“I’m a very private person, and I’ve never really sold my life to the public,” Diaz says. “There was this overwhelming pressure from all sides, and I just didn’t know how to handle it. My dad taught me how to fight when I was a kid. When somebody comes at you, you defend yourself.” Pausing to consider how unbecoming it can be for an actor to gripe about the burdens of celebrity, she emphasizes that this is not your standard pity-the-poor-movie-star whining. “Everybody says, 'You’re famous, deal with it.’ Well, you know what? I had been famous for a good 10 years and had never had to deal with anything like that before.” With a crowd of photographers permanently camped out in front of her house, Diaz remained in perpetual fight-or-flight mode. “I just could not take it. I just said, 'F--- off.’ Everywhere, across the board.”
It takes some effort to reconcile this combative image of Diaz with the person sitting in the gray leather booth at the Viceroy. When she’s talking about her niece, her movies, breaded chickenanything except the paparazziDiaz, who’s wearing a light gray T-shirt and slinky dark jeans, comes across as a kind of improbably sexy Lucille Ball. At one point a sip of Coke prompts an unexpected burp; she exhales clownishly over her shoulder, then starts blowing bubbles through her straw.
“Now I’ve made peace with it,” she says of being trailed by strangers daily. “I realize that I can’t change it. That’s a part of what society expects of people in my positionto catch our lives in certain moments. And I want to make movies, so I will participate on a certain level.”
One way to participate is by doing a magazine cover story to promote her latest film, which in this case is The Holiday, a romantic comedy written and directed by Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give). Diaz plays an uptight Hollywood marketing exec who catches her boyfriend cheating and decides to swap houses with a British journalist (Kate Winslet). Once in England, after making her way to Winslet’s Surrey cottage, Diaz gets a late-night visitor in the form of Jude Law. You can guess how things play out from there.
Diaz is not an actress you’ll ever catch discussing her “craft” or putting on airs about the dramatic process. Her preferred thespian technique? Following the director’s orders. “Really, after so many years, I like to be told what to do,” she insists. “And I want the person telling me what to do to know what they’re doing. Nancy knows.”
“Cameron very much likes direction, but I think that’s true of all really good actors,” says Meyers, who wrote the script with Diaz in mind. Meyers adds that Diaz serves as a kind of human antidepressant on film sets, with a talent for cheering up even the surliest crew members: “There’s always laughter around Cameron.” (Diaz returns the compliment, in her own way: “I love Nancy Meyers! I adore her. I just want to pick her up and, like, eat bits and pieces of her.”)