PLAYBOY: Did you pick a bad boy?
DIAZ: No, he wasn’t bad, and that probably made the difference. After that it was as if the gates were open. So Japan was great. I had my own apartment. I met somebody I ended up hanging out with. It was amazing to be young and free and have all those experiences.
PLAYBOY: What did you figure out about yourself through those experiences?
DIAZ: The big thing I learned was how noncompetitive I am. When I started modeling, I had a blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend who always got called in for the same casting. Sometimes I got the job; sometimes she got it. We’re still good friends. My mom always said, "If it’s your job, you’ll get it," and even today I never look at other actresses and say, "I wish I had what they have." I love women. I root for women. The only women I don’t like are jealous, spiteful ones who stab other women in the back and do shitty things.
PLAYBOY: Young people away from home sometimes get into trouble. How did you handle alcohol and drugs?
DIAZ: I was 19 and in Australia for the first time doing a commercial. I didn’t know Australians are actually superhuman and don’t have livers. I was out one harmless, wonderfully fun day with a group of hospitable Australians who were showing me Sydney. I was keeping up with them drinking, and they got pretty shit-faced, but I got alcohol poisoning. I survived, but it was as bad as alcohol poisoning gets. I thought I was dying.
PLAYBOY: Do you have to watch what you drink?
DIAZ: No, it had nothing to do with excessiveness. It was a simple mistake. I know what I can and can’t handle.
PLAYBOY: Did any modeling experience make you consider ditching the whole career?
DIAZ: Once I went to shoot pictures with a photographer who turned out to be a total creep. I walked in and looked him in the eye. He said, "Trust me," and I was just like, This guy is bad news. I always know to trust my street sensibilities. I said, "No, thank you" and walked right out. He never took a picture.
PLAYBOY: Did it raise eyebrows in Hollywood when, in 1994 at the age of 21, you got cast in The Mask despite having no real acting experience?
DIAZ: As for what others think, if you’re not happy for someone’s success, I’m not interested in you. I don’t think I’ve done anything in my life to make people hate me and not want me to do well. There are people you see and go, "Wow, really—that asshole got that movie?" I’m never going to wish something bad on somebody. The balance of the universe means that if somebody gets successful in the right way, it means only continued success. If they get there in the wrong way, it will even out.
PLAYBOY: But you know the casting couch exists in Hollywood.
DIAZ: There’s a subculture of the business in which that happens, but the real business is about numbers. Every time I do a movie, people sit and run the numbers. We study them. We negotiate deals over them. They put people in movies because they think those people will recruit the audience’s money, not because they got a hand job. They may put somebody in a movie because audiences want to think they’re going to get a hand job from them, but they’re not actually going to get the hand job.
PLAYBOY: What pops into your head when you remember you and Jim Carrey making The Mask?
DIAZ: How we laughed our asses off. He was phenomenal, and I was in awe of what he did. We had a blast and had such great chemistry. I’ve always had a lot of confidence, but the director, Chuck Russell, encouraged me, saying, "You can do it." I call it on-the-job training. I’m still doing on-the-job training, still learning.
PLAYBOY: You’ve never studied acting?
DIAZ: When I was auditioning for The Mask I worked with a coach, and I’ve worked with coaches over the years. I have ADD. My attention goes to so many different places. I don’t focus. I’m terrible at doing homework, so I need somebody to make me do it.
PLAYBOY: It seems to be working, because you’ve held your own in movies starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Malkovich and John Cusack, let alone been directed by Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Cameron Crowe and Curtis Hanson, no less.
DIAZ: I’m lucky. I’m not an ambitious person. I never project into the future, like "I’ll be happy when..." fill in the blank. I don’t look beyond being happy doing the movie I’m making now.
PLAYBOY: You’ve had award nominations for There’s Something About Mary, Vanilla Sky and Being John Malkovich. Do you secretly lust after the kinds of dramatic roles played by, say, Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett?
DIAZ: Working with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York put a lot of things in perspective for me. I saw the way he worked and the outcome of his hard work. I could do exactly what he does and have completely different results. Why would I put myself in the position of trying to do something only Daniel Day-Lewis can do?
PLAYBOY: So you’re saying you know your strengths and limitations?
DIAZ: If I had the ability to focus on one thing, I would be a different actor. I don’t have that ability. My brain doesn’t work that way. I do the roles I do because of the person I am. I feel really grateful, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done in different kinds of films. Have I done it spectacularly? Not always. Maybe never. But I’ve done it with everything I had at the time. And that’s all I can do. Whether other people consider my accomplishments to be successful or not doesn’t matter to me. I don’t give a fuck what other people think. I have my own standards I live by.
PLAYBOY: You’ve co-starred with actors who could be considered eccentric and others who could be called certifiable. How do you deal with those situations?
DIAZ: Again, I don’t give a fuck. It’s not about me. We have a finite amount of time to get to know each other, make it work, make the best of the relationships we forge and create something together. You have to make the most of it. I love the challenge of having to learn how to communicate, to know what words I can and can’t use to get the most out of a situation.
PLAYBOY: In 2008 Anna Faris told this magazine she was still uncomfortable about the widespread belief that she mocked you in her performance as the hippie-dippy self-absorbed actress in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
DIAZ: She’s lovely, talented, funny, and I love watching her. I have no ill feelings toward her whatsoever. You can’t hurt my feelings. I’m the first to make fun of myself.
PLAYBOY: When have you most embarrassed yourself in front of another celebrity?
DIAZ: I saw Jeff Bridges at this year’s rehearsal for the Oscars ceremony. I didn’t know what to say, but I rushed over and was like, "Um, hi. Congratulations on everything. You must be so excited," and he gave me this sideways look and smile. We just didn’t connect. There was no response. I was like, Okay. Then I started sweating and thinking, Wait, he’s nominated, right? Or did I just totally make an ass of myself?
PLAYBOY: You’ve talked about the movie business being about numbers. What does it mean to you that What Happens in Vegas had good box office numbers but your good work in In Her Shoes and My Sister’s Keeper wasn’t seen by anywhere near as many people, and your horror movie The Box bombed?
DIAZ: I never put that kind of pressure on myself. I don’t do a movie for any other reason than to have an audience enjoy it, to have a good time making it and to be proud of it. I like to do a couple of more commercial films and then do a smaller one—the kind that makes only so much money, whether I’m in it or someone else is. I appreciate the opportunity to do that. I trust the people I do business with to make it so that we do good business. It may not do phenomenal business, but we’re not stepping out on a limb, so we’re all going to be okay and be able to do business together again.
PLAYBOY: In Being John Malkovich your character and Catherine Keener’s explore a trippy kind of lesbianism. How do you view sexuality?
DIAZ: We are who we are. We all know what drives us. Sexuality and love can be different things. I can be attracted to a woman sexually, but it doesn’t mean I want to be in love with a woman. If I’m going to be with a woman sexually, it doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. We put these restraints and definitions on people, but it’s hard to define.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been romantically associated with well-known guys, including Matt Dillon, Jared Leto and Justin Timberlake. When a relationship is over, do you move on easily?
DIAZ: I feel about a lot of things in life—but certainly about men—that we’re with the people we’re supposed to be with when it’s meant to be. I’m so grateful my parents were a loving, beautiful example of what people do when they care and want to make something work. For me, it just hasn’t been the time to make that commitment. I have an extraordinary life. I’ve had really successful relationships, even though they’ve lasted only a certain amount of time. I’m okay with that. With some of the relationships that have drawn public interest, I feel as though I’ve evolved, learned and become better equipped. I don’t feel I need to make it different for the outside world that’s looking in and judging it.
PLAYBOY: The way you’ve spoken about your closeness to your father, it must have been especially hard when he died of pneumonia in 2008.
DIAZ: My dad was so powerful, a sheer force. His death was sudden and completely unexpected. We’re lucky to have such a strong family, and it’s completely different now that my father’s no longer physically with us. When someone dies, people say "He’ll always be with you," but until that loss I didn’t realize he’s with me in a way he never was before. There’s a treasure to be dug out of every hole left empty next to you.
PLAYBOY: Do we wind up falling in love with versions of our parents?
DIAZ: I can see qualities of my father in some of the men I’ve been with, though none of them were men like my father. My father always expected the best of me, never diminished me, never expected me to be less than who I was. That’s hard for some men; it’s threatening. But because my father instilled that in us, there’s no going back for me. I’ve tried severing parts of myself to fit into a relationship that needed me to be a little smaller. It doesn’t work.
PLAYBOY: The tabloids have been speculating that you and Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez may be an item. What’s the truth?
DIAZ: No, no, no. I’ve been in relationships since I was 16 years old. In the past three years I’ve made a conscious decision not to be in a relationship for as long as I want. I’ve stayed away from all the traps out there for me to just fall into something that will potentially lead me down the same road. I love being a woman to a man, but I want to have a relationship with myself right now.
PLAYBOY: That can’t possibly stop guys from trying out their best pickup moves, though.
DIAZ: I do get men trying to pick me up. I’m always interested. I never shut down any man who’s willing to ask me out, unless he’s a total douche bag. It takes a lot for a guy to ask out a girl like me—not because I think I’m super special or anything. It’s just that I think men are intimidated, and it’s a lot to get involved with. It’s not uncomplicated.
PLAYBOY: Are you complicated?
DIAZ: I’m super easy. I’m not a complicated person, but I’m complex like any other human being. I know myself. I know what I want and what I don’t want. I’m not a scorned woman. I’m not a resentful person. I’m open. I’m really into pleasure. I love to take a big bite out of everything.
PLAYBOY: How much do the by-products of fame—such as the tabloids and the paparazzi—complicate your life?
DIAZ: You wish there weren’t people who think it’s okay to pay people to tell horrible stories about other people’s lives and reveal incredibly damaging, hurtful things to the public. But if I spent any time reading what people make up about my life, I would be taking away from how I live my life, which is so much better than anyone could imagine. With photographers, you’re happy to stop and give a photograph because you understand that’s part of the business. It’s when they’re aggressive and attack that I wish I could draw that line. It goes back to the whole balance of the universe. You have to have faith that one day all the good or harm people do to others will come back to them.
PLAYBOY: When you decide to have a relationship again, what things about a guy are certain to turn your crank?
DIAZ: Obviously I have no type if you look at the men I’ve dated. I like confidence, but I’ve learned that just because somebody has confidence doesn’t mean he’s secure. I’m primal on an animalistic level, kind of like, "Bonk me over the head, throw me over your shoulder. You man, me woman." Not everybody has the right chemistry and the right kind of primal thing for me.
PLAYBOY: What has been the best atmosphere or background for your peak caveman-cavewoman adventures?
DIAZ: There are so many; I can’t pick one. There’s something about moonlight on the body and things happening sort of free and open. Outdoors is something I’m totally game and down for. I love to cuddle. I love physical contact. I have to be touching my lover, like, always. It’s not optional. It’s an absolute. My lover is everything to me.
PLAYBOY: When have you been most recklessly impulsive in the name of love?
DIAZ: Oh gosh, I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten on a plane for love. It’s not unusual in this business; my lifestyle demands it. I’m always traveling for [whispers] cock. You’ve got to go where it is.
PLAYBOY: Sex toys, pro or con?
DIAZ: A long time ago a girlfriend and I said, one, a woman should never be in a broken-down car without her AAA card, and two, she should never be alone without a dildo.
PLAYBOY: Do you see yourself ever stepping away from acting, or are you in it for life?
DIAZ: Do I think I’m going to do it forever? Maybe. Do I think I’ll ever stop? Maybe. I just know that right now, things work. I’m having a great time. Am I tired? Fuck, yeah, I’m exhausted from working my ass off at doing what I love to do. But it isn’t so much going to work; it’s the amount of time the work I love takes me away from doing other things I enjoy. After I’m done promoting Knight and Day I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m starting to fantasize about how I want to spend my time with family and friends. I have an extraordinary life, for which I am so grateful. If you’re grateful for what you have, you’re in need of nothing else. I can’t imagine how my life could get better, but I’m sure it can. It will—because it always does.