Born: 30 August 1972
Where: San Diego, California, USA
Awards: 4 Golden Globe and 1 BAFTA nominations
Many were jealous to the point of fury when Cameron Diaz made her film debut in the high-budget Jim Carrey vehicle, The Mask. Here’s another good-looking bit of fluff stealing another prime role, it was said — she’s all face’n’figure, no acting ability at all. There’s precious few decent roles for actresses anyway, for God’s sake. Now, ordinarily, you’d now read a detailed rejoinder to that attack. You’d hear how the artist under fire actually began studying under the private tutelage of Montgomery Clift at the age of 3, before winning a scholarship to the Lee Strasberg Actor’s Studio. Then there was the toil and starvation of years spent struggling off-Broadway. This overnight sensation was actually over a DECADE in the making.
So the story USUALLY goes. But, in the case of Cameron Diaz, those enraged attackers were pretty much correct. Before her debut, there’d been no acting classes, no honing of her skills in repertory, no years of rejection. She was a successful model, and there can be no doubt that her looks played a huge part in winning her the role of Carrey’s love, singer Tina Carlyle, in The Mask. What’s incredible about Diaz is not the story we don’t know — that standard tale of the building of knowledge and experience — it’s the story we DO know. For this model, this complete non-actor was actually EXCELLENT in The Mask. Beyond this, within two years she was starring opposite Harvey Keitel, within three she was alongside Julia Roberts, within five it was Al Pacino. And, miraculously, she more than held her own beside all three. Immediately, somehow, she was a world-class screen actress, a complete natural, a freak of cinematic nature.
Cameron Diaz was born on the 30th of August, 1972, in San Diego, California. Her father, Emilio Diaz, was a second generation Cuban American and worked as a foreman for an oil company. Her mother, Billie, was an import/export broker of English, German and Native American descent (a complex blend of bloodlines that helps to explain Cameron’s outrageous good looks). There was also an older sister, Chimene.
The family Diaz moved up the coast when Cameron was young. She attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, former alumni including John Wayne (for one year) and Snoop Doggy Dogg. An eclectic mix, for sure, and probably not one of which the Duke would have approved. Co-incidentally, being as Cameron would go on to play the owner of an American football team in Any Given Sunday, Long Beach Poly has produced more NFL players than any other school in the nation. Also co-incidentally, part of The Insider, starring Al Pacino, Cameron’s co-star in Any Given Sunday, was shot at the school (as were the classroom scenes in American Pie).
Cameron grew up in a two-storey, gray stucco house in Long Beach, famously one of America’s largest shipping ports — the Queen Mary has been moored in the harbour since 1967. The population was young, as were Cameron’s parents who had a definite laissez-faire attitude to their children. They’d take their daughters with them to parties, where their friends would treat the kids as adults — consequently they matured fast.
Cameron recalls school being fairly rough, remembering her father’s advice that, should anyone challenge her to an after-school fight, she had to tell them she couldn’t wait, she wanted to kick their ass right there and then. Tall and skinny from an early age, she was nicknamed Skeletor and hung out with the older kids. Hoping to become a zoologist, she kept two snakes, one of which grew to six and a half feet, and she bred mice to feed them (there were also the usual cats and dogs — NOT to feed to the snakes, you understand). Precocious and, by her own admission, not a little brattish, she was out driving with her first boyfriend, Lawrence May, when his Skylark pulled up alongside a Pacer. Diaz remembers telling him "If that Pacer beats us, I’m never going out with you again. I’m also going to tell everyone in school". As far as style went, Cameron was a rocker. She loved Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Whitesnake and, especially Ratt. She saw Metallica four times and her first gig, to which she was taken by her mother, was by Van Halen. Even now she says "If you really want to torture me, sit me in a room, strapped to a chair and put Mariah Carey on". With her poodle-hair, she’d dance at half-time at school football games.
By the age of 16, tall, mature Cameron was already attending Hollywood parties, without her parents as chaperones — Los Angeles only being 55 minutes away on the light railway. At one, she found herself being pestered by seedy-looking men, each telling her he could turn her into a model (amazing, really, as she recalls "I looked hideous. I was wearing a jump-suit with heels"). One, though, stood out. He said he could get her a deal with the prestigious Elite modelling agency and she noted that his business card, unlike the others, did not feature "a nude girl in a champagne glass". Also, he seemed to have a fax number AND a surname. As it happened, he was Jeff Dunas, a genuine high-class photographer with real connections. Cameron consulted her family and called him back. Within a week she did indeed have a contract with Elite. Her first job was an advertorial for Teen magazine. She received $125.
Graduating from High School in 1990, she went to work in Japan. Such was her parents’ trust in her that her sole companion was a 15-year-old fellow model. The pair shared a two-bedroom apartment. Four blocks away, Cameron was pleased to find, was a building containing seven nightclubs — she says she spent much time riding that elevator.
In Japan, aside from building a professional reputation, two important things happened. One, she allowed a photographer she’d worked with, a friend of her model friends, to take nude pictures of her. They were intended for her own portfolio and she thought nothing of it — until 1995, when the shots turned up in Celebrity Sleuth magazine, without Cameron’s consent and much to her embarrassment. Two, she met video director Carlo de la Torre. This was love, big-time. When she returned to America, the pair moved in together. They’d remain a couple for five years.
So, still not 20, Cameron found herself jetting between exotic locations — Australia, Mexico, Morocco — modelling for fashion magazines and catalogues, appearing in adverts for the likes of Nivea, LA Gear, Calvin Klein, Levi’s and Coca Cola. Her fees rose to $2000 a day. She was having a great time. Once, while making a Coke ad on Bondi Beach, she drank all manner of cocktails, then proceeded to a Japanese restaurant where she quaffed 30-year-old sake. The next day, suffering terribly, she recognised that she’d poisoned herself quite severely. She says she lost seven pounds in 24 hours. Where from is anyone’s guess.
Then came The Mask, quite by accident (oh, it’s enough to make you puke!). Cameron was visiting the office of the agent charged with getting her TV ads, and she noticed a script on the desk. She asked what it was and, when told, jokingly said she could do it easy. Taking her at her word, the agent set up an audition and, twelve auditions later, she had so convinced director Chuck Russell of her innate abilities that he lobbied for her, and she was in. And she was great, despite the problems of working with SFX AND the fact that — as she does before every movie — she suffered terrible stomach pains due to stress. Indeed, before The Mask, she had worried herself an ulcer. These days she relies on special breathing techniques to calm herself.
At the next year’s ShoWest award ceremony, Diaz would be voted Female Star Of Tomorrow. But she was well aware of her lack of schooling. Immediately upon getting The Mask, she took acting lessons, and threw herself into a series of indie projects with ensemble casts — for experience’s sake. Indeed, once she’d broken her wrist while practising martial arts for a part in Mortal Kombat (a part taken by Bridgette Wilson), and lost, to Gabrielle Anwar, a role in Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, ALL her next five movies were indies.
First came The Last Supper, where Diaz played one of a group of liberal students sharing a house in Iowa. Inadvertently killing a lunatic Bill Paxton, they decide that, each Sunday, they will invite one of the local right-wing crazies to supper, judge them Star Chamber-style, and whack ’em. It’s funny and very, very black — Cameron fitting in well, despite the lack of Mask-type glamour. Next came the rom-com She’s The One, written and directed by Edward Burns, then riding high on The Brothers McMullen and soon to appear in Saving Private Ryan and alongside De Niro in 15 Minutes. Here Cameron played a catty ex-hooker who messes up both Burns and his brother. She actually suggested her character’s scenes be slightly rewritten to make her more likeable. Not so that audiences would like HER more, but so they’d better understand why the boys were falling for her. Burns agreed, and rewrote.
Next came Feeling Minnesota, where she played ex-stripper Freddie Clayton, who marries Vincent D’Onofrio in order to repay a debt but would rather be with his brother, Keanu Reeves. Going on the run with Reeves, she’s pursued by private dick Dan Aykroyd. Importantly, while filming the movie, Diaz found she was staying in the same hotel as Matt Dillon, in town to shoot Beautiful Girls. The two met, but nothing happened — she was seeing co-star D’Onofrio at the time. Dillon said he’d call when he got back to New York. He didn’t — not for a year, anyway.
Now came Head Above Water, another black comedy, where Diaz played the young wife of judge Harvey Keitel, meeting ex-lover Billy Zane and having to conceal his body after his sudden death. Then there was Keys To Tulsa, where Cameron played down the bill to Eric Stoltz, James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger in a tale of blackmail, double-cross and revenge.
Now, having moved to LA, she took off. Having hit big with Muriel’s Wedding, director PJ Hogan took on a big-budget Hollywood rom-com in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Here, journalists Dermot Mulroney and Julia Roberts have been friends for years. Now he’s to marry cute, kind, incredibly rich Kimmy, played by Cameron. Roberts, naturally, now decides she’s actually in love with Mulroney and, advised by gay buddy Rupert Everett, attempts to wreck the wedding and claim Mulroney as her own. Unfortunately, Diaz is SO nice, Roberts finds it increasingly hard to ruin her life.
My Best Friend’s Wedding was a massive hit, and proved a turning-point in Julia Roberts’ career. It also launched Cameron, whose naivety and decency were hilariously over-the-top (she’s a natural comic). Many remember the scene where, set up for humiliation by Roberts, she has to sing Bacharach/David’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself at a karaoke bar. She’s terrible, unutterably awful, but her courage wins over the crowd, thus foiling the sneaky Roberts. This is one reason why real audiences take so readily to Cameron. Though clearly beautiful and exceptionally talented, she’s not afraid to send herself up and to appear less than perfect.
Next came A Life Less Ordinary, where she was kidnapped by vengeful Ewan McGregor, and a cameo in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. But her next big step came in another comedy, this time There’s Something About Mary, the latest from the Farrelly Brothers, creators of Kingpin and Dumb And Dumber. By now, Cameron had hooked up with Matt Dillon, managing to keep the relationship together even though he lived on the East Coast and she on the West. Strangely, the Farrellys didn’t know this when casting their movie. Nevertheless, in they both were, Cameron as the eternal love of geeky Ben Stiller, Dillon as the private dick who’s hired by Stiller to track her down, only to fall for her himself.
The film was a sensation, as was Diaz in it. How innocent she seemed, how genuinely perturbed by the legendary zipper scene ("We got a BLEEDER!"). How brilliantly unknowing she was in the restaurant with her sticky hair, in what has become tastefully known as "the gel scene". How great she was with the manipulative Dillon, immediately forgiving his enormous political incorrectness, like when he says of a group of mental patients "Those goofy bastards! They make me feel alive!" Superb stuff. She well deserved her first Golden Globe nomination.
Having learned her craft so quickly in that series of indie flicks, she’d got the taste for low-budget movies, and would now attempt to balance her career, where possible, between big and small. On the small side, she played puppeteer John Cusack’s wife in Being John Malkovich, entering Malkovich’s head and having sex with Catherine Keener (another Golden Globe nomination). She joined the star-studded female ensemble cast of the intertwining Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, as a blind woman, then played a Seventies rebel who commits suicide, then has her secret life uncovered by her grieving sister, in The Invisible Circus. Apparently, she was beaten to the female lead in Waking The Dead by Jennifer Connolly, which just goes to show the implacable and uncompromising indieness of director Keith Gordon (you’ll remember him as the supergeek owner of the killer car in Christine).
Beside these, she played the new football club owner, fighting for survival in a man’s world, and threatening coach Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s aforementioned Any Given Sunday. She was the one truly huge star in the big screen version of Charlie’s Angels. She was the voice of Princess Fiona, alongside Eddie Murphy in the mega-hit Shrek. Then she was the unhinged Julie Gianni, who sends lover Tom Cruise off the deep end in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. She really just wants him for sex but can’t bear it when he falls for Penelope Cruz. There’s a horrible accident when she’s driving, and it all goes haywire. Her performance won her a third Golden Globe nomination.
After this came Martin Scorsese’s much-vaunted Gangs Of New York, a historical epic (possibly the last of its kind), following the battles between resident gangs and immigrating Irishmen in the Big Apple, back when it was only a small apple, in the mid-1800s (ongoing famine at home quickly driving millions of Irish into exile). Diaz played Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest, Jenny Everdeane. Actually, she played EVERYONE’s love interest, forming part of a "love square" with DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Brendan Gleason. On a stormy set, Cameron took on a Henry Kissinger role, helping to keep hardcore arguments under control.
Beyond this, there was The Sweetest Thing, where she meets Mr Right and must learn how to win him. There was also two role reprisals. First, she re-became Natalie Cook in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, which saw her join her former co-star Julia Roberts in the $20 million club. Then she was Princess Fiona once more, in Shrek 2. If these perform as well as expected, they’ll take Cameron’s total of $100 million-plus movies to nine, in ten years. Quite incredible for someone who can’t act, eh?
Just as incredibly, Cameron Diaz has still to marry. Her relationship with Matt Dillon ended in 1998, and she moved on to Jared Leto, star of Urban Legend, Girl, Interrupted and Fight Club. They got engaged. Of course, the tabloids had a field day, claiming that Cameron was going to dump him because, in researching his role as a junkie in Requiem For A Dream, he’d given up sex and then, to recover from his exertions, spent time in a monastery without telling her. When they did split, in 2001, it was said to be due to Leto’s canoodling with Paris Hilton, the mad sod. But then they were reunited, with Leto then having to suffer inevitable rumours of a Diaz flirtation with Leonardo DiCaprio.
Having taken $12 million for Charlie’s Angels, $15 million for The Sweetest Thing and a further $10 million for Shrek 2, as well as the Big One for Charlie’s Angels 2, Cameron certainly doesn’t need money, particularly as, being a big fan of fries and Egg McMuffins, she’s so cheap to feed. Besides, she has her own restaurant, Bambu, down in Miami. One thing she’d LIKE, certainly, is more good parts, and you can bet she’ll be scouring the works of her favourite authors, Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski, to find material.