She commands multi-million fees to front movies and regularly tops the world's sexiest women polls. Declan Cashin meets golden girl Cameron Diaz.
It's 5PM on a warm Friday evening in Los Angeles. The sun is setting on a very long day of interviews for Cameron Diaz. Our interviewing room in the Four Seasons hotel in Beverley Hills has become dark because of the time of day, but for other reasons too.
For an hour now the international Press has been clumped together in a small room with poor lighting, our initial enthusiasm soured by a difficult (to say the least) interview with Nancy Myers. The director of Cameron Diaz's latest movie, The Holiday, was exhausted and irritable, having made the final cut of the film just two days before. And so, a black cloud had set on the room.
TV interviews with Cameron Diaz for the foreign Press had been running all day, triggering fears that an equally crabby, junket-weary actress was about to join us.
"Wow, it's dark in here," exclaims a strikingly brown-haired Diaz, as she breezes into the room, and with those words, the whole place brightens up. Most people I've encountered since the interview - girls mainly - have asked me if she really is that beautiful in reality, all of them hoping, secretly, that the Diaz we've seen on screen for a dozen years was just some kind of CGI-created illusion.
I'm sorry to have to tell you that this former model, who regularly tops or features highly in lists naming the world's sexiest women, certainly won the genetic jackpot, her newly darkened locks ("It isn't for a role, it's just because I like it") suiting her as much as her usual blonde.
Today, she is in flying form, good- humoured, warm and energetic. Dressed in a black couture-tailored jacket, navy William Rast jeans and a little pair of silver slippers that she proudly proclaims to have purchased for $$69 (see folks, she bargain hunts too), a 34-year-old Diaz looks more like a rock star than A-list actress.
This is not an entirely unsuitable look for the California native these days, seeing as she has been an item with the current Prince of Pop, Justin Timberlake, for more than two years now.
It's rumoured that the couple will marry in the New Year, but with Diaz, the interviewer can sense that questions she deems too personal will be agilely deflected, ignored or greeted with stony silence.
Diaz has no problems talking about The Holiday, however, a light-hearted Christmas romcom in which she plays Amanda Woods, a workaholic movie-trailer editor, who spectacularly dumps her boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) when she discovers he has been unfaithful. Meanwhile, across the pond in Britain, wedding columnist Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) is pining for a colleague who has just become engaged to another woman.
One evening Amanda stumbles onto a website that specialises in transatlantic home exchanges, and falls for Iris' English countryside cottage. The two heartbroken gals are both looking to escape their respective man troubles and so impulsively agree to swap homes for the Christmas holidays. Upon arriving in snowbound England, Amanda finds her solitude broken by the arrival of Iris' charismatic brother Graham (Jude Law), while in LA, Iris befriends a retired screenwriter (Eli Wallach) and finds romance with film composer Miles (comedian Jack Black).
The Holiday is all about finding love at the most unexpected time, in the most unexpected of places. Diaz's love life has never been far from the public gaze, from her stormy years with There's Something About Mary co-star Matt Dillon, through to her failed engagement to Jared Leto, to her current relationship with SexyBack himself, JT. When pressed for her take on love and whether there's just the one special someone for everyone, Diaz is surprisingly frank.
"I don't know," she states. "I have no idea. But what I love about this movie is its sense of possibility that there is true love out there. The great thing about the relationships in this is that you don't know if they're going to work.
"And that's perfect, because in life, you don't know what's going to happen. You can't say, 'I'm going to take a chance in this moment on this person, and we're going to have something wonderful together for however long it is'. In this day and age, when people's lives are so full, and they have so many options that they never had before, it's a very brave thing to just hand your heart over to one person when there are so many possibilities.
"The idea of spending the rest of your life with someone isn't what it was. I think people get married today so they can get divorced. You know what I mean? It's like, 'I'm going to get married because I can always get divorced if don't like it'."
The terrain of romantic comedy is a familiar one for Diaz, who has established somewhat of a niche in this market, on the back of her turns in last year's superior genre effort In Her Shoes and earlier efforts like The Sweetest Thing (2002), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) and She's The One (1996).
Despite this, she tells me she has no outright preference for these kinds of movies per se.
"I'm about finding different people," she explains.
"Really, for me, the experience is about the director and the material. The biggest thing is whether I feel connected with the story, and that the director knows what their vision is and how they can make that vision a reality.
"That's what drew me to The Holiday. Once I read the script and got into the dialogue of it all, the rhythm of it all, the banter of it all, I knew that it was just going to be fun."
There is no denying that Diaz has successfully sought variety in her on-screen incarnations ever since her eye-popping debut opposite Jim Carrey in The Mask (1994) at age 21. Diaz worked steadily for the next few years in largely indie films such as The Last Supper (1995) and A Life Less Ordinary (1997) before striking gold with the role that was, she admits to this day, truly instrumental in launching her career: the granddaddy of all gross-out comedies, There's Something About Mary (1998).
What Diaz did next is what makes her so interesting. She followed up with the jet-black comedy Very Bad Things, before utterly transforming herself to play a dowdy, sexually confused housewife, replete with a mousy, Sideshow Bob-esque brown wig in Spike Jones' Being John Malkovich (1999).
The role won Diaz nominations for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild award and, more importantly, deflated any perception that she was just vacuous, generic blonde arm-candy.
"Yeah that film certainly changed a lot of things for me," she admits. "It got a lot of attention mainly because it was so 'What the hell is going on here?'
Everyone involved, from the director and writer, right through to the cast, was insanely brave to put themselves out there in such an original and honest way. That's the kind of thing that made it stand out.
"I've done other films that are quirky and odd, that are not mainstream and where I'm not the pretty girl, that didn't get noticed, possibly because those elements weren't as strong."
Since then, Diaz has walked the line between blockbuster fluff (Charlie's Angels), savvy kids' franchises (Shrek), and Scorsese (Gangs Of New York). For the sequel, Charlie's Angel's: Full Throttle, she became only the second actress to ever command $$20m for a movie role (the other, aptly, was Julia Roberts to whom Diaz played second fiddle in My Best Friend's Wedding). All up, she's made at least one movie a year over the last decade.
"This is like my second film in two years," she protests. " I'm definitely not a workaholic! I'm very different from (Holiday character) Amanda but at the same time, there are similarities. What's wonderful about these characters Amanda and Iris is that they're highly relatable.
"We've all been in their situation before. We've all had our hearts broken, and stayed in a relationship too long. We've all not confessed to what our part is, and not connected to our own feelings and really understood who we were so that we were able to receive and give in a way that nurtured a relationship.
"That's why we make these kind of movies. So that people can go 'Oh my God, I totally get that' and you shed a tear, have a laugh, or a cathartic experience, or learn something about yourself, or just go in and get lost. I consider it a great privilege to be able to make a living just telling stories to people so they can have that experience. It beats everything else I can think of doing."
At this point, Diaz's protective publicist steps in, tapping his watch and announcing that the new question has to be the last. So I pick up on one early scene from the movie where Diaz punches her boyfriend in the face. Has she ever done something similar to a paramour?
"Not for any reason such as that," she answers with a careful smile.
How about to a journalist, I venture, being fully aware that she's had more than one run-in with paparazzi, having once even furiously grabbed a camera from a photographer's hand.
Diaz fixes her gaze on me with a mock scowl, brandishing her right fist, one finger of which boasts a huge (non-engagement) ring.
"Happens all the time buddy," she says. "Happens all the time. "