Cameron Diaz on Acting, Happiness and a Bad Teacher
“The great thing about making movies and telling stories is that we just make this shit up,” laughs Cameron Diaz.
One of the highest paid and most glamorous actresses in Hollywood, Diaz, donning a fluffy T-shirt and super tight jeans, ambles into the room at a Beverly Hills hotel as she grins jovially and beams playfully “Hello, Hello.”
The superstar was launched into acting with her first-ever screen performance in the Hollywood picture, The Mask, in 1994. After being spotted by a casting director, the 21-year-old international model was originally slated to play a minor role, but she won over the movie producers with her unique charm and got to play the lead part opposite the genius comedian, Jim Carrey.
“My first experience was working with Jim Carrey, which was phenomenal,” she muses. “It taught me so much and I learned a lot from him. His timing is probably better than anyone. I kind of just really stood back in awe of what he was doing which sort of worked for the part,” she quips.
Indeed, it worked so well that despite her lack of formal training and experience in acting, her performance dazzled audience and critics, propelling her to instant stardom and fame. But, fearful of the hazards of fame, the Californian hot blonde immersed herself in her new craft of acting, stretching her abilities and defying expectations by taking on more roles in low-budget independent movies such as The Last Supper and A Life Less Ordinary.
“I’ve considered even up ’til today every job I’ve done to be on the job training. I’m learning every time I’m working. On films I’ve done, there’s not a moment that I didn’t learn from experience, from the actors, from the directors, from the material. All of it is always a lesson and I’m always grateful for having had the opportunity to do it.”
Diaz’s on-job-training paid off. She firmly established her bona fides with an exuberant co-starring role in My Best Friend’s Wedding, pulling the rug out from under the feet of star Julia Roberts. And in 1998, she cemented her status atop the A-list, following the wildly successful gross out comedy, There’s Something About Mary.
The model-turned-actress continued to impress with other dramatic roles, most notably in Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York and Any Given Sunday. She laughs so hard when she explains how she uses her imagination to create her characters, that I could barely fathom her words.
“I’ve learned over the last 18 years how to scrape together an idea of how to do this. I am finally finding my footing in it. I’m like figuring it out now, so I just kind of pull from it as much experience as I can of being human and trying to figure out why people do what they do. It’s like freedom. It’s like a playtime and you use your imagination. You imagine what it would be like to be that person.”
Recently, Diaz has utilised her fertile imagination to portray Elizabeth Harsey in the new comedy, Bad Teacher. Foul-mouthed, ruthless, boozer and dope smoker, Elizabeth can’t wait to marry her meal ticket and walk away from her day job teaching middle school. When a handsome substitute, Scott (Justin Timberlake) shows up, she has to compete fiercely with another colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch) for his affection.
Reading the script, Diaz couldn’t initially connect with Elizabeth. “The first 30 pages in, I was like ‘There is no way I’m playing this person. Who is she? I don’t know her. I don’t like her.’ I felt there was no redemption for her and then 10 pages in, I was like she’s a bad ass in a way because she just says what she’s feeling and there’s no filter for her. Then by the end I was so pleasantly surprised that there was actually no redemption for that character. The script didn’t take up 20 pages trying to apologise for everything she did in the beginning and that to me was a breath of fresh air.”
Though she thinks Elizabeth has nothing to aspire to, Diaz empathises with her and believes that her behaviour is dictated by the current financial crisis.
“She depends on a man to take care of her. But there are not as many sugar daddies out there as there used to be in the 90s, and she is struggling to make ends meet. So that’s the story of that girl at this time.”
And Diaz is reluctant to judge the morality of Elizabeth’s unconventional methods to achieve her goals. “I don’t judge people. Why should I judge somebody if I don’t want to be judged myself? Elizabeth is just doing the best that she can with the tools that she had. Her tools happen to be really shitty,” she chuckles.
Elizabeth utilised those shitty tools in order to get the attention of Scott, who is played by Diaz’s former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake. Although the couple has been apart for over 4 years, Diaz insists that they still love each other as friends. She was actually the one who asked to have him in the movie.
“It’s perfect because we have absolutely no chemistry as Elizabeth and Scott. If we didn’t have the chemistry we have then we wouldn’t have been able to play the absolute vacant-ness of the chemistry between Scott and Elizabeth.”
She is also grateful that she did the awkward dry sex scene with Timberlake instead of another actor.
“If it was anybody other than somebody who I trusted as much as I trust Justin, it would have been more awkward for sure but it wasn’t awkward at all with Justin because we know who we are in our relationship so there was never any confusion about it but if I just was doing it with some guy that I just met, there might a possibility that he could be getting off on this.”
Raised in Long Beach by her atheist Cuban father and spiritual mother, who encouraged her to explore other religions and find her own set of beliefs, the 38-year-old actress found faith in God without subscribing to any religious doctrine.
“I have faith in God. It’s not under a certain denomination of religious sect; it’s just a belief in the universe and in souls and spirits and being human and energy,” she giggles.
Whatever the superstar believes in, it evidently works. She is bubbling with fun energy and exudes boundless happiness, laughing unceasingly as we speak.
“If I find myself in a position where I am not happy, I do my best to figure out why it doesn’t make me happy and what would make me happy. Then I create that scenario or go after that and whether that means having to iron out something with a friend or to get over a speed bump in a relationship, you just do that and move on and forward.”
Those words of wisdom are a living testament that not all hot Californian blondes are as dumb as some often suggest. Diaz is undoubtedly a rare combination of dazzling beauty, fun personality, incandescent talent and profound intelligence.