As Diane Keaton returns to the big screen in Hampstead, she talks to Kate Whiting about playing a fish out of water, and why she never married any of her famous beaus
If Diane Keaton had any nerves about playing Brendan Gleeson’s love interest in their new film Hampstead, they vanished the minute they met in the make-up trailer.
“A lot of men don’t like to talk in the make-up trailer, but the make-up trailer is my most important start of the day,” says the 71-year-old Annie Hall star, describing the bear-like Irish actor as “a big, generous, brilliant man”.
Hampstead is based on the true story of Harry Hallowes, an Irishman, who in 2007 won squatters rights to a half-acre plot of land on Hampstead Heath, worth £2 million, because he’d lived there for more than 12 years.
Keaton plays Emily Walters, an American widow living in a flat overlooking the heath, and struggling financially. From an attic window, she spots Donald Horner (Gleeson) being attacked in his shack - and goes to find him. What ensues is a sweet and funny love story, as two people that don’t quite fit in take solace in each other.
“What I liked about [Emily] was that she was stuck and lying to herself, she was kind of charming, but she was lost - she needed something to jolt her out of the rut she was in. And then, ‘Boom!’ everything changed with a pair of binoculars.”
Keaton’s iconic Annie Hall look - buttoned up shirts and scarves, and trouser suits with top-pocket handkerchiefs - can be seen in the film, although, as she says, it’s a “little more conservative”.
“The costume designer, Liza Bracey, the sweetest woman ever, toned it down, which was important, but also, I did want to be that fish-out-of-water. I didn’t want to look like the other women in the movie, because they were all proper and well-to-do and wealthy, ‘the club’... and I wanted me to be the person from America who was, you know, just not really quite right.”
‘The club’ is led by busy-body block of flats resident Fiona, played by Lesley Manville, who lends Emily money but pressures her into supporting her husband’s company’s bid to develop the land Donald lives on.
Keaton’s big break came in 1977’s Annie Hall, which was written and directed by and co-starred her former boyfriend and frequent collaborator Woody Allen. It won four Oscars, including Best Actress and made a style icon of Keaton, who today is dressed suitably ‘Annie’ in a crisp white shirt, black jacket cinched in with a wide belt, wide-leg trousers which stop on her shin, showing off chunky black boots.
How much of Annie was Keaton?
“I think it was a combination - being a great writer, Woody wrote it. That’s really hard to do, even if you’re writing somebody you know, to have that ability - he’s been able to write female parts better than anybody. He’s a great observer of women in particular. It’s amazing how he captures their voices.”
Five years earlier, at 26, her first film role was as Michael Corleone’s long-suffering wife Kay in The Godfather, a role Keaton has said “had no voice”. What did she mean by that?
“I think that was an interesting reason [director Francis Ford Coppola] might have cast me, because she hadn’t developed her voice. She didn’t know, she was just in love with this man, and he too didn’t know, in the beginning and it just slowly evolved. That was one of the interesting parts of the Godfather, that he changed so much, with time and power. Power corrupts absolutely.”
In April, the director and members of the cast, including Al Pacino who played Michael, Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, gathered to mark the film’s 45th anniversary.
“It was touching and sad and beautiful and Francis was telling those great stories as only Francis could. I don’t think I’ve seen Al Pacino in 20 years! It was heartbreaking on some level because many people are gone, but at the same time, I was so proud just to be a small part of that movie, because the movie is still a piece of genius, without a doubt.”
Keaton dated Pacino on and off, and Warren Beatty is also on her list of former beaus. But she never married. Was she tempted?
“Of course I was tempted to get married, but mercifully I didn’t. I don’t think I’m marriage material.”
When she looks back over her career, is there anything she would tell her younger self now?
“I wish I had been less hesitant and more assertive, ‘cos I would have seen more and known more. But also I’m really happy with what I have.”
Hampstead opens in cinemas on Friday