While still in her teens, Southern California native Cameron Diaz was employed by the Elite Modeling agency appearing on magazine covers and in campaigns for clients like Calvin Klein and Levi's. And just like many women in the modeling industry, she harbored dreams of an acting career. Diaz, of Cuban and Native American descent, burst onto the big screen as the torch-singing moll in 1994's Jim Carrey blockbuster The Mask. Perhaps ironically, she had set her sights lower, auditioning for the supporting part of a reporter (played in the film by Amy Yasbeck), but after some dozen callbacks, she was hired. In spite of, or perhaps because of, her lack of formal training, the now blonde Diaz managed to hold her own against the often over-the-top antics of co-star Carrey. Roger Ebert writing in his review in the Chicago Sun-Times (July 29, 1994) called her "a true discovery in the film, a genuine sex bomb with a gorgeous face, a wonderful smile, and a gift of comic timing," and correctly predicted that while it was her first film role, it would surely not be her last.

      Riding the buzz on her performance in The Mask, Diaz was courted by virtually every producer scrambling to cast "this year's blonde". In a series of shrewd moves, she opted to take roles in low-budget films which stretched her acting abilities. Diaz joined a cast of other rising players (including Courtney B. Vance, Ron Eldard and Annabeth Gish) as liberal college students who invite right-wingers to The Last Supper" (1995) before tackling the role of a confused bride-to-be who finds herself attracted to her brother-in-law in Feeling Minnesota (1996). Willing to portray less than likable women, she deftly essayed a former hooker now a Wall Street shark in Edward Burns' comedy She's the One (also 1996). Although she stumbled as a spoiled rich girl who conspires with her kidnapper in Danny Boyle's uneven A Life Less Ordinary (1997), that same year found her playing Dermot Mulroney's fiancee who encounters a rival in Julia Roberts in the fluffy but enjoyable My Best Friend's Wedding. While most of the attention originally focused on Roberts' return to lighter fare, the spotlight shifted to Diaz's scene-stealing turn as the seemingly ditsy bride-to-be.

      Having proven her comedic abilities as a supporting player, Diaz graduated to star in one of 1998's highest grossing (in both senses of the word) feature, the Farrelly brothers' There's Something About Mary. As Ben Stiller's dream girl, she is eternally optimistic and a paragon of beauty. Yet she is also a fine comedic performer, especially in bizarre or outrageous situations (like the now famous "hair gel" scene), in part, as Charles Taylor pointed out in the July 18, 1998 issue of Salon, because of "the crazed gleam that sneaks into her eyes, her big toothy smile and the manic trill you can sometimes hear in her voice." In a surprise move, the New York Film Critics voted her their Best Actress award.

      Although virtually wasted in a cameo as a TV reporter in Terry Gilliam's attempt to capture the oddball universe of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Diaz delved into the dark side, downplaying her usually bubbly screen persona to play yet another bride-to-be in Peter Berg's black comedy Very Bad Things (both 1998). Here, she essayed a manipulative, cunning almost psychopathic woman determined at all costs to march down the aisle. (The writer-director envisioned the character as "a young Martha Stewart with a bad case of rabies.") Alternately seductive and bullying to her intended (Jon Favreau), she crafted a comic creation that bordered on the grotesque, yet through her skills managed to make her understandable.

      In 1999's inventive, if not wholly satisfying Being John Malkovich, Diaz adopted a dowdy look and mane of frizzy brown hair as Lotte Schwartz, the pet store employee wife of a puppeteer (John Cusack). When her husband discovers a mysterious portal that allows anyone to spend 15 minutes inside the mind and body of the titular actor, she has an epiphany, experiencing a connection to her husband's brittle co-worker (Catherine Keener) that transcends sex and spins off into a complicated and surprising adventure. Once again, Diaz built a funny persona out of seemingly contradictory parts and proved her versatility.

      Adopting a more serious pose, she rounded out the millennium as the ambitious new owner of a struggling football franchise in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, proving with this hard-line role that her talents had more facets yet to be tapped. She continued to stretch, successfully undertaking challenging roles in the female ensemble of Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (screened at Sundance in 2000; aired on Showtime in 2001) and in the drama Invisible Circus (2000). Teaming with Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as Charlie's Angels (also 2000) in the unqualified hit offered her an opportunity to show her lighter side with a disarming turn, as well as convincingly kick butt as a pseudo action hero. And she won a legion of youthful admirers with her turn as Princess Fiona in the charming CGI tale Shrek (2001) and its sequel Shrek 2 (2004).

      A supporting role in Vanilla Sky (2001) as the woman whose desire for more than a casual physical relationship with Tom Cruise's playboy drives her to distraction earned Diaz even more critical respect. Likened to Carole Lombard by director Martin Scorsese, Diaz showed something of the uncompromising spirit and sexiness that Lombard had been, and that she herself was increasingly becoming, known for. Later that year the actress played a desirable woman who falls in love with a man she can't win over in the romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing. Although the light-as-a-feather film was not entirely satisfying, certin scenes nearly bubbled over with Diaz's inherently loopy charm, infectious grin and freewheeling approach. It also further solidified her on-screen status as the girl-next-door who doesn't mind the occasional raunchy joke.

      Diaz shifted gears entirely for the next release, Scorsese's long-awaited drama Gangs of New York (2002), in which she played the comely street pickpocket Jenny Everdeane, the love interest of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film was certainly admirable--and singled out for many accoldes--but also frequently missed the mark; Diaz's performance was one of the film's more satisfying elements, however. The following year, Diaz returned to form as the ass-kicking girl-next-door when she returned for the blockbuster comedy hit sequel Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). The sequel reunited Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu--now famously linked as best friends, sort of a mod chick Rat Pack--as the indomitable crime-fighting heroines.

      In between film roles, the actress (who made news for her romance with the younger pop star Justin Timberlake) starred in Trippin' (2005), a 10-episode travel series for MTV in which the actress and fellow celebrities visited exotic locales and enjoyed unusual activities, riding elephants in Nepal, sandboarding in Chile and testing the hot springs in Yellowstone.

      Diaz returned center stage in director Curtis Hanson's disappointing dramedy In Her Shoes (2005), which cast the actress and co-star Toni Collette as tight-knit but polar opposite sisters--Diaz played the reckless, sexy party girl, Collette the responsible attorney with low self-esteem--who have a calamitous falling out and must slowly come to learn that they share more than the same size feet.

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