When Cameron Diaz topped Forbes magazine’s 2008 list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, some may have been blindsided. But others readily understood why the leggy blonde with the sultry face, smoky voice, dangerous curves and mile-wide grin had earned every penny of her $50 million payday. After all, it was love at first sight for millions of ticket buyers when the 21-year-old former model came out of nowhere in 1994 to play a slinky cabaret singer in Jim Carrey’s comedy rampage The Mask. The affair continued with Diaz’s karaoke-bar scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding, another box office hit. She sealed the deal playing the dream girl who unknowingly uses horny Ben Stiller’s baby batter for hair gel in the 1998 smash There’s Something About Mary, for which she won awards ranging from the New York Film Critics Circle best actress honor to a Teen Choice Award for starring in the most disgusting scene. She memorably shook her rump to "U Can’t Touch This" in the blockbusting Charlie’s Angels, won prestigious awards for roles in the offbeat Vanilla Sky and Being John Malkovich, and, with her husky voice and presence, made even the ogreish CGI heroine of the lucrative Shrek franchise seem delectable.
Truth is, the funny, beautiful, sunny sex symbol whom both guys and women want to hang with has not only surprised audiences and critics again and again but has also been defying expectations all her life. Born in 1972 in San Diego, California, she is the second daughter of Emilio, a second-generation Cuban American, and Billie, who is of English, German and American Indian descent. Growing up in Long Beach, Diaz learned to be sports-minded and outdoorsy from her father (who had hoped for a son). After attending Long Beach Polytechnic High, the tall, skinny tomboy blossomed into a beauty and was signed in 1989 by the premier Elite modeling agency. Gigs for such companies as Calvin Klein, Nivea and Levi’s and posing for the covers of such magazines as Seventeen sent her globe hopping until, at the age of 21 and with no professional acting experience, she landed the femme fatale lead in The Mask.
Instead of exploiting her big movie splash, Diaz wisely chose to learn on the job; she slowly worked her way up in three years by starring in indie movies including She’s the One with Edward Burns and Feeling Minnesota with Keanu Reeves. While on location for the latter she met Matt Dillon, who was filming another movie nearby. They had a three-year relationship. In 1999 she and actor Jared Leto began a four-year relationship. Her success in low-key films led to a stretch of high-profile work that includes Any Given Sunday, Gangs of New York, In Her Shoes, The Holiday, What Happens in Vegas (which netted her a 2009 worst-actress Razzie nomination) and the misfired thriller The Box. Her offscreen fame rose commensurately, especially when, in 2003 at the age of 30, she and 22-year-old singer Justin Timberlake launched a much-publicized relationship that ended in 2007. Now happily single, she’s co-starring alongside Tom Cruise in the spy action comedy Knight and Day and with Seth Rogen in the twisted superhero movie The Green Hornet, in theaters this Christmas. Diaz looks poised to reclaim her position in America’s hearts, minds and fantasies.
We sent Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello, who last interviewed Matthew Fox for Playboy, straight into the heart of Sunset Boulevard coolness to interview Diaz. Rebello reports: "Cameron Diaz’s carefree, openhearted, effervescent, incredibly sexy screen persona isn’t smoke and mirrors. It’s impossible not to have a good time when you’re around her. Under what occasionally sounds like surfer-chick speak, she is not only sharp, frank and wise but also scores big points for punctuating some of her snappiest comments by cracking her knuckles. What’s not to love?"
PLAYBOY: On-screen you’ve helped shatter the old Hollywood myth that beautiful, sexy women can’t also be funny. But in real life, can too much laughter get in the way of good sex?
DIAZ: I’ve never known too much laughter to get in the way of good sex. Of course, there’s a time to be funny and a time to not. It all depends on what you’re laughing at. If you’re laughing while having sex, laughing at a certain thing about your partner such as a physical attribute that could definitely get in the way.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of physical attributes, you’ve shaken your famous backfield in memorable dance numbers in The Mask, two Charlie’s Angels movies and The Sweetest Thing. Don’t tell us you’ve permanently retired from booty shaking since What Happens in Vegas.
DIAZ: My booty has been on hiatus from film but certainly not from everyday life, where it doesn’t stop moving. It’s in constant sway and has a mind of its own. On camera, though, there just hasn’t been an opportunity for it to assert itself lately.
DIAZ: There’s a lot of running and chasing in Knight and Day. It’s a very physical film—lots of action and a love story with Tom. It isn’t a typical romantic comedy, nor is it hokey or clichéd. My character is a regular girl who starts off unsure of herself, then discovers what she’s capable of when she becomes partners with this superspy, Tom, who also realizes what he’s missing in his life.
PLAYBOY: Cruise has been known to get intense with his movie stunts. Were you up for that?
DIAZ: For one scene, Tom and I ride a motorcycle during the annual week of bull runs in Pamplona, Spain. Phenomenal stunt riders did the majority of the riding, but for the runs we did, the adrenaline was definitely up.
PLAYBOY: How did it feel to be in the middle of all that chaos?
DIAZ: You have to be so focused, centered and calm. We had 10 pissed-off bulls slipping, sliding and falling in front of us on cobblestone streets. Tom was letting off the throttle, then speeding up again, reading and gauging the situation every second—I mean, it’s not as though either of us had ever done anything like that before. You can’t be scared; you don’t have time. You have to be able to see everything going on around you.
PLAYBOY: Judging by your grin, the danger must have created quite a rush.
DIAZ: I love creating moments like that. That’s why I snowboard and surf. Going to the gym is an important part of my routine too. I always want to take care of my body. I love being in the moment. I don’t sit still easily. My mind is always going. When you’re doing something like racing cars, you can be only in that one moment, and I love that.
PLAYBOY: Your face and figure have put you in front of cameras since you were 16. Do you fear sports-related injuries could damage your looks?
DIAZ: I definitely have an understanding of being in front of the camera, but it’s a bit different for me these days. I broke my nose surfing and had to have it fixed three years ago so I could breathe. They had to move my nose a bit, and it totally changed the way my face photographs. I don’t understand my face anymore. It’s a totally different language. But you know, it’s just my face, right? [laughs]
PLAYBOY: When you were making Knight and Day, did Tom Cruise seem different from when you two did Vanilla Sky in 2001?
DIAZ: Same guy. Tom is super. He’s a special person. He’s passionate about making movies and passionate about his family. Those are the two most important things in his life, and he lives that. Working with Tom drove me to want to show up every day as driven and excited as he does.
PLAYBOY: Did you ratchet up your gym training because of him?
DIAZ: I just wanted to be strong and have the stamina to run up and down those streets and do whatever it took. Tom trained much harder than I did. He was like a maniac.
PLAYBOY: Have you always taken care of your body?
DIAZ: Never, until I did Charlie’s Angels. I learned then what it feels like to be strong and capable and to realize my body’s ability to be physical. I’m a physical person. If at any point in the day it became a struggle for me to do something, I couldn’t forgive myself. At 37, I’m too young not to have strength and capability in my body.
PLAYBOY: Is it important that the man in your life is at least your physical match?
DIAZ: Absolutely. Women my age are expected to be as hot or hotter than 25-year-old women, but most men don’t take care of themselves. As women get older, their bodies get better; my body certainly has. Women get to a place where all of a sudden we know we have to take care of ourselves and we do something about it. It’s a totally different standard for men and women.
PLAYBOY: But aren’t Hollywood guys fanatical about being in shape?
DIAZ: The challenge for a 37-year-old man is that a woman doesn’t want him if he’s not already successful. But women also want men to still be hot at 37. If a man has become successful, he thinks he doesn’t have to take care of himself to get the girl. I want to know that the man I’m with is taking care of himself. It’s a virility thing, an animal thing.
PLAYBOY: Did you and Seth Rogen have any sort of animal thing going while making The Green Hornet?
DIAZ: I was on the movie only nine days. I play Lenore Case, who is the main character’s secretary, and my stuff in the movie is just the beginning of our secretary-boss relationship. Seth is amazing. The director, Michel Gondry, is a super-eccentric genius. They’re two very unlikely people to be making a superhero movie, so I’m sure it has to have something of a twist.
PLAYBOY: Rogen has been known to publicly sing the praises of weed. Did you ever see him partake?
DIAZ: I might have seen Seth high but didn’t completely know it. I went to a party one night where I think there was some stoneage. People were definitely pretty baked, but I didn’t partake with him at that time. [laughs] He might have been high the entire time for all I know.
PLAYBOY: You just finished making Bad Teacher, a comedy with Justin Timberlake. You two ended your relationship in 2007. How was it working with a former lover?
DIAZ: We’re adults. Of course we could work together. It’s been three years since we broke up. It’s all done. We’re living two completely different lives from the one we lived together, so why wouldn’t it work? I wanted the best person for the job, and Justin’s perfect. We knew as soon as he agreed to do the film the tabloids would have a field day with it, which they have. We also expected it would be sexist, with them saying I was "after him" in some way, like it was a soap opera or something. But we wouldn’t let the small-mindedness of other people stop us from making the decision that was best for the film. We’re friends; he’s really talented and funny, and he killed it, he’s so hilarious.