Diaz’s Los Angeles weariness pops up again when she’s asked whether, as a kid growing up in Long Beach, she ever dreamed of being a movie star. “Oh, no. I wanted to be a zoologist, to study the sociology of animals,” she says. “But that’s pretty much what I do now anyway. I thought I’d be on the plains of Africa watching lions, but instead I’m in Hollywood watching train wrecks.” And then she busts out laughing and adds hastily, “I’m just kidding.”
The decision to lay down roots in New York comes after a year of big changes for Diaz. In January 2007, she and Justin Timberlake announced that they were breaking off their relationship after nearly four years. Though both insisted publicly that the split was amicable, the tabloids reported that Diaz had a meltdown over Timberlake’s quick bounce into a romance with Jessica Biel and engaged in a series of rebound flings with everyone from surfer Kelly Slater and rainforest explorer David de Rothschild to musician John Mayer. Diaz won’t comment on any of it—“I’m in love with love. I’m in love with life,” she offers evasively when asked about the current state of her romantic life—but she will say that the past year has been a momentous one. “This year I just sort of decided, you know, there’s a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to do, and I’m going to do them,” she says.
On the list, in addition to spending more time in New York, are traveling—the Peru trip, in particular, she calls “amazing”—and developing charity projects, which, she says, “I’m not ready to talk about yet because they’re not totally up and running, and I don’t want to mess them up by talking about them too soon.” Another goal: “Just kind of taking more time getting to know myself. It sounds so corny that I can’t believe I even just said that, but, you know, there comes a time when you really have to get to know who you are.”
Though she’s not eager to explain exactly how she’s doing that—“I’ve just been figuring out what interests me and spending time with people who are important to me and being present in my own life,” she says—if her recent schedule is any indication, she’s approaching her career with newfound ambition. After finishing Vegas, Diaz, an actress not exactly known as a workaholic (“I usually do, like, a film every year or two,” she says with a laugh) went straight into The Box, the third film from Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly. The thriller centers on a couple who receive a mysterious box containing a button that, if pushed, will grant them a million dollars. The twist: If they push the button, somewhere in the world someone they don’t know will die. “I think she’s a different actress than she was before we started this film,” says Kelly. “Her character goes through a really intense emotional experience, and she put everything she had into it. I don’t know if she’s ever worked as hard as she did on this movie.”