Like most people, Diane Keaton can relate to the forced glee found around many families’ dining room tables over the holidays. In “Love the Coopers,” the Oscar winner plays the matriarch of an extended family coming together for Christmas — all of them harboring a secret or a problem they’re hoping won’t leak out to siblings, parents or children.
Calling recently to chat about the movie (opening Friday), Keaton said one of the reasons she wanted to do the film was the script, “because it has us [cast members] all saying lines that I’ll bet everyone in America has either said or heard at some point in their lives.” The actress went out of her way to credit director Jessie Nelson and screenwriter Steven Rogers for delivering “such spot-on dialogue. We were laughing the entire time we shot this movie in Pittsburgh, because it all felt so real to us.
“Everybody has a problem with Christmas, one way or another, don’t they?”
Beyond that basic screenplay, Keaton raved about her cast, which included Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Anthony Mackie and John Goodman as Sam, husband to Keaton’s Charlotte character.
“I wanted him to play Sam, right from the top,” said Keaton emphatically. “I don’t really know John — or I didn’t before we made this movie — but I called him up and asked him to do it. I had seen him in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ and I thought he was so great in that movie, I just sensed he would be perfect for this role.
“I know he’s so completely different in that other film, but there was something about his performance that spoke to me. He was just so great.”
The days spent shooting the climactic Christmas Eve dinner scene around the family’s dining room table was one of Keaton’s biggest challenges on “Love The Coopers.”
“To me that was pretty disgusting! The idea of sitting there with all that food, it was like being at a big buffet — and I hate buffets!” she added with a sharp laugh. “I felt the whole time we were shooting those scenes, ‘Please, take it away! There are people starving in the world and we’re just sitting here with these mounds and mounds of food!’ ”
Joining her at that table was Jake Lacy, who plays a soldier who inadvertently becomes involved with Wilde’s character, one of Keaton’s children.
“This film was amazing,” Lacy said, “since I got to work with so many people — like Diane — who have been idols of mine since I was a kid.” His Valentine’s Day birthday actually fell during the movie’s shoot.
“My girlfriend flew in to be with me and we ended up going out to this really nice steakhouse in Pittsburgh. But what was funny was everyone else in the restaurant were parties of two — couples having a romantic Valentine’s dinner out.
“And here we walk in and ask for a table for 10 — and with Diane Keaton as part of the mix! It was hilarious watching all these people’s heads whipping around to look at Diane, who looked fantastic and was truly the bell of the ball!”
As for Keaton, the memory that stands out from making “Love the Coopers” is “the overall thing about Christmas and the holidays and how we always get swept up with that forced sense of celebration — even at times we don’t feel especially celebratory!
“Listen. I like how all the stories in the film focus on the kinds of problems everyone can relate to. We all have problems. Nobody is free of them. But underneath it all, we still love our families — even if it’s not always so easy!”