Esquire, Nov 2012
Eighteen years after The Mask made her a star, we’re still in love with the ultimate California girl.
I realize it’s not gentlemanly to just start drinking at this point. But in my defense, the lady’s late, a full hour. And in the yawning mid-afternoon lull at the fabled Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, there’s really not that much else to do.
Plus, I need to loosen up a bit. There’s a certain pressure that builds when you’re waiting for a woman whom you – all of us – have desired at a distance for a good 18 years now. Just a harmless crush, one of those inchoate billboard fantasies you have when you’re a boy full of urges. And that’s what I was in 1994 when The Mask came out, starring Jim Carrey and a vat of green makeup. It was Cameron Diaz’s very first film, and she came dancing onto the world stage with those impossible legs and sparkling blue eyes. She looked like happiness, a tall drink of California sunshine. It was one of those “who’s that girl” moments –like when Halle Berry showed up on the Flintstones, or Megan Fox appeared on Transformers. Not the kind of movies that you’you’d think would trigger a flood of carnal longing, but still.
Ah, here she is now, as blonde as the day is long, scuttling through the lobby looking this way and that. She’s thinner and smaller than you might think, but then they usually are, especially the girls. And she’s brought her legs with her, I see – they start somewhere in the heavens with a pair of little shorts and come sliding down, all warm and bronze, into two simple white deck shoes. Arguably the finest pins at the multiplex, even at her age, which by the time you read this will start with a four (not that you could tell).
She spots me and comes over, a fountain of apologies. Something about her previous appointment dragging, and contractors at the house and oh the traffic on Sunset on a Friday afternoon…
“I feel so terrible,” she says. Then she removes her big brown shades, and you can tell from her eyes that she actually means it.
It’s fine Cameron, I tell her. Let’s have a cocktail, it’s Friday afternoon, start of the weekend.
“Do you know, I’m going straight – a soy latte would be my choice at the moment.”
But I just ordered a Manhattan. Now I feel bad.
“Hey go for it. If you get too drunk, I’ll carry you out and put you in a cab don’t worry. I’ve got my eye on you.”
Well that makes two of us. It’s hard to take your eyes off Diaz. As you can tell from the pictures, the body is still a thing of wonder. And there’s no trickery, either. When she does that wide smile that you’ve seen a million times, there’s the whisper of a crinkle at the pinch of her eyes, but that’s about it – the rest is all taut and airbrushed and dipped in honey.
The drinks arrive, and she cups her bowl of coffee like a chalice, blowing sweetly over the surface. “OK, so what have you got for me. What are we here for?”
It’s a fair question. We’re here for the trillionth celebrity interview at the Chateau Marmont, a genre unto itself by now. But the A-list interview is a peculiar dance. Though we laugh and drink and yes, sometimes flirt, there is all the while, a subcutaneous tussle going on. The writer digging for frankness, the kind you hear from people you’ve known for years rather than minutes, while the star gamefully dodges and parries. It’s my job to peek behind the curtain, to coax something from Cameron that she does not want to give. And this isn’t her first time at the rodeo.
We begin with her latest movie, Gambit, starring Colin Firth and Alan Rickman. Set in London, and reminiscent of old Peter Sellers movies, it’s a rollicking art heist caper written by the Coen brothers, in which Cameron plays a Texas rodeo queen. It’s possibly one of the campest movies she’s made – complete with elements of bedroom farce – the kind of film in which stuffy Englishmen lose their pants and middle aged ladies fart with gusto. Diaz’s rodeo queen is suitably cartoonish – she turns the yeehaw up to 11.
“The words were really hard to say,” she says. “I was happy to hear from Colin Firth who has said the hardest words ever on stage, for him to say, ‘these are tough words’ – so for the American girl from Long Beach, who has never done theater and is linguistically challenged as it is… I kind of wiped my brow.”
It’s funny for such an accomplished actress to pull the blonde card like that, talking about difficult words. You’d never think that she’s worked with Malkovich, Scorsese or Pacino.
“Yes but they’re British stage actors, they’ve done Shakespeare. Me, I do a lot of face acting.” She points at her face, lets her smile fall flat and looks at me utterly deadpan. “I’m doing it now.” Then she bursts into laughter. “Did you see me emote? I was doing it! Oh man!”
This is Cameron. She’s endearing, sweet, a charming talker and effusive on the topic of London and how she loves it so, now the restaurants have got so much better and, oh, which bit are you from, when did you move to LA…? Observe how friendly she is, what an attentive listener, how she makes this conversation as much about me as her. Notice how she tries to disrupt my focus by leaning forward in that blowsy white top and touching me first on the hand, then the knee. I know her game. It’s not easy remembering what your next question was while she’s laughing at your jokes and maintaining eye contact. And how’s a man meant to concentrate with that get-up of hers? I can just picture her at home, looking at her wardrobe: “Who is it today – some boy journalist from Esquire? I know, I’ll wear my tiny pink shorts, the ones that clasp my world famous buttocks and offset my spectacular thighs. That’ll fuck him up.”
Fair play Cameron. Ding ding round one.
Here’s what we know. We know that we like her because we can’t stop lining up for her movies. It’s no mystery why she nets the big dollar and why the studios keep calling. Take Bad Teacher last year – it had a budget of $20 million, but made $215 million worldwide. And that’s just one example. There’s also There’s Something About Mary, Any Given Sunday, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York, Vanilla Sky, both Charlie’s Angels movies and the entire Shrek franchise.
We also know that she ascended quickly and more or less stayed there, which is no mean feat. There was no hiatus to have babies or fall off the map into Promises Rehab in Malibu. She’s been essentially untainted by scandal, despite maintaining a consistent presence in our lives. And OK, so her awards cup may not exactly runneth over – critics tend to froth more freely about peers like Bullock, Blanchett or Theron. But Diaz doesn’t lack for chops. Exhibit A: her frizzy, hysterical pet-obsessive in Being John Malkovich. Exhibit B: her light-fingered 19th century grifter in Gangs.
Gambit is more of a lark, admittedly. But in exactly three weeks she’ll be on set – in London again – for a movie that could scarcely be more different. The Counselor, the new Ridley Scott film starring Brad Pitt, is based on a script by Cormac McCarthy, and is by all accounts every bit as dark and violent as you would expect. She plays a possibly insane owner of pet cheetahs who, at one point in the script, fucks a car. All she’ll reveal today though, is “it’s the most interesting script I’ve ever read.”
Where she reigns, however, is as the energetic, cute, but defiantly ungirly knockout – the all-American tomboy blonde, spirited and happy, who doesn’t seem to realize quite how hot she is. (Her Charlie’s Angels character, essentially, minus the kung fu). The appeal is universal. Boys come for the scorcher who isn’t up herself and knows how to party. And girls see her as a pretty bff rather than the mean girl who steals their boyfriend. Nancy Meyers, who directed her in The Holiday, said “it’s really hard to be that cute and sexy and funny and that sort of girl-friendly.” Her niceness, in other words, is inassailable. But you knew that anyway. You can tell by her smile. There’s an uncomplicated delight there, something child-like and kind that resonates.
And from what I can tell, it’s real. The happiness is genuine. Which, let’s face it, isn’t universally true for childless, single women staring down the barrel of the big Four-O.
Cameron: For the first time in my life I’m content. I turn 40 at the end of the month – August 30th. I’m so excited.
Esq: What’s so good about 40?
Cameron: Getting older is the best part of life. Like, I know more than I’ve ever known. I have gratitude. I know myself better. I feel more capable than ever. And as far as the physicality of it – I feel better at 40 than I did at 25.
Esq: You do look terrific. That’s not the Manhattan talking either.
Cameron: Thank you! Well it all just comes from being happy. There’s no such thing as anti-aging – it’s all a crock of shit, you can’t go back in time. So for me, it’s about living in this moment, the best that I can. Contentment is about coming to terms with life as it is, rather than getting all pissed off that things didn’t fit into your little prescribed box. I have never lived inside the box. I have my own box. And it’s much bigger.
Esq: You’ve got a big box. Is that what you’re telling me?
Cameron: [laughing] I didn’t say that! That is not what I said!
Esq: Yes you did. I can see the headlines now: “I’ve got a massive box”, says Cameron Diaz.
Cameron: Fine. My box is so huge you can’t even see the sides. There’s no limit as far as the eye can see.
A waiter hovers with a couple of plates of food. But it’s for another table – the two rippling guys sitting across the room, who are waving at us now, saying hi. Instantly, Cameron leaps into the conversation. She does this a lot, apparently – people ask her for a photo, and she detains them for 20 minutes asking them about the minutiae of their lives. It’s part of her charm, of course, but also a clever way of dodging the interrogation. One minute we’re talking about her box, the next, she’s fully engrossed in another conversation.
It turns out that these guys are half way through some brutal six-week physical program in Venice run by Frankie Cassavettes, whom Cameron knows – “tell him Cameron says hi, that’s my homeboy”. This isn’t your average exercise regimen either – it involves murderous workouts, an excruciating muscle treatment called rolfing, and an almost equally painful diet. But Cameron lives for this stuff. She’s up at 5.3o most days, for her work out. It’s not a chore, it’s who she is. She runs up and down the hills where she lives before heading to the Equinox gym. And when one of the guys says, “but running downhill will kill your knees,” Cameron springs out of her seat. “No, there’s a way you can do it,” she says.
And for a moment, one of the most successful actresses of her generation stands in the corner of the Marmont lounge, legs apart, knees bent, slapping her butt and squeezing her quads, talking about glutes and what-have-you.
I’ve completely forgotten what I was about to ask her. Oh yes…
Esq: So how is it you’ve managed to escape marriage for so long?
Cameron: I’m smart! No, it’s hard to say. It just wasn’t the thing I was drawn to. I certainly didn’t want it in my 20s. Or my 30s. And I’m going to be 40 in three weeks. So we’ll see! I always wanted to get hitched in Vegas at least three times. It’s funny because as my girlfriends get older, I see how their relationships have evolved, and you know, the people you’re drawn to change. I’m not attracted to the same people that I was drawn to in my 20s.
Esq: You gave an interview to Playboy in 2010 where-
Cameron: Yeah, I said that I want a man who can throw me over his shoulder or something. I was living in this hotel at the time, by the way. That’s the spirit of the Chateau for you.
Esq: So is it true?
Cameron: Oh I still want a man. And, if you’re talking on an animalistic level, I want someone who takes care of themselves, who’s strong. That’s attractive to me. That’s why I was so interested in what those guys were talking about. To hear that other people are engaged in life like that, is exciting to me. It’s a mentality. Discipline is very attractive. I think it’s something we’ve lost in our society. Discipline frees you, it allows you to do so much more.
Esq: So the right guy could walk into your life right now and wahey!
Cameron: Of course! It’s so exciting!
Esq: And then what, kids? Do you get broody?
Cameron: Oh I’m sure I have a few kids out there I don’t know about.
Esq: Did you freeze your eggs?
Cameron: No! I feel like that shit’s going to happen when it’s meant to. I just go with the flow. Right now, I’m super-happy. Why would I mess with it?
Esq: You know, because the clock’s ticking, all that stuff.
Cameron: I don’t need to have the children in my life be a part of my literal flesh. And anyway, there’s still a possibility of that, I ain’t that old. Believe it or not, I’m feeling very… capable.
Esq: That’s good information.
Cameron: By the way, that’s going to be one of those goddamn headlines, I can see it now.
She had three high profile relationships starting in the mid 90s, each one lasting three or four years – Matt Dillon, Jared Leto and Justin Timberlake. She was engaged to Leto. Now Timberlake is due to marry Jessica Biel. Her dalliance with Alex Rodriguez, the baseball star, lasted about a year and ended last September. And every piece of this has been fodder for the supermarket rags. But – and instantly, more questions bubble to the surface – does tabloid intrusion hurt a relationship or make it stronger? Which of her exes is she still close with? Is she going to Timberlake’s wedding? Is there a sex tape out there that she’s had to bury? Is there any truth to the gossip about her and P Diddy? And what did she mean when she told Playboy that she was always “getting on planes for cock”. Which airline was that? We only ever get peanuts in coach.
But all in good time. We’re getting along swimmingly, I’ll ease it all out of her yet. Another Manhattan, I think.
“I’ll just have a cup of ice,” she says.
Oh go on Cameron, just a cheeky tipple.
“It’s just, I’ve got this thing tonight.”
A friend’s birthday party beckons later tonight, a friend she won’t name. (The obvious suspects are Drew Barrymore or Gywneth Paltrow or Stella McCartney or Reese Witherspoon. But given Cameron’s resume, it could be almost anyone.) Her friends are a big part of her life, she says. She’s constantly jetting around the world to see them. Not in her own jet mind – she laughs when I ask if she owns one. “I’d be broke. If you knew how much I fly…” She’s on a plane every week or two, she says.
Lately she’s been spending much of her time in New York, because she likes walking around there, and prefers the paparazzi, among other things. “They can get a shot of me but I won’t even know it,” she says. (Which beats getting mobbed, as often happens in LA and London.) Here in LA, on the other hand, there’s no walking. She zips around town in a black Maserati– and she’s a wicked little driver too. For a moment, she was top of the leader board on Top Gear. This last couple of years she’s been busy remodeling a little mansion in the Hollywood Hills which she allegedly bought off Candice Bergen in 2010 for just over $10 million.
“My life,” she says, “is fucking amazing.” It’s the lifestyle you imagine – famous friends, turning left on the plane, more air miles than stars in the sky and a front row seat at the fashion shows. But the most impressive part is that it’s all self-made. Hers is no silver spoon story. There’s no well of family money, no well-placed uncle in the biz. Before the whole global celebrity thing, she was, as she often says, “just a girl from Long Beach”, an unpretty port town, about forty miles from Los Angeles.
Cameron’s parents were barely in their 20s when they had her and her sister Chimene. Her mum Billie did the Customs paperwork for an import/export broker, while her dad Emilio dug up the road as an oil company engineer. “If you saw a crew in the middle of the fucking street with orange vests and hard hats going underground? That was my dad,” she says. Between them they gave Cameron her exotic ancestry – she’s part Cuban, Anglo, German and Cherokee – along with a dollop of good old fashioned blue collar discipline.
“I learned how to do everything from a very young age. My parents were like ‘you’re going to be your own person one day, this is how you take care of yourself.’ So everything from doing the laundry, to cooking to cleaning the entire house, scrubbing the toilets, picking up the dog shit. And things were done right. Everything was checked. It wasn’t fun, but my parents could have sold us when we were two or three and broke even… So we had to pay off!”
In the mornings, Cameron left for school, a latchkey kid, and every time, her parents would tell her: “pay attention, don’t be stupid, you know what’s right and wrong”. She went to Long Beach Polytechnic, a high school, where she was in the year below Snoop Dogg “who I probably bought weed off one time.” She remembers him as “tall and skinny with rubber bands in his hair”.
“He’s Snoop Lion now. You didn’t get that tweet last week? He found Rastafari.”
I’m guessing he found a lot of weed.
“Oh he’s smoking a huge one right now, I guarantee you. He’s like”- she puffs her cheeks out, and starts puffing. “He’s smoke signaling himself.”
Naturally she was a cheerleader – the legs were coming in handy. But other than that, school left her cold. “I just didn’t care about it. It didn’t make any sense to me to sit in front of a book and try to remember the answer to a question.”
Then she met a photographer called Jeff Dunas, with whom she’s still friends to this day. “He said ‘tell your parents to call me.’ And trust me, the other guys who asked to do my pictures did not say ‘ask your parents.’ They were like: ‘I will make you a model. Here, have this drink, I made it myself.’” Elite models offered her money and travel – she was all of 16 years old. And the next thing she knew, her dad was driving her to the airport. “He said, ‘OK kid, I’ve taught you everything I know. So now, go out and use it. Don’t be stupid, pay attention.’”
She travelled to Japan and Paris. She lived with a video producer for a while. And even though she was young and naïve, she managed to avoid the traditional pitfalls – there’s a sensible gene in Cameron. A determination too.
“My mama always told me that nothing’s for free. I had girlfriends that had producer boyfriends who were like, ‘we can go to his house and take his jet’. But I was like, even if I don’t do anything with those guys at the house, everyone who sees me with them just assumes that I did. So that costs me. So actually, it’s not for free. So thank you for the invitation, but I don’t want to pay that price.”
Pay attention. Don’t be stupid. The advice was paying off. And then she booked The Mask which changed her life changed forever.
Esq: I was roaming around the Internet, amassing my dossier.
Cameron: And you’re trying to figure out who I gave a handjob to.
Esq: Correct. But when I Googled “Diaz” and “Handjob”, nothing comes up. It doesn’t make sense.
Cameron: I told you.
Esq: You had instant fame and riches and you were 22. Everyone goes a bit nuts in their 20s, even if you’re not famous. You’resupposed to.
Cameron: Believe me, there is a handful of us, from the mid to late 90s, that were really having a good ass time, in this very hotel… Oh hellz yeah! But we got through unscathed. Nobody knows. You know why? Because that was before the tabloids started digging into twenty-something actress’ lives. That’s how old I am. Honestly I first started getting “famous” in the mid 90s, after My Best Friend’s Wedding, and the tabloids weren’t as nuts as they are now. There was the Enquirer and the Star, but nobody took them seriously. There was none of the blogging and all that stuff. And thank God because there was some stupid ass shit going on back then – I’d be so mortified.
Esq: What kind of stupid things?
Esq: But you’re so evolved and past it now.
Cameron: No. What happens in the Chateau, stays in the Chateau.
Esq: OK, so tell me how then – how did you avoid losing the plot? The way I remember the 90s, everyone was running around shoving things up their nose.
Cameron: It just wasn’t interesting for me. There’s more I want out of life. Not to say I didn’t go through my phases, but anytime I was in danger of any of that, I was like, ‘come on Cameron, that’s not who you are… There’s so much more to gain by not doing that stuff.
If there were any handjobs they almost certainly happened here in the Chateau. For a decade, Cameron owned a house just up the hill, and she’d come down most days for meals and meetings. And this went on right through There’s Something About Mary, the film that really catapulted Diaz into the firmament. It made $369 million worldwide, won Diaz a Golden Globe nomination, and all was well in the world. Her star was rising, Malkovich was around the corner, and Martin Scorsese would soon come calling.
It would appear that she reached an apex of sorts after the second Charlie’s Angels movie, when it came out that she was the 2nd ever actress, after Julia Roberts, to make $20 million per movie. But Cameron doesn’t see it that way.
“I think it’s rude to talk about people’s income,” she says. “I’m just doing my job, and I get paid relative to what everyone else is making. To single someone out and print their number, it objectifies people.” She has never taken a movie for the money, she says, though she’s had many opportunities. And yes, she has been fortunate – she’s rich and enjoys many luxuries in her life, but “they allow me to accomplish the kind of schedule that I work,” she says, “so really they’re necessities.” The focus on her wealth misses the point. What counts is that she’s still the girl from Long Beach who works hard and knows the value of money.
“Except for the incinerator I have at home where I just throw bundles of cash into it. Oh I’m so cold, let me throw a bunch of hundreds in there. Somehow hundreds burn hotter, have you noticed? Something about Benjamin.”
Doesn’t it get harder to play a waitress, though, when you’re making lotto money every movie?
“I think your foundation is your foundation. I work as hard as it takes. That’s the essence of who I am. So for me, I’m not thinking ‘hmm, what is it like to do that?’ I already know. And I’ll jump into it at any time. I can scrub my own toilet. And I can scrub it against the best scrubbers of toilets. We can do a scrub-off!”
There is something immovable about Cameron. The same young model who couldn’t be swayed into impropriety in her teens, the debutante actress who refused to go off the deep end in the first flush of fame – now, she has all the money, fame and success to validate her choices and her sense of conviction seems all the stronger. There is a belief system underpinning all this, a spiritual one. And the more she talks, the more it emerges as the overriding framework through which she explains her story, not to mention her views on money, relationships, contentment.
You’ve heard the kind of thing. It has the flavor of The Secret about it – words like “universe”, “gratitude”, “surrender” and “energy”. And as the afternoon matures, while the Marmont returns to life, we both wade deep into these thickets, in the corner of the lounge – a magazine hack and a movie star traipsing through all the trite profundities of life. You must trust your intuition. Banish the ego. Be grateful to the universe. There is a harmony to all things. Until finally, I find myself in the full beam of her eyes, watching her pretty mouth make the words of a sentence that goes around and again, spinning a kind of spell.
“You know, if you’re grateful for what you have, you’re in need of nothing else – gratitude makes you happy, it allows you to be happy. You can look around the world and see that everything you have you should be grateful for, you’re just happy….”
It’s all so positive and wise, so buzzwordy and vague that it can’t not be true, this stuff. Whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing here will just have to wait – for now, Cameron Diaz is leading me by the hand into a garden of mumbo jumbo, and I’m powerless to resist.
“…If I didn’t receive anything more, I’d still be so grateful, so happy – and that, to me, is an opening to bring in more good. And to give. When you have gratitude, what you’re constantly doing is giving.”
What good has my English cynicism done me? Here in the new world, superstar beauties who have just finished building fresh mansions in the hills are telling me to just let it go, and embrace the universe. It’s time I listened. I’m listening now. This is it.
“You’re saying thank you, I appreciate this – so when I’m grateful, that energy coming out of me is always, thank you, thank you, thank you…”
Thank you Cameron. I’m grateful too. For this moment, this afternoon. Somehow we have left the lounge and arrived at the valet. She’s collecting her car.
“Thank you Sanjiv. You’re a good interviewer you know,” she says and gives me a hug.
And as she climbs into her Maserati and peels out into the wash of traffic, I’m left stumbling into the evening, tipsy and happy, believing that I got what I came for. Well played Cameron. Well played.