"I was exploding inside," writes Diane Keaton's mother in her diary on the night she attended the premiere of Annie Hall. "It seemed real...pure Diane. The story was tender, funny and sad. It ended in separation, just like real life."
Dorothy Hall's reaction to seeing a version of her daughter, herself, and her entire family immortalized in Woody Allen's iconic romantic comedy is just one passage in the collection of letters and diary entries woven through Then Again. Diane Keaton's exceptionally crafted, deeply intimate memoir tells the joint story of her own life as a Hollywood superstar and the life of her mother, an equally talented writer and homemaker, who kept 85 journals detailing everything from her first year to her last years of marriage.
When Hall died in 2008 after battling Alzheimer's for over a decade, Keaton took on the sometimes daunting task of poring over her mother's journals and creating a story of their parallel lives. Shine talked with the award-winning actress about her new role as writer, her constant role as mother and daughter, and the one role she never wanted to play: wife.
Shine: Then Again is almost two separate memoirs: the one you wrote and the one your mom wrote in her journals. Did discovering her words help you find your own voice as a writer?
Diane Keaton: I thought of it more as making a collage. It was a lot of editing my mother's writing. My writing in the book was a response to my mother. It was a lot like acting for me.
S: How so?
DK: My acting teacher at The Neighborhood Playhouse, Sanford Meisner, believed you're no actor unless you're responding to what people are giving you. It doesn't always matter what your lines are or what your objective is. You always have to remember you're sharing this experience with someone else and that's what happened to me when I read my mother's journals. I would respond to her as if she were there and talk to her about the good times and bad times and frustrating times.
S: Your mother writes about her father wishing she was a boy, about falling into depression, and about some of the struggles she faced in her marriage to your father. Was that hard for you to read at times?
DK: I think that I was a very self involved person. For years, I refused to acknowledge things I instinctively understood. She was a beautiful stately handsome woman, but inside she was this delicate soul and I think that was hard for her. So to answer your question I knew something was going on sometimes but I really didn't want it to get in the way of my time with my mother. I didn't really want to grow up.
S: As a kid your mom entered the Mrs. America pageant. You write about your envy of the attention she got. In a way, you're sharing the spotlight with her by writing this book, right?
DK: It's a little late in the game for that. I could have helped her write a memoir while she was alive. When I was in my 30's she sent me a letter talking about a memoir she was writing about her girlhood experiences titled "Memories". At that point in my life, I don't even remember getting the letter. It wasn't on my agenda but it could have been had I been mature.
S: Another theme in the book seems to be unrequited love. You describe your significant relationships with Warren Beatty, Al Pacino and, of course, Woody Allen almost as if they were men you could never have, even though you did have them.
DK: Well, you know, in the book I call them the 'unattainable greats'. They didn't have to be unattainable greats but I turned them into that. Because look at all these guys: Warren's married and he has four kids. Woody's married and he's got two kids. And Al is, well I don't know, I don't know exactly what's going on. But he's a father. So they weren't exactly unattainable, but for me that's what they had to be. It was something I needed to live out and not take on the role of life-long partner.
S: Was there a freedom to that?
DK: Kind of. Let's just say I could have been better. I could have handled the situations much better. I think of all those grandiose expectations I had.
S: Is romance a part of your life now?
DK: Well, no. But I've come to terms with the fact that romance is the tone you need to utilize now and then, but it isn't really what a great relationship is. I see love as work. And these men I was with were all heavily involved in work. So I have love in my life but it's a very different kind of love than what I expected to receive from them. I think I thought I was supposed to be much more adored, but I never really wanted to be a wife. It wasn't really work I wanted to do.
S: Do you ever regret not getting married?
DK: It's really hard to say. I think it's really important to expand your life with people and if I had been married I think I would have had to compromise more and be a more social person and that would have been good.
S: You've built your own community. At 50, you adopted Dexter and later Duke and became a single mom.
DK: I got lucky. You know I'd never be the person going to swim meets had it not be for Dexter. Or going to tennis matches to watch Duke or going to school meetings. I found myself in a different world and it's a huge adventure but I didn't see it that way when I was younger.
S: I love that Duke calls you Mother-Father.
DK: He's the devil, that one. He's got me nailed. Sometimes when he's mad at me he'll call me Mother-God.
S: In your 20's you struggled with bulimia. Being a mom of a teen daughter, is that something you worry about with Dexter?
DK: No, I'm not concerned about that with her. When I was growing up the ideal beauty was Twiggy . Those pencil thin women that were kind of androgynous. Now I see that a voluptuous body is gorgeous and it's been publicly embraced. You look J.Lo with that big, round, gorgeous ass. I go to these swim meets with my daughter and I notice how all the girls have strong beautiful healthy bodies. I don't think Dexter's going to have that problem because she doesn't have the same ideals that I did.
S: The memoir your mom had started was called 'Memories'. In her later writing, she begins to lose hers. Is Alzheimer's something you worry about now?
DK: Well yeah, of course I do. I talk about it with my siblings all the time. But I'm also worried about of other things. My father died when he was 68 and I'll be 66 in January. And I could go. That's what this is about: How are you going to handle loss and what's your body going to do?
S: Have you come up with any answers?
DK: I had a great psychoanalyst who lived to be 96 years old and I would ask him what's it like to be that age and he'd say I'm here in the moment. Just like my acting teacher Sanford Meisner, he'd say, I'm engaged in what I'm doing now. There's nothing more you can do. You have to have some grace and let go. But of course I'm not doing very well at letting go. Well, I guess, I'm doing the best I can.
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