CAMERON READY

Byline: MALISSA THOMPSON

Cameron Diaz has made a career out of being in the right place at the right time. And her latest serendipitous encounter could propel her to stardom.
“I was in my commercial agent’s office and I saw a script on her desk,” said the 21-year-old actress, who was modeling at the time. “It was a comedy and I said, ‘I can handle a comedy,’ so she made an appointment for me to read for it.”
The film, Diaz’s first, turns out to be “The Mask,” which opens Friday, and is expected to be a box-office beauty. Diaz stars opposite Jim Carrey, who awakened to stardom after last spring’s sleeper “Ace Ventura Pet Detective.”
Diaz plays Tina Carlyle, a slinky singer in the Coco Bongo nightclub, which is owned by her mobster boyfriend. But eventually — of course — she falls for Jim Carrey’s nebbish character. “She’s a small-town girl who wanted to be a star but hooked up with this guy who knocked all the self-confidence out of her,” explains Diaz. “She thinks the only reason she’s singing in a nightclub is because her boyfriend owns it, not because everybody wants to see her.”
Diaz never felt any of those things. She claims she’s never wanted to be a star, except “maybe for a brief moment in time — you know, everybody says ‘I can do it.’ “
And she’s known since she was 16 that people want to see her. That’s when she became a model — it was the first of her career-making lucky breaks. “I went to a party with a girlfriend of mine who was dating this guy who was on ‘Fame.’ I was 16 and we came up from Long Beach to Hollywood to this club called Spice, where his party was. We’re all excited. Oh God, it was horrible what I wore. I looked hideous; it was like a jumpsuit with heels,” she remembers.
“A bunch of sleazy guys were coming up and saying, ‘Hey baby, wanna be a model? I’m a photographer.’ They were all these cheeseballs with cards with their home phone numbers on them. But one guy gave me a card and it was actually a business card. He said he could hook me up with Elite, and the only model I knew was with Elite.” The next week, Diaz had a contract — with Elite.
If she hadn’t met that photographer that night, she might well have become a zoologist.
“Growing up I had two snakes — the bigger one was about six-and-a-half feet, Norton — and because of the snakes, I raised mice for them. I also had three dogs, three cats and five birds. I was very intrigued by their behavior,” she said. Diaz is still modeling. “It’s like my waitressing job,” she says. And even though she plays a nightclub singer in “The Mask,” don’t look for her to add “singer” to her rÄsumÄ.
“I was lip-synching,” Diaz says of her performance. “I told them right up front, ‘There’s no way I’ll be singing for you guys.”‘

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