The star of Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, and Something’s Gotta Give breaks down the genius of her longtime collaborator.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Buena Vista Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing and MGM/UA Communications Co.
In the process of conducting research for Vulture’s Nancy Meyers Week, I had the distinct honor of hopping on the phone with everyone from Cameron Diaz to Steve Martin to Kieran Culkin and forcing them to reach back into the depths of their memories to share stories about their contributions to Meyers’s filmography. Although all of these conversations were memorable, Diane Keaton’s interview was so unbelievably kooky and delightful — at one point, she asked me if I could be fired for asking her something; at another, she lectured me in sort of poetic verse about imagined pandemic behavioral infractions — we decided to publish the full interview, edited for clarity.
Enjoy. And for full context, read Nancy Meyers’s praise of Keaton’s performance in a deodorant commercial here.
Hi, how are you?
Good! I’m excited to talk to you.
You are? Oh, you’ll get over that fast.
I’m not sure how much your publicist explained to you, but basically we’re doing a Nancy Meyers Week at Vulture.
As part of that, I’m speaking to a lot of Nancy’s collaborators about their experiences working with her. Today I talked to Steve Martin, and he said to say hello to you.
I love Steve.
He loves you, too.
I love Steve, and I love Marty [Short]. Oh my God. I love those guys, but I love Steve the most. Steve didn’t choose to marry me.
But he’s so great.
Tell me about the first time you met Nancy. Where were you? What do you remember about it?
This was a long time ago. [Nancy and her ex-husband Charles Shyer] were interested in me for a movie, and that’s how I met them. I was working on a movie, and they talked to me. That’s all. It was nothing really exciting. They seemed both very charming and okay. You know, they sounded good.
Okay, what about the first few times you got to hang out with her?
She’s witty, quick, bright, fast. She’s smarter than everyone else. It’s so annoying for me, not [being] in that league at all. [Laughs.] But I really appreciate the fact that they — she and then, of course, Charles too, at that point — gave me that job.
Is this Baby Boom we’re talking about?
Yeah, Baby Boom. That was really a great experience for me.
Because I love the woman I was playing. You know, she gets a kid out of nowhere. I mean, she’s just like, Oh my God! How do I get rid of it?! I mean, it was fun. And let’s not forget Sam Shepard. Let’s not forget him … because wow. [Laughs loudly.] That was really fun too.
I mean, really fun that he had to pretend like he was taken by me! I didn’t care whether it was hard for him — just being there was my idea of a really good time. And they were great about, you know, me carrying the baby around like I didn’t know what to do, which was as easy as anything I’ve ever done in a movie. The parents I’m sure were sitting there going, Can’t she just be a little more careful? But nobody said anything.
You’ve worked with Nancy the most of any of her stars. How does she handle rehearsals and create a sense of chemistry among the cast?
Nancy is somebody who is really very, very dedicated to making it work in a way that you feel comfortable. She was not the director, obviously, of Baby Boom, but she was the person that really, really made a big difference for me. And then we did the Father of the Brides. I was just really happy to be working, because I don’t know how I got that job. It was not a good time in my life in terms of work. Charles directed that, too, but Nancy, as my director, she was always on it. She was always there. Every detail, she wrote it. It’s not loose and goosey, you know? Like with some people, you work with them and it’s like, you get away with murder. You don’t do that with Nancy. What you do is you really have to expand yourself. You have to be better than what you know. And that’s good. That’s really good.
How would you describe the difference between working with her as a writer and as a director?
In terms of being a director, it’s a tougher job because you really are in charge of how it works. Nancy’s very precise. She’s very, very specific, which is why I think all of those comedies work so well. Because I can get really sloppy, really fast. And I like to be sloppy. [Laughs.] I’m surprised I’ve had a career. So anyway — put that aside. [Nancy] knows what she wants, and she helps you deliver the way she wants it to be. She’s not sloppy. She thinks through everything with that brain of hers, which is unfair to the rest of us.
Do you remember a specific direction she gave you over the years that sort of stuck with you? Or a specific scene you really liked filming with her?
I liked all the scenes with her where I got to kiss the guys and all the scenes where I can be really angry. Like in Baby Boom, when I’m at the well.
When I started to read [the scene in the script], I just thought, I can’t do this. It’s too much for me in one take. God, no way. Rather recently, I watched it for some reason. I don’t know, she was getting another honor. How many honors does a person get in life? Nancy’s, like, stealing them all. No, but it made me think about that scene. I watched, and I thought, My God, I don’t know how I did that. I was talking so much and then I fell back into the snow. And really that’s because of her direction. Even though in Baby Boom she was not the director, she was really instrumental in every single thing that had to do with a scene you’d be working in.
Apparently, she makes you do a lot of takes. That’s the trend I’m hearing in these interviews.
Oh yeah. Lots of takes. Good, that’s what I say: Give me more. I need help.
I’m sure that’s not true.
It’s true, and we’re moving on. Who cares?
What’s a line of dialogue you remember really enjoying saying from one of your films together?
You’re asking me to remember a line of dialogue?
Too far back?
I don’t have a line that I carry around. I just move on, you know, into oblivion.
That’s probably healthy.
It’s not, really.
In the scene in Something’s Gotta Give when you’re weeping and writing, do you remember what her direction was?
Oh, I do remember that scene, of course. It didn’t take much for me to just start sobbing, because I like to listen to music. So I would play the music before, and it just made me — it just was so sad. It would just make me sob.
Do you remember what music made you cry?
Oh, I always have older music. I liked a few Bob Dylan songs. Can you believe that? I know that seems odd, but it made me sad, you know, how great those songs were to me. Music is the most powerful of all the arts, don’t you think? Oh, Bob Dylan, my God.
What’s the coziest part of being on a Nancy Meyers set?
I don’t see sets as cozy, okay? I mean, all sets are not cozy. No, they’re anxiety driven. You’re worried: Oh my God, I got through that. That went well. Nancy’s happy about it. I think that most of us are concerned — the performers — about, you know, how we’re doing. That’s what it is for me. I’m not like a solid pro, you know? It just rolls out. So I have to work harder.
I mean, you’re clearly her favorite person to work with. She has called you dynamic and alive.
This is where Nancy lost her little mind. I am not dynamic.
Yes, you are.
She, on the other hand, is dynamic. So you can just put that in there.
Okay, I will.
You’re going to do me that favor?
Good, thank you.
What’s your favorite thing you ever ate on a Nancy Meyers set? I’ve heard a lot of great food stories about both onscreen eating and catering.
You know, I don’t really eat on set. Sorry, this is becoming about me.
It should be about you!
It’s really not interesting.
Eating on a set — I like to get into the trailer away from everyone and just sit there and eat by myself. You can see that I’m a social maven.
Rene Russo said the exact same thing.
Did you see that movie — oh, shoot, I can’t remember — with Matt Damon? The endless, long one where he goes into a room and he’s an actor and he just has a fucking meltdown. He just loses it, you know? I thought, That is one of the most genius things I’ve ever seen, because I think that’s what actors go through. They hate themselves. They didn’t do the scene right. They go insane. I love that scene. You didn’t see it, did you?
No, I don’t know what you’re referring to.
You’ve got to see that!
No one’s ever done that before, where they actually, you know, take an actor after he’s done a scene that he doesn’t feel he did well and he loses it by himself and hates himself. And I think that’s a lot of what we feel.
Do you still feel that way? Even after having been an actor for so many years?
Yeah. Sometimes you don’t do well, and you’re sorry that you were incapable of pulling it together and then you just want to go shoot yourself. It’s true. I thought that was one of the most wonderful scenes I’ve ever seen.
Okay, I’ll figure out what it is and watch it.
I’m going to sue you.
[Editor’s Note: We do not remember this movie. Our best guess is that she’s thinking about a scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.]
How would you describe the way Nancy dresses and the way she dresses her characters?
She’s very concerned about the costumes and how they look. There is no detail Nancy doesn’t tend to with a lot of attention and a lot of brainpower. She wants to make sure the actor or actress feels good in what they’re wearing, but also how she wants her movies to be seen in terms of how people present themselves in their clothing.
How would you characterize the style? Like, for example, the way your character dresses in Something’s Gotta Give?
My style is different. Let’s just say unusual.
Your personal style?
That’s true. I was wondering how you would describe the way your Nancy Meyers characters dress.
Let me tell you something else about Nancy. When a scene is going well and she sees something and something makes her laugh, she’ll laugh. It’s really sweet, you know? She loves her work.
If you had to tell me one great story about Nancy that sort of crystallizes who she is to you, what’s a story you would tell?
I hate you for asking me this. Can you get fired?
Yeah, you can fire me. Do you want me to call up my editor?
I don’t know what to say about that. I’ve had many experiences with Nancy, you know? Christmas and other holidays. One of the things that’s interesting about Nancy is that she built a house. It’s kind of overwhelming, you know, how she does all this. She built a house — I guess now it’s about two or three years ago — and she did an unbelievable job. I remember going over there and she was very, very specific. I think she really loves what she does. I think she’s an artist! I didn’t really answer what you wanted me to say.
No, that was great. How would you characterize your friendship after working together? How often do you guys talk or see each other?
We’ve seen each other a lot but not now. Now we’re in this horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible situation. That’s a tragedy, you know? And it’s getting worse.
I feel so horrible. All those people … oh my God. Anyway, so that’s kind of taken away the friendship situations because everybody’s pretty scared.
You have to be so careful. I hope you’re careful.
I am very careful. Don’t worry.
Are you married and all that stuff?
I’m not married, but I do live with my boyfriend.
Well, that’s good. But you’re careful.
Yes, we’re very careful.
Don’t have a lot of your friends over.
I won’t. I promise.
Don’t enjoy your life.
I would never.
Don’t go out.
I wouldn’t dream of it.
Don’t get in your car and get out of the car and walk down the street and go into a restaurant. Don’t do that.
I won’t. I promise I’ll write this all down and say it was from Diane Keaton.
Yeah, go ahead.
My last question for you is, What is your favorite Nancy Meyers movie? It’s okay if it’s one you were in, but it’s also okay if it’s not.
Honestly, you can think it’s sappy, but I love the Father of the Bride movies. They were so touching.
I just rewatched them, and they were just as good.
Did you like them?
I haven’t seen them since.
Well, I think it’s wonderful that you’re doing this, and she deserves everything. When I met [Nancy and Charles] so long ago, it was really — I’d been working in other kinds of films. This was really special for me. And they’ve been great for years. They — Nancy, in particular, is a brilliant writer, and she’s a great director.