25 in 2009: Melonie Diaz

Born: 04/25/84 In:New York, NY Is: Actress

It's hard to believe that Melonie Diaz is as young as she is. Not because of her looks -- with her glowing caramel skin and mischievous eyes, the New York native could probably pass for 17 -- but because, with almost 20 films completed, a degree in film from NYU and an impressive New York theater résumé, Diaz could easily put many of her peers to shame. And yet, she already wants to retire. "I don't think I want to act anymore," sighs Diaz, who has justifiably earned the title of "indie darling" (she has been attending Sundance since she was 15). "I think I'm having a midlife crisis, and I'm only twenty-five! But it's sort of like, ugh, I just don't want to be a dumb actress my whole life, you know?"

Diaz knows she sounds silly when she laments her success -- "I obviously know how lucky I am, and really blessed" -- but she is also brutally honest about going through what most twentysomethings do, but seldom talk about. "I'm just a little bit -- ," she laughs, "I got a degree in film from NYU because I loved movies, but not necessarily acting in them. And I think a lot about what else I could do, like writing or directing. Those things feel more exciting to me right now." Still, Diaz's ennui may be just a passing phase -- she hasn't actually stopped acting yet. She will appear as a guest star in three upcoming episodes of FX's dark plastic-surgery drama, Nip/Tuck, as a romantic temptress for one of the main characters. "The doctor I get involved with has a thing for evil women," Diaz smirks. "But I play the first really good person to come into his life. I liked doing something unexpected that way." And while she hasn't booked anything after Nip/Tuck, Diaz confesses that she is still considering a number of roles: "I'm not totally over acting, I admit," she says. "But I do want to do something else for a bit."

Should Diaz indeed decide to retire, she has an excellent body of work to look back on. As a child growing up in a Puerto Rican family on New York's Lower East Side, Diaz began acting in community theater, which provided the opportunity for her to be discovered early on -- and she was. At 15, she appeared in her first film, Double Whammy, and went on to star in other celebrated indies such as Catherine Hardwicke's Lords of Dogtown, Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (the film that also launched Shia LaBeouf and Channing Tatum), and Peter Sollett's Raising Victor Vargas (a Sundance hit). Diaz briefly entered the megaplex world with Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, co-starring Jack Black and Mos Def, but it was still a strange, quirky project about video-store owners making low-fi versions of famous films. Which is to say, Diaz never had designs on super-fame, even from the beginning. She has consistently chosen projects that challenge and inspire, rather than propel her towards Hollywood's inner strata.

"I don't pursue the typical Hollywood lifestyle," she says. "Growing up in New York, most of my friends laugh at me and think it's hilarious that I'm in movies, and tell me when to shut up if I get too crazy about it. In my family, I'm still the nerd who doesn't comb her hair before she leaves the house. And I feel like if I do ever make millions of dollars, I'll never feel right about paying thousands of dollars for a dress."
Rachel Syme

Wears: a dress by Marc Jacobs, shoes by Brian Atwood and earrings by Lanvin

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