Twenty years after an all-too brief collaboration in Reds, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton rhapsodize about Something’s Gotta Give alongside Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and filmmaker Nancy Meyers.
by Ian Spelling
Diane Keaton is talking seriously about comedy. Something's Gotta Give, the nation’s number one movie last weekend, seems to suggest in its own witty way – via its central story about a divorced 50-something woman (Keaton) who attracts the attention of two men, a young and adoring doctor (Keanu Reeves) and the older womanizer (Jack Nicholson) who’s been dating her daughter (Amanda Peet) -- that there’s something wrong with men who don’t realize that they can have a great, sexy, mutually beneficial relationship with women their own age.
“No, I think that it's more about finding the right person for you and that we're all afraid of that in a way,” Keaton says during a New York City press day that also included Nicholson, Peet, Reeves and writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers. “Like, when you've really fallen in love with someone that you know, there’s that, 'Oh my God, I could actually, really spend a lot of time with them and be comfortable with them and maybe really like them and care about them and go through life and face illness' (feeling).”
“Then, usually, what happens when you experience something like that is that you run,” Keaton continues. “Because in a strange way, it's safer to not really be with someone that you could really have a profound experience with. It's the fantasy aspect where we sometimes die for the fantasy, and we don't really say to ourselves that actually, ‘That can't work.’”
The 57-year-old actress, who this week denied reports that her relationship with Nicholson is anything more than a friendship, feels that her co-star’s character of Harry Sanborn fits in well with this broad-based, general view of compatibility. “I think that Jack's character is very sympathetic and that both of the characters in the movie have to learn a lesson about not being so afraid of intimacy,” she suggests. “For me, the key word and the only word really that stays with me when I think about this movie is ‘intimacy.’ It's because I think intimacy is terrifying in a way for some of us."
Something's Gotta Give marks Keaton’s second collaboration with Nicholson. They shared the screen - albeit briefly - in Warren Beatty’s Academy Award winning 1981 drama Reds. Keaton notes that Reds didn’t exactly prepare them for Something's Gotta Give. “I haven't really seen Jack since Reds,” Keaton explains. “So, it was like a reintroduction to the world of Jack. It was a much more profound experience this time because I really did get to know him. I spent a lot of time with Jack and in the process we kind of had to become friends. We were forced into friendship".
Keaton is also in awe of the way Nicholson approaches his craft. "I think what surprised me about him is that he really carries the mantle of his legend with extreme respect," she says. "I think that he loves being an actor, and that it's almost a throwback. Sometimes, when I'm with Jack, I feel that I'm back in the '30's and we're doing a Cary Grant picture or something. Where it's a lot of talking and there's a kind of formality to the respect that he pays to the art of acting. That's what I feel about Jack professionally."
When the legend of Nicholson – the actor, the ladies man – is mentioned to Nicholson himself, the 66-year-old New Jersey native simply smiles that sly dog grin of his. “Well, I'd like to start with separating the myth from what Jack Nicholson is,” he says. “I commit like a freight train, number one, and always have. I think that's what throws people, actually. And first of all, I don't date as such. In this way, you could call me a little weird.”
“I'm kind of nervous and I don't like to know what's going to happen in the future or have to prepare for this or that,” he continues. “So, I'm more of a play it as it lays kind of guy. Of course, I've never dated any certain kind of woman. So, that's the difference between the Jack that you described, who I'm now going to say is allegedly different from Jack in the picture."
Perhaps then a younger woman is Nicholson’s type? “Well, a younger woman is a type, but not necessarily a type for me,” the star retorts. “And what is a younger woman? I mean, I'm pretty old. Almost everyone is younger."
One such younger person is Keaton. “She is surprising,” he notes. “She's very unpredictable, but I did work with her and we've had an affectionate relationship from a distance. In fact, at this point, we actually said to one another, and we're friends, 'Let’s try and be better friends. Let’s make some effort,' because in the movies, you get close with someone and then you might not see them for 10 or whatever years.”
“And it's not superficiality,” Nicholson points out. “It's just kind of the nature of the film business. So, she's a delight. I mean, for me, she is a lot of fun to work with. Everyone loves Diane Keaton, I imagine, or so it's that way in my own mind. So, that's no surprise, but she's a true original."
Meyers knew a good thing when she had it, and she had it with Keaton and Nicholson. Still, she had to fight for Keaton, even though Keaton was a respected, Oscar-winning star, and even though Something's Gotta Give, in the end, is more about Keaton’s character than anyone else.
“There was resistance to casting Diane,” acknowledges Meyers, whose previous directing credits include The Parent Trap and What Women Want. She also co-wrote such films as Private Benjamin and the Keaton vehicles Baby Boom and Father of the Bride Parts I and II.
“What woman over 50 will make them line up around the street?” asks Meyers. “We wanted to cast the best person for the job and that’s Diane Keaton. She’s the right age. She’s funny. She hasn’t had plastic surgery. She is the right age to be Amanda’s mother. I wrote it for her and she’s who I wanted.”
As for the casting of Nicholson, Meyers confirms it was a no-brainer. “He’s just so big,” Meyers explains. “He’s so big and funny and he makes you say, ‘Oh, Jack.’”
The wildcard in Something's Gotta Give is Reeves. Long a leading man and hot off The Matrix sequels, he nevertheless accepted a supporting role. And he’s more or less the straight man – though an utterly charming and engaging straight man -- to Keaton and Nicholson.
“I have a couple of jokes,” Reeves points out. “I hope I do. It's like, ‘Do you take Viagra?’ Yeah, to a certain extent in the film, I am the straight guy, which was great actually. I mean, I thought of the character as he's a cardiologist, he's an emergency room doctor, he's dealing with matters of the heart, and he's a caregiver. So for me, I had to support whoever I was with. With Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, my feeling was to do whatever it took to play the straight guy, to set it up”.
Reeves describes Keaton and Nicholson as “remarkable people” and “very gracious.” He arrived on the set fairly late in the game and found them remarkably welcoming to him. “They're people with great humor and sensitivity, and so it was a really enjoyable experience,” he notes.
Asked if he can be a fan when working with such veterans, Reeves smiles. “Well, you know, when I met them, it was like, ‘I'm really glad to meet ya,’” he says. “And yes, it was great to be able to communicate my enjoyment of their work. But then, once you go to work, you go to work. They're great. They're great.”
Meyers also earns Reeves’ praise, complimenting her both as a screenwriter and a director. “In speaking about her words, she protects them, and rightfully so because they're really good,” the actor explains. “And then she also lets go of them. And in terms of directing, she has a strong point of view and she wants to feel what she feels, to see her vision, feel her vision.”
“She knows what it takes to do that and she'll prompt and prod and cajole and nurture,” Reeves continues. “She plays music on the set oftentimes to set a mood and she's very supportive, does a lot of takes and keeps the camera rolling and tries to find that other something.”
The final piece of the Something's Gotta Give puzzle is rising star Amanda Peet. The actress has turned heads in such films as The Whole Nine Yards, Igby Goes Down and Identity. She’s displayed a rare ability to play comedy and drama, and also to use her sexuality either to elicit laughs or heighten tension in more serious fare.
“I like playing a lot of different kinds of characters,” Peet says. “I think that it's fun to mix it up, and in this role, I get that I'm supposed to be the kind of proverbial, young, trophy person to Jack. So, I guess in this role, it was more important to be sort of glamorous, but I think that it's fun to do all sort of different things.”
As far as the romantic appeal of an older man, Peet claims she didn’t base her character, Marin, on any personal experience. “I understand it,” she says. “I've never really had that attraction myself, but I understand that if you're a little bit insecure, you would maybe want to go out with some who has a lot of stature and money and might make you feel really stable and really give you a sense of being altogether and being a grownup that you might not otherwise have. So, I get it, but I've never done that myself.”
While Peet’s counterpart Reeves downplays the fan factor aspect of sharing time on and off the set with Keaton and Nicholson, the young actress goes to the opposite extreme. After all, she got to kiss Jack Nicholson. “I agree, completely,” she marvels. “I mean, the other fact is that I'm in a movie with Diane F--king Keaton and Frances F--king McDormand, OK?! I mean, Jesus. I'm sorry I'm swearing.”