Interview: Cameron Diaz Cuts Loose As The Star Of Bad Teacher
In this weekend's Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz plays a character she agrees represents "the human id run rampant." As the titular schoolteacher Elizabeth Halsey, Diaz gets to swear like crazy, hit on every man who looks in her direction, verbally abuse the students left to her care, and show off her legs in a fairly inappropriate way at a car wash-- and that's just what we've seen in the trailer. We've already talked to Diaz's co-star Lucy Punch on camera about the experience of watching Diaz run wild; now check out our conversation with Diaz herself, held with a group of other journalists at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in April, just before she accepted the Female Star of the Year Award.
We talked to Diaz about the experience of going straight from Knight and Day to shooting this movie, working with a script that was ideal from the beginning, and her affection for the co-star she calls 'the uber-charming, incredibly seductive, 6-foot-5 man meat they call The Segel." Bad Teacher opens this Friday.
You've had great success in other films where you reacted to other people acting badly. In Bad Teacher you get to be doing the X-rated material and the poor behavior. Is that a refreshing turn-around for you?
I think this character is meant to represent good and bad of what is possible in a human being. There's certain things she doesn't apologize for and there's certain things she admits that she needs to do better on. It isn't so over-the-top done in a Hollywood way where you're like, "Ah, please. Why did you have to take her that far?" She has a human level of incremental growth that we all have.
What do you think of Justin Timberlake now maturing as an actor?
I think he's doing a great job. He's so talented, obviously. He's proven himself as a comedian over the years, starting with Saturday Night Live. We got our wish list on this movie cast-wise. We wanted to have the best people possible for the parts, and we got Jason Segel, we got Justin Timberlake, we got Phyllis Smith. Being able to have these amazing comedians and all of the other wonderful actors and comedians who colorfully occupy these characters around us is really, really fun. I feel we scored on our cast members for this movie.
What does director Jake Kasdan bring to the table?
He's fearless. He loves to push it and have fun and he goes straight to the edge first and then maybe backs off a little bit. He's a lot of fun. He has a great laugh and you hear it during the take, which is encouraging.
Did you change the direction of the movie when you signed on?
It's the exact script I got the day I read it the first time to when we shot it. It didn't change at all. Maybe 4 words got changed in the whole script. It was a great script. We all went, "There it is." It's rare you get a script that you go, "Let's not touch this" or where you go, "Man, we better fix this." There wasn't anything in that script.
Sometimes producers or people in power like to justify why they're there and offer notes. You didn't have to deal with any stuff like that?
No. Lee and Gene did an amazing job at creating these characters, and there was really nothing -- they would come to set and throw out some alternative lines, and that was it. That was all. They'd be, "Ah, say this!" during the middle of the take, and we'd start laughing and go, "Okay, I'll try to get it out without laughing." We did this movie very quickly. We were hauling ass; we went non-stop. There was not a moment of downtime. I knew that going in, that there's not very many takes, we all had to come hit the ground running every day, we packed a lot in every day. It was a small film. We made it work because one, that's the luxury of having a great script. Oftentimes on bigger budget films where scripts are not working, they have the money to go, "We'll fix it as we go." You spend a lot of time on set trying to figure it out and unravel the mystery of the characters and the plot, as you're filming.
Which is more exhausting: shooting a modern action film like Knight and Day, or shooting a comedy like this where you spend the entire day representing the human id run rampant?
I'll tell you what's really exhausting: shooting the action movie for 6 months and then going directly into shooting the human id running rampant.
After spending a whole day being a horrible human being, do you want to shake it off?
You roll into it the next day. The great thing about Elizabeth is she says the truth, she says it how she sees it. There's great wisdom in what she says, in fact. It's how she delivers it, which I'm sure would be more effective or more appreciated if she delivered it in a less cutting way, but that's not who she is. The fun thing is that she ends up understanding herself better knowing her truth and realizing what she has to offer. I appreciate that she chooses not to change how she delivers it.
How was working with America's favorite Sasquatch Jason Segel?
Amazing. You mean the uber-charming, incredibly seductive, 6-foot-5 man meat they call The Segel? Amazing. He's wonderful. He doesn't miss. Everything is dead-on. He hits it every time. He's hilarious and so much fun to work with. He keeps it all light and fuzzy and friendly and wonderful.
When you're playing a character like this that's letting everything loose, what do you get to bring out on screen that you don't when you're playing more moral characters or more likeable characters? It seems like there's a freedom as an actor and showing an audience something you haven't done before.
Playing Elizabeth was very liberating, only because you really don't care. She doesn't care, so you can't really care. In the end of it all, I think that her lack of self-respect comes from she wasn't given skills, she wasn't given the skills to recognize what she has to offer and who she is and to value herself. What I do appreciate is that there's something innately in her that wants other people to understand that about themselves. That's her gift.
She's trying to liberate all of us to not care.
Exactly, and to empower themselves, because the way that she has empowered herself is probably not the best way, and she learns that. As she's learning it about herself, she's able to pass on the wisdom to others.
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