In 2003, the movie Something’s Gotta Give gave audiences a touching later-in-life romance. The love story, about two polar opposites in their 60s, brought a fresh face to dating – and it was fuelled by a real-life passion that lasted decades.

Stars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson both deny they ever dated, but Keaton used her long-time crush on Nicholson to create a performance in Something’s Gotta Give so convincing that Nicholson could hardly tell what was real and what wasn’t.

Born on January 5, 1946 in Los Angeles, Diane Keaton rose to fame with star performances in The Godfather, Sleeper and Annie Hall (particularly the latter, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress).

By the late 70s, Keaton was dating actor/director and notorious womaniser Warren Beatty, who soon cast her in his 1981 movie Reds. Their relationship began to crumble during the making of the film, in which Beatty also played her on-screen lover.

Beatty was a particularly demanding boss, with one producer noting: “It must have been a strain on their relationship because he was completely obsessive, relentless.” Such was the strain that the pair broke up soon after the film’s release. Fortunately, Keaton found a more pleasant Reds co-star in the form of Jack Nicholson

“I wanted him to kiss me”

Nicholson was nearly a decade Keaton’s senior, and also happened to be a close friend of Beatty’s. He was already an established star thanks to his performances in Easy Rider (1969) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

Keaton was utterly charmed by Nicholson, later writing in her autobiography: “When I first met him, in my thirties, friendship was not possible. I didn’t want to be his friend. I wanted him to kiss me. It didn’t happen.”

When asked in a later interview whether she was attracted to Nicholson, Keaton said, “Oh, sure. I’ve had the biggest crush on him for 20 years. How can you not, even now? He’s irresistible. Did I tell him that? Sure, he knows. I told him all the time.”

After a career lull between 1996 and 2002, Keaton was cast in Something’s Gotta Give, the story of a flirtatious record company owner (played by Nicholson) who falls for sensitive playwright Erica (Keaton).

Keaton was delighted to be cast alongside her long-time crush – but rather than asking him out, she decided to channel her passion into the movie, pushing the boundaries of method acting.

Nicholson has recalled how Keaton played with his emotions behind the scenes of this love story. “She’s surprising,” he noted. “Sometimes before a scene, she’d look me right in the eye and say, ‘You’re disgusting.’ And then you’re supposed to start the love scene.”

“Diane just told me she loves me”

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“She’s playful, too,” he added. “Every once in a while, she’d come over and say, ‘I love you,’ and man, I’ll tell you, I believed it. I didn’t know whether I was going to be engaged to her at dinner or what.”

Keaton was no stranger to playing with the gap between fiction and reality. Her star role in Annie Hall appeared to be semi-autobiographical. But during filming the filming of Something’s Gotta Give, she confessed love to Keaton with such conviction that he clearly believed her.

“We’re rehearsing that scene in the street, where he’s running after her, and he calls me over after one rehearsal,” recalled director Nancy Meyers. “He’s all rattled.”

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“I said, ‘What’s up?’,” she remembered. “And he goes, ‘Diane just told me she loves me.’ I couldn’t tell if he was horrified or thrilled. So I was like, ‘Yes, I know, I wrote that line. It’s in the script, Jack.’ And he said, ‘Oh, OK.’ He thought she meant it. It’s really funny. That’s her.”

To further emphasise her giddy, lovestruck character, Keaton would spin around to make herself dizzy before the cameras started rolling. Nicholson wasn’t the only one utterly persuaded by her act: the movie received glowing reviews.

“A movie like this depends crucially on its stars,” wrote critic Roger Ebert. “To complain that Nicholson is playing “himself” – or that Keaton is also playing a character very much like her public persona – is missing the point. Part of the appeal depends on the movie’s teasing confusion of reality and fiction.”

“Managerial skills are necessary to handle men like that”

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Keaton and Nicholson were spotted kissing on the red carpet event before their movie’s release. Nevertheless, Keaton expressly denied ever dating her co-star, quelling rumours that Jack himself had propagated.

“‘You know Jack! He wants to sell the movie,’ she said with a laugh. “He’s the great entertainer. He’ll say anything.”

The following year, Nicholson was rumoured to have dated supermodel Kate Moss, while Keaton has never married and has adopted two children solo.

While her relationship with Nicholson never went beyond friendship, Keaton was floored by one chivalrous act on her co-star’s part. Nicholson’s contract on Something’s Gotta Give gave him a percentage of the film’s back-end profits, and when he learned Keaton didn’t have the same deal, he signed over half his profits to her.

Keaton only learned of this two years after the film’s release, when she received an unexpected check “with a lot of zeroes,” and assumed there “must’ve been some mistake.”

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Keaton’s dating history would’ve remained shrouded, if it wasn’t for one particularly candid interview in 2012.

Speaking to the Ladies’ Home Journal, she reflected on past romances with Warren Beatty, Woody Allen and Al Pacino. She never explicitly described a romance with Nicholson – but freely admitted that it never would’ve worked out between them.

“They needed the right kind of woman,” she said of her famous ex-partners. “Managerial skills are necessary to handle men like that, and I’m not the ‘manager’ type.”

“I also don’t think I have a lot of nurturing skills,” she added. “I needed as much as they needed, and that’s not a good mix. I didn’t choose wisely for a long-term partnership where we could weather experiences together and be there for each other.”

“I haven’t been on a date in 35 years”

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Of Nicholson, she commented: “He’s very adept at being the person you want to watch, and I think it’s exhausting.”

While Nicholson has gone through many famous relationships over the decades, and is father to five children, Keaton doesn’t regret her less eventful romantic life in later years.

“I haven’t been on a date in, I would say, 35 years,” she said in 2019. “… I have a lot of friends, but no dates. No mwah-mwah.”