Hollywood icon talks gay following she never knew she had, lesbian roles (‘I’m available’) and The First Wives Club
Diane Keaton doesn’t have all the answers to all the questions and she’s sorry about that. She’s sorry a lot. So sorry I kindly urge her not to be, like she’s not Diane Keaton but a familiar friend, her fizzy, giddy, no-pretense charm making it easy to be honest with her.
In conversation, Keaton reads less Oscar winner, more fun, drunk aunt who loves a kiki, her on-brand self-deprecation and bewilderment amusingly intact. For all her Hollywood clout, Keaton is not exactly keen on her own Keatonness, despite a rich awards-speckled history of acclaimed roles (The Godfather), box-office smashes (Father of the Bride, Something’s Gotta Give) and The First Wives Club, her sassy-sisters-unite comedy.
We are talking Annie Hall herself.
But Keaton is especially floored to hear the LGBTQ community still pays any mind at all to The First Wives Club. Yes, it came out in 1996; no, Diane Keaton didn’t know you can’t put a date on a timeless gay cult classic. The 73-year-old actress’ androgynous style – suits and top hats – may make her appear lesbian-bar-ready, but her life is not that iconic gay club scene in the film, shared with co-stars Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn. Keaton doesn’t go to bars of any kind anymore, she tells me. She is “boring.” She is sorry.
“You don’t have to apologize for being yourself. We don’t do that,” I tell Diane Keaton, who laughs and responds affirmatively. Opposite her apologetic state is the older-girl-power message of her new film, Poms: being who you are, no apologies. Imagine the Golden Girls in Bring It On and you have Poms, with Keaton as Martha, a woman who joins a retirement community with spunky old ladies (Jackie Weaver, Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman co-star) and against all odds – bad hips, bad husbands – end up forming a cheer team. Poms is the story of how Martha gets her groove back. And of women staying in it; of refusing to be bullied; of something the gay community knows well: perseverance.
Gay men love to celebrate our ladies. Ladies with staying power. Keaton, of course, is one – even if she doesn’t know it. She should know and so I tell her that she is “a masterclass in authenticity.” She is flattered, but can’t put her finger on why, despite ageism and sexism, there’s always been a place for older women in the gay community. “Huh? What’s the question?” She laughs. “I’m too stupid. I really am.”
I repeat the question; she gives it her best shot: “Maybe because they love their mother. I don’t know! But I appreciate it!” (At least on Twitter, Keaton must have some sense gay men follow her considering this gay-inclusive tweet she once sent about Magic Mike XXL: “OK, girls and guys, we’re one week away from HEAVEN.”)
Later, unable to name any actors who could possibly pull off drag like Chris Pine did in their 2006 TV movie, Surrender, Dorothy, she apologizes again. For the whole interview. “Sorry I was a loser,” she says. “I’m gonna bone up on things.” “On gay stuff?” I ask. “You bet. I’m gonna read everything I can.”
Until then, Keaton talks about the lack of a First Wives Club sequel even though she’s game, not taking fashion tips from anyone (no offense, queers), and not recalling the night she thought Lena Dunham was a lesbian.”
You are aware you have an LGBTQ following, right?
Me? No. I wasn’t really aware.
But you did The First Wives Club.
Oh yeah! I know I was in it. But I’m not aware. I don’t think I follow things. Maybe I’m missing out. (Laughs) This is good news!
It is good news.
You better believe it!
Your tomboy fashion has been celebrated by the lesbian community. Do you get tips from lesbian friends or do you give them tips?
I don’t give tips to anybody and I don’t take tips, either. Because for me, it’s just something I’m interested in, do you know what I mean? I pick out what I like; I don’t have a stylist or anything like that. And also I just go with – look, I’m a person who collects magazines. I’m addicted. And I always check out the magazines, I always check out the newspapers – the New York Times, you know. T Magazine is interesting with what they do with fashion. So that’s what I do. I sit there and I cut them out, and I have all of these scrapbooks filled with all these fashion ideas, so that’s where I go for clothes.
T Magazine is a good choice. They publish issues entirely dedicated to fashion.
T Magazine is really an amazing magazine on so many levels – graphically, and just their articles. And when they do have their fashion issues, when they have one for women and one for men twice a year or something, when they dedicate the magazine to fashion for both sexes, it’s great.
A few years ago, Lena Dunham said that you misread her as a lesbian at a Jennifer Aniston party. Has that been your only gaydar fail?
I’m sorry, say that again.
You once misread Lena Dunham as a lesbian at a Jennifer Aniston party.
Oh, did I? Stupid.
Hey, it happens to the best of us.
I hope she will forgive me.
I wonder if that was your only gaydar fail.
Well, I guess, since I never heard about it! And since I have no memory of saying it! But I’m sure I must’ve. Perhaps I was drinking too heavily.
Is that a thing?
It’s a MAJOR thing, can’t you tell? (Laughs) No! It’s not much of a thing. But maybe, you know, I was anxious. You never know.
In The First Wives Club, your lesbian daughter is instrumental in getting you what you want. How have gay men and women been instrumental in your own life?
Well, all along, you know, I’ve had a lot of gay friends, both sexes, and it’s just been part of my life. I was probably living in New York when I first kind of formed friendships that were gay, but I was aware even in junior college – I went to junior college – and I remember going on a U.S.O. tour (in 1964) of Bye Bye Birdie. Can you believe that? And I remember one of the guys there I really liked, and he was kind of playing the lead opposite me and he was gay. He was a friend and he was really talented too. And I remember some girl coming up to me and saying, “Don’t you try to be his girlfriend! You’re just trying to be his girlfriend!” (Laughs) It’s just like one of those stupid things, you know. And I wanted to tell her that I knew he was gay, but then I just let it pass.
She actually thought you were gonna try to convert a gay man?
Yeah, right. Wrong!
During the gay bar scene in First Wives Club, openly lesbian actress Lea DeLaria plays a lesbian who makes some moves on Goldie Hawn’s character. Has a lesbian ever made moves on you?
Um, I don’t think so. I’m trying to think back…
Am I disappointed?
I said, “That’s disappointing,” but are you disappointed?
I’m very surprised to hear this. You’ve been to a gay bar, I assume, right?
What’s the most fun night you’ve had at one? And was it anything like the one in First Wives Club?
No, I don’t really – I’m not somebody who really goes out a lot to bars at all anyway. I’m boring, you gotta understand. I’m somebody who’s friggin’ boring. I am! But yeah, I’m sorry.
You don’t have to apologize for being yourself. We don’t do that.
There have been few moments in cinematic history that have shook gay men as much as your “You Don’t Own Me” number with Bette and Goldie. When did you know that you’d started a gay frenzy with that musical number?
I never knew! This is the first I’m hearing of it. I did not know that.
Hearing that, how does that make you feel?
Well, I’m sure that it’s over. You know, no one’s coming up to me going, “Oh god, that was fantastic!” I mean, it’s so far gone. It’s far in the past. Who cares! But it’s nice to hear (laughs) and I hope somebody enjoyed it. It’s like, maybe Goldie enjoyed it. Or Bette! They’ve had more interesting lives.
There was talk of a reunion project called Divanation for Netflix that was supposed to happen. Do you know about this project?
About what? Which project? What?
It’s called Divanation and it was gonna reunite you with Goldie and Bette.
WHAT?! Where am I? I never heard that! I’d love to do something with Goldie and Bette again. They were fantastic. That was a fun movie.
Would you like to revisit that film with them?
Of course I’m interested, but it never happened. And we tried, in a way, the girls, but we never got a good script and I don’t know why and now it’s sort of like, it’s over, right? No one’s gonna have us get in a movie together, the three of us. But I love that movie, and I love them.
In the 2005 dramedy The Family Stone, you memorably sign your love to your gay deaf son in that film. How do you reflect on that scene and how that may have influenced parents with LGBTQ kids?
It’s a very touching scene, and he (Tyrone Giordano) was a very extraordinary person and I’ve never seen him again. He was in that one movie, and sometimes I think back on him. He had that opportunity and he was really very touching and wonderful in the movie, but it’s kind of sad to me that there was no future for him, you know? It’s too bad.
Did you understand at the time how that scene could be influential for parents of LGBTQ kids?
You know, I’m not that bright, let’s get real. I was thinking about, “Oh, gee, how’d the scene go?” And, “How was that?” And, “Did the movie do OK?” I was thinking about the most superficial things, so it’s like, I should’ve thought about it, but I never did because, “Oh, how’d it go? OK, we did good.” And I liked Tom (Bezucha, who is openly gay). Tom is brilliant, our director. And he’s a friend. I’m sorry. I’m a failure.
No, I’m gonna go on and on and on. Wanna hear my sad story? (Laughs)
In the TV movie Surrender, Dorothy you seemed to enjoy dancing with Chris Pine, who was in drag. Do you remember this?
Yeah, a little. I mean, it’s not one of my better projects: Surrender, Dorothy? Give me a break, you know. I’ve had some hard times.
But that scene: Can you understand why gay men might love that scene? You, Chris Pine as a gay man, Chris Pine in drag…
Yeah. He went on to do well.
Looking back at your roles, have you ever questioned the sexuality of any of your characters?
Questioned the sexuality: Well, sure. I mean, Looking for Mr. Goodbar (in 1977), I questioned that. She was killed! (Laughs) Yeah, I think sexuality is a double-edged sword sometimes. You have to be careful. I mean, she put herself into a situation where she became a victim in that movie. I remember my dad seeing it and he was not happy.
Because I died and he didn’t want me going to bars meeting guys who were inappropriate for me (laughs). He was a dad!
You questioned the sexuality of that character, but have you ever played an actual lesbian character?
I don’t think so, uh-uh.
Has there been a lesbian character someone else has played that you wish you had?
No, not that I know of. But you know, if it came up, I’m here. I’m available.
If you were to play one, who might you cast as your love interest?
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I don’t really have anybody in my mind. I’d have to think about it, right? But it also probably wouldn’t even be my choice. I’m the actress. I’m not the director. Unless you’re asking me to be the director, now that’s a different matter.
I’m telling you you’re Diane Keaton and you should have some say in it.
OH MY GOD! (Laughs) It doesn’t work exactly like that!
Well, say you did have a say. Who might you pick? Hypothetically, Diane.
I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Meryl Streep would be my pick.
That’s a good choice.
There are a lot of women who’ve played lesbians who I think would be good for you.
I’m sure that’s true. Probably many we don’t know yet, so let’s not leave them out.
No, we should not, you’re right.
Get them in the mix.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.
Photo by Eric Charbonneau