Cameron Diaz may be one of Hollywood’s A-list stars, but in order to land the female lead in Martin Scorsese’s epic period drama Gangs of New York, the beautiful actress had to audition like everybody else. Looking relaxed in a knitted sweater and tanned army trousers, Diaz was more than happy to jump through hoops to land this gig.
After all, everyone wants to work with the great Marty Scorsese “and I just stood in line once I knew he was casting to see if I could have the opportunity to do this.” It was a long line, Diaz recalls, “as I think they were reading all sorts of girls for the part, and I was shooting the first Charlie’s Angels at the time so I was in another world,” Diaz says, smilingly. The actress admits that despite having paid her dues in the Hollywood scheme of things, she will still read for ANY role “if it’s something that I want to do with people that I want to work with. Just because you’ve reached a certain place where you’re being offered things, it doesn’t mean there are still things you don’t want to do. I’ll read for any sized part if it’s something I want to do or a director I really want to work with. I don’t have a problem with that.” A director such as Scorsese, for instance. On Gangs, Diaz didn’t even care what the role was “or even about the story. I didn’t care how big the part was. If he lets me read for him and he likes me, I’ll do it.”
In Gangs, which spans 1846 through 1863 with the draft riots, the film’s setting is New York’s five points, the most violent part of the new United States at the time. The story is raised out of the conflicts between the white Anglo-Saxon "natives" and the Irish immigrants coming into the five points, with Leonardo DiCaprio cast as a young man who needs to avenge the death of his father, while falling in love with Diaz’s Jenny, a tough pickpocket.
It was a case of let’s worry about the character later, so once Cameron landed the part of pickpocket Jenny, she says that “it was really hard in the beginning because I didn’t know her at all or what part she played in the script. But as we went along, they continued to write it and develop her, and I started to understand her strengths,” Diaz explains. “It suddenly became apparent to me that she was a survivor, especially based on the research I did in terms of what women went through at the time, what it was like at the Five Points specifically. I understood how much she’d endured, how strong she was, how she wasn’t going to allow herself to be victimised and was going to hold tight and close to her everything that was hers, including her heart. She then gives herself over to someone and that love re-sparks her hopes and dreams for her future.”
While some women may have found it daunting to be the sole principal female amongst a sea of men on a film set, Diaz not only settled in quickly as one of the gang, but also loved it. “It’s really, really easy to be the only girl, and NOT a difficult job at all”, Diaz says, laughingly. “You get the compliments coming your way and the camera guy would say to you: Thank God you’re back. If I have to look at another bruised and beaten, bloody man I was going to kill myself. So they’re happy to see and hear you, happy to see the corset, and oddly, happy to see a girl who doesn’t have her top off.”
This is in stark contrast to the more female-centred world of Charlie’s Angels. Currently shooting the sequel, Diaz refutes the notion that having worked with Scorsese on Gangs, has spoiled her in a way. She has gone from character-driven and narrative-driven Scorsese to the escapist world of Hollywood fantasy, but Diaz relishes both. “They’re apples and oranges, and I have to say to the credit of McG, who I think is a really great film maker in his own right. He makes completely different moves to those of Scorsese, but what he does he does very well. He’s one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with as far as his ability to know what he wants as a director. He knows what movie he’s making, how to put it together, what characters he’s dealing with and what the story is, so to work with anyone who knows what they’re doing is very fortunate.” Diaz describes the new Angels as “awesome. I have so much fun every single day and get to go to work every day with my two best friends and do the silliest things.”
These are things that require Diaz to be very different to the kind of work she accomplished for Scorsese, yet the actress remains unconcerned as to whether perceptions of her will change following Gangs. “If I went around worrying how everyone perceived me, I’d be really exhausted,” Diaz says. “It’s none of my business how people perceive me and it doesn’t interest me.”
– PAUL FISCHER