LOS ANGELES — In “Bad Teacher,” Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a middle-school teacher who does mostly the wrong things, mostly for the wrong reasons. While she’s not exactly a role model, she is a humorous character to watch.
“I’m not judging,” Diaz said at a news conference promoting the film at the Four Seasons hotel. “But the thing about it is that, if we believed this was the right thing to do, we wouldn’t be making fun of it. Right? So it was really fun to make fun of it. Because clearly, especially living in this town, we all know what it’s like to come up against people who have their priorities a little screwed up and focus on the wrong things.”
Halsey plans to lure a rich man into marrying her so she can live a life of leisure. When watch fortune heir Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) becomes a substitute at the school, Elizabeth sets her sights on him. But when she sees a picture of his ex-girlfriend in a bikini, she decides she needs to make certain cosmetic enhancements to land Scott.
“It’s called hard economic times, have you ever heard of this? You can’t find a millionaire like the way you could like three, four years ago before the crash,” Diaz, 38, said. “So it’s like a lot of work for her now. It’s an investment.”
That investment? Breast enhancement surgery.
“She’s working hard for those,” Diaz said. “She knows to get what you want, you have to have a goal. And her goal is to invest in her ‘business’ and get a pair of (breasts).”
Elizabeth isn’t opposed to skating a few ethical lines to get where she wants. First, she skims a little off the top of the school car wash. Her skimpy attire at the car wash, however, means the event still sets a school record for fundraising.
Then she learns the teacher with the top-performing class on the state exams receives a large bonus. Suddenly, her students’ learning becomes much more important.
Diaz said she thinks Elizabeth becomes likable despite herself.
“There was absolutely not one ounce of energy spent on making anything about this character likable. It was genius. It was what I loved,” she said. “I read 30 pages into the script and thought, ‘There’s no way I can play this character. How can I ever redeem her? There’s no redemption. This is a horrible person.’ And 10 pages later, I was like, ‘I think I like her.’ By the end, I was like, ‘This is amazing because I don’t have to apologize.’”
She said while sometimes in life, people may have an epiphany and change their entire outlook, “that’s not the norm.”
“Usually you spend the last 20 minutes of the movie trying to apologize for the first hour and a half of it because people are afraid of just owning what it is,” Diaz said. But with Elizabeth, “if people like her at all, it’s because she’s honest and people wish they could be as honest as she is.”
- By Matthew Price
From Friday’s The Oklahoman
Travel and accommodations provided by Columbia Pictures.