Diane Keaton Was Reportedly ‘Terrified’ After Getting Her Role in ‘The Godfather’

Diane Keaton attends the Los Angeles premiere of Gravitas premiere's "Mack and Rita" at NeueHouse Los Angeles on August 10, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic)

Diane Keaton is one of the last people on earth we’d expect to hear has insecurities about her profession. Not only was she “terrified” of her breakthrough role in The Godfather trilogy, but she feels anxious every time she starts a new film project! The two-time Golden Globe and Oscar-winning actress has been in the industry for almost 60 years. She sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to give the scoop on her very human fear of living up to expectations.

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Diane Keaton’s Breakout Role Was as Kay Adams in The Godfather

Keaton played Kay Adams (Katherine Corleone), the second wife of Mafia boss Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino. Filmed in 1971, The Godfather wasn’t Keaton’s first Hollywood role, but it came early in her career. Prior to that, she’s appeared in a smattering of movies and TV, as well as a deodorant commercial. She’d studied theatre at Santa Ana and Orange Coast Colleges but dropped out to pursue an acting career in New York City, primarily onstage. By the time she made it to an audition for Kay, despite trying to be a professional, she was hardly prepared.

“I was terrified. I didn’t understand why me. I mean, I went up to the audition. I didn’t even really — I hadn’t read it,” Keaton told THR, referring to the script. Usually, casting directors expect their candidates to have the lines memorized.

“See, this is bad! But I needed a job, so I got up there,” she continued. “I’d been auditioning around for about a year, and then this happened like that. And I kept thinking, ‘Why me? Why would he cast me?’ I didn’t understand it. I still don’t, really.”

Keaton Helped Al Pacino Get Cast as Mafia Boss Michael Corleone

Keaton previously dished to Entertainment Weekly that she was actually cast before Al Pacino was. “Nobody wanted Al Pacino. They didn’t want him to play that part, and I had already been cast,” Keaton revealed. “I had been cast before Al Pacino in Godfather 1! Is this not weird?”

“I auditioned for The Godfather having never read it and I knew nothing about it, and just was there, I was standing there like every other woman,” she said. ” I didn’t know what the hell I was there for. And they cast me in that role!”

Keaton ended up working in front of the producers with Pacino, whose participation was iffy at that point. Thanks to their onscreen chemistry, he got the part of Michael Corleone, which eventually led to an Oscar Award. That chemistry also led to an on-and-off relationship between the two actors for nearly a decade, but that’s another story.

Keaton Doesn’t Understand How Talented She Is

But despite her undeniable talent, Keaton hasn’t gotten over her sea legs. Her self-deprecating world view casts herself as a bit of an alien in an ocean of acting greats. To the outsider of course this is ridiculous. She’s no less than an icon.

Once she was cast as Kay Adams, Keaton continued to feel out of place when working with The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. She admitted that she wasn’t exactly “pals” with the filmmaker but said “he was nice.”

“When he was working, he would say, if he didn’t like something, he’d tell me, Try this,’” she said. “That was it! It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m trouble. I shouldn’t be here. I’m supposed to be more of a comedy-type person.’”

She Felt “Odd” Acting Alongside Goldie and Bette in The First Wives Club

Diane Keaton’s confidence continued to wane on into her career. She told THR that she felt “worried” and “anxious” when she co-starred along Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler in The First Wives Club in the mid-90s.

“With Goldie and Bette, on that one particular movie, that was interesting, and I remember feeling always kind of anxious and a little worried on that one,” she recalled. “Because they are really amazing actresses! You know, I didn’t really know them. But that changed over time — like life does.”

Keaton added that her acting style was “odd” compared to Hawn and Midler’s.

“I was very fortunate, and it was great to watch them work because they both work differently from each other, and I worked my own odd way,” she said. “Not that theirs is odd. Mine is odd.”

In the end, Keaton must have left quite the positive impression on her co-stars. Last year, Bette Midler told People that she’d always wished they could have made a First Wives Club sequel.

Keaton Still Feels Anxious When Co-Starring With Other A-Listers

When THR asked Keaton if she ever felt a sense of meeting “kindred spirits” or a work version of “love at first sight,” she emphatically disagreed.

“No, it’s anxiety. You’re worried,” she said. “If it’s the director or somebody who you’re acting with who’s amazing, it’s worrying. ‘How will this match that …? Can I do …? What am I …? Oh, dear.’ You just worry quite a bit until it gets easier. I’m sure that most everybody has felt that way.”

Keaton said she felt that same intense anxiety with her 1970 deodorant commercial and still feels it to this day, most recently while filming the Book Club movies. They co-star Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen.

“Sometimes it’d be a little easier, and then other times you’d be anxious. You need to really be on it and really smart about what you’re delving into with the subject that you’ve been given,” she said.

“It’s also what the day is like, and how you’re feeling that day or that morning. When you’re in the midst of it, especially with really great actresses or actors, you’re scared and worried, but then it just starts to get better.”

Book Club: The Next Chapter Comes Out Soon and It Will Probably Be Epic

Regarding Book Club: The Next Chapter, which comes out on May 12, Keaton had some raving reviews for her fellow female co-stars and the unique characters they portray.

“Mary Steenburgen is the kindest mother of them all. She’s really a great actress, and she’s so there for everyone. You just lay eyes on her, and you feel like you’re being helped,” she said. “And then of course there’s Jane [Fonda], who is always Jane. What life is that like? She’s brilliant and she’s had this brilliant life and she continues on. Then there is Candice [Bergen], who is by far the funniest. She is a character among all of us, hilarious and straightforward.”

Diane Keaton made no mention of Diane Keaton, but it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t at this point. She doesn’t seem to realize how much the world adores her. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

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