Who can forget Cameron Diaz's karaoke performance in My Best Friend's Wedding? It wasn't the worst singing ever, but it ranked high on the list of embarrassing moments in movies, demonstrating that the San Diego, California-born actress has a great sense of humor. So even though Diaz isn't known as a singer, it didn't keep her from taking on the challenge of playing Miss Hannigan in the Sony update of the musical Annie, in theaters today.
"I don't sing as bad as I do in My Best Friend's Wedding," Diaz says with a laugh, admitting she enlisted the aid of a vocal coach to get ready for Annie. "But the idea that I'm supposed to be able to sing is a terrifying thing. I've done karaoke a million times with friends, who all know how bad I sing, and that's one thing. When you're supposed to step up and be able to sing, that is a totally different situation."
The majority of the songs from the original Broadway version of Annie will be found in the updated version − with a few new songs created just for the film, but the story stays true to the earlier incarnation − family is where you find it and you never know what tomorrow will bring.
So, parentless Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) resides in a foster home ruled over by Miss Hannigan, who is as mean as her predecessors, and Annie meets her version of Daddy Warbucks − telecommunications magnate Will Stokes (Jamie Foxx), who is using his fortune to run for the office of Mayor of New York City in order to expand his empire. When a video of Will saving Annie's life goes viral and his numbers jump up in the polls, Will's campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) decides that more Annie would mean more voters, and he gets Will to invite Annie to live with him.
"I think when you see Annie, you see that there's this little girl who just felt unlovable and didn't have any place where she fit in," Diaz says. "Nobody wanted her. We can all relate to that feeling for a second, even if we had the best childhood in the world. There's just a moment where we're like, 'I just wish there was somebody who wanted to take care of me, love me, and I was safe.'"
You would think Miss Hannigan would understand Annie and the other foster children who live with her, because she, too, feels unloved, but Miss Hannigan doesn't have a compassionate bone in her body. In Annie 2014, she is a singer, who had her shot at fame, and lost it. Now she's an empty person, who drinks a lot, and treats the girls in her care the same way she treats herself: She beats them up like she beats herself up.
"What Miss Hannigan has to learn is that you have to love yourself, allow yourself to be loved, to be able to be happy," Diaz says. "She's focused on the wrong things. She feels like her missed opportunity at fame has ruined her life. Therefore, what she's doing is she's earning this money as a foster mother, and she's spending it all on getting ready to be famous at any moment, having her make-up, her clothes, everything ready to go whenever they call her up."
The call, of course, never comes. But it's Miss Hannigan's greed and what she does as a result of it that drives the story to its conclusion.
W.C. Fields is famous for saying "never work with animals or kids," and Annie has both, but this isn't Diaz's first time on screen with children, and she has a much more sanguine attitude than Fields.
"The girls on this movie were fantastic," she says. "They were very, very sweet. They all wanted to be actresses. They wanted to show up, have a good time, and sing and dance. And at the end of the movie, they all cried. It was really, really sweet and heartbreaking to see them hold on to each other and bawl their eyes out after having had this amazing experience with one another."
It remains to be seen if Annie will become a holiday must-see, but for Diaz, there was satisfaction in being a part of a film about the human condition.
"I feel so blessed to get to tell stories and help people relate to themselves and to other people, so I'm always tickled when I'm a part of something that people actually can relate to," she says. "And musicals are just fun."