30 for 30 Shorts: ‘The High Five’

The Mouth of the WWE

At Least One Real, Authentic Moment of Humanity With Cameron Diaz

Notes on a kinda-sorta awkward conversation with the fearless ‘other woman’ of rom-coms

Contact person sends an email re: where and when to meet Cameron Diaz for 25 minutes of Q&A. The email’s subject line says “Itinerary,” which implies some sort of journey, possibly by train/steamship. Actual journey is 8.1 miles across town, to the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, and takes 29 minutes in light Wednesday-afternoon traffic, or about one-third of a podcast. (Marc Maron–Stephen Malkmus, Malkmus coy as a debutante.)

Occasion of this Diaz press avail is Sex Tape, starring Diaz and Jason Segel, directed by Jake Kasdan. Diaz and Segel play Annie and Jay, married with kids. Their characters’ demanding jobs — she’s a stay-at-home mom with a successful parenting blog, he’s the PD at some groovily KCRW-ish radio station — have cooled down a once-smoldering sex life. At Annie’s suggestion, they down tequila shots, bone their way through all 72 positions in the original, beardy Joy of Sex, and film the proceedings on Jay’s new iPad. Resulting three-hour carnal odyssey is accidentally synced to all of Jay’s old iPads, which he’s given away as gifts to friends and family. Cue high jinks!

Movie itself feels like a VHS-age idea updated for cloud-ier times, because it is. Segel and his writing partner, Nicholas Stoller, polished a script that was about an actual physical tape when Back-Up Plan writer Kate Angelo originally sold it back in 2011. The seams are visible — who, apart from maybe Karl Lagerfeld, just gives away old, unwiped iPads? — and the story winds up in perhaps too sitcom-ish a place. Sex-tape-making, and by extension any nontraditional sexual activity, is categorized as the sole province of weirdos with deeper relationship troubles; the genie of kink is safely rebottled and placed on a high shelf.

But there are some Apatow-worthy scenes-from-a-marriage moments along the way, like when Diaz cuts short a kitchen-floor assignation by admitting, “My tailbone is killing me and I can see my to-do list.” She and Segel are two of the most physically fearless comedic actors working — he gets as naked onscreen as she does — and they carry the movie across its rougher patches through sheer down-for-whateverness. The mischief in Diaz’s eyes makes her semi-unbelievable as a mommy-blogger but totally believable as the person who challenges her partner to a 72-position roundelay.

It’s been 25 years since the birth of the modern romantic comedy, so we’re celebrating them all week. Welcome to Rom-Com Week.

A few days after Diaz meeting, you will see Carole Lombard described in print as having been a “hoyden” (n., “a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior”) in her day; Diaz is among the last actresses to whom that term could be applied. (Never enough hoydens.) Diaz’s hoydenosity: the possible root of her terminal ill-suitedness for the kind of straight rom-com leads that can keep an actress’s batting average healthy? (Maybe ultimately a quality more appealing to men than to the women who pick rom-coms?) Watching Diaz characters fold down the edges of their personalities to work it out with Jude Law or Ashton Kutcher is always a bummer. From the semen in There’s Something About Mary onward, there’s never been a question about her courage, so maybe general nonsensicalness of Diaz filmography’s arc is about looking everywhere for dares to take? And finding real ones only intermittently? Woman who decides to push button that will kill a stranger for a million bucks. Woman using body of John Malkovich to conduct extramarital same-sex affair. Bad teacher.

She’s probably on some level the victim of the dearth of movies about female antiheroes; this probably explains why it’s her starring in Bad Teacher 2 instead of Olivia Munn. What else is there for her to do, though? Cling for life to some franchise that would only let her be the girl clinging for life to a superhero? What’s the “one last score” we need her to have in order to justify our time investment? Later, in the room, she’ll say this to you, sounding impressively heedless: “All of my decisions have added up to a career, but I’ve never made choices for a career. Does that make sense?” She’s seen actresses try; it usually doesn’t work. “They might feel like this is the right choice, to elevate their career to the level of the man they’re acting next to, but that doesn’t really work if it’s not a great part. It doesn’t make you different from the other girl who could have played the wife in that part. I look for the thing that I feel, like, speaks to me, that has a little bit of quirk — what can I go and do with that?”

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Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills lobby smells (but only to most tasteful degree) like exotic flowers. Write down “plumeria,” even though that’s probably not right. Continue journey, this time by elevator. Fourteen floors up. Wait in hospitality suite/command center. Sweater-weather air conditioning, SEAL team of publicists talking strategy, sweet-corn ravioli in silver roll-top chafers, little votives full of heirloom-tomato gazpacho pink as a sunrise.

Presume all this (gazpacho, etc.) is about wowing/suborning flown-in press. Meet contact person, ask how many people are here from out of town. Answer is none. Tomorrow is for out-of-towners, today is all locals. Somehow this makes quantity/opulence of lunch spread seem gratuitous. Ponder hundreds of Coke products in little glass bottles, arranged so neatly/eye-catchingly you don’t want to disturb whomever’s hard work by taking one. Drink water.

Contact person apologizes; interviews are running 25 minutes late. Scan through news cycle’s worth of Diaz-related headlines on phone. Read about Nicole Richie, wife of Guy From Good Charlotte, taking credit for setting up love match between Diaz and Other Guy From Good Charlotte. Skip 439,000 other stories on this topic. Ponder subtext of 789,000 gossip-rag items generated by recent Esquire cover story in which Diaz, 41, confesses to depraved urge to not have kids. Subtext, given gossip rags’ vested interest in movie-star procreation: WHY HAS THE SHE-CELEBRITY NOT BROUGHT FORTH A PLUMP, JUICY BABY FOR US TO EAT?

Finally, when summoned, walk down long hallway to wait outside different hotel room. Overhear, through unclosed door, Diaz and Segel wrapping up interview with unintelligible-from-here speakerphone voice. “All the things that don’t matter just melt away … We focus too much on what we lose as we get older, rather than what we gain,” Diaz says, in response to inaudible question presumably about why at 41 she continues to play sexually vital characters instead of disintegrating into a pile of dust and cobwebbed bones.

Segel, done for the day, emerges from hotel room door, looking disconcertingly fit, like a Stretch Armstrong. Continue lurking. Listen to Diaz telling someone else in the room that as a kid, she really liked eating crunchy things, like potato chips or even ice cubes, because as she chewed them the crunching sound would change in tone and volume, which gave her a concrete sense that time was passing. Consider switching off the proverbial targeting computer by abandoning preplanned list of questions in favor of 25-minute conversation about metaphysics of crunchiness. Sound of running water. Door opens, publicity person beckons.

Inside: Cameron Diaz! White tank top, jeans, gold necklaces, black nail polish, striking gray-blue eyes, proffering a recently washed hand to shake, apologizing for any lingering wetness. (It’s devoid of moisture, as if recently Dyson Airbladed.) “Let’s move this over here,” Diaz says, bending at the knee to grab a large armchair by its base and repositioning it to face the couch. Stand there like an idiot and ask, “Is that heavy?” instead of helping her move it because spectacle of Cameron Diaz shoving a chair around is surprising. Cameron Diaz really is like your dad, in that they have both moved chairs!

Sit in the chair she moved. Diaz curls her bare feet underneath her on the couch. Break whatever ice remains by asking if we can begin by objectifying the newly ripped Segel a little bit. Diaz is down. “The svelteness!” she says. “When we first showed up, he was at, like, the midlevel of his svelteness, but he kept at it. He watched what he ate, which was basically just cup after cup of unsalted nuts. If you asked him, I know what he would say, which is that as he turned 30, he started to realize that this was his body and he had to make friends with it.”

This is true; Segel said it five minutes ago, on the phone. Fight off sinking feeling that this neat pivot to a talking point is how it’s going to go from here on in. Sweat internally. Attempt your own pivot, to the movie’s interesting gender politics, which extend beyond having Segel diet to become someone who could realistically have sex with Cameron Diaz. Point out that it’s nice — after all these years of comedies about man-babies being ushered conflictedly across the threshold of adulthood by women prone to scolding — to see movies like this or Neighbors, in which husbands and wives both struggle with the growing-up process. Annie gets pissed off at Jay, but not in a henpecking way; making the tape was her idea.

“Yeah,” Diaz says, “that was very important. The thing is, it’s easier to make it funny [the other way], because people relate to it really quickly — it’s funny if he gets scolded and then he can, like, cower. Everybody understands that. But we didn’t want it to be what you always see. I, personally, as a woman, can’t do that. I don’t like making guys feel like idiots, y’know?”

Pause. Giant unladylike swig directly from giant glass water bottle.

“I would say to Jake and Jason, ‘I can’t be that girl. Don’t let me be that girl.’ Like if there was even a hint of it, I’d say, ‘Guys, did that sound naggy? Anybody — camera guys, gaffers — does it sound like I’m being naggy? OK, good.'”

Commend her for really going there with the physical comedy. Point out that it’s always been a hallmark of her performances — that willingness to set aside movie-starrish poise for the joke. Suggest that The Sweetest Thing — pioneering, critically disparaged 2002 chick-raunch-com with Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair playing foulmouthed, groundbreakingly self-possessed goofballs — doesn’t get enough credit for letting women be gross/libidinous onscreen, nine years before Bridesmaids supposedly liberated them.

“Yeah, thanks,” Diaz says, politely, as if this is the first time anyone has ever complimented that film in her presence, which is entirely possible. “I’m sure [The Sweetest Thing] was a subtle sort of sloughing” — she makes a horizontal troweling-of-mortar gesture — “of the foundation, of allowing women to” — she trails off, maybe not wanting to say “sing songs about penises” in this context — “and that’s fine, for me. Nobody expects a film like that, and they aren’t really looking at it, which allows you to just do whatever you want. It’s a privilege to make films period, but something like that is just like playing. It’s like recess. They let you out into the yard and you come back with a black eye, and they’re like, ‘How’d you get that?’ and you’re like, ‘I’m gonna tell you how I got that. It was fun!'”


Decide to double down on the hidden-gems angle and bring up last year’s Ridley Scott flop The Counselor, with Diaz as Malkina, a femme fatale with cheetah familiars, batting Michael Fassbender’s and Javier Bardem’s lives around like cat toys. It’s a real performance, in no way naturalistic but utterly in tune with the derangement of the film itself — maybe some of Diaz’s best work, absolutely her most underappreciated. Suggest that we’ll be talking about the movie in 10 years, that there’ll be a re-estimation. Diaz says she thinks it’s “a really interesting film” too. She’s never really talked about it; she went straight into another project when it was over and didn’t get to do any press.

She was drawn to Malkina, she says, “because she’s the most truthful character out of all of them. She’s the most honest. She’s the one that says, ‘I don’t have a problem owning who I am. That’s why I’m sitting where I’m at and you’re sitting where you’re at.’ She’s like, ‘I’m a hunter and I kill, and that’s what I do and I don’t have a problem admitting that.’ She doesn’t have any remorse. It’s her nature.”

Ask about the rumor that she originally based the character’s voice on Rihanna’s Barbados accent and had to loop it in postproduction. Listen in vain to long, noncommittal answer involving the Malkina character’s ambiguous ancestry and four uses of the word “mystery” and not one “yes” or “no.” Decide not to push it, suddenly conscious of the supervisory presence of a publicist in the corner of the room and the fact that this isn’t Meet the Press, so who gives a shit, right? Let the mystery mystery mystery mystery be.

More questions, fewer answers. Diaz has not thought much about the psychology that leads people to make sex tapes (“What do you think?”), and she has not watched any celebrity sex tapes in preparation for this movie or at any other time. Most of the time, she believes, when something like that gets out there, it’s because someone involved wants it to; she doesn’t want to buy into that whole cultural pathology that leads former reality stars to engage in vigorous congress in the 21st-century equivalent of Macy’s window. (She doesn’t get that specific, but that’s the gist.)

Upon further reflection, she thinks maybe she saw a little bit of the Pamela Anderson–Tommy Lee tape, but can’t remember in what context. “Wasn’t it their honeymoon?” she asks. Tell her yes. Suggest that the really memorable thing about the Pam-and-Tommy tape is its nonsexual content — the extended passages depicting the banal interaction of two newly married knuckleheads who communicate in a shmoopie-ish no-I-love-you-more love-language that renders the tape in its own way far more intimate than even the most graphic footage of celebrity peen-in-vag could ever be. It’s almost an artifact of a more innocent time, crazy as that sounds. Realize too late that you are kind of conversationally plagiarizing an old Chuck Klosterman essay by saying this. Flail. Suggest to a famous actress that a tape of two people fucking is “worth seeing.” End of interview time.

Shake hands. Say thank-you. Say good-bye. Immediately begin asking yourself why you got the Cameron Diaz chatbot instead of the Cameron Diaz who has eccentric thoughts on crunchy foods, why you were unable to engineer anything that felt like a moment of humanity. Consider the possibility that thinking of such moments as engineerable is the root of the problem. Consider the possibility that your questions sucked, that you should have offended her more. Decide to blame the context. There is undoubtedly some part of Diaz that needs to detach and float up to the ceiling or some other happy place in order to get through a day of junket interviews without feeling psychically brutalized.

But then: awkwardness. This was Diaz’s last interview of the day. So everyone is leaving the room — you, but also Diaz, and the publicist, and some other publicity functionary, a man who you didn’t even know was there, who was lurking in the next room the entire time, like some sort of invisible junket-ninja. Find yourself in one of those situations when you’ve said your good-byes and are then forced to wait for the elevator with the people you’ve already said good-bye to, except in this case the awkwardness is greater by orders of magnitude because it’s Cameron Diaz, who has slipped on her spike heels and is now 15 feet tall.

Realize that everyone is looking to defuse the uncomfortableness of the silence by feigning sudden fascination with the décor in the elevator waiting area. The publicist comments on the palm tree design emblazoned on the elevator door. Realize at some point that it’s your turn to say something and come up with, like, Yeah, and how about those fake plants over there, right? Which prompts discussion of whether those fake plants over there are actually fake or not. Watch Cameron Diaz reach out to feel the plants for fakeness. They’re real. “This is not Four Seasons, it’s for rizzles,” Diaz says, and only the publicist thinks to laugh. Reach out and feel the plants yourself. The moss moist against your fingers. Many things that seem fake are probably real, deep down. 

Illustration by Kyle Fewell.

Filed Under: Rom-Com Week, Cameron Diaz, sex tape, Jason Segel, Movies, Alex Pappademas, There's Something About Mary, The Other Woman, The Counselor

Alex Pappademas is a staff writer for Grantland.