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DIAZ, CAMERON: A Life Less Ordinary

Few beautiful models have made such a remarkable transition to the world of acting stardom, as has 25-year old Cameron Diaz. Her latest film, A Life Less Ordinary, by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, gives Cameron her second stint as a Karaoke performer - but this time she gets to sing and dance as you've never seen her before. Indeed, this is a gal most extraordinary, as PAUL FISCHER found out when he spent some time talking to the ex-model in a ritzy New York hotel room.

It's easy to see why Cameron Diaz is where she is. She walks into a room and the effect is pure captivation. Apart from her obvious beauty, there's her elegance, yet naturalness, in the way she presents herself. Her trademark blonde hair is short but impeccably in place, and she's dressed smartly in tan slacks and matching coat. Not too flashy. Just right for a day of interviews in which she has to talk about herself and her latest movie. And that laugh. She loves to laugh, and it doesn't take much to set her off. Asked what are some of the more banal questions she gets asked by journalists, the laughter begins slowly, infectiously. "I'd love to tell you, but unfortunately I still have to work with a lot of those guys, and if they recognise their questions, I'm dead meat." We can't have that, as the laughter subsides, replaced by a glowing smile.

"Within my family, we all have our opinions, each one of us wants us to be heard."

It's hard to know where this former model came from. Perhaps it was her unusual ethnicity, part Cuban, part German, with a dash of American Indian. None of that, she says, again with more laughter. "It's probably got more to do with my astrological signs: I'm a Virgo with Leo rising. Performing was just in my nature." But the Cuban thing is still inherent in her. Her family, she recalls, came from Spain via Cuba, and despite the cultural mix, she admits to having a cultural connection with her Cuban roots. "My father's family settled in Miami's Ebor City, which is a very Cuban community, where they rolled cigars, so the food, language, cigars and culture were always there with me as a child." She and her sister had a close relationships with her gregarious parents, and while there is no hint of showbusiness in the family, Diaz's desire to perform stemmed from her family. "Within my family, we all have our opinions, each one of us wants us to be heard. So we were always having a good laugh trying to get it out before the next one and always bouncing things off one another. My parents just love to laugh, and my mum would laugh at ANYTHING, so I had the perfect audience." Some things never change. No wonder she was a funny kid. "Yeah, I was hysterical", she confesses, amidst more raucous laughter. "I just had a good time when I was a kid; I just used to make people laugh."

"There's still a simplicity to Japanese LIVING, which has filtered into my sub-conscious."

But it was not as a funny lady but as a teen working model that the public first noticed Diaz. She began at the age of 16, appearing in such elite publications as "Madamoiselle" and "Seventeen", and worked for clients such as Calvin Klein, Coca-Cola and Levi's. She had a ball, and refutes the notion that working so young may have robbed her of a normal adolescence. "Funnily enough, at that age I thought that was natural for me, because I was always hanging out with older people, and somehow thought I could relate more to adults, than kids my own age." Diaz had her own unique education, travelling the world from 15 and spending three months working and living in Japan. "At the time I had no real idea what that experience was going to mean to me in my life, but now I look back on that part of my life, I see the influence it had on me." That includes "the cultural differences which are so marked, and there are aesthetic things that I really love about the Japanese countryside, and there's the food of course. But I've also discovered that even though there's something apparently very complicated and cluttered about the Japanese, at the same time there's still a simplicity to Japanese LIVING, which has filtered into my sub-conscious."

"I was just in the middle of it all and hung onto his coat-tails."

She returned to the US a successful model. When Cameron's Elite agent suggested she try acting, she originally auditioned for the smaller part of a reporter in the off-beat comedy, The Mask. Snaring the female lead after 12 subsequent call-backs, Diaz managed to hold her own opposite the film's over-the-top star Jim Carey. There was never a conscious plan for her to make that awkward transition to acting, "but it still seemed natural to me. It was something I knew I should be doing, should be pursuing, should be risking." The Mask may have catapulted both stars to major stardom, but at the time, Diaz had absolutely no idea of the kind of impact this film would end up having on her life- or Carrey's for that matter. "Ace Ventura came out just before so it became this Jim Carrey frenzy. I was just in the middle of it all and hung onto his coat-tails. I had no idea what kind of a film I was on, and as far as I knew, nobody I knew was even going to be able to SEE the film. I'd ask the director where my parents would be able to see it, and only then did it dawn on me that I was making this MOVIE." And the first time she saw herself on that big screen, "was just terrifying, though fun after a while. It was just such a different experience for me to actually see myself walking, moving, talking and playing this cartoonish character."

"Diaz made five films all released last year."

Following the huge success of The Mask, it was inevitable that producers came scrambling for "this year's blonde", and Diaz made five films all released last year. In the dark comedy The Last Supper, she was one of a group of liberal uni students who murder and dispose of a potential Hitler; Feeling Minnesota was an underrated comedy in which Diaz was engaged to Vincent D'Onofrio but ran off with his brother Keanu Reeves, and co-starred Tuesday Weld and Courtney Love. The little seen Keys to Tulsa starred Eric Stoltz as an unwilling blackmailer; Head Above Water was a comedy thriller casting Harvey Keitel as Diaz's husband, while Edward Burns' She's the One was yet another romantic comedy in which Burns and Mike McGlone find themselves having romanced the same woman, played by Diaz.

"For me, comedy is about honesty."

It seems that romantic comedy continues to run through her comedic veins, but her attraction to these films, including My Best Friend's Wedding and next month's A Life Less Ordinary, is not the comedy, but the reality of the situations in which her characters find themselves. "These characters are not trying to get a laugh as such. The situations are dramatic and serious, and the people involved in the situation are very serious about what's happening. For me, comedy is about honesty. People laugh the hardest when you're being most honest. Carey may well be talking about farting or whatever, the things that people don't talk about that are SO real and prevalent in your life, and it's those things that people laugh the hardest at. The same applies to a dark comedy, in which the situation is so frightening and so absurd, that you HAVE to laugh at it, because if it were really happening, it would be terrifying."

"Only a bonehead would assume that I wasn't capable of anything but looking pretty"

With Cameron Diaz, what you see is not necessarily not what you get. Beautiful she might be, but as her latest performances confirm, there's plenty of depth and talent behind the physical exterior, and she has little trouble persuading the powers that be, that she's more than just a pretty face. "Only a bonehead would assume that I wasn't capable of anything but looking pretty; I don't think people really think like that any longer. I think there have been enough women who have forged the way to show that we CAN have brains AND talent AND be beautiful. Why do we assume that just because you have one you can't have other attributes?" One such attribute remains her consistent sense of humour, and it's that sense of fun that she looks for when choosing her next project. "I don't want to suffer through things; I want to have fun with the people I work with." That fun will no doubt continue when she marries, again, in another black comedy starring Peter Berg, who's also the film's writer/director.

Published November 13, 1997

Update, September 2017: Since this 1997 interview, Cameron Diaz has been a familiar face on the big screen. She has become an established household name, and is one of the few actrices in their fourties who still get major serious parts (not the just the mother of the protagonist). However, she has decided to take break from acting and has not been in a movie since 2014. Cameron Diaz is married to Benji Madden, and lives in Beverly Hill California.

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"She walks into a room and the effect is pure captivation."

"Her unusual ethnicity: part Cuban, part German, with a dash of American Indian."

"It was not as a funny lady but as a teen working model that the public first noticed Diaz."

"People laugh the hardest when you're being most honest."

"We CAN have brains AND talent AND be beautiful."

See Paul Fischer's interview with


Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020