Diane Keaton, 59, plays Sybil Stone, the strong mother to five grown-up children in The Family Stone. (note: UK release, December 16th, 2005). Keaton did not become a mother herself until she was 50. She adopted daughter Dexter in 1996 and son, Duke, in 2001. She reports that she had been far too busy on her successful 35-year acting career. Keaton enjoyed the height of fame in the 1970;s when she became the biggest female name in Hollywood. She was part of The Godfather film legend, with her role as Kay Adams, sucked in to the Corleone family. But a personal relationship with director and writer, Woody Allen, shaped her future. He wrote the 1977 hit film Annie Hall especially for her - and it won her an Oscar for best actress. In The Family Stone, Keaton's character welcomes her visiting family back to the house at Christmas. But there is an undercurrent of tension, as she is covering up a secret illness. Her eldest son (Dermot Mulroney) also has a high-powered, controlling new girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) and the usual peaceful holiday is much disrupted. The film, a bittersweet comedy, is about the quirks and problems of family life. Diane Keaton gives her verdict on the new movie, her own family life and the latest gossip about a supposed affair with 41 year-old actor Keanu Reeves.

Do you like your character in The Family Stone?
I admire her. She lived her life and she loved her life and I see nothing wrong with that. At the same time she had five children, which is something everyone should admire. She is a fun women who doesn't know when to shut up and likes to stir. She has had an incredible life as a mother, which is a part of her character I was drawn to. I have two children and I know how tough motherhood can be. What do you find most difficult about motherhood?
The idea of letting go. It takes a tremendous amount of grace to let your children go. You know you have to do it, but when the time comes I know I will find it such a struggle. You just want the ability to watch over them all the time, but that's not healthy, so you let them make their mistakes.

Did this movie make you think about your own mother?
At this point in my life I do think about my mother a great deal. She is 84 and I love her dearly. I feel so differently about her now I am an adult and have children of my own. I think when you are growing up you see your parents as people who are there to look after you and help you achieve your goals. Now I have grown up I don't just think of her as a mother, but as a person full of vitality. I think about who she was before I was around and what she wanted from life. You adopted both of your children. How did it feel becoming a mother so suddenly - and at such a mature age?
When I adopted I immediately had to change as a person and become more giving. It made me realise very quickly that I was completely self involved. I am an actress after all! I didn't have anyone to tell me how well I was doing, or if I was doing it right, which I was used to. I just wanted to say, how am I doing? Do they like me? I was like Sally Field at the Academy Awards, (Field won a best actress Oscar in 1984 for Places in the Heart). Do you remember her saying:' You like me, you really like me'. Poor Sally, but I know how she feels. We do all want to be liked.

A lot of the movie takes place in the family home. What do you think of your character's taste in furnishings?
I hated it. I thought It was a big, fat mess. There was so much clutter, like she could not stand to throw anything away. It was as though everything in her life was treasured, which is sweet in a way. I have no interest in living that way. You have to let go of things my opinion.

What is your home like?
I'm renting at the moment because I recently sold my place, so I am constantly house hunting. I love the Spanish colonial architecture in southern California. I am a true Californian, born and raised. Whenever I was away I always looked forward to coming home. You can be in the desert or the snow there, it is so diverse. I always buy old houses and do them up, I think they have more character. I feel as though I am saving them. Does a film like this make you think more about death?
I think I am dying everyday! I have had friends that died in the most bizarre ways and it really brings it home. I just think, how could this possibly happen? And then I start to think, that could have been me. Sometimes I worry that nothing happens once we die, that this might just be it, and that scares me.

You will be 60 next year. Do you worry about growing older?
I do feel it is a watershed. I remember thinking on my 30th birthday I was so old. It is hilarious now, but it was such a big deal at the time. The thing about being 60 is that you think about time a tremendous amount. You want to slow everything down and cherish every little moment. Life takes on a very different flavour, it becomes more exciting and frightening the older you get. It is a deeper experience, you are approaching a wall and you know you have to enjoy the journey.

As an actress is it difficult to grow old gracefully?
I think it forces you recognise what you have. It is true that as a middle-aged women you feel as though you have disappeared off the planet and it can be tough to get through that. I spent too much of my life waiting to be seen. It became a hunger, I was always desperate to be picked. Once you realise that people aren't looking at you that way anymore you have to depend on other things to get by. I found this discovery an advantage, but it can be very difficult.

How are you going to celebrate your birthday?
I don't know what I will do for my 60th. Each decade has got better and better, so I am looking forward to it. My 30th was the worst. That was the Annie Hall time of my life and I hardly told anybody it was my birthday. I thought I might have a big surprise, but actually no one remembered. It was so awful, I felt horrible. But after that they improved. I had a huge celebration for my 50th. I was working on The First Wives Club with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn in New York at the time and when they heard it was my birthday they organised a massive party. I had so much fun.

What are you doing for Christmas this year?
We do the same thing every year - go to the beach. I am a real beach bum. My mother lives right at the mouth of the peninsular in the bay, so we all stay with her. The boats are lit up at night and it is just dreamy. We get up in the morning and sit around the breakfast table opening presents and chatting until noon. It is a wonderful time.

You have recently been romantically linked to your co-star in the 2003 hit film, Something's Gotta Give, Keanu Reeves. Is there any truth to this?
I wish! That is definitely the most hilarious story I have ever read in my life. The funniest thing about it is that I have not even seen Keanu since we finished the movie. I found it so odd that they even made that one up - there are no pictures of us together or anything. It is bizarre but at the same time I have to admit that I did feel slightly flattered. I was very surprised that I was even considered as his type. I find it really funny - the whole May to December thing.

You had a nude scene in that movie. How was that?
I just thought to myself, at this point in my life does it really matter? No one looks at me in the way I once imagined and hoped they would. I think people just thought, 'oh look, there she is. Intact'.

Are you in love at the moment?
The loves of my life are my children and my mother. I don't feel as though I need a man. Don't get me wrong, I love men. My son is a man and I love him very much. I think my expectations in the romance area have been diminished. I always feel as though I am walking on eggshells and that to me is scary. Luckily I don't have an opportunity to be lonely because I have kids and my work. That is fine with me.

What other interests do you have apart from acting?
I am a preservationist. I am on the board for the Los Angeles Conservatory. We recently lost a battle to save the Ambassadors Hotel, I was so disappointed. I can't stress how important it is to preserve these wonderful buildings. There is a book called 'Lost Angeles' which is full of fabulous buildings all over the city which need to be preserved. L.A is a architectural wonderland that not many people know about.

Do you have any phobias?
Yes I do, I have a huge phobia towards clowns. Not in a conventional way though. Most people just find them a bit spooky, but I look at a clown and I think how it reflects my ridiculous life. I often find myself thinking of a clown as my own personal metaphor. I am an actress though - and we often think too much.

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