Tall, blonde, beautiful — what could possibly go wrong? If you’re Cameron Diaz disfigured feet, illiteracy and bad afro hair are just the beginning of what’s she suffered on film. But it’s all in a day’s work, as the star of Richard Kelly’s The Box told Drew Turney.
A lot of fans of the Twilight Zone episode have been looking forward to it for a long time. It was a little confusing but not at all disappointing.
Did you expect to know what was going on (laughs)?
Being a Richard Kelly film, not really. How familiar were you with the short story (by Richard Matheson of I Am Legend fame) and the Twilight Zone segment it’s based on?
I’d seen the original. But it was an interesting… what’s the word I’m looking for? Richard took it and ran with it.
Is that what convinced you to take on the role?
I was a fan of Donnie Darko and Richard Kelly really came out strong establishing himself as an artist who wasn’t afraid of being himself. I knew this film would be unique because Richard was the author, director and translator of that story.
Was everything about your character (Norma) there on the page or did Richard leave a lot of room for you to bring more into it?
Norma and her husband Arthur (James Marsden) were literally based on Richard’s parents. His father did exactly the same job as Arthur and Norma has the same disfigurement of the foot his mother had. The film’s his interpretation of their love story and their dedication to one another.
I spent time with both his parents. His mother was very generous with her experience about how her foot became disfigured and the way it happened for her was in the story. I also did her accent, she’s from northern Texas and spent time in Virginia so she had a mutated accent, so there was a lot there to get into that was tangible for me.
Is that one of the things that usually grabs you about a role, that you can put more into than what’s in the script?
Yeah, that’s our job as actors, tell the story of our character. I’m trying to take care of that character and their story and look after them the best I can.
The Box is also in a genre that you haven’t done a lot in. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s an exceptional script all the way around. It’s one those rare scripts that come to you attached to a wonderfully unique director and you don’t always get that.
You were a little enigmatic and a little scary, something we don’t often see from Cameron Diaz.
Thank you, but that’s Richard’s camera moves and pacing. The timing and pacing was one of the things he did really wonderfully — what you don’t see over what you do see, what’s adjusted without being explained.
That’s his strength as a filmmaker, being able to give you enough of an idea. It’s such a quandary of ours as human beings. Where do we come from? Why are we here? What happens to us when we leave? And while we’re here every decision that we make is like pushing the button.
We’re all connected to one another. You know, whether you make a right turn or a left turn, there’s a different repercussion to each decision. And you can’t go around life going ‘wait a second, what if I make this phone call or I don’t make this phone call or if I open the door or don’t open the door?’ You can drive yourself crazy.
But pushing a button, getting a million dollars and somebody dying because of it, that’s on an extreme scale. It gets you to think about what it means to push the button. Are we aware of what happens when we do? When a person in New York turns on their air conditioning Australia gets a little bit bigger ozone hole over them. In California 30 percent of our smog comes from China.
This isn’t the first character you’ve played with some physical or mental challenge. I’m thinking particularly of Maggie In Her Shoes — despite being blonde and beautiful she comes unstuck because she can’t read. Is there a little Cameron Diaz in there reminding us that even beautiful blonde people have obstacles in life?
We’re all human. Nobody’s perfect. Every human being has the same exact experience, we’re all just trying to do the best we can. We all have our struggles. We all fall down. We all pick ourselves up. What this film shows is that we all make decisions that have consequences no matter who we are and even with our best intentions.
The Box also has a foot in both the independent and mainstream cinema styles. You’ve always gone effortlessly between the art house and mainstream film market, is that part of a conscious career plan?
Oh God, who has time to make conscious decisions? When it comes to work I do everything from the gut, I wanted to make this movie because I wanted to make it with Richard. You really can’t plan anything, I just do what makes sense to me. It’s like a rhythm in a song, sometimes you’re upbeat and then you go into the bridge and come back out. There are different rhythms and this film came at a certain rhythm.
So when you read a script and you really like the idea, you’re not really thinking about the audience or how the film’s going to perform?
No, you can’t, you just have to do it for yourself. I read The Box and it spoke to me because of what it was tackling, and knowing Richard Kelly was telling the story was very exciting.
To be working with a director who has that quality and voice, that’s where I’m going to be living for the next three months. I just have to hope it’s the right decision to do this with this person who’s going to be able to translate it to an audience.
Can it get a little frustrating because it’s out of your hands for so much of the production after that, after you’ve done your job?
No, that’s why I do my job. I’m not a director, I don’t want to spend a year on a movie trying to figure out every part of it. My job is to tell my character’s story in the time I have. I hopefully give as much as I can to the filmmaker to help their story, that’s why I work with the directors I do, because I like the way they tell stories and how they take care of their characters.