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Fall Sneaks

The Bride's Packing Heat

Next up, we'll see Cameron Diaz in the kind of part she's been dying to play: 'The guy role.'

September 07, 1997|Steven Smith | Steven Smith is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Cameron Diaz has unshakable faith in fate--which may explain why she's unfazed one hot August afternoon when her two favorite neighborhood restaurants are closed for dinner, and a third, last-ditch choice doesn't offer a table.

Diaz decisively grabs the keys to her black Mercedes-Benz, heads west on Beverly Boulevard--and glides confidently into the last open parking space, right in front of restaurant No. 4. Inside it's calm, air-conditioned and completely empty. Perfect.

These days, all the right doors seem to be opening for the 25-year-old model-turned-actress. After bringing an unexpected sweetness to the role of Jim Carrey's siren girlfriend in "The Mask" (her 1994 screen debut), Diaz did increasingly confident work in such small films as "The Last Supper," "Feeling Minnesota" and "She's the One."

In 1996, she became Sho-West's Star of Tomorrow--then scored a second mainstream movie KO this summer as the sunny fiancee Kimmy in "My Best Friend's Wedding." This October brings her most demanding role so far: the female lead in "A Life Less Ordinary," director Danny Boyle's ambitious follow-up to "Trainspotting."

A hallucinogenic fantasy mixing fallen angels, road movie comedy and '90s bloodshed, it casts Diaz as a cynical heiress who falls in love with her latest kidnapper: a misfit janitor (Ewan McGregor) who's just been sacked by her tycoon father.

Diaz admits she was thrilled to play such a strong-willed character--"the guy role"--to McGregor's passive, almost feminine antihero. "Reversal of power!" she cries, as her ear-to-ear grin bursts into a long, loud guffaw.

"A girlfriend of mine, who's this amazing actress--we're both kind of fed up with not finding anything interesting. She's like, 'I want the guy roles!' I said, 'Well, just rewrite them!' " A decisive nod. "That's what we should do: Start demanding that the good roles get rewritten for females!"

Despite her belief in destiny--and several superstitious raps on the restaurant table--it's clear Diaz has had much say in her fate since age 16, when a meeting with a photographer led to her first career, as an Elite model. Within the year, she'd left her parents' home in Long Beach to spend a summer in Tokyo; by 19, she was modeling in Paris.

Although Diaz insists she didn't grow up as an aspiring actress--zoology was her passion--she got hooked on the "chemical" thrill of acting during 12 callbacks for "The Mask."

Director Chuck Russell championed her work and encouraged her to play to her strengths, moving the part away from its Jessica Rabbit origins and toward Diaz's gift for mixing toughness with vulnerability.

Her modeling career gave her security in front of the camera; as for acting, "I've been very fortunate--I've had on-the-job training," says Diaz, who still works on roles with a coach. "Every actor I've worked with I've learned something from.

"Working with Harvey Keitel [on "Head Above Water," released this year], the first thing he said to me was, 'No question is a dumb question.' He questioned everything, and where I would've thought, 'I can't ask that, that's so dumb . . .' coming from him, it just sounded like he knew what he was doing."

But Diaz admits it's taken her years to feel secure as an actress. On her second film, the dark comedy "The Last Supper," she was surrounded by movie and stage veterans--"and I was terrified, because I didn't know . . . anything! I was looking to see what they were doing with their scripts, because I had . . . no . . . idea."

Diaz's third project was even tougher: the grungy Keanu Reeves love story "Feeling Minnesota," whose shoot began with Diaz doing a sex scene and a monologue.

Diaz squirms at the memory. " 'Feeling Minnesota' was hard for me to watch--I watched it in parts. I think it was the experience of it. I was beat up, thrown around, my feet were really cold and it took a lot of hot water to get them back to normal. . . . Watching it brought back all that ugliness."

Which explains why Diaz's biggest film to date--"My Best Friend's Wedding"--was such a lark. "I'd never played anybody who got to smile all the time," she says, a Kimmy-like grin appearing on cue. "I don't get tied up, I don't get shot at or beaten--I smile!"

Bullets and beatings were part of the drill again in "A Life Less Ordinary"--but the filming itself was "very loving," thanks to her chemistry with Ewan McGregor and directorDanny Boyle. It was Boyle who read with Diaz at her audition--although "read" may be too mild a term.

"I'm sitting in a room with Danny, there's a camera going, and suddenly he starts yelling at me!" Diaz gasps, reliving the moment. "And I'm like, 'What is this guy yelling at me for?!'

"Then I heard the words and realized he was reading the lines with me! No warning. Then I got really excited, because he was acting--and he was really good!"

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