Melonie Diaz’s Career Renaissance


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.