CinemaCon: Cameron Diaz is a Bad Teacher


We’re close to finishing up our coverage of last week’s CinemaCon in Las Vegas and one studio we haven’t touched upon is Sony Pictures, which brought the Red Band trailer for their upcoming R-rated comedy Bad Teacher to the conference along with the film’s star Cameron Diaz, who was honored with the CinemaCon Female Star of the Year. The footage looks like it will allow Diaz to let loose in ways she probably hasn’t been able to do since the Farrellys’ There’s Something About Mary.

Before the Sony presentation and before Diaz’s good friend Drew Barrymore presented her with that award, and a couple of other journalists sat down with Ms. Diaz (We won’t take absolutely any credit for some of the more outlandishly worded questions asked of her.)

Q: In earlier films, you had great success reacting to other people’s over-the-top, naughty, X-rated antics. In “Bad Teacher,” you get to be doing the X-rated material and the poor behavior. Is that a weird reverse blow for feminism, that now you can behave badly and have that be the centerpiece of the film?
Cameron Diaz:
I think for me, I’m not a feminist. Everything has evolved over a period of time. I think this character is meant to represent good and bad of what is possible in a human being, and I think that’s something that I appreciated – the fact that there’s certain things she doesn’t apologize for and there’s certain things she admits that she needs to do better on. All of it being nothing. Then as an audience member, not appreciating that 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.

Q: It seems anything goes: there’s swearing, there’s all kinds of stuff going on. Is there a limit to the raunchy stuff that’s happening? Exactly how far are we going with this dirty humor?
There’s some bits. The word “raunchy,” to me, is all relative, of course. Everybody has their own level of behavior that we consider raunchy.

Q: Is there a “There’s Something About Mary” scale that we can compare it to?
I think that there’s a couple of moments that people are like, “Wow, didn’t expect that.” But it’s fun. It’s obviously all in good humor.

Q: What do you think of how Justin Timberlake has been 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.

Q: What’s Jake Kasdan been like to work with on this movie? What does he 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.

Q: Projects change and shift as people get involved in the project. When you first got involved, how did the project shift to encompass your tone or the way you wanted the way to play the character?
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 four 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. It breathed very easily into its own identity.

Q: 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 (Eisenberg) and Gene (Stuptnitsky) 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.” That was about it. It was really such a pleasure to do it. 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. We’re really lucky. We went, “Let’s just take this as is and shoot it.”

Q: Which is more exhausting: shooting the modern action film 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. I went 6 months of the action movie, had about 4 days off, and went straight into this movie. I was tired. I was like, “God, I should have taken a nap.”

Q: 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.

Q: What’s Phyllis Smith been bringing to the mix? She’s hilarious on “The Office” and I know a lot of them write their own material. Is she on all the time?
She’s a genius. Honestly, she is the funniest. I’ve never seen something so effortless, someone deliver a created character with such effortlessness. There’s a lot of times I would call her Lynn, and I’d be like, “Ah, Phyllis” because she was so Lynn. When she’s not on-camera, she’s Phyllis. I loved working with her. There was so many times when I could not hold myself back from laughing. I felt really bad sometimes, because there’s such brilliance in her performance and I’m laughing, “Oh my god, Phyllis.” She’s so funny.

Q: I feel like I remember she never did anything before “The Office,” so this is her second thing ever.
Yeah, I think so. She’s amazing.

Q: What about 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: When you are going to CinemaCon and you’re going to stand in front of 3,000 to 5,000 theatre owners, how much do you think about what you’re going to say, or is it just improv?
I’m going to go with straight from the heart when I get there.

Q: Everyone else has sung Celine Dion so far. Jack Black sung one of her songs. Do you have a song set yet?
Jack Black is gifted. No, I do not sing, and I would not be able to pull off a Celine Dion song. Even if I did it poorly, people would still be, “What’s going on? What’s she singing?”

Bad Teacher opens on June 24.