The Prime of Miss Diablo Cody
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The powerhouse screenwriter behind Juno and The United States of Tara is back this fall with a vengeance. Here, she talks with fellow Tara writer, producer, and friend Jill Soloway about her new film, Jennifer’s Body; calls out feminists for being too hard on other women; and explains why the world needs to see more size-ten ladies naked

A few years ago, a fellow writer was telling me about a woman she knew named Diablo Cody. Originally a Chicago girl named Brook Busey, Cody had changed her name, written a memoir about her time stripping in Minneapolis called Candy Girl, and at the time was getting great buzz around Hollywood surrounding a screenplay she had just written. That was pretty much all I knew about her before that movie Juno finally came out. And then when I saw it, I knew I had to meet her.

I was so moved by what she had done with Juno that it completely shamed me, pwned me, and inspired me all at once. Having carved out my own place in the business as a writer and co-executive producer on Six Feet Under, I had been marching around Hollywood to meeting after meeting claiming that movies about women and girls existed only to service the dominant male storyline, with good girls making good choices and bad girls making bad choices. I’d been pitching movies about women straddling both sides of the fence, getting to be antiheroes and fuckups. I’d been bitching about heroines having to be beautiful while guys like Seth Rogan got the girl. Then Juno came out, and here it was, a movie about a girl who was both sexy and a fuckup, deep-voiced and aware, solid and grounded, all in this really adorable way. And it was so successful, it racked up four 2008 Academy Award nominations and landed Cody an Oscar for Best Screenplay. FUCK ME. Why hadn’t I written it? When was I gonna write Juno?

Post-Oscars, I resisted the urge to starfuckerishly stand in line with everyone else at industry events trying to meet the now-famous Cody but was superexcited the day I found out Dreamworks was looking for writers for The United States of Tara—Cody’s series for Showtime, starring Toni Collette. My agent arranged a meeting, and we got on great, like a couple of secret feminists hiding out in Hollywood. Now, a year later, I’ve clambered my way up through the ranks of Tara to be an executive producer with Cody on the show, and all we do is laugh all day in the writers’ room as we churn out season two. That’s right! She’s my real live friend now!

When BUST called me to do this interview, I told them I would be thrilled. Cody, now 31, has had so much more happen in her life since she last appeared in the magazine, in the spring of ‘08. And with her new horror movie, Jennifer’s Body, debuting in September, 2009 is shaping up to be another big one for my friend. We met up in her bright pink, High School Musical–themed office for this chat.

How long have you been reading BUST?
I was an early adopter. I’ve self-identified as a feminist since I was a little girl. I think I found it when I went to college in Iowa. I probably saw it by a register. You know, where I bought my organic apples. It was very appealing to me.

Have you thought about what your BUST cover will look like?
Everybody enjoys seeing the better version of themselves; that’s always fun. And I know that it’ll make my mom happy. She’ll go to Barnes and Noble, and she’ll get her BUST.

So in March, The New York Times did a cool story about you and your gang of women screenwriter friends that you’ve dubbed “the Fempire.” I enjoyed reading it and seeing you in your delightful cape. Is there really a Fempire? Can I be in it?
You can be in the Fempire any time! And by the way, that was a one-of-a-kind superhero cape knitted by Diva Zappa. I was able to pull it closed like a cocoon and hide my body, because I didn’t want some asshole blogger to accuse us of being sexualized in the pictures. Isn’t it weird that women have to think of these things? Anyway, all four of us heard from aspiring young female writers after the article came out, and that meant a lot to me. The only women in the industry who tend to get any exposure are movie stars. But women are also writers and producers and Hollywood players. Girls need to see that. When men cruise around in a limo and make deals, it’s a stereotype. When we do it, it’s news!

Tell me about Jennifer’s Body.
Most people coming off an Oscar would probably write another film that is stereotypical Oscar bait, which I don’t know how to do. {quotes} When I wrote Juno, I thought I was writing Napoleon Dynamite for a girl.{/quotes} Which I still think is pretty much what I did. It’s still shocking to me that the movie won an Oscar. The other logical option would have been to write a big commercial movie, go for the payday. I didn’t do either, which probably means I’m an idiot. I decided instead to write a genre movie that reminded me of The Lost Boys and all the kind of movies that I used to watch when I was growing up, in the ‘80s. And that’s what this movie is. What really appealed to me was the idea of working with a female director. I’m sure somebody will prove me wrong, but I had never heard of a woman director and a woman screenwriter creating a mainstream horror film.

What’s the director’s name?
Karyn Kusama, who definitely has a feminist viewpoint, having done Girlfight. It’s not at all like Hollywood horror movies. So I’m proud of that.

 


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A director named Angela Robinson told me when she came to Hollywood, she felt like she was sneaking women’s issues and thoughts into the mainstream via movies, like a Trojan horse. Do you feel you’re doing that?
We have even used the Trojan horse metaphor, Karyn and I. I have difficulty talking about this movie, and I really have to fucking remedy that because I’m going to need to talk about it.

Is this your first piece of press about it?
This is the first time I’ve talked about the message of the film. It’s really about girl-on-girl crime. It’s Mean Girls taken to an extreme. When the alpha girl becomes cannibal-like, nitpicking is no longer enough. Now she has to literally consume flesh.

Whom does she eat?
She eats men. There are so many conscious choices we made in this movie. There are no father figures present. These are girls raised without positive male role models, and they’re lost. Their mothers are mostly absent, too; they work the night shift. And the protagonist is everything I felt like when I was young. She’s a little Nancy Drew; she’s very inquisitive, she’s very bookish, she’s very nervous. Jennifer is the gorgeous bombshell played by Megan Fox, who has kind of a carnivorous quality in a good way. The two of them have been friends since they were little girls, and as a result, they’ve been able to stay in that friendship, even though at the point we meet them as teenagers, they have nothing in common anymore. And I think everyone can relate to that. You have this friend that you made when you were a completely different person, and then you get to a point when you realize how incompatible you are and how toxic your friendship has become, yet you can’t let go of it because there’s this cord between the two of you. When I was in high school, I remember, this alpha female stole a guy from me, and the thoughts that I had toward this young lady are the most violent thoughts I’ve ever had in my life. I would actually fantasize about physically hurting her. I would think about how she slept on the first floor of her house and how I could get through her window, and I’ve never hurt a fly. I’ve never even hit another person, so it obviously wasn’t anything I was going to ever act on. But I would think about it, and I was alarmed by how vicious my thoughts were, and I tried to tap into that when I was writing this movie. There is really something deep and brutal and scary about jealousy. Teenagers’ emotions are already running high. If you add a supernatural element and a love element and a jealousy element, it explodes. The movie also references eating disorders. Jennifer’s eating habits revolve around a binge-purge cycle.

Does she eat people and then throw up?
She actually throws up before she eats. She’s possessed. She vomits disgusting black bile on her victims before she eats them. But in one of my favorite scenes, she’s binge-eating out of her refrigerator. I thought to myself, “Man if we aren’t getting it across…” I was happy about that.

So, with the two women, is there a Madonna/whore thing going on?
Definitely.

So Jennifer is the whore who consumes, and the protagonist is…?
She’s played by Amanda Seyfried.

And she’s the good girl?
She’s a little of both. Each of them is, as in real life, unsure of which side to be on. The protagonist has sex in the movie, and it’s really matter-of-fact. It’s not the typical big, happy virginity-loss scene. She has sex for pleasure in this movie, and that was important to me. She’s this wide-eyed, innocent blonde who’s trying to protect the town, but I wanted to show at the same time that she can have an orgasm, she can get excited about having sex.

A protagonist who has sex for reasons other than love is pretty unheard-of in mainstream movies.
And in this movie she can live through it, which doesn’t happen often in horror movies.

What we’re writing on The United States of Tara explores a little of that. Tara’s the faithful wife, but her other personalities get to act out. I really believe it’s the greatest dramatic question for women’s stories—being forced to choose one side or the other. Like, for any woman, there’s the one side where you’re the whore—you fuck whomever you want, you’re interested in pleasure, maybe you’re interested in money. Then there’s the other side of you, the Madonna, and the supposed reward is love. You get married, you get the baby, you get the house. Yet, as writers, we suspect that all the real fun is on this other side. We want to be able to explore the so-called bad-girl side of things, be a stripper, be a dancer, be a sex worker, be a million bad things.

But there is no support for the whore in modern society. And it’s so aggravating to me. When I see the way women behave on the Internet, I have an issue. Even on so-called feminist Web sites, it feels like an excuse for a bunch of women to get together and say that Lindsay Lohan looks haggard, or that she’s a slut, or that she’s aging poorly. The women who still get the most praise in pop culture are the ones who seem elegant, poised, like Grace Kelly.

Somehow Angelina Jolie transcended the dichotomy.
Because she’s luminous. I hate that, “luminous.” {quotes}If I see the adjective “luminous” in one more celebrity profile, I am going to vomit.{/quotes}  Nobody is that special; celebrities do not radiate light.

“Diablo looked luminous when I sat down. Luminous and poised.”
It’s such garbage. But I actually feel that kind of hatred back and forth, whether it’s feminists calling women whores or the other way around. I am speaking as a radical feminist: feminists can be incredibly hard on other women. They were the first people clutching their pearls when I came onto the horizon. They were the first people to disapprove of me. I really thought it was going to be the dudes. I think if I’d been a mousy, self-deprecating, secretary type, everyone would’ve thought I was great. And speaking of the whole Madonna/whore thing, there are a lot of people who assumed Juno was a virgin, and she was not. That was not her first time having sex. In the original script, we acknowledge that it was not her first time having sex.

Did people somehow need her to have been a virgin?
Maybe. I was so frustrated by the criticism where people said, “Ah, people always get pregnant their first time in the movies and on TV, and it doesn’t happen in real life.” Who said it was her first time? Way to jump to conclusions. It was his first time, not hers.

There’s something fascinating about you, a stripper, writing her. That such a “bad girl” having written such a “good girl” paid off somehow in people’s subconscious and helped propel the movie’s publicity. Did it ever feel like, for the people who wanted to criticize you, that the stripper thing was convenient? Did people need to make you pay for supposedly having all the success happen so quickly for you?
There is definitely a bias toward people who are perceived as having had things handed to them. And I understand that. I have experienced similar frustration toward writers and directors. Before all this happened to me, I was one of those people who would have created and nurtured the Juno backlash. I relate to those people completely.

What would you have thought of you?
I would have hated my guts. I would have thought, “Oh, that girl with her fucking precious shtick and her stupid name. Go fuck yourself. I’m writing my novel here, I can’t even deal with this, please go away.” Oh, my God, I would’ve had no patience for myself.

 


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So, here’s something we like to talk about: as feminists we want to side with and protect our fellow women who are sex workers, yet as realistic humans, we can’t truly want women to turn only to their bodies to make a living. I’m just not sure what the modern woman’s position should be on sex work. Can we even safely discuss, politically, whether or not there’s a wound there or some kind of damage for someone who wants to do sex work?
You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see that 12 years of daily mass and religious indoctrination created the exhibitionist that I am. Do I wonder if I am damaged? Yes. I think most women are. I don’t understand where that anger comes from. I get frustrated with pornography just because I feel like it has created a completely plastic version of female sexuality that young boys grow up seeing and believing is going to materialize in their adult sex lives. And then when it doesn’t, you’re left with a world full of shitty lovers.

But you like porn? You use porn?
I watch porn all the time. I look at pornography every day.

And how do you feel when you watch it?
I feel like I’m in the drive-thru at Carl’s Junior. Like I’m just fulfilling a need. It’s not a sensual, pleasurable experience for me; it’s comfort food.

What about the actors? Do you feel for them as people and worry about them?
I do worry about them. But at the same time, I can’t relate, because I never internalized the shit that I did as a stripper and in the peep show. For some reason, it did not affect me in as primal a way as it seems to affect other women. When I think about that stuff, it’s still funny to me. When I wrote about it in Candy Girl, I was laughing; when I read that book, I still laugh. I have never looked back on that stuff and felt ruined or hurt, whereas I’m learning to understand from talking to other women that they do feel hurt, that they do feel exploited. That they do look back on that stuff and want to barf. I don’t know why I’m not like them.

Do you watch Cathouse?
I love it! But it gives me the creeps. The overhead, sneaky camera shots of the guys having sex with the women bothers me. I feel like I shouldn’t be seeing that. It’s private. And I hate when they do the lineup.

But there is something about a lineup of women that’s everywhere—pageants, Cathouse, The Bachelor with their rose ceremonies, Deal or No Deal. There is something about a line of women with hands behind their backs just standing still, with all that poise! What does that mean to guys? When they get to choose?
I always say it’s emperor syndrome. That’s why guys love to go to strip clubs. It’s the one time in their lives when they get to choose from a lineup of women who would never consider them in real life. I don’t know what the equivalent would be for women, maybe having a lineup of jobs. Something we don’t get to be selective about in life.

My fantasy is just being left alone to watch Real Housewives of New Jersey in bed.

We were talking the other day about the luxury of being a man and getting to just wake up and shower and be desirable just by virtue of your scent, your man-ness. As a screenwriter in Hollywood, you know, when a guy goes to a meeting, I doubt he has to think too carefully about what he’s wearing. Whereas when I spent a couple of years bouncing from meeting to meeting, meeting every person in town, I would always think very hard about what I was going to wear and how I was presenting myself.

And what about the stripper thing? Do you even like talking about it anymore?
I’m a 31-year-old feminist in Ugg boots and a T-shirt, so it’s so funny to me when anyone accuses me of trying to be sexy or cute. I couldn’t do that if I fucking tried. {quotes}I’m full-on rocking this post-feminist-academic-stripper attitude because I’m trying to confront, not titillate.{/quotes} If you build your career on titillation, you are not going to go anywhere. I think shit has mellowed since Juno came out. But the years leading up to Juno, when my manager was creating hype, were exhausting and loud. Since winning the Oscar, I feel like now it’s settled. We can figure out what we really like to do. “We,” being me and Diablo.

Have you talked about the difference between Brook and Diablo in articles before?
I don’t think so. I once talked about how I do go to different log-ins on my computer. I have different accounts, one for Diablo, one for me. Diablo’s account is really organized….

I still have a hard time calling you Brook.
People who have met me recently have difficulty calling me Brook. Sometimes even Dan, my boyfriend, stumbles on it.

Do you feel split?
I definitely feel like there is a big difference between me and the hologram. I read an interview with Jennifer Aniston recently where she said that she felt like Hannah Montana. She said she’s like Miley [Cyrus], and this character of Jennifer Aniston that the tabloids have created is Hannah Montana. And it’s fake. And that’s how she survives the insane tabloid attention. My life is nothing like that, but in terms of interviews and photo shoots and having a persona, it’s the same way. I don’t feel a close relationship with this public figure.

Were you once more connected with Diablo?
I had to be for a while. I had a sense that it was urgent and important. I saw what I was building toward. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened after a certain point; I could kind of seeing it coming.

What do you mean?
There was just a really strange sense of momentum in my life. For instance, right now I’m back to feeling totally uncertain about everything. I’m generally a pessimist, but there was a period of time where I knew the movie was going to be great. I knew it was going to do well, I knew we were going to win awards. I’m not saying that I’m Miss Cleo, but sometimes you get a rush of energy in your life when you feel that you are coming toward something.

Did you feel that energy coming as soon as you came up with the name Diablo?
No. I was writing goofy TV columns that 50 people read, and blogging. I never really had a chance to try on a character like that before, so it was great. It was one of the brightest times in my life, and it was just nothing but fun. I could do anything I wanted. You know, take a picture of myself naked and just put it on my blog.

Is that stuff still there?
I’m sure it’s still out there. It doesn’t bother me in the least. If anybody in America wants to see me naked, go for it. I would consider doing it now, but I always think that people I work with would be upset. But I have no shame about nudity, and I feel like nudity is confrontational in a way. Maybe the world needs to see a size-10 woman naked. Maybe they need to see my cellulite. I kind of feel that I would love to put that out there. Any time I do a red carpet, I feel vaguely confrontational. I feel like, “All right, now somebody’s going to come onto the carpet who doesn’t have a stylist, who did her own hair and makeup, who’s wearing a $25 dress from H&M. I have cellulite. I have big hips and big thighs. And you have to look at me.” I feel like people have to pay attention to someone who would typically be invisible.

Photographed by Sheryl Nields

 
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