She won the world’s collective hearts and became a fashion icon in Annie Hall, and in her latest film, 5 Flights Up, Diane Keaton exhibits similar charm as Ruth, a happily married retiree who, with her better half Alex (Morgan Freeman), decides to put their beloved New York City apartment of 40 years up for sale. Directed by Richard Loncraine (Richard III), the sweet screen adaptation of Jill Ciment’s 2009 novel, Heroic Measures, offers a tongue-in-cheek narrative about the tricky territory that characterizes Gotham’s real-estate market while touching on interracial relationships and the sacrifices made in a long-time marriage. “I’ve don’t know what it’s like to have a 40-year relationship with a man and hang in and still love each other,” says Keaton. “I’m not going to know it, but it was wonderful to play it. It was a beautiful experience for me.”
Here, the 69-year-old opens up about her Oscar-winning on-screen spouse, filming in New York City and why she considers herself a “serial renovator.” 5 Flights Up is currently playing in theaters.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You shot 5 Flights Up on the streets of New York. As a former New Yorker, what was that experience like?
DIANE KEATON: It was fun, particularly shooting in Brooklyn. You know, I lived in New York for 20 years but I didn’t know a thing about Brooklyn. Once in awhile you go to BAM and then you hurry back to Manhattan. But I was able to discover Brooklyn, which is really quite amazing. But of course, I still want to live in New York City. I still do. I like the concept of a place that’s 10 miles long and 2 miles wide. I always have fun in the city. While I was last there, I took an amazing walk. I went uptown to the Jewish Museum and walked down Fifth Avenue. It was a Sunday, and I hit all the museums, including the Cooper Hewitt, the new Guggenheim and the old Guggenheim. I walked all the way down to 55th Street. It was beautiful, and it was great seeing all the changes that have happened to the city.
Do people recognize you and stop you in those situations? Though we New Yorkers famously like to ignore the celebrities in our midst …
The truth is, if I don’t wear a hat, no. I think people kind of recognize that I love hats. But if I’m not wearing one, I’m just like everyone else. I’m a woman and I’m walking.
In the film, your character lists her apartment—a home she’s lived in for 40 years—on the market. There’s a certain pain associated with letting go of a place where you’ve lived and loved. Do you have fond memories of a particular home you’ve lived in?
I have issues with that. I’m a serial renovator. I’ve moved far too much to really hold on to anything. I’ll look at a picture of a house and have memories of my kids and friends, but I don’t feel that way about houses. I’ve moved as an adult many, many times. I adopted my kids when I was 50 years old. And then I moved them around a lot in L.A. I kept them in the same schools, so I figured that was okay to keep moving us. I was chasing the dream, as Morgan [Freeman] says in the movie. At one point a few years ago I remember saying to [my son] Duke, “If you were to describe your dream home, what would you say it was?” He said, “Well, a house with people with it.” I said, “That’s your dream home? It’s not some special place?” He said, “No, a house with people in it.” And you know, for me I think that’s the essence of this movie. It’s about Morgan and I and our little dog Dorothy, and what’s more important? The dream, or living your life. And are you going to chase that dream and calm down and not worry about the future? And it’s about marriage. That’s the most important thing of all. A lasting, long term marriage where you go through things together and love each other and hang in and don’t belabor things.
Speaking of marriage, what’s the best thing about being married to Morgan Freeman in a movie?
Well, he’s Morgan Freeman. [Laughs] That was enough for me. He’s a quiet person, a very graceful person. I think he kind of represents a symbol. We want a representative of what it means to be a good man, to have a good marriage. We want something to believe in, to believe in love and believe in the concept of a longtime marriage. I’m never going to have it, just like I’m never going to have a home where I can say, “Gee, the kids grew up here.” But I had the opportunity to play this part and that was wonderful. And Morgan was wonderful and easy to love.
What’s the most frustrating thing about being married to Morgan Freeman? This was your first time working with him.
[Laughs] I didn’t get a chance to know him that well. You know, when you’re making a movie, you seem to be thrust into a close situation but you’re really not. The closeness was in the script and he was a very easy person to act with because he doesn’t labor things. He kind of just comes in and lets go.
Claire van der Boom plays a younger version of you in 5 Flights Up. Did you give her any notes when it came to nailing your mannerisms or likeness?
No, no. I would never do that. I would never tell another actor or actress, “This is what I’d do.” She was beautiful and lovely and I was really impressed with her. She had a kind of sadness that was so sweet. She was lovely. She played me all by herself.
Your character is a bit of a worrywart. She believes in true love and she’s certainly a caregiver. What, if anything, did you identify with most about your character?
She’s certainly a little more insecure than he [Alex] is. She’s not always so sure about things and she can be apologetic. That was really easy for me to slip into. But the long-term marriage was unique and new. I’ve never played someone in a relationship like that, ever. It made me feel good about the idea that people can have long-term lasting marriages and be so proud of what they’ve done in life and how they’ve lived it. That’s very different from the way I’ve lived my life.
But there’s something to be said for having a bit of fun and enjoying some guilt-free eye candy.
I mean, hey. It’s all over the place. Eye candy is everywhere. Magic Mike is coming out soon, isn’t it? That will be fun. I plan on watching that.
I’m looking forward to that one too—I’ll be right there with you.
But don’t push me in line. I’ll be there first. [Laughs]
What else gives you joy right now? What makes you happy?
All of it. It’s moment to moment. I can’t say its one thing or another, because I feel everything is always in a constant state of change. And the more you’re open to change the more fun you’re going to have. As long as things are changing, which they seem to do, life is fun. But right now I’m working on a book about a house I am building and I’m calling it The House That Pinterest Built. I’m addicted to Pinterest. It’s where I got a lot of ideas for my house, which I’ve designed with the help of a lot of people. But a big part of me was where the ideas came from and how I got my ideas. I’ve always been inspired by imagery. It used to be about tear sheets, but now it’s all about Pinterest and I love the endless imagery. And I get a tremendous amount of pleasure just looking.