The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Diaz takes big risk in Gangs

New York, Dec. 19: “You need actors who aren’t afraid to take chances,” says director Martin Scorsese.

While Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis already have proved they’re game for a challenge, Cameron Diaz takes the biggest career risk with Gangs of New York, Scorsese’s 25-years-in-the-works epic.

It’s a dramatic, violent and visually breathtaking tale of the battles between native Americans and Irish immigrants for dominance over the squalid streets of New York’s Five Points district. DiCaprio plays Amsterdam Vallon, a young Irishman seeking to avenge his father’s brutal murder 16 years earlier at the hands of nativist leader Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis).

Caught between the two men is Jenny Everdeane (Diaz), a skilled “bludget” (thief) who eludes Bill’s powerful grasp and chooses Amsterdam’s poor but solid arms instead.

All the actors profess a respect and awe for Scorsese, and Day-Lewis says it best: “There are probably less than a handful of directors working in the world today for whom it is genuinely a vocation. He’s compelled to do that work to the point that if he didn’t do it his life would be bereft.”

For DiCaprio the chance to work with Scorsese was “one of the most memorable movie-making experiences I’ve ever had because I’ve never committed so much time, thought or effort to a movie — or felt so attached.”

Diaz, standing out as the sole female in a veritable boys club of a cast and enduring her part being written and expanded only as it was shot, is treading new territory.

And she was the only one of the stars who had to audition for her part.

Remember, DiCaprio and Day-Lewis, hits and misses aside, already have proved their mettle as dramatic players, but Scorsese took a chance in casting a movie star who commands between $15 million and $20 million per project and is known primarily for such lightweight comedies as The Mask, There’s Something About Mary and My Best Friend’s Wedding, and for action fluff such as Charlie’s Angels.

Her turns in darker fare — The Invisible Circus or Any Given Sunday — are more often than not overlooked.

Scorsese notes that Diaz was suggested by Joe Roth, former head of Disney. He says he saw There's Something About Mary and Being John Malkovich “and liked her in them” and, when auditions came around, asked her to read.

“There was a spark between her and Leo,” he says. “She was great. I never saw any other of her movies, by the way. Just those two.”

Diaz laughingly says it is “really, really easy” to be the only woman on a set because “you get the compliments flying your way from the crew, who are always happy to see you.”

Unlike several actresses in her league, Diaz says, she has no problem going to auditions.

“Everybody had heard about Gangs... and I just basically stood in line and hoped I could get in there and have an opportunity. Initially, I didn’t know — or care — what the story was.

“I didn’t care how big the part was. If Martin Scorsese lets me come in and read for him and he likes me, I'll do it.”

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