Diablo Cody Interview: From Strip Clubs And Phone Sex To The Big Screen

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It’s not every day that you sit down with a fiery femme filmmaker who’s got a tattoo of a pinup girl on her right shoulder, but that’s just what young Juno bad girl screenwriter brought to the interview table today.

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With a crown of choppy black goth hair as the ultimate anti-‘do, and a surgical glove on her right hand that she wore for no particular reason except to snap it on her wrist every now and then for emphasis of some wacky idea or another, Diablo talked about, among other eye openers, Catholic guilt, not giving a lap dance to Steven Spielberg, her former strangely liberating gig as the worst stripper and phone sex worker, and how cyberspace made her do it, don’t ask.

Why did you get into stripping?

DIABLO CODY: Blogging led me to stripping. I was at a point where I didn’t have much to say on my blog. So I stripped for one night, and it was supposed to be a fun thing to do. But I wrote about it, and people responded right away. It got me to thinking, this could be good for the blog.

How did that one day turn into more?

DC: You know what’s funny, I was the world’s worst stripper. But I think I danced for two hours that night, and came home with one hundred bucks! I was like, one hundred dollars, this is awesome! I could do this and buy a car, because at the time I didn’t have a car. It’s real cold in Minnesota, and waiting for the bus every morning in the snow, I thought it would be really nice to have a car. So, I thought, I’ll just do it again until I have a car. And once you get used to it and realize you can make your own hours and not extend any brain cells, it’s addictive.

I can’t help wondering, didn’t you feel demeaned, and were you pissed at men?

DC: I was pissed at men since birth! No, actually it is demeaning. But you know what’s more demeaning, is the time I spent as a secretary prior to stripping. It was worse. I felt more devalued, more demeaned as a white collar worker.

Did you get hit on a lot?

DC: I got more hit on as a secretary than as a stripper! And I also I felt the sex was out in the open in the sex industry. In the corporate world, they pretend things are equal when they’re not. I wanted to be a copywriter, that’s why I was a secretary. Because I had good ideas and wanted to write advertising copy. I looked into the history of the agency to see how many women were working on the creative side, and it turned out that in 45 years – and this was a place with a very high turnover – that they had eleven female writers and hundreds of men! And you can’t tell me this was a coincidence, that I get shut down when I suggest something, and then it magically turns up in someone else’s ad. So stripping was quite refreshing after that!

So are you still blogging?

DC: Yeah, I started my first blog in 2001, so I’ve been at this for awhile. It’s still out there DiabloCody.blog.com, but I don’t update it every often and I’m trying to quit cold. It alters my perception of reality in a totally different way.

You’re writing all this screen stuff now, so if you’re blogging, could find yourself totally empty?

DC: Yeah, but actually that’s not the case. I used to worry about using my best material on the blog, and then I would have nothing else left in the well. But in fact, it seems the more you flex the muscles, the stronger you get. Blogging, I think, has actually been a boom to my creative storehouse. But maybe not….

What started the blog?

DC: When you’re an unpublished writer and you want to write and have people read your stuff, and you don’t want to deal with publishers, you start writing a blog.

So you started writing and everyone read it?

DC: Initially four people read it! You know, my friends that I had given the blog address to. Then when I started stripping, I was writing about that. And miraculously 10,000 people were reading the blog, because it was about the sex industry. What happened was, they love to hear about it from the perspective of someone coming at it with fresh eyes, I guess. You know, I’m not saying, oh, this is the first take on it like a nerdy blogger.

How were you in high school?

DC: A lot like Juno. You know, not popular, not unpopular. I bounced from one group to another. And I had a core of boys that followed me around, that I could bully! You know, kind of weird. And I played in a band. I was kind of rebellious, but in a safe way. I never landed in jail, but the cops would drive me home for tossing toilet paper around the neighborhood, stuff like that.

Ellen Page seemed so perfect as Juno.

DC: She brought a lot of her own personality to the character. She’s more Juno to me than the character I actually wrote, right down to the way Juno dresses and the music she listens to. Those were decisions made by Ellen. And it’s a credit to the director Jason Reitman, he’s a great collaborator and listens to what other people have to say. And it benefits everyone in the long run.

I feel Diablo, that for probably the first time in movies, you’re speaking like real teenagers speak. It’s so refreshing. This is really the way they talk. Is this something you remember, or are the tapping into what these kids are saying?

DC: I don’t think I really even got past that. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life in suspended animation! You know, I never got past being a teenager, and never had to assume responsibility. And I still haven’t. Because I was maybe in the real world for a year, and then I became a stripper and then all this stuff happened. But I really feel like a teenager. Even though my body continues to atrophy! I guess it’s more about having a stunted brain! But people say the movie is accurate. Which makes me happy.

What about this whirlwind for you right now, of going from a blogger to a future series with Steven Spielberg?

DC: It came about really quickly, more quickly than I could process it. But it’s hard for me to understand. I was raised Catholic, so I feel guilt and shame a lot of the time because I feel so happy. And that’s not natural. And since I moved to Los Angeles, I have a lot of peers in the industry – writers, directors – and a lot of those people had to really fight to get where they are, and really had to pay their dues. So I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to go through that experience. Although I did pay my dues in other areas, I guess. None of those people had to give a lap dance!

Did Stephen Spielberg ask for a lap dance?

DC: No! I swear to God he’s a pro, I don’t think he’d do that!.

What is the series with Spielberg about?

DC: It’s called The United States of Tara, for Showtime. And it’s about this mom, played by Toni Collete, who has multiple personalities. To me, it’s created as sort of a reaction to the multitude of roles woman are forced to play in society. And I thought, what if we do a literal take on that where the typical woman has to be this, that, and the other, actually embodying different people in order to survive.

The movie Juno makes some powerful suggestions regarding pregnancy and against abortion. What you’re take?

DC: I had one image in my mind when I wrote this. That was of Juno sitting across from Mark and Vanessa Loring being polar opposites to her, and then having to audition to adopt her baby. To me, that was the movie right there. It was a weird image, and I couldn’t have gotten that if she had an abortion. She had to have the baby in order for me to execute the story.

It’s hard, Jason and I wanted to make the movie as personal as we could rather than political. Juno never moralizes about the choice she makes. We never get a speech like, “I can’t kill my baby.” I’m pro-choice, so for me it was very important that the movie not seem to have any kind of anti-choice agenda. Um, but when she’s in the abortion clinic, I think of myself as a teenager. I was kinda this anxious, phobic little kid, and I was afraid to have blood drawn. I would have freaked out if I was about to get an abortion!

So she bolts out of fear. It’s a personal choice not moral, I don’t think. At the end, everything turns out alright, and then people say, “This is a candy-coated vision of reality.” You know what, I had a friend who had a baby when she was a teenager, and everything turned out alright. It happens. And it’s not always a tragedy. And I think women are being punished all the time for making so-called mistakes. I’m not going to punish my character.

Maybe you’re going to get hate mail from Diana Ross.

DC: Ha Ha! I’m so worried about that. I went into a restaurant the other day and her daughter was there – you know Tracy from “Girlfriends” which I always watch. And I was with a girlfriend, and I text messaged to her “Diana Ross’s daughter is sitting behind us.” I hope she’s not mad at me, but she probably hasn’t seen the movie yet. Yeah, but her mom is mean.

The music is so fantastic. How much input did you have?

DC: None, it’s kinda funny. In the script, I had written that she was into all these glam bands like T-rex, because that’s the bands I like. I’m a shallow person! And Jason, who is like Mr. Sensitive was like “No, no. I think Juno would listen to something warmer and more sensitive. So I said, “Cool, do what ever you like.” He could have scored it with Yanni and I would have been like “Genius!”

So he went to Ellen and asked, “What kind of music do you think Juno listens to?” and Ellen said, The Moldy Peaches. So she went and played Moldy Peaches for him, and he fell in love instantly. He contacted Kimya Dawson who wrote pretty much all the big songs heard in there. She sent him like two hundred songs she had laying around the house, because she’s totally prolific. And he said, there’s my soundtrack, I had nothing to do with it.

It’s refreshing the relationship that Juno has with her parents. They never totally come down on her and they know it’s not the best decision, but they totally support her. Did you have very supportive parents in that respect?

DC: I have very supportive parents. I think they would have reacted in that way. But I was just tired of seeing movies where the parents of a pregnant girl are the antagonists.

Did they support your stripping?

DC: They didn’t know! I can’t even remember when I told them. I told them I was waitressing, but that just mortified them in general! And then I got a book deal, I had written a book based on all that stuff. And I had to tell them I had gotten a book deal.

And of course that was a thrilling call to make. But then I had to tell them that the book was about me being a stripper for a year. It was a really interesting evening! They were in shock. They didn’t know whether to be excited or horrified. And as time went on, I learned from acquaintances that my mother really had a meltdown. But she kept it from me, because she’s really supportive.

She said, “I wake up in the middle of the night still thinking about what could have happened to you.” What she doesn’t realize, is that it’s more dangerous to be a woman on the street than a stripper. Because when you’re a stripper, you’re surrounded by security goons at all times. They walk you to your car. Nobody can touch you.

I’m surprised they didn’t approach you to do a series on the “Candy Girl?”

DC: They have. In fact when I was pitching Tara this year to the different cable networks, I finished my pitch and their faces just fell. They were all geared up for the “Candy Girl” pitch. People are interested in it. I can understand that. I don’t have enough distance from it right now to write about it. And I have so many other ideas, I guess. But I don’t deny it would be interesting. People love strippers!

How about that Superbad Michael Cerra, as the baby’s daddy in Juno?

DC: Michael Cera was one of the first people cast. To me that was high praise because he’s only involved in quality projects. And I’m a huge “Arrested Development” fan. He’s amazing. You know, I had the privilege of being on set, and you watch people work. Him and Ellen Page are incapable of having a bad day!

So the writers strike has effected you?

DC: Big time. I’m a writer, so it’s totally effected my life. The strange thing is that I haven’t been able to feel it as much as my other friends, because I’ve been out promoting this movie for about a month.

How did you get your name?

DC: I made it up! I was on a road trip, and I was listening to this song “El Diablo.” And for some reason it was late at night and I was driving really fast, and my friend told me to slow down. And I was like “No, Brooks is not driving, Diablo Cody is driving this car.” It was like another persona to drive recklessly. So Diablo Cody was going to drive, when we had to get some place in a hurry!

When you go home and see old friends are you Brook or Diablo Cody to them?

DC: It depends on the friend. Like pre-or-post 2003, it’s usually a mixture of names.

Okay, what’s with that surgical glove?

DC: Right…It’s important for a writer to have quirks. People like that shit, you know.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.