When you have a conversation with Diane Keaton, you can be sure of one thing: You will not just talk about one thing. The Oscar-winning actress’ wide range of interests ensures that a chat with Keaton will range from reflections on her long, successful career as a film star to a discussion about why she never married — but decided to become a mother at age 50 — to why she and ex-beau and filmmaking collaborator Woody Allen maintain a strong friendship to this day.
Keaton, who heads to Chicago Oct. 3 to be the keynote speaker for the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation’s annual fall luncheon at the Hilton Chicago, is also delighted to help shine a spotlight on a cause that has had an effect on her life — as it has for millions of people.
“As I get older and older, I find I have more and more of a connection to the fight against cancer,” says Keaton, 67. She’s had friends who’ve passed away from many kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, the eradication of which is the primary focus of the Lynn Sage group’s nearly three-decade crusade. “My father died of brain cancer. My grandmother died of colon cancer. I’ve had so many friends, in their early 60s, or even much younger, who have died from cancer,” says Keaton. “It doesn’t matter what age, because life is life and the loss of it is terrible, but the young ones make it so much sadder.”
Keaton vividly remembers when her father was diagnosed. “My dad died young. He was 68. I was doing ‘The Godfather III’ in Rome. I got the call. My father hadn’t shown up to this place he and my mother owned in Arizona. There was no explaining why. When they called him, he had no idea he was supposed to be there. That was the first sign something was very wrong. Literally six months later, he was gone.”
As she prepares the remarks she will deliver at the Lynn Sage luncheon, Keaton is also looking forward to meeting the women who are spearheading the foundation’s fundraising, which has raised millions to fight cancer, primarily through Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s research capabilities.
“Can I say something? Any organization that is successful in raising money deserves huge praise,” says Keaton. “Frankly, I don’t know how they do it! Raising money is a gift. It is hard! I’ve tried myself for various organizations, so I know just how hard it is to accomplish that.”
When it comes to her personal life, it’s no secret that the actress has always known that marriage wasn’t in the cards. Despite being romantically linked to some of the world’s most famous men — including Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino — Keaton is very forthright: “Marriage? Nope. Didn’t work for me. I think my mother, Dorothy, taught her kids to be independent. My sister has not married. My brother, Randy, had a [marriage] stint early on, but then never remarried. I think our parents subtly were telling us, ‘You’ve got to go at this life on your own.’”
As for Allen, Keaton lets out a giggle at the mention of his name. “You know, it’s almost like a mistake that I even got to know him. We were stuck together in this play ‘Play It Again Sam,’ which I don’t even know how I got that job!” says Keaton. “I was there all the time and it first became a friendship. I was very attracted to him, but I don’t think initially he was very interested in me. I really enjoyed being around him, because he’s hilarious and has remained the same. We’re still friends. I’m still drawn to him, because we tease each other — almost like a family member.”
Though marriage was never an option for Keaton, her decision to become a mother was something she arrived at after a good bit of self-examination. She adopted two children after turning 50; her daughter, Dexter, will soon turn 18 and her son, Duke, is going on 13.
“I had a very long haul of devoting my life to me,” says Keaton. “I needed to stop having me as the central figure of my life. At a certain point, I went, ‘Really?!’ I needed to take some responsibility that was outside of my own concerns and worries and where my career was going.”
She admits the sudden loss of her father was a watershed moment. “Plus, I was very, very, very attached to my mother. I was very connected with being a daughter. I really enjoyed being a daughter, but at 50 I realized if I was going to [become a parent] I had better do it.”
Asked how parenting has changed her as an actress, Keaton says: “It lessened the impact of being an actor on my everyday life. It freed me up to be less concerned about work. Listen, I really consider acting as my job, and I’m really happy about that, but it’s no longer that overwhelming — the only thing in my life — as it was when I was younger. I don’t have the same investment in it as when I was 30 and won the Academy Award for ‘Annie Hall.’ ”
The actress makes a point of stressing that she has many interests beyond the world of entertainment. “I’m interested in publishing and making books. I’m obsessed with Pinterest. I love it! I tweet, too, but my Twitter account is really about images,” she says. “I’m doing some other books. I’ve got one that’s a collection of essays coming out on Mother’s Day next year, but I’m also doing a book about the house that I’m building. I have a big, fat personality and I’ve used that personality and spread it around a lot,” adds Keaton with a big laugh.
As for Chicago, the actress is excited to be coming back, “especially when it’s not winter! I want to hopefully get out to see the Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park again. Chicago is such a beautiful city, but I just don’t want to be there in winter. I made a movie there — ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’ — and it was in the winter. I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold. I still remember the wind going right through me.”
LYNN SAGE CANCER RESEARCH FOUNDATION’S ANNUAL FALL LUNCHEON
When: Oct. 3, 11 a.m.
Where: Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan
Cost: $275 and up.
For tickets, visit Lynnsage.org
On women in Hollywood
THE ROLE: In more than four decades in Hollywood, Keaton has seen her profession go through many changes. “If you’re a movie star now, you’re also a model, a spokesperson — a brand. It’s not just acting. When you think of Meryl Streep, you think, ‘This is a genius actor,’ and that is what she is and that is what she has dedicated her life to being. It’s a pure form of the art of acting — and Meryl is an example of that. But now, more than ever, it’s a job of many traits. You really have to be an expert on so many levels. You may have a clothing line, a fragrance, a housewares collection. Being a movie star today is so much more demanding.”
A NEW ERA: Keaton becomes excited when she reflects on the opportunities for women in Hollywood in 2013. “I like to think about ‘Bridesmaids’ as a breakthrough movie for women. I’m such a fan of Melissa McCarthy! Are you kidding me? What an actress! She’s so interesting. I recently saw ‘The Heat,’ and I was on the floor laughing. She was doing physical comedy like the rest of the guys. Then, she can turn on the vulnerable part of her acting ‘stew,’ or she can kiss a guy and that’s a whole other thing. She’s simply brilliant. Maybe things are not going as fast as some people would like, but I do think it’s a much better time for women in our business today — both in front of and behind the camera.”
Photo courtesy Neilson Barnard~Getty Images