Posted by renee on 12 March 2015
In The Cobbler, a magical-realist dramedy starring Adam Sandler, Melonie Diaz plays a neighborhood activist who crosses paths with a shoe cobbler (Sandler) who stumbles on the power to literally walk in other people’s footsteps. When he puts on his customers’ shoes, he inhabits their bodies and sees life from their perspective. Diaz herself has been inhabiting other lives since she broke out at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival with Raising Victor Vargas. Since then, the Lower East Side native has steadily built a career appearing in critically acclaimed projects, including a tour de force performance in 2013’s Fruitvale Station, which earned her an Independent Spirit nomination. With a fresh perspective on Hollywood, Diaz is up to taking Hollywood to task, talking about the need for more visible minorities in film and how to avoid typecasting. Also, she has some good advice for any gals who are dating in their thirties—thank goodness.
What was it like working with Adam Sandler?
There’s a reason why Adam’s where he is. Some people don’t get it. They’re like, Why is this guy such a big movie star? And then it’s like, Oh my god, I can totally understand the magnitude of his celebrity. He’s really kind, so normal, a good actor, quite giving, and he’s just a normal guy. He doesn’t have a joke every five seconds but has a really good sense of humor and is really laid back.
You ask him on a date at the end. Do you like older men?
I’m 30 years old and men get much more interesting as they get older, I can tell you that. I don’t see why not. A date wouldn’t hurt.
Your character is organizing a stand against gentrification in the movie. Have you dealt with gentrification in real life?
I’m from the Lower East Side, born and raised, and that was a huge part of the conversation, that I love the neighborhood that I grew up in. I feel very connected to it. I see the way it changes so drastically. I’m seeing it transform before my eyes.
The neighborhoods get better in some ways and worse in others.
I do feel like it sucks because part of gentrification is the streets get cleaned up and it looks nicer and there’s much less crime, but at the same time you lose the soul and the character, you lose the mom and pop shops. So that’s a kind of double-edged sword.
All the streets wind up looking the same with all the same chain stores.
Yeah, there are all these wonderful stores that I grew up going to that are no longer there. And the people who have chosen to make small business as a living can no longer afford rent. That’s a shame. That’s what really upsets me. Yeah, uprooting these families and homes because somebody, I don’t know who, decides these neighborhoods are really cool and great real estate—I’m not really sure how to fix that. There should be some regulation on that.
What about typecasting? Are you at a level where you’re able to avoid it now?
I was attached to do an HBO show, and I was really excited about that because I auditioned and it was like a main character deal, essentially. But I can’t see a key role or bigger roles in terms of what they offer to people like me. It’s frustrating. It’s the same for a black actor. If they’re a better actor they deserve success. Yeah, I’m frustrated, yes.
Are you optimistic that things are beginning to change?
I think the success of Empire helps. I was talking to an executive friend and he says most of the studios are like, What’s happening there? And hats off to the creator, Lee Daniels. What I would like to see happen is we need more writers and we need more creators and we need more original content, that’s what I’m feeling right now. We need people who green light stuff to be open to that. Shonda Rhimes has been an incredible success story. She has a voice and she hires people of color in her cast and has been successful.
Posted by renee on 17 November 2014
Posted by renee on 27 April 2014
Can you talk about how social media adds to the isolation?
Melonie Diaz: Online dating is so much of how we connect with people and meet. Text messaging leads to false relationships. Your connection with people is less intimate. I used to get phone calls and now nothing. It’s interesting—I knew that my boyfriend was the one when he called me right away.
Posted by renee on 27 April 2014
Melonie Diaz and America Ferrara have been friends for a very long time. Both actresses had small roles in Catherine Hardwicke’s skater film, Lords of Dogtown (2005), but, as Diaz recalls, they met before that. “We met through the film circuit scene,” the 30-year-old explains. “America did Real Women Have Curves (2002), and I did a movie called Raising Victor Vargas (2002), and we had the same circle of New York City friends.” When Ferrara and her husband, writer, director, and actor Ryan Piers Williams, asked Diaz to appear in Williams’ latest film, X/Y, the actress didn’t hesitate. “I was like, ‘Obviously! Of course.’ It’s always nice when you get the opportunity to work with friends.”
Currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, X/Y follows four young-ish New Yorkers, all at crossroads in their lives. Ferrara’s character, a high-strung business executive named Sylvia, has just broken up with her boyfriend of six years and is slowly realizing that everyone in her office (including her lunchtime hook-up, played by Common) hates her. Sylvia’s ex Mark is sleeping on his semi-platonic friend’s sofa and trying to sell his screenplay. Jake, Mark’s friend, is pining after his ex-girlfriend and numbing himself with sex and surfing. Diaz’s character Jen, Sylvia’s best friend, is more interested in every cute guy she meets than in finding a job. While, at the beginning of the film, Jen seems like the most dysfunctional character, it becomes clear that she isn’t. “Jen see the world through a glass half full,” Diaz tells us. “Her perspective on what is happening to her is less depressive than the other characters. Jen likes to laugh and have fun and enjoy herself. In terms of having it more together, I’m not sure, but I have hope for her in the end.”
A native of New York, Diaz made her film debut alongside Steve Buscemi and Elizabeth Hurley in 2001’s Double Whammy. Diaz was just a teenager and it was her first audition. “I was at a performing arts school, and there was an open casting call that I just happened to go to,” she remembers. “After that movie, I realized, ‘You can make money doing this as a career,’ because no one in my family is an actor or an artist.” Last year, she appeared in first-time director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station as Sophina, the girlfriend of Michael B. Jordan’s protagonist Oscar Grant. “I’m so excited that I’ve had the opportunity to work with really young directors,” she says. “When you’re young and you’re not as set in your ways, you’re much more collaborative. It’s really exciting to be with someone who’s focused on how you feel about a scene—what you want to do—and who is listening to your opinion and your perspective.”
Fruitvale Station‘s success and subsequent distribution by the Weinstein Company changed Diaz’s career: “I’ve never been in a movie that was seen by so many people. We all knew that it was a great movie, but come on—we made it in 20 days for under a million dollars. We were dealing with some serious issues, and we weren’t sure if the world was going to be receptive to it.” Following Fruitvale, Diaz made a guest appearance on the third season of Girls and filmed The Cobbler with Adam Sandler and Ellen Barkin. After Tribeca, she’ll start filming a television pilot. “This has been a crazy year,” she says.