Costars Helped Cameron Diaz Cope with Father's Death

06/06/2009 at 11:00 AM EDT

Costars Helped Cameron Diaz Cope with Father's Death
Cameron Diaz
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage
Cameron Diaz was in the middle of filming My Sister's Keeper last year when her father Emilio died suddenly during a bout with pneumonia. The actress credits the cast, crew and director with helping her get through the ordeal – and finish the movie.

"I was really, really fortunate to have these people to come back to," Diaz told reporters Friday while promoting the film, which costars Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vasssilieva. "Being able to go back to the group of people who were there waiting for me was a blessing, ... so that's really sort of the only way I was able to do it."

During Diaz's nearly two-week absence, they shot around her, explained director Nick Cassavetes. "To talk about this subject, you really have to say that people are more important than movies, and we forget that sometimes," Cassavetes says. "We were all stunned to find out that he had died so suddenly and, apparently, he was a hell of a guy and a gigantic influence on Cameron."

Difficult Return

When Diaz returned to the set, it wasn't easy, said Cassavetes. "She was like the rest of us – a rag doll and unsure and didn't know what country she was in and truly wasn't fully able to comprehend what had happened to her," he says. "But, being the consummate professional that she was, she always comes prepared. It was more of an experience of her getting through it and let's finish."

On a lighter note, Diaz, 36, poked fun at herself and the possible downside of being cast as the mother of a 16-year-old [Vasssilieva.] "I'm not 25 anymore," she says. "And, so, it's not something that I'm worried about. I could have had a 16-year-old child – I could. I might have if I was a different person. I always say, 'I'm sure I've got a few out there I don't know about' – Just a joke. Oh, great, I'm going to have to be reading about that one for a long time!"

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