Diane Keaton thinks her new film is delightfully ironic. Richard Loncraine's 5 Flights Up is the latest in that burgeoning genre, Retiree Real Estate Romantic Comedy, where cool, gray-haired New Yorkers realize they can barely afford to live in the city where they fell in love. Keaton plays a teacher named Ruth, who has spent four decades in the same five-story Brooklyn walk-up with her artist husband of 42 years (Morgan Freeman). Back then, their two-bedroom was a dump. Today, it's worth close to a million dollars. And in the time Ruth and Alex spend on screen debating their decision to sell, the real Keaton could have moved twice.
At 69, the actress is still as flighty and fascinating as a rare moth. In one recent 18-year stretch, she moved 15 times. “There's nothing to be proud of there,” she laughs. “It's not a pretty story, but it's my story.” Unlike Ruth, she has to answer to no one but her own whims, which for now means her passion for renovating and reselling Spanish revival homes as she hunts for her own perfect residence. She admits, “Basically, I'm addicted to Pinterest.”
In a way, 5 Flights Up has been “a cautionary tale,” Keaton says. “It was good for me to make the movie so I can kind of rethink my life, calm down a bit about real estate.” She's finally decided to build her own dream house in Los Angeles from the ground up. “It's the first time I've ever done anything like that,” she says. When it's finished, she'll have no excuse not to stay put.
Three decades ago, Vanity Fair called Keaton “the most reclusive actress since Garbo.” Today she's the opposite: charmingly frank and scared of nothing. Agree with her or not, it takes courage to continue calling Woody Allen her friend. “You've got to thank Woody and Annie Hall — they gave me all these opportunities,” Keaton says, simply speaking the truth.
“I was lucky,” she says. Keaton made a name for herself during a decade of great '70s comedies and dramas. Are today's young actresses, all coming of age in the superhero era, less fortunate? “No! Not at all! Are you kidding?” she bursts. “I don't agree that there's a lack of female roles. To me, it just seems as if everything's expanding and there are many more opportunities. When you consider everything that's happened with television, YouTube, social media, all the different ways that stories are being told — no, I think if anything, it's a much better time. Everybody should be taking advantage of it!
“People always think that there's a crisis,” she adds. “That's just the general nature of man: This doesn't work and that doesn't work, but there are things that do work.” She points to her friend Carol Kane, who's on the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — that's a programming option that didn't exist five years ago. “It's changed her life,” Keaton says. “There's tons of outlets for entertainers and performers of every kind. C'mon, this is great!”
Keaton is open to doing television herself — or at least, as she stresses, she's “not dis-interested.” (Though, true to her personality, instead of getting stuck in an endless series, she'd like the freedom to do other things.) But she loves the wild writing on Girls and Orange Is the New Black. Flipping through channels the other day, she says, she caught a glimpse of a character on HBO giving birth while screaming, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Get this thing out of me!” Keaton giggles, “I was going, 'Wooo!'”
But in her own way, Keaton is expanding the film universe — or, at least, trying to keep it from shrinking. With 2003's Something's Gotta Give, she and Nancy Meyers proved that actresses over 55 could make romantic comedies that were sweet, funny, sexy and profitable. She's made as many rom-coms in the decade since as Reese Witherspoon. “My career's been saved by comedies, for sure,” Keaton says. She'd love to be in a big, female-driven one, maybe with Melissa McCarthy. “I don't think it's so easy to write a romantic comedy,” especially when, as in 5 Flights Up, the couple is rock-solid happy and simply enjoys making each other laugh.
“Really, what you're seeing is evidence of a great marriage,” Keaton says of the new film. Her chemistry with Freeman is so strong, it's a shock to realize they'd barely met before shooting. “It was just so easy to be intimate with him. He's a beautiful man. And his voice feels like home, it feels like, 'Yeah! That's the man I'd like to marry.' I told him I'd like to marry him, but he didn't seem interested in me.” His loss, right? “My loss!” Keaton insists. “My loss!”
After filming, Keaton came back to her current home and hung up a picture of Freeman. “I collect men. I call them the prisoners on my wall,” she jokes. These prisoners include Abraham Lincoln, Gary Cooper, Russian artist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and a young John Wayne. “He was a football player and an unbelievable beauty,” Keaton says of the last. Next, she wants to collect — and work with — hunks like Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum. Maybe a love-triangle comedy, I suggest? Keaton is aghast. “No! Not one movie! I want to keep my career going!”