The Total Film Interview - Cameron Diaz

Lost In Translation; the vicious rumour… Scarlett Johansson is Sofia Coppola. Coppola’s ex Spike Jonze? That’s Giovanni Ribisi. And Anna Faris, who plays the ditzy actress the couple drink with in the bar? That “You know, we both really like Mexican food and yoga and… karate! Ha ha ha ha!” irritant? She, allegedly, is Cameron Diaz as written by a Coppola who was jealous of her friendship with hubby Spike. It’s all possible, time and woman-scorned-wise. But is it reasonable?

Total Film meets Diaz on a sunny April morning in Los Angeles’ Four Seasons hotel. Here to talk Shrek The Third and her 13-year-career, there’s just time for some 11th hour info-cramming, curled up in the calm of the Beverly Hills’ hang-out’s hospitality suite with a head-straightening mug of black java for company. The rub? OCD-afflicted (“I’m not scared of germs. I’m just aware of them”), politically-alert (on a Charlie’s Angels promo push, Diaz wore a “I Won’t Vote For A Son Of A Bush!” t-shirt) and adorned with four Golden Globe noms… So far, so catty Coppola.

“Cameron’s got a Starbucks order!” shrieks a PR, nattering urgently into her dinky headset mic. Silence broken, Total Film looks up, discarding notes midway through the quote, “sex is the most amazing stress reliever. I actually think…” Bugger. “She wants a Venti Iced Latte!” Room 1218 freezes. A pressing of buttons, and the order is placed. Phew. Fancy coffee evidently what’s needed to prepare Ms Diaz, it’s time for our interview – a discussion that will unequivocally not include talk about her personal life. Especially with former beau and Shrek The Third co-star Justin Timberlake loitering nearby…

But, as Total Film is ushered from hospitality to grilling suite, your hapless, camera-less hack ogles the shot all the paps – and there are flocks of ’em waiting at the gates – want. It’s JT. And CD. Together, cosy in conversation. Taken over by the spirit of Heat, it’s prime time to eavesdrop. Leaning in, peering round the door… “Cameron!” exclaims Timberlake, loud, camp and hilarious. “What are you doing here?!” Our snooping exposed, the two ‘estranged’ stars are led off into different rooms by those busy, dinky-headsetted PRs, Diaz’s with Venti Iced Latte in tow.

“Hello!” says Diaz, flashing the smile that’s captured the hearts of Timberlake, Leto, Dillon and a million pubescent boys. “I’m talking for the first time today. You’ll have to give me a little time to, y’know, warm up!” From the off, the actress is friendly and chatty, beautiful in her shoulder-length brunette hair, blue eyes dazzling. Sure, she may find pretty much everything “wonderful”, from Shrek’s “message” to the “human tribe” to, wait for it, the way Jonze tackled the task of prepping Being John Malkovich from script to screen, but the 34-year-old native Californian possesses one, oft-underrated quality… she’s nice. In a tête-à-tête with Coppola, perhaps her sparkle would prove a wind up. Or, if you prefer, the two women were just lost in translation…

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle aside, Shrek is the only franchise you’ve returned to. And now you’re onto a third. Why come back?
Well, people loved the first one, it’s something they really took to heart. And people then loved the second one more than they loved the first one. But then you get to the third one, and you go, “How can we possibly make this stand up to the first two?” But it does. It absolutely does! It delivers. It has the edge that Shrek films are known for, but at the same time it has a wonderful message that you’re never too old to learn from.

Six years together. It’s been a long time for your Fiona and Mike Myers’ Shrek...
He’s always going to have his self-esteem issues, not thinking he’s worthy of being a king or a father. But Fiona has been living the storybook life since we first met her in the tower, and now she’s realised her Prince Charming didn’t come in the package she thought he would. She’s learned to have patience with Shrek, accept him for who he his. I think they’ve both absolutely evolved.

Moving away from the storybook world of Far Far Away, do you think Prince Charming exists?
I wasn’t really ever a big, fairytale girl… But what’s wonderful about Fiona finding her Prince Charming in Shrek is that she’d always been told, “This is how he has to look, he has to look like this!” And from all the storybooks that we’ve been given, that’s what sticks in your mind. If you buy into it, that’s how it’s meant to be. But it doesn’t always come in packages.

A valid point, but your Prince Charming? Discuss.
The thing I’ve learned by having several relationships is not to talk about them with the press! But what do I find sexy? I find confidence sexy in a man, like real confidence, not a machismo kind of ‘fluffing of feather’ confidence. I like the honest confidence, of somebody who, y’know, exists as their own person. And is okay with that.

When it comes to chasing that man though, tell us you’re not as obsessive as your Julianna Gianni character in Vanilla Sky...
I don’t see Julianna as being obsessed! I mean, she’s participating in a relationship with David [Tom Cruise] as far as she’s aware. This is a man who invites her over to his home five nights a week. They’re sharing something very intimate and in the past it might have been okay for her. At this particular time in her life, though, she finds that she’s no longer willing to play games and is going to take the first step. She’s just putting herself out there and being honest about how she feels…

Right. We’re not convinced. If not obsessed, isn’t she a little, erm, naggy?
I hate naggy women! I actually sometimes feel Fiona should be less naggy to Shrek. She should be more understanding. This is difficult for him. He’s an ogre, he doesn’t see himself as a king, you know what I mean!? [Laughs] There needs to be compassion here!

Is that the secret to keeping a winning team together? Compassion? The Shrek gang must all know each other pretty well by now...
I’ve never delivered a line to Mike Myers. Our love affair is completely fabricated! But I like the Shrek gang onscreen because there’s sort of a tribe and I think, as humans, we all exist as a tribe. We’re pack animals. Donkey and Puss have found their balance. In the second film, they were at odds – who was going to be the first side-kick? But now they’re just happy being friends and being part of the tribe that makes the collective work. I think that’s such a wonderful thing within the tribe. Everyone has their strengths, and their weaknesses and you appreciate both those things in people, what they have to offer and the things you have to assist them in.

Did you assist Justin Timberlake in getting the part in Shrek The Third?
No. You should ask him how he came onboard, because it’s interesting actually. Yeah.

Point taken. But yourself, 13 years in the business and a string of hit films already in the bag. Surely you don’t have to audition for parts anymore?
Well, I auditioned for Marty’s Gangs Of New York and I went after Being John Malkovich – I flew myself out to New York for that one. Charlie’s Angels, though, I don’t think I had to audition for! [Laughs]. But everything I do is an audition, you know? Every film you do is an audition for another part. Charlie’s Angels was my audition for [Roger Kumble’s] The Sweetest Thing, and influenced whether or not I would be able to take that film on. I had to be successful in Charlie’s Angels, so it all sort of builds up...

Your on-screen auditions have obviously succeeded, because your career has sky-rocketed. What’s been the most enjoyable thing for you?
I’m most happy when I’m doing press every other day [Laughs]. Most happy. That’s happiness to me! [Laughs] There are so many different facets of my job, y’know? I mean, I consider the press part of this more my job than acting. It’s not that it’s torturous, but it’s certainly more work than going and playing a character because playing a character is the fun part of the job…

Looking back, what are you most proud of? What would you watch again in 50 or so years time?
Well, I remember when I did The Mask, everybody kept asking me where do you see yourself in 10 years? What kind of films do you want to be making, do you want to be acting? And my answer is the same now as it was then. I just want to be happy. I just want to be happy, 10 years from now. But, looking back, y’know, I loved Being John Malkovich because I think of all my work that film just stands on its own and doesn’t fall into any genre. It was such a great, fun experience.

Ever fancy getting into someone else’s head?
It’s been such a long time since someone asked me that question! I used to say that I’d like to see through the eyes of someone who is completely different from me. Somebody who just does something completely different, from a priest to a child to, y’know, an astronaut… to see through the eyes of something completely foreign to me. That would be kind of interesting, I think.

You didn’t understand what Malkovich was all about though?
I don’t think you just happen upon a script like that and go, “Oh, I think I get it.” You can’t participate in that film if you’re not like, “Holy…” It’s completely irrational, you have no idea really how it works. It was just as obscure on the screen as it was in the script, which was wonderful. Because Spike didn’t try to make sense out of it in any way. He allowed it to be exactly what it was, so that was really cool. He didn’t try to fix it… You can’t fix it! But each one of my films is just so unique. Gangs Of New York… working with Marty was, like, of course, amazing. The scope of that film… It’s unlikely that I’ll ever do a film that big again.

You must have been bricking it when the knives were thrown...
I had full confidence in the guys, and because my character Jenny was used to having knives thrown at her – she had been the butcher’s apprentice for a long time – and she had full faith in Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill, I wanted to make sure that she seemed unflinching. I wanted to show their relationship, and how comfortable she was with him. Until it builds to what it does, of course. As that’s not part of the act…

Have you ever slapped a man like Jenny does Bill?
I don’t recall! [Laughs]. On Gangs, though, I think Marty just had me around because I was laughing with him. Marty loves to laugh. He loves to have fun!

As for you, and your time off, your fun time – rumour has it you’re quite the surfer. What is it about riding the waves?
It’s definitely a spiritual experience. Because you can interact with mother nature, which to me is a source of God. It’s a source bigger than all of us. It’s amazing. You get to take all this energy that’s travelled across the ocean for thousands of miles and it pushes you from the surface onto the shore, and you get to usher in this distant traveller to its destination. It’s pretty amazing. It’s very spiritual. When you’re there, you’re just in the moment, and the water is so cleansing.

What else makes you tick?
Gosh. I travel a lot, I love surfing. I love snowboarding…

Anything with a board?
I also love to cook, hang out with my friends! I love to eat, I’m pretty good with Italian… But no one wants to hear about that. I do all kinds of stuff… that I don’t want to talk about! [Laughs]

Perhaps later. Still, planning your life. How do you combine work and pleasure, make plans...
I hate predicting the future. I really do. I can’t even make up my mind as to what I’m going to do this weekend. Should I go or should I stay? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go. Or maybe I’ll stay. Oh… I’ll go. Nah, I’ll stay. [Laughs] I won’t know until I get to that time and I’m dragging my bag down…

But with choosing movies, surely you must have to plan ahead and prepare?
I like to do it all. I’ve served my own identity in film without really locking into any one thing. At least that’s how it is from my perspective because I get to play the roles so I know what it takes to create each one of them and I know the tone of each of the films.

In Her Shoes and The Holiday are both very different films… they’re the last two I’ve done before Shrek, which is very different too. Next, I may do another romantic comedy or a thriller, maybe a psychological one. Who knows? I don’t know exactly. Or maybe an action film! I don’t know. I like doing them all! It’s such an awesome opportunity to be able to do any of these films, to see how many experiences I can have. I’m just happy to take as many as I can.

And, as you said, most recently it’s Shrek The Third. Can you describe the Shrek phenomena in five words?
In five words? I’m very challenged with the English language, so I don’t know if I can give you five words…

Okay, three then?
[Laughs]. I’ll do five… I think it’s heartfelt. Thoughtful. It’s funny. It’s genuine. And I think it’s important as well. I think people take hold of it because they realise the value of the film. They go and they give their money and they actually get something back. Which is wonderful.

And it presents the world as a pretty breathtaking place. What would an ideal kingdom consist of for you?
Well, there wouldn’t be any carbon emissions. That would be really great. If I had a kingdom? I’d make everybody plain nice, first off. If they weren’t, I’d take away their toys.

You’re well known for your environmental concern. What can people do to change things? What do you do?
I do what I can when I can. It’s a constant discipline. It’s paying attention to the choices and the decisions and your habits, y’know? I try to do everything that I can within my home as far as, y’know, energy, the basic sort of energy, saving energy, turning off the tap while I’m washing my face, my teeth, doing the dishes [Laughs]. I drive a Hybrid car. I recycle. I reuse. I compost. I try to be thoughtful about things like, y’know, the food that I eat and where it comes from.

Are you hard on yourself when you don’t reach your goals?
No, I’m pretty good at letting myself slide!

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.