Actors-Directors; Learning To Trust Actions, Not Words – Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton Acting


Below is a great article written by Diane Keaton, a wonderful actress who has also directed some very good films. Read what she says as a director regarding acting, imagining, and expressing the human experience. I think you’ll find what she writes is full of truth and wisdom!

“LOS ANGELES— EVERY time I’ve tried to describe what I think about acting, I feel like I’ve betrayed a trust, or ratted on a friend, or worse, sounded pretentious. But when asked to write about directing, I don’t know how without talking about acting.

Acting let me discover a new world, the world of expressed feelings. This was not part of my upbringing. I sometimes wonder who I would have been if I hadn’t found myself in the chorus of ”Oklahoma!” when I was a sophomore in high school. Not that acting is a psychological remedy for an emotionally underdeveloped person. But without its insistence on imagining, and expressing the human experience in all its variations, I fear I would have become such an angry person. Who knows where all that anger would have come out?

I don’t consider myself an expert on acting. For me its seduction has always come from the intensely romantic encounters I’ve shared with other actors. I will never have an intimate relationship with Meryl Streep or Robert De Niro, or Liam Neeson, or Mel Gibson, or Jessica Lange or Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet I shared moments with them that will last in a way my life can’t — and I wouldn’t want it to.

When I was a young student at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Sandy Meisner, our guru, would make pronouncements about how much better our acting would be when we got older and had more experience. Now that I’m the age he was when he stressed the necessity of experiencing the multilayered ups and downs of living in order to become a more fully realized actor; now that life has become so much more engaging, puzzling, tragic and unfathomable; now that there is such a wealth of accumulated knowledge that I’m ready to give, it’s quite a shock to realize that audiences don’t care. What I’m saying is, the older you get, the less fun people have watching you. Whitney Otto, the writer of ”How to Make an American Quilt,” said it best, describing us ”vanishing slowly from a society which has little use for one growing older, little interest.”

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe wisdom isn’t a performance art.  When I find myself in the absurd position of sitting in the director’s chair, I try to sit quietly. I try to leave the actors alone as much as possible. I try not to burden the atmosphere with a lot of talk. Talk is cheap. As Shirley Chisholm said, I am not interested in what people say. What I am interested in is what they do. Sometimes language is used by both actors and directors to evade the moment of truth: action. The use of language to avoid acting is further complicated by the maze of lies we don’t identify as lies, hiding our secret fears and insecurities. To me, endless self-involved talk kills impulse. I like to think that as a director I create an atmosphere of trust and, most important, play, in order to ease actors into the scary plunge of acting.”

As artists, understanding the importance of trust and play puts the emphasis on creating what comes naturally from your talent and relishing every moment of that.

Next week, I’ll give you Part 2 of this article and the wonderful insights Diane Keaton shares from her experiences as an actor, a director, and a human being.


By Lynette McNeill

Acting Coach & Director

Lynette McNeill - Acting Coach

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