Keaton by Paul Kisselev
This interview originally appeared in the New York Observer on May 6, 2015:
We’re in the catacombs of the Crosby Hotel, off in a corner, and Diane Keaton has just watched, for the first time in decades, one of the greatest romances on film. “I was visiting my brother and for some reason Gone with the Wind was on,” she explained. “It’s been 30 years since I’d seen it but, oh my God, Vivien Leigh is so great in that movie.” She rises. “You should have seen her float down the stairs, she wears this huge sweeping gown, and her dress went out that far,” Ms. Keaton gestures. Animated and enthusiastic, she recreates Scarlett O’Hara’s hoop-skirted sweep down Twelve Oaks’ circular stairway—despite her own slim-hipped, impeccable Thom Browne herringbone suit.
“It’s like you’re watching a dance because every time she would move it would flow,” Ms. Keaton continued with a swirl. “I didn’t expect the movie to be so strangely beautiful to look at and almost modern. She was completely a modern actress…”
And so, of course, is Diane Keaton. This tall, slim woman—pretty not beautiful if one believes her own estimation in her book of essays, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty—has ridden to $1 billion in box office grosses playing winsome yet strong-minded dreamers. In person, the Oscar-winner (for Annie Hall, 1977) seems that same character, but life-sized and approachable. One has the false feeling that one knows her, having seen her mature with so much vulnerability and neurosis and passion from Sleeper through The Godfather and so many other classic comedies and dramas and romances to her latest movie opposite Morgan Freeman, 5 Flights Up.
[Related: Keaton on Marriage and the Enduring Romance of Scarlett and Rhett]
Sitting in the chic Crosby, where the upholstered furniture wears nearly as much tweed as she does, Ms. Keaton, 69, sports a black leather belt wide enough to gird a WWE wrestler around her slender waist, a black handkerchief with white polka dots peaking out from her breast pocket and short square nails painted a matching black and white herringbone. With her slightly tussled hair and black-rimmed specs, there’s a little Charlie Chaplin to her. If Chaplin was very, very feminine.
The subject of our talk in Soho is love. As the longtime muse of Woody Allen, partners on-screen and off with Al Pacino and Warren Beatty, and great good friends with Jack Nicholson, that interplay of intimacy, fictional and real, is always a question with Ms. Keaton. In her charming latest film, her paramour and husband, (lucky girl) is Morgan Freeman.
The movie’s characters of Ruth (Ms. Keaton’s New York school teacher) and Alex (Mr. Freeman’s mid-level artist) find themselves in the enviable position of being able to make a killing on an apartment bought for convenience and affordability when they moved to Brooklyn years ago, when it was considered akin to moving to Pittsburgh. But nothing, of course, is easy.
Ms. Keaton finds the depiction of the strong bond between Ruth and Alex (the original title of the Richard Loncraine romance from Jill Ciment’s novel) comforting. “When you see it you just feel reassured that a great marriage can happen because it’s him, Morgan Freeman, because he’s playing the husband, because he’s the everyday.”
But, whether she means to or not, Ms. Keaton clanks her large, modern silver rings on the table noisily when asked whether she could have ever had the kind of bond with longtime companion Al Pacino. “I think that it never could have worked. Ever. Not in a million years unless I were a different woman. And that’s true with all the great loves of my life, or the men that I was intoxicated by for a while, or they with me, or whatever. It wasn’t reasonable. I didn’t know how to run it. No.”