magazines. Keaton's current abode is a study in black and white, accented with Navajo pictorial rugs and natural-fabric pillows in gray, beige and brown. The place is stunning, spacious and soothing. And, Keaton says, temporary. "It's really a spec house with good light," she remarks, somewhat dismissively.
While living here, she is busy designing her first custom-built home in a canyon nearby.
Why can't Keaton seem to stop house dreaming? It's a question she isn't sure she can answer. "I ask myself, What the hell are you looking for?" she says.
It fits her, though: She is always creating. "I don't like to sit around," she says with a wry smile, tucking her legs under her willowy frame as she settles — for the moment — into a cushioned hard-back chair in the front room. "I like to do a lot of things — as much as I can."
A rare bird in show business, she works regularly in film despite being a woman over 50. November marked the release of Love the Coopers, a comedy in which she stars, opposite John Goodman, as a family matriarch. In 2016 she'll play a nun in the HBO miniseries The Young Pope. Although Keaton says she has doubts about continuing to "perform," noting that it's a lot of pressure to "live up to expectations when you've had a long career," she adds that acting is what she does best: "I like to say that I have one talent, and that would be plenty — but I also have a lot of pursuits."
Recently, those would include writing two best-sellers — 2011's Then Again, a memoir about her mother, and 2014's autobiography Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty. She's working on a picture book tentatively titled The House That Pinterest Built, about the canyon home she's designing using the online image service, a modern version of torn-out magazine pages. Plus, she's coming out with her own wine, a California red called The Keaton, just like the blend she drinks herself, distinctively, on ice. "It's light that way," she offers.
And she's doing it all while raising her children, a task she admits she took on "at a very, very late age," when she decided to adopt Dexter in 1995 and Duke in 2001. Her goal for them is as complex and simple as it sounds: "Let them be happy."
She notes that her kids haven't seemed to mind being L.A. gypsies. "They stayed in the same schools," Keaton says, emphasizing that her home-hopping has been done with careful attention to maintaining ties to people and the past.
Growing up as the oldest of four in a neighborhood surrounded by orange groves in Santa Ana, Calif., Keaton was inspired to dream by her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall. "My mother had to take care of everything that had to do with four kids in the house," Keaton begins, mentioning that her father worked as a civil engineer and, later, a real estate broker. "She was in her 20s. Imagine! And she still had this enormous desire to express her life, to tell her story, to experience beauty — so she gave that all to us."
Keaton was an anxious child, but her mother's unbridled confidence in her was contagious. "I was upset I wasn't pretty enough, or that my voice wasn't that good, or that I wasn't considered right for roles early on," remembers Keaton. "My mother would always tell me, 'You just keep doing what you're doing.' So you pick yourself up and you keep trying."
Losing Dorothy to Alzheimer's disease at age 86 in 2008 was "huge," says Keaton, and her mother's death fueled a change in perspective. "When I think about my life now," she explains, "I try to be in the moment, cherish the people I love and not be in pursuit of some abstract concept."
Which isn't to say that Keaton's acting career was ever an abstract concept. "Obviously, I wanted to be famous," she admits. "I wanted to be a movie star." At 19, after briefly studying acting at Orange Coast College in California, she moved to New York to work with the famous acting coach Sandy Meisner. Though Keaton says she was ambitious and a hard worker, she credits luck for her early breaks. She first gained recognition for her role in Woody Allen's Broadway production of Play It Again, Sam (which came with a Tony Award nomination) and then landed her breakthrough role as Kay Adams, the girlfriend of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino), in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972).
"I don't know how I got that part," Keaton says, screwing up her face. "I was, like, kooky and unusual and left of center and not always castable at that time. I would go up against Jill Clayburgh or Blythe Danner, and it just wasn't happening for me."
More than four decades later, Keaton credits the people she's worked with — her costars on-screen (Albert Finney, Jack Nicholson, Richard Gere and Mel Gibson, to name a few) as well as off — for her success.
While she's reluctant to call any of them mentors, she points to Woody Allen — despite the scandal surrounding his involvement and subsequent marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his onetime domestic partner Mia Farrow— as her ultimate teacher. "He gave me everything," she declares. "It was a privilege to be in those films with him." Her voice grows a little louder, and the words, which often meander in conversation, spill forth. "I've never seen anybody more disciplined. For him, work is an art form. Work really is the answer to so many problems, and it's a form of play, too, that you take very seriously and keep trying to expand. That's something I learned from Woody."
But for her staying power, Keaton credits a woman — director-producer-writer Nancy Meyers, who directed Keaton in four films, beginning with 1987's Baby Boom. "I remember at 50 worrying, God, will I ever be in a movie again? I'm almost 70, and you've got to be in a hit to stay around. People like Nancy are the reason I'm still here."
Nonetheless, work has become less important as she has ratcheted up her lifelong quest for happiness. "My father died when he was 67," she says, "so I've already lived two years longer than he did. You know you're coming up against it. You realize that it doesn't really matter how successful you get."
Emmy, Keaton's 11-year-old golden retriever, has curled up next to her chair, and the actress takes a minute to run her fingers through the dog's ruff, a portrait of domestic bliss. While Keaton says her compulsion to keep creating new homes "is a fantasy of [creating] a different you," it's clear that at this point in her life, she's finally content with who she is. And she has a newfound appreciation for enjoying the life taking place around her, which may, finally, lead to her slowing down. "In a way, this is the most interesting time," she says. "At this age, everything seems much more astonishing. Like, Oh my goodness, look at that sycamore tree! Why didn't I see that before? There's a magical aspect, a wonder, to being on this planet."
None of which is to say that she will stop chasing her dreams of home anytime soon. Yes, Keaton concedes she has softened her definition of what makes a home, agreeing with her daughter, Dexter, that "it's the people who are in the home" that make the home; she also feels blessed by what she has: "I have a lot of people and things I love very dearly. I have my two kids, my extended family, my friends."
But when asked if she thinks that home in the canyon will finally be the place where she takes up permanent residence, she doesn't equivocate: "No, no, it won't be. Sorry, it will not."