Despite her status as a Hollywood A-lister, Cameron Diaz is the superstar who dreams of nothing more than becoming a farm girl. She talks to John Hiscock about life, love her new film Knight And Day and how she plans to spend a year growing vegetables. Her friends on the Hollywood party, ski and surfing circuit will find it hard to believe, but Cameron Diaz, the perennial fun-seeker, is thinking of settling down. Well, for a year or so anyway. And an even bigger surprise is where she wants to put down temporary roots. The MTA, Hollywood-speak for model-turned-actress, who has been itinerant since going to Japan at 16 as a model, sees herself as - wait for it - a farm girl. "I don't want to say I've seen it all because this world is so vast, but I've always been on the move. What I'd love to do is spend a whole year in one place, actually on a farm, where I get to raise my own crops and my own livestock and for once in my life see just how life is cultivated," she tells me earnestly, her usually smiling face looking serious. "It's almost like this primal thing. I really just feel like the earth is where we all come from and we have nothing if we don't have soil and water and sun. I've read a lot about agriculture and I feel the need inside me to work with the earth in some way. I guess it would be like a painter having to paint." Her smile returns, her eyes sparkle and the putative farm girl is once more the sophisticated woman in designer clothes with an entourage of publicists and protectors. There is no doubting her sincerity, but it is difficult to imagine 37-year-old Diaz anywhere else but at the centre of attention. She has a reputation for being the girl everybody wants at the party - fun for men yet unthreatening to women, like a female George Clooney. Tom Cruise, who co-starred with her 10 years ago in Vanilla Sky and teams up with her again for the big-budget comedy-adventure Knight And Day, which has just opened here, says: "She's one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet and a lot of fun. She's talented, funny, athletic and a great actress. Always fun." She certainly smiles and laughs a lot as we talk in a penthouse suite at New York's Mandarin Oriental hotel shortly before the movie's American premiere. She looks casually chic in a Marc Jacobs tailored moss-green jacket over a black tank top and tight blue jeans with a slim gold bangle on each arm. She appears to have an easy-going attitude to life and a natural sex appeal that has helped her become one of the world's highest-paid female stars, although some of her films have not been of the highest calibre and her acting talents have not always been obvious. In Knight And Day - the only reason for the title is that the studio marketing department thought it would appeal to a wide audience - she plays June Havens, a woman on her way to her sister's wedding, who gets sucked into international intrigue and a round-the-world chase by Cruise, a rogue spy on the run. The plot is a convoluted mish-mash of double-crosses, close escapes and false identities but what will appeal to less discerning audiences are the almost non-stop chases, explosions and shootings involving planes, trains, cars, motorcycles and helicopters. When she was given the script, Diaz says she called Cruise and asked if he wanted to join her in the cast. "I was crossing my fingers that he would want to do it because I know how funny he is and he always delivers." Tellingly and somewhat naively, Diaz admits: "The script kind of went out of the window and we wrote this movie along the way. There were a lot of times when even the action sequences were sort of made up as we went along. "Every day we just went in and had a laugh. We wanted to make a movie that people would have fun at and we had fun doing. When you do a film where you want the audience to be laughing and you spend a lot of your time laughing while making it, then you know it's going to be genuine." She becomes defensive, however, at the notion that it is not a role that calls for much acting ability. "There are different kinds of acting," she says. "Sure, there are dramatic parts and parts where you are really going for it, but there's just as much acting going on in this film because we're playing characters and my job as an actor is to take care of my character and make sure that person's story is told."
Then she adds, laughing: "I do find, though, that in a film like this, that is so big and is changing constantly, that it's a harder job to manage a relationship with your character because we're moving around so much and it's difficult to keep track of what's going on." She took the role, she says, because she wanted something light-hearted after her father died while she was filming My Sister's Keeper, the tear-jerking tale of a leukaemia-stricken girl. "I'd spent a year in grief with my family and I just wanted to go and have some fun and go on a great adventure. I wanted to spend some time just having a laugh and doing what I love doing without it being something heavy. "I've always made movies for my own pleasure and I've never made decisions based on any sort of trajectory for my career. I always think, 'What's the experience I want to have and how do I want to spend the next few months making a movie?'" Raised with her elder brother and sister in Long Beach, California, by her Cuban oil worker father, Emilio, and her mother, Billie, who worked for an exporter, Diaz was "discovered", appropriately enough, at a Hollywood party by a fashion photographer when she was 16. With her parents' approval she spent five years modelling all over the world, which she credits with giving her the independence and confidence that have been the hallmarks of both her personal and professional lives. "My father wanted more boys, so from a young age sports was always a big part of our lives. We played all the sports and my dad kind of treated me and my sister like we were boys." "My parents were big on common sense and they always told my sister and me that we were capable of anything and there was nothing that we couldn't do if we really wanted to. I just never questioned it and always felt confident that I could tackle the world. They gave us as much information as they could and let us grow as children so we were smart enough to make our own decisions. My sister and I had confidence because we always knew that we were taken care of and loved." At 21, Diaz auditioned for a small role in The Mask, opposite Jim Carrey, and after 12 auditions she was instead given the leading role of Carrey's chief love interest. She was suddenly a hot commodity and few actresses have had a faster ride to the top. She appeared in a series of independent dramas including The Last Supper, Head Above Water and Feeling Minnesota which, while they allowed her to improve her new-found acting skills, flew under the radar. In 1997's My Best Friend's Wedding, holding her own against the star power of Julia Roberts, she emerged as a serious contender for the romantic comedy throne and then There's Something About Mary sealed her image as a sunny, smiling, yet slightly edgy bombshell. She has continually attempted to defy expectations with dramatic roles in films such as Any Given Sunday and Gangs Of New York but as Nick Cassavetes, who directed her in My Sister's Keeper, says: "Cameron's got that joie de vivre and people love her for it, but sometimes in Hollywood there's a resistance to seeing someone in a different light." Diaz is a woman who is always on the go. Her love of travel and her tendency to keep on the move may be a reason why she has never felt the urge to marry, although at one time her friends thought she and Justin Timberlake might make their relationship permanent, despite the fact he is eight years her junior. Eventually, though, they broke up and although it reportedly hurt her at the time, she recently reunited with him for the comedy Bad Teacher, and, she says, they had a blast. For her, the biggest downside of fame has been the attentions of the paparazzi, who have chronicled her romances over the years with Timberlake, actors Jared Leto and Matt Dillon, musician John Mayer, illusionist Criss Angel, male model Paul Sculfor and, at the moment, Kate Hudson's former boyfriend, baseball star Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. She keeps her thoughts about her relationships private, but claims she is still friends with her past loves. "Development is such a fun experience, it is so great and it's constant, it never stops from day to day, month to month, year to year," she says. "You are constantly discovering something new about how you can get what you want and how you can work a situation. I have gone through every single phase and I am sure I will circle back around again at some point and try it differently. I figure life has a lot in store for me. Everyone should go out and have a good time. "The best nights for me are the totally unexpected, unplanned, spontaneous nights. I like spontaneity; it is very attractive to me." She also has firm ideas about what she wants from love: "No tricks, straightforward- ness, honesty, mutual respect and adoration." While many of her friends are having or adopting babies, Diaz is definite that she has no intention of following their example for some time yet, if at all. "I knew all along that if I had a child I wouldn't be having all the other things I wanted in my life, so I didn't have a child and I got those things," she says matter-of-factly. "At some point I'll either want kids or make the decision that I don't want them, but at the moment I'm very happy with my life the way it is. I feel very full and gratified with who I have in my life, and I really enjoy it and don't feel I have to worry about what society thinks of my choices. I'm supported by my family in my choices and they are all okay with how I live my life because I'm happy, and that's really all that matters."
If occasionally she comes across as a little self-centred she balances it by using her celebrity to help her charity work for organisations that include the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental action group, and Service Nation, a coalition of 200 organisations campaigning to inspire voluntary service in schools, the workplace and communities. An expert skier, snow-boarder and diver, she is no longer the nightclubber she was in her late teens and early 20s, but she still goes out on the town regularly with a group of girlfriends, whose company and friendship she values greatly. "All my girlfriends are incredibly important to me. I think you always have to have your girlfriends just lending an ear and offering pretty much just unconditional love and honesty. I am so lucky I have them. "I've been lucky because I've been able to gain some really great friends along the way as well as maintain great relationships with friends that I have had since I was five years old. I think you can tell what people's intentions are. There are people I have met in the past few years where I have had to be a little more careful. When you see those people's true colours it is very evident what they want from you. You lose those people, you leave them behind. "You just get a kind of a vibe, and after as many years as I've been in the public eye and meeting as many people as I have, I can whittle it down pretty quickly to who's up to what. It becomes second nature after a while, so it's easier than you would think." For an actress whose career relies to a great extent upon her looks, she professes not to be beset with the fear of ageing that obsesses many of her contemporaries, although she clearly puts a lot of time and effort into looking as trim as she possibly can. For a bikini scene in Knight And Day she admits she worked out rigorously to look as fit and shapely as she does. "It's always important to take care of yourself because you don't want to fall too far away," she says. "But ageing is a part of life and there's nothing you can do about it. In our culture we're so obsessed with staying young that we forget that wisdom comes with getting older and you can't get wisdom with surgery. I think the way to age is to maintain a lifestyle that keeps you on the best possible path, which is eating well, exercising and having a lot of joy and love in your life." Diaz's career has brought her both joy and love in abundance and she appears to be sincerely grateful. "I've been so fortunate that I've seen so much of the world and learnt so much that I feel I have the most amazing life. "I'm so privileged and lucky to have had all the experiences I have had and to have gone to all the places I've been." As she beams goodbye and, with her entourage in tow, heads for the door on her antique gold woven Casadei heels, it is difficult not to reflect that she could find life tough down on the farm. Knight And Day is showing at cinemas across the UAE.