Diane Keaton describes herself as a "sloppy" actress.
"I warn people before [filming] I am going to mess up," said the Oscar-winning star.
She's been "sloppy" since studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York in the 1960s with Sanford Meisner, who emphasized a natural style. "The main thing that Sanford Meisner gave me — not really just for acting but life — is just be in the moment," she said.
Her latest director, Rob Reiner, appreciated the approach.
"She told me, 'I don't act, I am just who I am,'" said Reiner. "She basically takes the dialogue and makes it her own. Her instincts are just so good — it creates no false moments."
In "And So It Goes," which opened Friday, Keaton plays Leah, a widow attempting a second start in life as a lounge singer. The only problem is, she gets so emotional performing songs that she rarely makes it through a set. Her curmudgeonly neighbor, a widower named Oren played by Michael Douglas, drives everyone in their four-plex crazy. Opposites, naturally, attract.
"And So It Goes" marks the first time that Keaton, 68, has worked with Douglas and Reiner, although she auditioned for a long-forgotten 1971 youth drama, "Summertree," that starred Douglas, with Reiner as his best friend. She didn't get the gig.
It was worth the wait — Keaton's happy she's working with Douglas at this point in their careers. "In a way, for me, he's never been more attractive," Keaton mused. "He's really grown into himself."
Aging, or more precisely, aging well, is a topic on Keaton's mind these days. Her new book, "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty," deals with the possibilities and problems of getting older.
Keaton wrote "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty" because she thought it would be interesting "to do a group of essays on subjects that really concern women at basically my age and a little younger and what they go through and how sometimes what appears to be wrong turns out to be right for a lot of us."
On a recent bright afternoon, Keaton was sitting at a corner table at a restaurant at Shutters in Santa Monica. She was dressed in her quintessential Keaton attire: black hat; tinted glasses; black skirt; a crisp, white, long-sleeve blouse; and a black jacket that was tightly cinched by a large black belt. The fashionista, director, photographer and famed house flipper was funny, honest and endearing during the conversation — and surprisingly down-to-earth.
Which is exactly how she comes across in "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty." In the book, Keaton discusses her insecurities — she once wore a bobby pin on her nose to fix its shape — raising her two adopted children — Dexter, 18, and Duke, 13 — her obsession with flipping homes and her fashion icons, including Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
She noted that in her family, she and her sisters were "insecure. I think women are in general, especially about appearance and how we handle ourselves in the world. I was just writing to people liked-minded who have these issues."
Keaton related in the book how she was in the running for the 1971 romantic NBC detective series "McMillan & Wife," starring Rock Hudson, for the role of his young wife. But they weren't thrilled with her eyes. "The eyes go down," Keaton pointed out. "They tried to get them up."
That role went to Susan Saint James. Shortly after, Keaton was cast as Kay in Francis Ford Coppola's landmark 1972 Oscar-winner "The Godfather." A few years later, Keaton earned a lead actress Oscar and became a fashion icon in Woody Allen's 1977 best picture masterpiece "Annie Hall."
Losing "McMillan & Wife," Keaton said with a wide smile, "turned out to be OK." (And she never fixed her eyes.)
The men in her life — Warren Beatty, with whom she appeared in 1981's "Reds," her "Godfather" trilogy leading man Al Pacino and especially Allen — are also a big part of the book.
She met Allen when he cast her in 1969 in the Broadway production of "Play It Again, Sam."
"I had a crush on him right from the beginning," noted Keaton, who reprised her role for the 1972 film version. "He was perfect for me."
Besides "Annie Hall" and "Play It Again, Sam," they worked together on several more films including 1973's "Sleeper" and 1979's "Manhattan."
She remains very close to Allen. Earlier this year, she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes for the notoriously awards-phobic filmmaker. Shortly after that, she was mentioned in the open letter in the New York Times in which Dylan Farrow alleged that adopted father Allen had sexually abused her when she was a child. "You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton," Farrow wrote. "Have you forgotten me?"
"I feel really sad about the situation," said Keaton, who continues to support Allen but won't talk about Farrow's allegations. "What can I say?"
Reiner had long wanted to work with Keaton, and he thought pairing her with his good friend Douglas, whom he had directed in 1995's "The American President," would create good on-screen chemistry. "Just the idea of the two of them in a romantic comedy made a lot of sense to me," said Reiner.
Because he and Keaton both live in Los Angeles, they had several meetings on "And So It Goes."
"It was her idea to be a singer," said Reiner. "I loved the idea of somebody having another career at that stage in their life. It also resonated for me because my mother was 65 when she started her singing career."
Keaton's haunting rendition of "The Shadow of Your Smile," the Oscar-winning standard of memory and lost love, is one of the highlights of "And So It Goes." Leah sings the song in her club act after she thinks Oren is moving away.
"She thought she could never fall in love again," said Reiner, who chose the wistful song. "She's opened up a little bit to this guy, and in her mind, he's leaving without ever saying goodbye."
And a song, Keaton noted, she was afraid of initially singing. "It was such a big hit," she said. "So pretty, though. I fell in love with it when I started singing it."