The Family Stone

SOUND BITES
Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before? “Sam Mendes. I’m the biggest fan of ‘American Beauty.’”

How do actors balance commerce and art? “More and more in my life, now that I’m much older, I really respect commerce. If something is commercial, which means entertaining, then how is that bad? I’m a comic actress. I enjoy laughing, and if I can have any part of making somebody laugh, that’s artistic.”

Up next: “I’m going to do something pretty soon, but I don’t want to talk about it yet.”

“The Family Stone” is not your typical Christmas movie. While the focus is a quirky family mixture of both low-key and over-the-top personalities who gather for the holidays in snowy New England — a plot rehashed time and again, with varied success — the story takes on unusual poignancy.

Much of that is due to Diane Keaton, who plays family matriarch Sybil. Her performance, which runs from funny to fiery to tender, is central to writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s film and is one of the actress’ best roles in years.

“I just loved her,” says Keaton about the character. “She was this outspoken, progressive woman who devoted her life to being a mother: the antithesis of what we all think, all of us women who didn’t do that, all of us ambitious gals who went out there.

“She’s really a fantastic woman, a role model for me. What I really loved about her was how she battles her illness by being completely distracted and involved with her family, fixing things up and enjoying the pleasure of their company.”

The dynamics of an ensemble comedy-drama can be tricky. With a cast that also includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Craig T. Nelson — many of whom agreed to read the script after they learned Keaton had signed on — it can be “a crapshoot. If the actors trust the director, and they moderately like each other, they feel free to play out their parts in a way that allows them to be more imaginative and have more fun. I think it worked out,” she adds with that familiar Keaton laugh.

A four-time Oscar nominee who won for the title role of Woody Allen’s 1977 comedy classic “Annie Hall,” Keaton is also a two-time Golden Globe winner (for “Annie Hall” as well as 2003′s “Something’s Gotta Give”).

She admits initially having “no faith” in novice director Bezucha, “until we started rehearsing.” As a director herself, “I had a million opinions in the beginning,” Keaton says, “until I realized that his ideas were better than my opinions. Then I just had to shut up and take direction.”

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