PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Shrek Forever After being the final movie of the franchise?
DIAZ: It’s hard. I’ve loved playing the role in all four movies. I don’t know what I can do about it. I keep saying that maybe I can start a petition to keep the Shrek movies going.
PLAYBOY: You were born in San Diego but grew up mostly in Long Beach. What were things like in the Diaz house?
DIAZ: My father was Cuban and my mother is English, German and Cherokee. They instilled a great work ethic in me and my sister, Chimene, who is two years older. They were young, really cool and worked their asses off. There was also a general party feel in my house. We all loved to laugh and loved being together. My mother was an importer-exporter, and my father was an oil foreman who ran crews digging holes in Brea, California. He hated his job. Every night he’d come home, open a beer, turn on sports on TV, turn down the volume and turn up rock and roll to the highest decibel. On weekends when all the big sporting events were on, they’d have their friends over for parties and barbecues for the Super Bowl, the Sugar Ray Leonard–Roberto Duran fights. On other weekends, because my mom and dad knew how to do everything and we couldn’t afford to hire anyone to remodel the house, they taught me and my sister how to build our deck, do brickwork, lay floors, do the gardening.
PLAYBOY: Did you get hassled about being a blue-eyed blonde kid with a Spanish last name?
DIAZ: Where I grew up all the Diazes had brown hair, brown skin and brown eyes, so there was a bit of "You’re not a Latina." I do identify with my culture. My dad’s first language was Spanish, but he didn’t teach it to us because he was made fun of growing up and didn’t want that to happen to my sister and me. He regretted that choice later, but it’s all right because I’ve lived all over the world and never picked up even the smallest bit of another language. I wasn’t born with that chip.
PLAYBOY: What do you most remember about Long Beach Polytechnic High, known for its record number of NFL draftees and for being a location in American Pie and American Beauty?
DIAZ: What I loved was that it was 3,500 diverse kids—Cambodian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Uruguayan—kids who wore turbans, Samoan kids who wore sarongs, had tattoos and gray hair down to here at 13. There were Crips gang members too.
PLAYBOY: And also Snoop Dogg, right?
DIAZ: Snoop was a year older than me. He stood out. He was tall and skinny and wore ponytails all over his head. I’m sure I probably bought weed from him.
PLAYBOY: Were your parents strict about weed and alcohol?
DIAZ: I was never really rebellious, because my parents let me do whatever I wanted. I grew up with weed and alcohol around me. My parents were clear that it wasn’t something they wanted me to get into, but it wasn’t something they could stop me from getting. When they said no to me, I listened. As I got older, they trusted me. They were like, "If you’re going to drink, don’t drive. Call us."
PLAYBOY: Was your high school rough?
DIAZ: Oh yeah. You moved out of the way fast if a girl pulled back her hair, took off her earrings and necklaces and then put on all her girlfriends’ rings like brass knuckles. The girl who had her hair loose and her necklaces and earrings on always came out with bloody ears, scratches and her weave hanging down.
PLAYBOY: On which end of the hurting were you usually?
DIAZ: I fought boys more than girls. I was a tomboy who was always made fun of and picked on by boys because I was a superskinny, ratty tough kid. I got called Skeletor. If your bite wasn’t as big as your bark, you were fucked. My father was a total scrapper who often came home having been in a fight, and one of the first things I remember him doing was teaching me how to fight. By high school I had learned the skill of not having to get into those situations.
PLAYBOY: Did you have to fight off the football jocks when you were a flag-twirling Polyette?
DIAZ: I wanted to be on the squad because we got to do dance routines. I hated doing the field shit. Those flags? I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" I got kicked off the squad because I would ditch phys ed. My sister was the good kid. I was the one who had to be handled because I was strong willed.
PLAYBOY: What kinds of guys were you into back then?
DIAZ: I was into the bad boys, like the kid who sat next to me in class who would sew up his fingers with a needle and thread, chop up SweeTarts and snort them and put safety pins through his earlobes. That’s what distracted me in class. When I signed with my manager at 21, my mom said to him, "My daughter is a good person who will always do right by you and work hard. The one thing you should know is that it’s always going to be about the boys. She’s boy crazy." It’s true. I love the men—in a very good way.
PLAYBOY: As a kid, were you into any bad-boy stars?
DIAZ: Raiders of the Lost Ark was a big thing for me. When I was nine, in my mind I was kissing Harrison Ford, and he was an amazing kisser. I was going to marry him. It’s not a secret today. He knows. He’s taken, so what can I do? But I also loved Karen Allen’s character.
DIAZ: She keeps stride with the man and hauls ass barefoot across the tarmac in a cutoff wedding dress when the plane is about to blow up. My grandmother was a scrappy hard-core motherfucker like that—a pioneer woman who butchered her own livestock, grew her own vegetables and made us soap out of bacon grease. She didn’t like cold weather, so when that set in, she’d move from California to a little house in Arizona, miles from anyone. My uncle says his scarring memory was seeing my grandmother, in only a skirt and flip-flops, holding a machete in one hand and a squirming rattlesnake she’d just beheaded for the night’s supper in the other. I come from that mentality.
PLAYBOY: What were your first jobs?
DIAZ: When I was 12 my mom put my sister and me to work in her office a couple of days a week filing and doing other work. Later I worked for a TCBY yogurt shop, and I bused tables and hosted at a family-owned restaurant called Hof’s Hut. Because my dad hated his job, I always said "If I don’t love it, then I’m not going to do it," so I have never done a job I didn’t love.
PLAYBOY: How did you get saved from the food business?
DIAZ: I started modeling at 16, during my junior year of high school. I had started going to places in Hollywood with friends, and one night the photographer Jeff Dunas asked what agency I was with. I wasn’t even sure what he meant, but he gave me his card and said I should have my parents call him. My parents were so supportive. They had impressed on my sister and me that whatever we wanted to do, we were capable of doing. We didn’t have to be the best, just do our best. That took a lot of pressure off.
PLAYBOY: Considering the hair pulling that went on at your school, did you tell your friends and classmates you were modeling?
DIAZ: I kept it secret from kids at school for the first six months. Then the summer after my junior year I went to Japan to model and lived there three months, sharing an apartment with another model, who was 15. When I came back to Long Beach I was like, "I don’t give a shit who knows."
PLAYBOY: After a summer like that, normal high school life must have been a letdown.
DIAZ: It was apparent I had no interest in any part of high school or the education I was getting there. I wanted to go into the world and learn about things that were relevant to life. My parents said, "Look, you’re 16, and, sorry, but all we know is what we know, and we’ve given it to you. We’re not going to keep you here just because we’re afraid for you." Then my mom added, "I just hope you keep a big stick next to your bed."
PLAYBOY: Did you need one?
DIAZ: Japan was a whole lot safer than Long Beach. I did find a boyfriend while I was in Japan—of course. An older guy.
PLAYBOY: That would be the video director Carlos de la Torre. But had you already been with a guy before that?
DIAZ: Yes! Oh my God, no—I don’t want my mom to know. Actually, fuck it. I had already had sex. I had a lot of encounters that weren’t "going all the way" but were fun and made me very enthusiastic and excited about the possibilities.
PLAYBOY: What was your first time like?
DIAZ: I kind of did it just to do it. I wanted to get it over with just so it was done.