Stars flocked to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood Thursday evening to celebrate the multi-hyphenate career of Diane Keaton, who was honored with the 45th AFI Life Achievement Award. Emma Stone, Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow, Rachel McAdams, Morgan Freeman, Al Pacino, and more were on hand to fete Keaton for her body of work. Woody Allen, who found his muse in Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and other films, even made a rare West Coast appearance to present Keaton with the award.
The American Film Institute also celebrated its 50th anniversary, with original vice chairman Sidney Poitier and original founding director George Stevens Jr. in attendance to mark the occasion.
Empowerment for women in front of and behind the camera was the theme of the night. AFI announced its inaugural Audi Fellowship for Women and the first recipient, Natalie Camou, who will receive funding for the entire two-year enrollment in the AFI Conservatory. Record-breaking Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins received some of the biggest cheers of the night when her presence was announced.
But ultimately, the night was all about Keaton and her numerous contributions and achievements. Her friends and costars celebrated Keaton’s originality, her impact as a feminist and fashion icon, and her talents as a writer, director, actress, designer, memoirist, and more. Below are highlights from Reese Witherspoon, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Warren Beatty, and others.
Steve Martin and Martin Short serenaded Keaton with a ‘Father of the Bride’ standard…
Steve Martin and Martin Short kicked off the evening with a series of jokes, sending up Keaton’s generosity and kindness with tales of outlandish movie star behavior. Martin joked, “There are so many talented people here tonight, and it’s amazing that all of them are right here on this stage right now.” He also poked fun at Keaton’s star-studded romantic history and her successful collaborations with director Nancy Meyers, saying, “Diane has been linked romantically to Warren and Woody, and most recently, Nancy Meyers.” Martin Short made light of Keaton’s remarkable body of work, saying, “Diane’s had an amazing career. But speaking critically if you take out Annie Hall, the three Godfathers, Manhattan, Reds, Radio Days, both Father of the Bride movies, and Something’s Gotta Give, there’s really not much there.”
The two then turned to a more heartfelt celebration of Keaton and their mutual affection for each other, sitting down at the piano to sing “The Way You Look Tonight,” as featured in the Father of the Bride films in which they all costarred. Naturally, their performance wasn’t without its fair share of humor; Martin and Short made a slapstick routine of climbing atop the piano, and Short mocked Steve Martin’s banjo playing with the line, “I’m sure you’re all looking at this piano thinking, well, at least it’s not a banjo.” In the midst of the song, they closed with earnest remarks, with Martin noting that “when you work with Diane, you fall madly in love with her.” Short agreed, adding “Ms. Keaton, in the world of all my high-fallutin’ friends, your name has always been the hippest and the coolest to drop.”
Reese Witherspoon thanks Keaton for teaching her to be herself
“Mentors are essential at any early age. They allow ambition and talent to bloom. They allow wishes and dreams to flourish. So Diane had Sandy Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and I had Diane Keaton.” A 15-year-old Witherspoon auditioned for Wildflower, which Keaton directed, landing what became her second film ever. The actress explained how Keaton taught her many things that have guided her throughout her career. “First of all, she gave me a natural sense of fashion. I mean, just look at her, she knows how to put together a look. She taught me everything about how to create a character with clothes. … I want to say the most important thing you ever taught me, which is the greatest gift you can give a fellow artist, is the permission to be unapologetically yourself. You are the only you there is, and she taught me to always be an original, just like her. You are my greatest mentor and my greatest inspiration and for that, Diane, I cannot thank you enough.”
Meryl Streep heralds Keaton’s ‘inability to lie’
After recounting a story about her love of visiting a transparent lucite model of the female body in the Natural History Museum as a child, the three-time Oscar winner said, “Diane Keaton, arguably the most covered up person in the history of clothes, is also a transparent woman, even though she is famously the only member of the original cast of Hair on Broadway who would not take off her clothes at the end of the show. And even though she loves a look and she puts together an enviable one every single day. In spite of that, there’s nobody who stands more exposed, more undefended and just willing to show herself inside and out than Diane. In her work as an actress, as a designer, as a director, as a memoirist, her accessibility, the ease with which she gives the gift of her humanity, which is unique and universal, it’s just unsurpassed and it’s only grown with time in my opinion. I fell for her pretty much the same time everybody else did with Annie Hall, because she had the stream of consciousness of a hummingbird – she’s just so hard to capture, she’s in flight, and when she lights down, she just, she stops your heart. She’s given us all so much happiness, and there’s so many things that pull us to her. I know this is, like, over-written but I don’t care because you deserve to know: you actually have an inability to lie in a profession that’s based on pretending.”
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Warren Beatty explains how Diane Keaton made ‘Reds’ work
“I have a list of things that I think she is – she’s such a brilliant, beautiful, passionate, authentic, political, dramatic, hilarious, honest, generous, spontaneous, ethical, independent, feminist, actor, director, writer, producer, singer, photographer, designer, real estate developer, and mother of two kids. … Diane Keaton is a plot. She’s an unpredictable, mysterious, suspenseful, constantly surprising, sometimes comedic, sometimes tragic, always engaging plot. The woman is a story.”
Sarah Silverman and Jane Fonda celebrate Keaton as a ‘feminist icon’
Sarah Silverman and Jane Fonda took the stage individually to champion Diane Keaton’s role as a feminist role model and inspiration. Keaton famously has never married and is heralded for her ability to remain true to herself in every walk of life. In her own video clips, Keaton recounted a story of a teacher telling her she needed to look more feminine at the age of 13 and said, “It really solidified my resistance to other people telling me how to look.” She thanked her mother for encouraging her to pursue her dreams rather than marriage, saying, “She never said ‘it’s important for you to marry the right man.’ She was more concerned about what I was interested in. I loved her for that. So I’m an unmarried woman — that would’ve made me about a century ago, an old maid. Now I’m not an old maid, I’m just a woman, I didn’t get married. So many things have changed in my lifetime for women, and they’ve got to keep changing.” Keaton also spoke fondly of her numerous female friendships, calling them her “sisters” and referencing her role in The First Wives Club, saying, “It’s easier with women because basically we’re all in the same boat.”
Sarah Silverman joked about Keaton’s love life and celebrated her unapologetic originality. “Diane Keaton, simply put, is undeniable,” she said. “She lives a life that without asking for it or really without even needing it, commands respect. She is one of the few women in Hollywood who has always been defined by her work and by her character and not by the men she’s been associated with — and by the way, those men are nothing to sneeze at. Gasp, maybe; do a classic spit take, absolutely; but definitely not sneeze. The most influential feminist icons do not set out to be feminist icons, they are simply people who are the absolute best in their field. They’re undeniable. … She radiates authenticity and she’s astonishingly singular. She’s an unparalleled force, and not for nothing, she is a decades-long style icon. She is so goddamn cool. She can rock a hat like nobody’s business — and let me tell you, that is not easy, it takes a very specific level of bad-ass confidence, and an extremely well-shaped head. … In Love and Death, she says, “If there is no god, then life has no meaning.” To that I say, there is no god, but life does have meaning because there is Diane Keaton.”
Gracing the stage in an all-white pantsuit, Jane Fonda echoed these thoughts, saying, “Nobody owns Diane Keaton. But as you saw in that scene from First Wives Club, she absolutely owns the color white. So tonight in her honor, I’m wearing white. It’s not just the color of Donald Trump’s cabinet, it’s a special white: suffragette white. Women wear white as a symbol of strength, as a reminder of who we are and who we can be. And white is also a fashion statement and there are very, very few actresses in the whole world that influenced fashion the way that Diane has. Over the decades she has shown us through her acting choices, through her fashion choices, through her life choices, that women can be strong and vulnerable. I just love how she can be really kooky and then so profound. … She is the proof of something that is so important for every young woman who is watching tonight to understand: you don’t need anybody to empower you, you empower you.”
Woody Allen presents Diane Keaton with the AFI Life Achievement Award
The director-writer-actor, who helped launch Keaton to fame with films including Annie Hall and Manhattan, made a rare appearance in Los Angeles to present his friend and former muse with her award. The comedic icon was not without his fair share of one-liners, quipping about Keaton’s fear of death, “Death is like a colonoscopy, the problem is that life is like the prep day.”
Allen also ribbed Keaton saying, “You’re probably familiar with the fictional movie character, Eve Harrington. This is not to suggest that Diane, when I met her was ruthlessly ambitious, but she did make an interesting Freudian slip. When we started going out, she meant to refer to me as a talented young director, but instead she called me a stepping stone.” He also joked about her unique sense of style, saying, “She dresses as, you know, to hide her sexuality and always has, and has done a great job because it’s never emerged over the years.” He briefly refrained from his teasing when it came to presenting her with the award, saying, “The minute I met her she was a great, great inspiration to me. Much of what I’ve accomplished in my life I owe for sure to her. She’s really astonishing. This is a woman who is great at everything she does — actress, writer, photographer, fellatrix, director.”
Diane Keaton accepts the 45th AFI Life Achievement Award
To close out the evening, Keaton took to the stage to accept her award from Woody Allen. Traditionally, honorees close out the night with a speech, but Keaton was so overwhelmed that she instead delivered a stream of consciousness monologue in her inimitable zig-zagging manner, saying “I just want to cry, that’s all I want to do. It’s just been too much, too great for me, and now I have this speech. Nobody cares about this speech — I just feel horrible about the fact that I have to do this — look, I’m looking at it right now, I have no interest in it whatsoever. I mean give me a break, enough is enough, you know? And I just want to say that this has been astonishing. Tonight has been astonishing. I feel bad too. I feel bad because, you know, I don’t really know how to thank everybody affiliated with the American Film Institute in a way that expresses, oh my god, the depth of my gratitude, since I’m not going to give the speech, forget it. I mean, really, I’m just not gonna.”
Forgoing the speech, Keaton instead chose to end the evening with a performance of “Seems Like Old Times,” a song she memorably sang onscreen in Annie Hall. Before breaking into song, she closed by saying, “But anyway, since I’m not going to give the speech, I just thought that, I just wanted to say to all of you, you’ve just been a great audience and my kids are here and my family and my friends are here. I just want to say, I just want to leave you with this, and that’s of course, me too, I’ve got a song too, and my song is gratitude for the fact that I had all these opportunities that began with Woody and so I thought I could sing a song that Woody gave me to sing in gratitude to everyone, so here we go.”
The event will be broadcast on TNT on Thursday, June 15, at 10 p.m. ET. Sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will then air and encore presentation of the special on Monday, July 31 during a night of programming dedicated to Keaton’s work.