The actress is star and producer of the offbeat TV movie for the Disney Channel

Northern Lights

It’s another wig movie!” exclaims Diane Keaton. ”I’m the Wig Woman now!” The 51-year-old actress is referring to Northern Lights, a TV movie she stars in and executive-produced for the Disney Channel (airs Aug. 23). Her other movie costarring synthetic hair was Marvin’s Room, in which she played a woman undergoing chemotherapy. That heartfelt performance earned Keaton a 1996 Oscar nomination for Best Actress. So perhaps a wig doesn’t hurt.

Then again, fans of the erstwhile Annie Hall — whose most recent skittish, la-di-da type was in The First Wives Club — may literally, well, wig out when they see her in Lights: As Roberta Blumstein, she’s a fulminating, chain-smoking New Yorker, sporting a coif even brassier than Mia Farrow’s in Broadway Danny Rose.

Blumstein is what one could call career driven. After her brother dies, the childless widow gets stuck with Jack (Joseph Cross), the 9-year-old son she never knew he had. Hmmm, sounds more than a little like another Keaton character of a decade ago. ”Baby Boom was about a yuppie who becomes successful in spite of inheriting a baby,” says Keaton. ”This has nothing to do with success in terms of monetary value. Roberta’s much more extreme — and mean! She doesn’t intend to be, but she’s angry, angry, angry! The inner child? A savage, not a noble. She’s a pretty sad character.”

”Diane’s taking risks she hasn’t before,” agrees Northern Lights‘ John Hoffman, who wrote the 1988 Off Off Broadway play of the same name and who plays a supporting role in the film. ”We’re talking hard-edged.”

You’ve probably guessed that Roberta’s heart gets unstuck by the kid, and also by his neighbors in Bright River Junction, a warmly weird, vaguely magical hick town you’d swear Hoffman copied from the hit series Northern Exposure, except that his play came first.

But Northern Lights, believes Keaton, is an odd choice for the family-friendly Disney Channel: For one thing, ”I’m smoking up a storm,” she laughs. ”I also think it’s a little sophisticated. I’m surprised we got away with it, actually, because it’s just…out there.” Then again, ”I do learn a lesson from a little boy.”

Hoffman credits Keaton with getting the movie made; the project was stuck in development hell for five years before she signed on as executive producer and star almost three years ago. ”I’ve always been drawn to outsiders,” says Keaton. ”I mean, I was in love with the uncles in Unstrung Heroes [her 1995 feature directing debut]. In this one, I’m in love with the town.”

Keaton knows from outsiders, having started her career as one of the few straitlaced players in the original, hippie-laden Broadway production of Hair back in 1968. ”The cast went insane from the attention — people just didn’t know how to handle it. I remember somebody had a baby while on LSD in the dressing room. I always sorta felt on the outside of the Tribe [as the Hair cast was called]. It’s my nature to be cautious and a little bit…leery.”

And that goes double for her latest hair. Any chance we’ll see the Northern ‘do again? ”The wig is not for me,” says Keaton, with a chuckle. ”Nuh-uh, no. I hate it.”

Northern Lights
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