By Krista Smith, Vanity Fair
The ever lovable Diane Keaton has kept herself quite busy in the past year, publishing her memoir Then Again last November, shooting her upcoming film The Big Wedding, and now partnering with Audible.com to read from Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem. V.F.'s West Coast editor, Krista Smith, caught up with the iconic actress to discuss what Didion's work meant to her as a twentysomething Californian, her love of hip-hop, and getting to know Robert De Niro. Highlights from their chat:
Krista Smith: What was it like reading Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem aloud?
Diane Keaton: For me, talking out loud--that's what I do. I use other people's words, and I speak their words. I loved being able to do that because it gave me a whole different slant on it. I like to hear myself say the words, and then I feel more intimate with the words. She's such a great writer. The things that she talks about in her books, particularly in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, are very powerful. She talks about self-respect.
I read this one paragraph:
"To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, (that's how long ago it was) and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves."
That to me is something that we've all felt and we all push aside. In the course of waking up and facing life, we fall back. To be reminded and to speak of that, is really amazing.
You're both California girls. The book had to have been huge for you at the time it came out.
I was in my early 20s, and it was. Then I thought what would it be like to read it again--you know, to see how I feel about it. I felt even stronger when I read it. The way she talks about California and the Santa Ana winds, which I grew up with. It will always be there. In some part of my own personal history, she lingers and she'll never really go away. That's how I define my experience and the romance I feel about California as well as all its horrible flaws. This is a woman who is just really a brilliant writer. Reading her and speaking her words resonates.
How does the actual process of recording an audio book work?
It takes approximately three days and you just keep going over it. They were good enough to let me say it the way I wanted to say it. That may not be what Joan Didion would like to hear. It's a very personal feeling to have somebody saying your words out loud and you're not speaking them. I don't know if she "speaks" her words out loud. I wrote a book and I kept re-editing it by speaking out loud, because that's what I'm familiar with: being a performer, or whatever I am.
What are you listening to these days? Any audio books?
The kind of music I listen to is when I'm walking, because I walk all over the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. How else am I going to see it? If I don't drive, I take the dog and I listen to something. Right now I love the new Frank Ocean CD, Channel Orange. It's just amazing music. I also like the Jay-Z album with Kanye West. The last one--the Throne album. I just think that's so astonishingly beautiful, the way they orchestrate it. That's how I got to know who Frank Ocean was. Frank Ocean sang on one of the cuts. He [is] very orchestral in a weird way.
The last book I listened to was Nora Ephron's. She was so present and she had such a great delivery. Just the way she said her words. I kept thinking, Does she speak her words out loud when she's writing too? Does she edit by listening too?She's a natural. She's so gifted. And funny. And also very moving with this particular book, particularly at the end when she talks about her dear friend dying and her response to death. She should not have died. It doesn't make sense. This is a woman who isn't supposed to die at age 71. There was so much more for her to do. She was so creative. She was a dynamic force. She was strong. She was powerful. The sudden news of her passing was kind of like a shock because, on many levels, but on one level as well, that level which I don't think has been stressed much is that, it could be you.
What was it like working with Robert De Niro in The Big Wedding?
Mr. Robert De Niro. My god. A legend and also a dear man. He's very kind. It's like, oh, he's so kind. Why is he so kind? And he's quiet. But he's a lovely man. I really like him. He loves his family. You don't think of him that way when you only know him from a distance. I did a movie with him called Marvin's Room a long time ago, but he was a producer. I didn't really know him and he was intimidating to me. But things change.
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