A decade ago, Cameron Diaz was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.
In the 12 months leading up to June 2008, she had earned roughly $50 million, according to Forbes, thanks to being a star of the four-part Shrek franchise, plus live-action turns in the comedy What Happens in Vegas and the tear-jerker My Sister's Keeper, which came out the following year.
"Cameron Diaz, that's my girl. Now she's a bloody top actress, isn't she?" Eric Bana's completely obnoxious husband said in front of his actress wife played by Leslie Mann in Judd Apatow's 2010 comedy Funny People. "...Ahhh, Something About Mary. I love that movie! She's so funny!"
Point being, Diaz was always the epitome of the men-want-her-and-women-want-to-be-her movie star: gorgeous but relatable; good in gross-out comedies, action movies and trippy stuff like Vanilla Sky; and pretty much the person you most wanted to hang out with at the party.
Yet even with so many people paying attention all the time, it was still easy to miss that, like a cruise ship, the four-time Golden Globe nominee had slowly... slowly... started to change course.
Until seemingly all of a sudden one day, it turned out she had done a full 180 and sailed off in an entirely different direction.
It just so happens that Selma Blair, Diaz's co-star in 2002's The Sweetest Thing, joked in a new interview that Diaz had recently told her over lunch that she had retired from acting.
"I mean, she doesn't need to make any more films. She has a pretty great life, I don't know what it would take to bring her back. She's happy," Blair (who next up will be on the Paramount Network's Heathers reboot) was quoted as saying. The actress took to Twitter today to clarify that she was kidding, but the R-word made a lot of headlines.
However, while Blair tweeted that Diaz "is NOT retiring from ANYTHING," no one needed to point out that Diaz has stepped away from the acting grind.
As Blair insinuated by saying Diaz's life was "pretty great" already, it's not as if she needs the money. But after being one of Hollywood's top stars, where did Cameron go and why?
For starters, maybe 20 years of working more or less nonstop was enough. Theoretically most people would love to retire—or at least take a nice, long break, or at least work less—after putting in a solid 20.
Diaz, whose last film was 2014's Annie (20 years after her big-screen debut in The Mask), actually dropped clues in some of her later interviews as she promoted her books and new approaches to wellness and living the good life, that she may have just been over the game. A game which, in the past four years, hasn't really changed—though, like Diaz's trajectory, it's finally, slooooowly starting to turn.
"Our viewpoint, and I think society's view and take on aging, is really what perpetuated this, what propelled me to write the book, because I am in that position where people ask me...it's amazing what people ask me," Diaz said, laughing, in an interview with the LA Review of Books in 2016, talking about The Longevity Book. "It was very interesting as I was turning 40 to get the questions like...'Aren't you scared? Isn't this, like, the worst thing ever that you're turning 40?' And I realized, because I wasn't fearful of it, I wasn't feeling shame about it—but all of a sudden I felt like, when you're told something over and over and over again, you start to consider it in a different way.
"And I started thinking, 'Wow, should I be scared of this?' And then I went, 'No, I'm not, because I feel strong.'"
Hence her tomes such as 2013's The Body Book about, yes, how to feel and look your best self, but also her 2016 follow-up detailing what happens when you age and about how to ditch the shame and fear associated with growing older because, gasp, you might start to look older as well.
Diaz's perspective would be a welcome addition to everything going on now in Hollywood, with talk of the discrepancy in how men and women are treated dominating the conversation, but she was actually addressing many of these issues—such as Hollywood's problem figuring out what to do with women over 40—years ago. (And if her side gig as a wellness aficionado sounds familiar...yes, she and Gwyneth Paltrow are friends.)
She noted in 2016 that while plenty of older women in Hollywood are still getting great parts and winning awards, and there would always be work for the youngsters, women in their 40s ended up being the odd ones out.
"You can't play 25 anymore," she said. "You can't play 70. And to start considering yourself in a position where you have to go, 'I'll play the mom!' or 'the woman in transition [from one stage of life to another]'—well, where are the stories about those women in transition?...We're all still stuck. We're stuck in the past or projecting into the future. We all have to accept where we're at. When women accept where they're at, they say ' I want to see stories that represent me,'" then Hollywood will start making those movies and shows. (That's pretty much exactly why Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman set about getting Big Little Lies made themselves, as they've said, helping to bring the current wave of overdue women-centric stories to the forefront.)
And yet even when an actress is at the top, she's still only up so high.
When Diaz was the highest-paid actress in 2008 with $50 million, her male counterpart, Will Smith, topped the actors list with $80 million. (Though he may have had more irons in the fire, with producing and music, he had just been in two movies that tanked, Hancock and Seven Pounds, and actually didn't end up doing another movie till 2012's Men in Black 3.) That gap has yet to close, with Dwayne Johnson's $68 million shadowing Jennifer Lawrence's $46 million in 2016, and then last year Mark Wahlberg's $68 million dwarfing Emma Stone's $26 million. (Meanwhile, considering Stone won the Best Actress Oscar in 2017 and most critics have agreed they should just stop making Transformers movies, that's also a pop culture conundrum.)
But whether Diaz thought much about unfairness in the moment or not, she experienced all of the craziness—the ageism, the relentless paparazzi, the rumors about her love life, the male gaze, impertinent questions about marriage and family—while she was focused on making movies, regardless.
She was also fully acquainted with having her words become fodder for the outrage cycle, which was bad enough even before Twitter took that game of whack-a-mole to new lows.
She raised eyebrows in 2012 when she told Britain's Sunday Times, "I think every woman does want to be objectified. There's a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it's healthy." About doing racier scenes, she said, "I'm a woman, I know how to handle myself. I know what I feel comfortable doing and I know my sexuality."
Well how dare she?!
It takes three extra seconds to try to understand what she meant—that a lot of women enjoy compliments and being an object of desire, that it can feel nice to have your looks admired, and there's nothing wrong with that—but much was made of her comment, as if she was saying it's fine to objectify women all the time, in general. Which, if you'd ever paid any attention to anything else she'd ever said, was obviously not what she was saying there. And lord knows that sort of thing would not fly now.
Actually, since Diaz could afford to get out and focus on other things, who can blame her?
"I just went, 'I can't really say who I am to myself,' which is a hard thing to face up to," Diaz told an audience last June at the Goop Wellness Summit about her decision to step away from her day job. "I felt the need to make myself whole."
Though Diaz was also someone who said she didn't necessarily see marriage in her future, while also taking a "never say never" approach, her break from acting coincided with her meeting her husband, Good Charlotte guitarist Benji Madden.
"We women are objectified so much," she said at the Goop event. "Somehow my husband has just been able to kind of show me what it's like not to have that be a part of a relationship, and being an equal." (Women's perspectives are also allowed to evolve, thank you. Diaz didn't used to put all that much stock in monogamy, either.)
Diaz and Madden started dating in 2014 and shocked the world (including many of their friends) by getting married on Jan. 5, 2015—a Monday—at Diaz's (or by then, their) Beverly Hills home. The groom's twin brother, Joel Madden, and wife Nicole Richie (who had invited Benji to a dinner party they were throwing with Diaz, setting the whole thing in motion) were among the guests, as were Lionel Richie, Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Mann (who had just made The Other Woman with Diaz) and Judd Apatow.
When Diaz resurfaced a year later to start promoting The Longevity Book, she admitted to Andy Cohen that falling in love and tying the knot so quickly had taken her by surprise as well.
"It was one of those things where everyone tells you, 'You just know when you know,'" she said on Sirius-XM's Radio Andy. "I was like, 'What does that mean? Oh, I get it. You just know when you know.' Like, 'you're my husband.'"
And just like that, any demons from the past frittered away.
"You know, nothing matters now that I have my husband," Diaz said. "Like, I don't even remember any of that." (As in previous relationships with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jared Leto and Alex Rodriguez.) "All of that is like, that's the thing, that's how I know he's my husband...No one compares. Everything else just like washes and slips away. You realize like, 'Oh, this is like the real thing...This is what real love is. This is what real commitment and devotion is. This is the person you build your life with.'"
But despite beating her retreat from Hollywood (all the way over the hill to the San Fernando Valley), she remains on top of the issues currently roiling the industry and society in general. In January she was at the 2018 Women's March in L.A., where she made a rare appearance in a selfie with Adele and Jennifer Lawrence, which both the singer and the Oscar winner posted online.
For her part, Diaz has a hate-tolerate relationship with social media, which she first ditched in 2014 and later called "a crazy-ass experiment on society."
She got a bit into Instagram, but she hasn't posted since Nov. 8, 2016, a selfie in which she's proudly sporting her "I voted" sticker. "I voted today for the country I want to live in... a country where there is equality, inclusion, acceptance and freedom that EVERY American deserves... Please go out and vote for the America you want to live in..," Diaz wrote.
It's not much of a leap to track her from there to the Women's March. But while these days Diaz is doing more to move her favored causes along from behind the scenes, she said plenty in the past to give us an idea about just how much she's enjoying this period of her life.
"Women, if we're honest with ourselves, we just get better with age," she told the LA Review of Books in 2016. "We get happier with age...One of the reasons I wanted to turn 40 is because I knew that I wouldn't give a s--t about so many things."
She continued, "And there's such a freedom in that. Not just a freedom, but a value, because then you get to participate in life and society, and relationships, in a completely different way that I think has more substance, that has more to offer."