Cameron Diaz

If ever a movie star belonged on the beach, it’s Cameron Diaz, the ultimate California girl. But in this age of predatory paparazzi, relaxing on the shore—or in town or anywhere—is hard work.

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Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz

If ever a movie star belonged on the beach, it’s Cameron Diaz, the ultimate California girl. But in this age of predatory paparazzi, relaxing on the shore—or in town or anywhere—is hard work.

It takes a lot to ruin Cameron Diaz’s day, but on this sunny Wednesday in October, after the actress has spent two hours stuffing herself with crabcakes and Coke, giggling and wisecracking and breezily dishing out the California-girl charm that has helped make her one of the highest-paid actresses in the world, she sees something that really bums her out. Diaz has just wrapped up a lunch interview at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica and has agreed to go to the beach and take a little walk. We get into her gray Prius, which is littered with half-empty bottles of Fiji water, and drive a few blocks to a beachside lot, where, within five seconds of leaving the car, she spots someone with a long-lens camera lurking behind a utility pole.

“Paparazzi,” she says, getting back to the car and motioning for me to do the same. When she sees the photographer slink into a silver SUV across the street, Diaz considers making a getaway but then decides she’s in the mood to face the enemy. What follows is a chilling lesson in the realities of celebrityhood, circa 2006.

Diaz pulls up next to the SUV, in which the paparazzo, a young woman in a white T-shirt, is crouching in the driver’s seat. The woman tries to stay hidden, so Diaz toots her horn and rolls down the window.

“Hi!” Diaz says. “How’s it goin’? Did you get a good shot?”

The paparazzo grudgingly sits up and offers a sycophantic smile. “I’m sorry,” she says. “If I can get one shot of you, I’ll leave you alone for the rest of the day. Otherwise there are going to be like 10 people coming.”

“Why?” Diaz asks.

“Because…that’s just the way the industry works. But if I just get one shot, I swear on my life that I’ll leave you alone.”

“So you’re saying that if you don’t get what you want, you’re going to just sic 10 other people on me?”

The photographer, who introduces herself as Danielle, tries to strike a sympathetic tone. “Honestly, I usually get sent on news stories,” Danielle says, adding that she’s here reluctantly, under pressure from her agency. Some tipster apparently spotted Diaz with me—a guy who’s not Diaz’s boyfriend of three and a half years, Justin Timberlake—and called it in. “Can we work out just a little deal?” Danielle pleads. “I mean, I’m just doing this to get ahead in my career.”

Diaz, who has stayed coolly polite thus far, can’t help but burst out laughing. “This is no way to get ahead!” she says. “This is, like, the bottom!”

“I know, but I just moved to L.A., and it’s like, I’m from Connecticut,” Danielle offers lamely. “I’m going to get in so much trouble, you have no idea.”

After listening to a few more entreaties, Diaz patiently explains why she won’t cooperate. “It’s a principle thing,” she says. “I can’t live with myself if I pose for you.”

“Please, please, please? Honestly, the agency will kill me.” “Oh, Danielle,” says Diaz finally. “I’m sorry. You should not be doing a job where you’re suffering this much. I hope another celebrity comes down here and cooperates, and I hope you get ahead in your journalistic career.” Diaz puts the car in gear and gets ready to speed off. “See you later, I’m sure!”

As she drives away, Diaz keeps glancing in the rearview mirror. “Awesome,” she says. “Now I get to spend the rest of the day with 10 motherf—ers on my back.”

Life wasn’t always quite this complicated for Diaz. In the top tier of Hollywood actresses, she was the blond babe who made everything look easy, the self-mocking klutz with a crooked grin who earned up to $20 million per film with little discernible effort. A native of Long Beach, California, Diaz began modeling in her teens and got into acting essentially by accident, after she auditioned for the 1994 film The Mask on a whim and—oops! —landed the lead role. As she racked up megahits including There’s Something About Mary and Charlie’s Angels, she gained a rep for being a lot savvier than she seemed: Who else but Diaz could manage to make only one movie a year, cash a fat check, grab her snowboard and fly away in search of fresh powder with Justin Timberlake in tow? She sat for the occasional magazine interview, as required, but had a knack for disarming even the most cynical writers so that her press coverage was devoid of the thinly veiled resentment that often clings to such icy icons as Nicole Kidman or Gwyneth Paltrow. When asked what motivated her career choices, Diaz inevitably replied, with apparent sincerity, that she mainly wanted “to have a good time.”

As Diaz tells it now, life was indeed pretty awesome until about two and a half years ago, when something “really, really got to me.” That something was a group of people like Danielle. “I wasn’t the best version of myself for a couple of years,” Diaz says. “Something happened in our industry, in our society, and there was an explosion of this really aggressive group of people. I don’t even know if they’re people—these paparazzi.” It was around this time that Diaz became known in tabloid circles as a kind of female Sean Penn, a proud tigress who’d bare her claws when provoked, most famously in 2004 on a dark street up the road from the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. After she and Timberlake were surprised by two photographers jumping out of the bushes, Diaz grabbed a camera from one of them and, he claimed, struck him in the neck and tripped him. The photographers sued Diaz and Timberlake for assault, and the case was settled in 2005.

“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 chicken—anything except the paparazzi—Diaz, 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 position—to 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.”)

Typically for a Meyers film, The Holiday is set in a glossy world of perfectly styled living rooms, and audiences won’t be looking for much in the way of realism. One screwball sequence has Diaz running through the snow in four-inch heels; neither Meyers nor Diaz was bothered by the fact that blizzards in Surrey are about as rare as rain in Timbuktu. “The English were like, ‘It doesn’t really snow here,’” says Diaz. “We’re like, ‘But we’re from America. We think of England as countryside, full of snow!’” Movieland conceits aside, however, Diaz finds her character, Amanda, compellingly lifelike. On the rebound from another failed relationship and slouching into her 30s, Amanda uses her callous facade to distract the world, and herself, from the fact that true fulfillment is eluding her. “She’s not quite sure how life works, like all of us,” Diaz says.

When asked about the pitfalls of aging, Diaz, who turned 34 this year, begins with a typically off-color revelation about her digestive tract. “I used to be able to eat anything I wanted and then go right to bed,” she says. “Fried chicken, onion rings, half a bottle of wine. But as you get older, your insides rebel. You’ve asked so much of them for so many years, and then they just go, ‘Uh-uh, bi-atch! Gonna eat cheese fries? See how you sleep!’ And you’re tossing and turning all night.“ Even more demoralizing, Diaz says, is the fact that she’s missing out on one of the few alleged benefits of aging: pimple-free skin. “I’ll look in the mirror and go, ‘Damn. Where did that come from?’ Seriously. I’m 34 years old! When is this going to stop?”

Overall, though, Diaz, who is close to many of her aging relatives, insists that she likes getting older. “I just want to be strong and healthy,” she says. When she broke her nose for the fourth time a few years ago, the doctor wanted to straighten it, but Diaz wouldn’t let him. Now she wishes she’d consented, because she has trouble breathing. “So I’m over it. I’m getting it fixed. I can’t take it. I cannot breathe at all. One side of my nose is totally shattered—my septum is basically like a train derailed.” With a mock-ditzy laugh, she declares, “It’s amazing how much a lack of oxygen can affect you, all across the board.”

Though the latest nose injury occurred while surfing, Diaz is not quite the lifelong boarder she’s often made out to be. In fact, she caught her first wave less than four years ago, while taking private lessons on Oahu. The daughter of working-class parents, Diaz did spend a lot of time on the beach as a kid, but, she says, “it took two hours to get there on the bus. You stayed all day, ate corndogs. It wasn’t the ‘California Dreamin’’ thing.” Diaz and her friends bodysurfed rather than hanging with the surfer kids on the other side of the pier, because they couldn’t afford their own boards. “We had only $2 for a joint.”

Today, though she says surfing is “like a religious experience” for her, she never hits the waves in Southern California. Why? Danielle, that’s why. As our aborted walk on the beach makes clear, Diaz may have made peace with the ubiquitous presence of paparazzi, but that doesn’t mean she can ever forget they’re there. And the legal clashes continue. A few weeks ago Diaz called the cops on some shutterbugs after she was ambushed at night, just like in 2004.

“It was the exact same scenario,” she says. She and Timberlake were at a friend’s house in the Hollywood Hills, and Diaz walked out to her car. “This guy jumps out of the bushes in the middle of the night and starts chasing me down the street. I’m like, ‘Holy s—! Holy s—!’ I don’t know what’s happening, and I’m literally screaming. And Justin’s coming out of the house. He thinks his girlfriend’s getting assaulted.” The photographer got in his car and, Diaz says, sped toward her, missing her by inches. She and Timberlake filed a police report for assault with a deadly weapon. (The case is under investigation.)

It’s hard to say what effect, if any, these run-ins are having on her career. Diaz herself is convinced that there’s absolutely no relationship between box-office success and weekly column inches in Star magazine. “Tabloids don’t sell movies or help anyone’s career,” she says. “If that were true, every Lindsay Lohan movie would open to $80 million.” She acknowledges that by dating Timberlake she’s surrendering any hope of being left alone. But when asked if she’s ever wished her boyfriend were, say, a waiter, her response is quick, firm and serious. “No,” she says. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

On the day of our interview, Diaz had planned to be in New York, starting production on the comedy A Little Game, opposite Jim Carrey. But the front page of today’s Variety announced that the two stars had abruptly withdrawn from the film. “The studio decided last minute, after three months of revisions on the script, to rewrite the thing completely,” Diaz explains. “I was just like, ‘This isn’t the movie that I thought I was doing.’”

While her decision left Focus Features reeling, Diaz, who has been mostly free since she wrapped The Holiday in June, doesn’t seem overly upset to find herself with a few more months of spare time. “I wasn’t really looking to work anyway,” she says, adding, “It’s almost snowboarding season.”

Incidentally, word has it that Diaz likes to get a little reckless on the slopes. If Danielle dares trail her to Mammoth Mountain, she should be prepared to eat some snow.