Cameron Diaz – When she was Hollywood’s Top Actress

                            July 2002      By Philip Berk

Cameron Diaz gets no respect.

Three years ago when the New York Film Critics named her Best Actress for There’s Something About Mary, you’d think the Academy would follow suit.


That award went to Gwyneth Paltrow

Poor Cameron wasn’t even nominated.

What is it about her that people are always picking on her.

The most recent attack appeared in the influential Washington Post.

Reviewing her new movie, their critic Stephen Hunter had this to say about her: “The best thing about Cameron Diaz, God love her, isn’t how bad she is, which is wonderful enough, it’s how oblivious she is to her awfulness. She’s so awful, she’s fabulous.”

And if that weren’t praise enough, he continued. “She can’t dance, she can’t act, she can’t hardly walk, and to see her is to love her forever. She’s so cursed with beauty, no one has ever had the nerve to tell her she stinks or to school her or even direct her just a bit. Unguided she gets by entirely on the powerful grace of her three most striking attributes, her legs, her attitude, her butt”

Need we go on.

Fortunately Cameron doesn’t give a damn about what some obscure critic in the district of Columbia has to say about her. 

She’s been down that path before.

At her junket for The Sweetest Thing, she couldn’t be sweeter, even though the film has left a bitter taste in many mouths.

Best described as a female version of American Pie,  the film is rife with raunchy scenes of oral sex, feminine hygiene jokes, and semen stains.

None of which bothers her.

Knowing that her follow up film would be  Martin Scorcece’s eagerly anticipated Gangs of New York, didn’t she have second thoughts about doing it?

“Not at all.The first time I read it, I knew it was something I wanted to do. These are girls that I know. This is me and my girlfriends. This is how girls talk with one another.”

But weren’t there things that made her uncomfortable?

“There were some things that were pretty raunchy and over the top, that made me say, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know if we should do that,’  but then we found a happy medium and toned it down. Believe me, this is the watered down version.”

And one project has no bearing on the other?

“None at all.”

How does she go about choosing a role?

“I just do what I feel like doing. I ask myself, ‘What do I want to do? What feels good? Of all the things I’m being offered, which one do I want to spend the next three months with?’ I make the decision right then and there.”

What about the director?

“Of course if it’s a great director that always takes precedent. My goal is to work with great directors and great actors. If I have any goals at all it is to work with great people.”

Her  Sweetest Things director calls her the type of actress that comes up every other generation, the logical successor to Carole Lombard and Goldie Hawn. 

She interrupts the question by dismissing it.

“He’s just sucking up. Somebody should’ve told him he’s already got the job.”

But  there are people who might agree with him?

“I guess at some point you learn to take a compliment. It’s really nice that he thinks that. I’m honored that one person in the world thinks that of me. I’m flattered.”

The Sweetest Thing involves three girl friends who will go to any length to help each other out.

How important are girlfriends?

“They’re incredibly important to me. Whether it’s work or love, you need them. Just knowing you can cancel can appointment at the last minute, and it’ll  be okay with them, that’s what it’s all about.”

Can she name anything that a friend recently did for her?

‘Well my girl friend recently left a message on my machine saying how much fun she had with me and how lucky she was to have me as a friend. That is the message you save and hold onto for a while.”

In a recent interview (in Esquire) she comes across as the opposite of the sweet demure thing she plays in movies.

Is that something she’s trying to affect?

“I don’t think it’s as calculated as that. I’m always who I am. It’s more about who’s observing me. When people interview you, they pick up on one observation and they write about it. Somebody else might see it another way.  I see those interviews as more about the people who write them than about me.”

Over the years she’s had long term  relationships with a numbers of actors.

Matt Dillon lasted three years, and since then she’s  been romantically linked with Jared Leto.

As she turns thirty, is she entering a new phase in her life?

How about  marriage and children?

She avoids the question with, “Every day I feel as though I’m entering a new phase.”

How so?

“I used to go to bigger dinners, spend more time at places like that. Now I spend less time there. I think the best nights for me are totally unexpected, unplanned, and spontaneous.”

What makes love the sweetest thing?

“Mutual respect and admiration.”

She never discusses her private life.

And neither does Jared.

How  about her wild and silly days. In the movie she gives a guy a fake phone number. Did she ever do anything like that?

“Oh yeah, fake numbers. It is so ridiculous what you go through until you build up the courage to say No. What poor person is being woken up in the middle of the night or has three thousand messages on his machine. Or maybe none at all, right? Maybe they just wanted to get the number and had no intention of calling. What I find is, you never know when a guy is hitting on you until all of a sudden he’s brutally direct and it’s overwhelming. ‘Nice dress, would look better on my bedroom floor.’ And it’s like, where did that come from!”

Did that actually happen to her?

“Yes, and that’s when you get the courage to say No.”

Can she remember the moment when she first knew she wanted to be an actress?

“It was while I was auditioning for The Mask. I was doing a scene with Peter Greene, who played the bad guy. It was a heated scene  — we had a lot of dialogue — and he threw me up against a wall. Afterwards I had a lot of adrenaline. I started jumping up and down, screaming, ‘That was fun.’  And that’s when I knew I wanted to do the movie, and I wanted to act.”

Why was she initially drawn to comedy as opposed to drama?

“I grew up in a family that made one another laugh. We always had fun with one another. My dad has a really twisted, dark sense of humor. And my mom is a very light, loving person who laughs at everything. It works to have a mother like that. I sometimes go, ‘Hey mom,’  and she just starts laughing. You are encouraged by that.”

As one of Hollywood’s top stars, what is her relationship to stardom?

“A lot of times I forget that people know who I am. Sometimes I get out of a cab and start walking down a street forgetting that I’ve taken off my hat and glasses, and I wonder why people are staring at me. Then I realize I’m famous, and I have to remind myself to put the hat and glasses back on.” 

People obviously court her because of her fame. Is she careful about acquiring new friends?

“I’ve been lucky. I’ve acquired some great friend along the way as well as maintained friendships that go back to my childhood. I think you can tell what people’s intentions are. There are people you have to be careful with. It becomes very evident what people want from you, but then you lose them, you leave them behind.” 

Does she still cook and clean?

“I sure do. I know its pretty crazy but it’s what you do. You gotta eat and I don’t want to sit in my own shit, that’s for sure, so you gotta clean up too.”

What are the qualities in other people that she most dislikes?

“I don’t like it when people are mean to other people. And I don’t like it when they are rude. One thing I really hate are people are who are impressed by monetary things, and are boastful and obnoxious about that, letting you know how much money they have or how much they spend on something.  I find that so unattractive.”

The new Charlie’s Angels sequel goes into production in June.

Again she’ll be joined by Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu.

Growing up, was there one Angel who was her favorite?

“I loved them all. I thought they were all amazing women. To me, they were role models. At the time I thought they were hot chicks who were really cool and were having a good time. I wanted to do that myself.”

And judging from her attitude I’d say that’s just what she’s doing.


By Philip Berk

Just as Gangs of New York, Martin Scorcese’s epic movie that’s been twenty years in the making, was about to open in London, the British tabloids went on a frenzy fabricating a story that costars Cameron Diaz and Leonardo Di Caprio were engaged.

Those rumors were squashed when she showed up at the Golden Globes with Jared Leto, her long time boyfriend.

Of course Cameron has always had fun with the press

And if she was concealing a secret passion at her  press conference in New York last month, I’d have to say she’s a better actress than she’s given credit for.

How was it working with Leonardo, I asked her.

“We were all there to serve Marty and help him realize his vision of the story. I was fortunate to work with a lot of wonderful, talented people like Martin Scorcese, Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jim Broadbent, and John C. Reilly.” 

In no particular order!

At the junket we’re more interested in her acting than her relationships which she never talks about.

Playing a ragamuffin pickpocket, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination, she looks ravishingly beautiful and delivers a surprisingly convincing performance devoid of her trademark giggle and laugh. 

Was that Martin Scorcese idea, I ask her.

Graciously she replies, “It’s hard to say, I mean he’s my director. He’s the one giving me direction, but you’re the one bringing your own ideas forward. Although you must remember, Marty loves to laugh, and sometimes I thought he had me around just so we could laugh together.

“But then I thought, ‘Who is this character? Does she have right to laugh? Does she know that laugh?’ It was something that didn’t seem to belong. I knew she was a tough survivor, but she also knows how to take care of herself. So I tried to make her a little lighter than she might have been.”

How physically demanding was the role?

Jokingly she responds, “In the scenes with Leonardo, we beat the crap out of each other.’

But then seriously she adds, “Our characters are people who are brought up in a very brutal and violent world and don’t know tenderness. They are ferocious and voracious in the way they relate to one another.”

Ironically she was referring to their love scene, in which she and Leo attack each other like mortal enemies before falling into a passionate kiss.

That scene alone took seventeen takes.

“It became a test of stamina and of who could keep at it the longest without collapsing.”

But nobody was counting when Scorcese is your director!   

The film was a monumentally long shoot — ten months in Rome — but she was able to do Vanilla Sky in between.

Just how much time did she spend there?

“I went to Rome at the end of August (200l) and a week before Thanksgiving (late November) I was given time off to film Vanilla Sky.  I returned to Rome and stayed there until we broke for Christmas. During the Christmas break I did two weeks on Vanilla Sky, and then went back to Rome and remained there until March, 2002.”   

Another irony is that her current film, Full Throttle, the Charlie’s Angels sequel with Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu, has been shooting in L.A. for six months.

How different was working on the two sets?

“The Charlie’s Angels set was probably twice as crude as Gangs Of New York, so it was like child’s play. The girls have it over guys when it comes to that kind of stuff, and the Gangs set was full of guys, so it was really, really easy to be one of the only females there. And those guys were fun, everyone was so nice. The camera guys were particularly relieved to see me. They were like, ‘If I have to stare through the camera at one more beaten, bloody guy, I swear I’ll tear my hair out’. They couldn’t take it any longer so, when I showed up, all the adoration flew my way.”

Was it scary working with Daniel Day-Lewis, a tough competitor, particularly in the  knife-throwing scene?                                  

“I had full confidence in the special effects team who figured out how to do the tricks. The knives were never actually thrown at me; they were guided close. But Jennie was used to having knives thrown at her because she had been the Butcher’s apprentice. So she he had full faith in him, and I had full faith in our team.”

Day Lewis plays Bill the Butcher in the film. 

Although she was an unsuccessful nominee at Golden Globe Awards, she was among the first to congratulate Scorcese, who did win.

Jared Leto, looking scruffy as one journalist described him, accompanied her,

Is she ready to settle down, get married, and have children? I asked her in New York.

“I’m the kind of girl who lives in the moment. I don’t really have any thoughts about those things. I love life, so wherever it takes me, whoever I’m with and wherever I end up, I’m just excited about it, and want to take that journey. It’s the journey, not the destination that matters, so I try not to focus on where I am going to end up, whether there is a picket fence involved or not”

Everyone who’s worked with her calls her a fun person.

Why is that so important to her?

“Because life is too short. This ain’t no dress rehearsal. This is the show. So I try to have as much fun as I can.  I can’t say I’m always happy and that I run around being silly, but I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the people I’m with. I’m not there because I hate my job. I’m there because I’m fortunate enough to work with wonderful, talented people; so I’m happy to be on the set with Martin Scorcese or Daniel Day Lewis or Leonardo Di Caprio. I can’t disguise that. I can’t pretend I’m not excited about that, and I feel very fortunate for that.”

Did she identify with Jennie, who’s had to compromise herself to survive. Is she as tough?

“I am a tough bastard. I could totally see myself as Jennie. I admire her strength. And I would like to think that if Jennie lived now, she might be someone like me, someone who sets her own standards. I feel I’m a pretty strong individual. I take pride in that. I am not into being a victim, and I have a lot of her qualities.”

Actresses love working with Martin Scorcese. Did she feel, because she was a woman, she was getting special attention?

“It didn’t seem as though he were giving me any special treatment. Everybody has different relationships on a set, and he never treated me any different because I’m a girl. His way of dealing with actors comes from the character. And he’s always working on the big picture”

How special was it working in Rome?

“It is such a beautiful city. The people are wonderful. The food is so good. You’re surrounded by history. There’s really no downside to being in Italy. The only thing it isn’t, is home. You are not with friends and family, and that’s the only drawback. But my family came and visited. My father had never been outside of the United States. It was his first trip abroad. They were with me for nine days, and they loved it.” 

And when they weren’t there, did she do any sight seeing?

“I must admit I wasn’t as adventurous. When I wasn’t working, all I wanted to do was be on the set.”

In other words, she enjoys bonding with the crew as opposed to Leonardo who hides in his dressing room?

“On every film it’s different. There are some crews you get more involved with.  There are crews that are like a big family, and like any big family there are different personalities. Some are outgoing, but others never say a word. There are different dynamics on every set. And on this one, the crew being Italian and not speaking English, there wasn’t a lot of communication. So you make an extra effort to be friendly and happy to everyone.”

Besides the paycheck (supposedly she’s getting $20 million) what drew her to doing the Charlie’s Angels sequel?

“You’re right. I didn’t think I would go back to make a second Charlie’s Angels because I didn’t think I’d want to play that character, Natalie, again, even though I love her. I just didn’t see myself doing that. But then I thought, ‘What, am I crazy? I get to work everyday with two of my best friends, with a great director, with the same crew, in other words a great group of people.’ So what choice did I have. And we’re having twice as much fun than we thought we were going to have. We just do the silliest things every day. I’m so happy to be there.”  

She supported Al Gore in the last election.

What’s her relationship to President Bush?

“I doubt if I’m in a position to speak on what he does. However I can say that I do not agree with his policies. But right now our country needs a leader, and he’s doing that right,  so that’s what we have to focus on right now.”

Before Jared, she was in a bi-coastal relationship with Matt Dillon which lasted three years. They went their separate ways when neither could agree on which coast to live.

Last year, when she turned thirty, I asked her if she was entering a new phase in her life?

“Every day I feel as though I’m entering a new phase. I used to go to bigger dinners, spend more time at places like that. Now I spend less time there. I think the best nights for me are totally unexpected, unplanned, and spontaneous.”

I trust the London journalists are listening.

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