01/27/2012 09:52 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2012

Keaton On Her Mom: 'I Was Free To Aspire To My Dreams'

Actor, director, producer, preservationist, art lover, innovative thinker, and mother -- Diane Keaton has played many roles. Keaton, who turned 66 on January 5, provides a model of vibrancy, creativity and engagement that redefines aging gracefully. But mostly, when we think of Keaton, we don’t think about age at all. We’re just inspired.

Keaton recently added the role of memoirist with the recently published book "Then Again," a work that grew out of her mother's journals. Huff/Post50 contributing editor Nina Kotick sat down with Keaton in Los Angeles to discuss the book, her childhood, keeping it real in Hollywood and the challenges of parenting.

When writing your own story, where do you start, how do you paint the big picture and also embark upon recalling the vivid details to fill the canvas?

Lucky for me, I had a roadmap. "Then Again" stems from my mother’s journals. And then mine. I looked at letters, notes, and those writings triggered memories. Even the details became vivid. And so I just elaborated. I had a mountain full of information at my disposal. Writing this for me was really re-writing. I would then read each chapter and story aloud to see if it sounded as I meant it to be. As an actor, I like to hear words aloud to see if they make sense. So I would write, read, re-write and read. Over and over again.

What a gift!

It was my mother's gift because she's the one who saved everything. The only problem is that I have only the letters my mother wrote to my father and not the letters my father wrote to my mother. When I was born my parents were apart for six months -- she wrote volumes, which basically became my first chapter. I just regret that somehow those letters from my father were lost. I would love to have heard and read the sound of his voice.

I was fascinated by your recollections of your feelings as a young girl. You thought you had the perfect family and yet you didn't follow in your mother's traditional path.

No, I didn't want to do that. I didn't want that role. I liked the role I had, the role of the daughter. I was very pleased with the role of being the first-born daughter.

How do you think being the oldest shaped you?

I got a lot of attention, an enormous amount of attention in the beginning, and I think that my mother instilled her dreams and fantasies into me. Even though this was never actually expressed or verbalized, I think I knew early on that I was going to be able to pursue those dreams. Many times the first-born daughter has the role of being second mother. That was not the case in my family at all. I was never the surrogate mother for anybody in my family. To the contrary, I was always free, free to do what I wanted, free to be independent, free to aspire to my dreams. That was my mother's gift to me.

You say your mom always taught you to think.

My mother never told me what to think. She just let me think. And the way she let me think was through conversation, letting me go on without saying, for instance, "well, that's not the right way to go about it" or "you should look to this instead." She never gave me instructions or any rules on what my future should look like.

She just sat across from me, as we are sitting here now, and just let me talk. I think that was my introduction to psychoanalysis! She gave me the freedom to express whatever my thoughts were without judgment. I really appreciate that now that I’m a mother. It takes strength and restraint to allow your kids to learn by themselves.

There's a contradiction here: You were taught to think for yourself, to act on your own thinking, to fly. And you soared. Yet, you present yourself honestly as someone with a lot of neuroses, someone who was and is still nagged by what other people think.

I guess so. I care less now. I think we all get there, God willing, at some point. But we all worry what other people think and how we come across and whether we are pretty enough, good enough. Particularly in my business. Or maybe any business. There's constantly a series of tests and we have to pass them. So I don't think that stops one from thinking; I believe one can think independently and still worry about whether or not one is capable or what others think, perhaps particularly as a performer ... because a performer wants what he or she is doing to somehow ... resonate.

You said publicly that you don't really believe in plastic surgery, that you want to feel like who you are ...

Plastic surgery is not for me. But that doesn't mean one day I won't feel otherwise. I said when I was young, that I was definitely going to be married, that I would never go to a shrink, and that I would never have intercourse before I got married! What a loss that would have been. Some people can really benefit from cosmetic surgery. And hopefully they are reasonable with what they want to accomplish ...

It's not easy to buck the trend and be authentic in Hollywood, is it?

I don't think anything is easy in life and I don't think anything ever was. I think it gets more difficult as you get older because you're facing the end and endings are, as I talk about in my book, unbearable. Loss is tragic. Our lives are basically about facing that tragedy. And I think the sooner we face that we’re going to die, the easier it is to appreciate the moments in life, to enjoy for instance sitting here and looking at the sunlight coming through those curtains. When we realize that our lives will end, we take less for granted. That is what I've learned from loss. The whole thing is a fantastic mystery so all we can do is appreciate each moment.

I know that you're a collector. You're very visual, with a beautiful eye for every detail. What draws you to a home?

I like simplicity and repetition of design. I like to feel like there's a warmth emanating from a structure, not the things in it, but just the structure itself. Pared down, clean lines and ease.

And what about photographs? What resonates with you?

What I like about photographs is that they stop time. When you look at a photograph, you're not moving forward, you're looking at a moment, at an instant. And being captured by that instant soothes me. And I like that a photograph can record any aspect of life, especially the mundane, reflecting back to us the wonder of every moment.

Tell me about the hat. You say you found one in a thrift shop and it felt right immediately -- why? Does it feel safe to be "under cover?"

I like the way it frames me. And yes, perhaps it makes me feel safe. It's similar to how I like to wear clothes. I don't like being naked, do you? Do you ever walk around naked? I have friends who do but I don't like it at all ... I sleep with long sleeved T-shirts and pajama bottoms!

What's the one rule at this stage in life that you feel you can break with impunity?

I think probably, patience. I just don't really care to have much patience anymore. Next?

What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were growing up?

I speak to this in the end of my book. It would be to embrace those moments when with your loved ones, especially your mother and father. It's much easier to avoid the intimacy but I think it's important to go there, to feel what it's like, to fish around. It's hard to engage in such deep, profound feelings that we have with the people who gave us life, no matter what we may think of them a lot of the time.

You really have to have trust in order to seize that moment. But it seems that you would have been able to do that with your mom, of all people.

Not enough, mine wasn't a physical kind of family. We didn't do a lot of kissing and hugging. Not a lot of "God, I love you" or "look at you, you're fantastic." And while it may be hard as a kid, I think that when we get older, we really should be able to manage that somehow.

For the future, do you have a dream role at this stage?

No, no dream roles. Not at all.

A dream person you want to play opposite of, meet?

No, no dream person. Not at all.

A dream project that you're behind?

No. No dream roles, dream leading men, dream projects. That part of my life is over. But I have a lot of ideas and a lot of interests that keep me very busy. I'm doing a book on architecture and have many projects in the works with Rizzoli. I'm building a house and that's a huge undertaking for me. Did I say that I am anxious about that? And I have a houseware line. Not to mention being an active part of my children's lives.

You took on the challenge of having kids at 50. Would you recommend it to other single women at any age after 40 or so?

Look, I'm not in the business of recommending. I think it's a big, fat mistake to say that what’s right for me is right for another. People come to what they can do and what they want to do based on how they ... well, here we go again, "think." And thinking is so individual. So I wouldn't recommend anything about parenting to anybody.

What's the hardest part of parenting for you?

All of it is very, very, very challenging. Not hard, but challenging. It challenges me to be a better person. When I go to bed I always reflect upon the day and think, "OK, how did you do with this?" Sometimes it’s really important for me to remember when I'm with my kids to shut my mouth. I try really hard to do what my mother said -- not said, did. Just listen.

Well, what a good role model!

I did have a role model and that's helpful. But the attributes that helped me as a performer -- getting accolades for having expression and showing feelings, don’t really translate into being a good parent!

That's true. It's almost the opposite. A parent needs to back off and let the kids take center stage ...

That is exactly correct. Because they are really so beautiful. I'm just mesmerized by watching them blossom and grow. Especially the girls. Love the girls.

What's one of the biggest impacts of writing your memoir?

Writing the book made me think about my mother a lot. And now I think of her often. I read all of her journals for the first time -- 85 of them! And in doing so, I re-experienced my mother in so many new ways. I realized that losing her was a profound loss for me and in many ways that realization helped me to appreciate the life I still have left to live.

For more Diane Keaton, view our slideshow below on some of her memorable roles.



Diane Keaton Interview