Cameron Diaz plays rude and crude in latest movie

Ed Symkus

Cameron Diaz has never been afraid to do the unexpected in her movies. She’s played the dummy in “The Sweetest Thing,” has gone along with icky humor in “There’s Something About Mary,” has been completely vulnerable and even a little dowdy in “Being John Malkovich,” and has come across as downright scary in “Vanilla Sky.”

In “Bad Teacher,” opening Friday, she’s nothing less than rude and crude – at least in language and attitude. But she pulls off the part with a sharp comic edge. She plays Elizabeth Halsey, a middle school teacher who would rather be lolling around, spending the money of some wealthy sugar daddy than standing (sometimes sprawled out on her desk, napping) in front of a class. She convinces herself that the only way to improve her situation is to partake in a little shape-enhancing surgery. And in the strange logic of the script, the only way to get the money to do that is to make her students smarter, even if she has to do everything wrong to achieve that goal.

Diaz, who towers over most people when she adds 6-inch heels to her 5-foot, 9-inch body, offers no apologies for the actions of the scheming, ruthless Elizabeth. But she initially had second thoughts about taking the role.

“There was not one ounce of energy spent trying to make anything about this character likable,” she says. “I went 30 pages into the script and I said I’d never play this character because how could I redeem her? This is a horrible person. But 10 pages later it was, ‘Hey, I think I like her.’ I think the reason people like her, if they do, is because she’s honest. People wish they could be as honest as she is, and that they wouldn’t have to suffer the repercussions of their actions. She doesn’t, therefore she’s like a hero, even though she should be the anti-hero.”

Diaz eventually found her comfort level for playing the outspoken Elizabeth, even though it meant going the raunchy route, an approach usually reserved for male characters in contemporary comedies. Diaz admits she hasn’t yet seen “Bridesmaids,” which opened up new doors of playing vile comedy for women. But she’s looking forward to it.

“Women have always behaved badly, probably worse than men,” she says. “When I start to tell any of my guy friends what women talk about, they put their hands over their ears and say, ‘No, no, we don’t want to hear it.’”

Yet Diaz doesn’t understand the logic of a film being slapped with an R rating because of language and a brief scene of nudity (she’s in that scene but remains fully clothed). She takes a moment to rant about the fact that most teens won’t be able to see “Bad Teacher,” unless they sneak in.

“The rating system is arbitrary. Who’s to judge what is R-rated or not? It’s all relative,” she says in a serious tone.

She takes a deep breath, appears as if she’s going to say something important, then blurts out, “So I say get rid of the ratings, man! Our youth are suffering if they’re kept out of movies like this. We should give this to our children. They need it. Take off the R-rating!” But then, seeming to recall a key part of a speech that she accidentally omitted, she adds, again seriously, “What about weighing this movie against the video games where they all get to slash each other and cut each other’s head off? Or even Viagra commercials in the middle of the Super Bowl. I took more offense to that.”

Inevitably, Diaz is asked to recall any special teachers – good or bad – from her own school days. She has an answer ready – a fond memory of her sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Fujikawa.

She smiles, basking briefly in the memory, then says, “He would come in on Mondays and tell us about his 3-year-old son who he would spend the weekends with, and how wonderful it was to have a child to pass on knowledge to, and how you want to encourage them, and how to teach them life’s lessons.”

“He told us that his son was starting to walk, and how gratifying it was that when he took the four steps to get up to the top of the porch, as he got to the last step, he would pull on a string that he had tied around his son’s leg – to bring him back down to the next one, which would in turn help him get back up and go up those steps.” She lets out a big belly laugh and says, “I thought that was amazing.”

The Patriot Ledger