Diane Keaton Reveals Her Mentally Ill Brother, Randy, Was Inspiration for Duane in Annie Hall
In her new memoir, Brother & Sister, the 74-year-old star explains that Annie’s troubled brother Duane (Christopher Walken) was based on her own brother John Randolph Hall, an artist who has struggled with mental illness, alcoholism, and dark fantasies his whole life. Now 71, Hall suffers from dementia and lives in a care facility, where his sister visits him weekly.
“Sometimes, when I’m driving on the road at night, I see two headlights coming toward me fast,” Duane tells Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in the film. “I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”
In a later scene, Alvy sits next to Annie (Diane Keaton) in a car driven by Duane and looks terrified as they speed down a dark road. While the movie played up Duane’s strangeness for laughs, the truth about Randy Hall was darker and far more complex.
“Reality, you know? Reality was not something Randy could handle,” Keaton says in an exclusive interview featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
In Brother & Sister, the actress explores her relationship with her brother, who was “on the other side of normal” from the beginning, she says. Their parents, Jack and Dorothy Hall, never sought professional help for their son, even though he was plagued by fears of everything from low-flying planes to simply going outside — it was not their way, or the way of the times. Randy Hall was given various diagnoses over the years (bipolar disorder, schizoid personality disorder) but never found a definite answer.
One of the few things that always brought him joy — even when Hall, then 65, was showing early signs of dementia and institutionalized — was his collage work. It became a safe outlet for alarming fantasies he had about hurting women. He also shared these visions with his sister.
“My fantasies are even worse now, but at least I know they’re fantasies,” Hall wrote to Keaton in a letter she includes in her book. “I’m not going to do anything. I have to say, holding it back all those years makes me believe I am a moral man. James Ellroy used to break into houses and steal underwear. I can’t even do that… I couldn’t, but boy could I dream of it.”
Keaton was disturbed by her brother’s admissions, but she was confident he wouldn’t turn fantasy into reality.
“I never worried he would act on his fantasies,” she says. “There was no indication he would, in anything he’d ever done. He didn’t have that bone in his body. He wrote about them and did collages instead.”
She also wasn’t concerned about Hall’s response to his portrayal in Annie Hall.
“I felt it was a cartoon character, so I wasn’t that worried about Randy’s impression of it,” she says. In fact, Annie’s family of cocktail-drinking WASPs in the film was a variation on Keaton’s.
For the full Diane Keaton interview and an excerpt from her new memoir, pick this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
“Mom was very moved by Annie Hall, but for Dad I don’t think it was simple,” Keaton says. “Probably it wasn’t simple for any of them, but what are they going to say? No one’s going to come and have a conversation with me about their real feelings.”
Brother & Sister hits bookstores on Feb. 4.