No one could ever call screenwriter Diablo Cody “guarded” because she’s quite an outspoken young woman, much like the title character of her first film Juno, but a certain head of publicity at Fox Searchlight must have been worried that the one-time stripper might spontaneously start doing lap dances for journalists or something, because he sat in the room during our entire interview with her, which is not usually the case. But no, being the liberal-minded site that we are, we didn’t ask Diablo (not her real name) about her stripper past and when she threw a rather sexy pose for our cameras, we just shot from the shoulders up to keep CS’s pervo readers from getting the wrong ideas about Ms. Cody, who is clearly one of the most talented new screenwriters of 2007.
As we learned for ourselves, she’s quite a pleasant change from the actors and filmmakers we normally speak to who know how to talk to the press through a filter.
(This interview is thematically a continuation of our talk with Juno director Jason Reitman, which you can read here, and you can learn more details about the movie there as well.)
ComingSoon.net: I just talked to Jason and he says that he misses you when you don’t do interviews together. Diablo Cody: I miss him a lot, and in fact, I was complaining in the elevator because I thought we were going to be paired for all of this. We really enjoy that and I was really looking forward to spending a day with Jason and he’s not here!
CS: I thought it would be a good idea but then I realized you talk as fast as I do, and he doesn’t, so it might be strange. Cody: (laughs) He’s more deliberate actually, which is good. He’s a good director for that reason. I’m a lot more manic.
CS: Did you already know about his first movie “Thank You for Smoking” when you found out he was going to direct your first script? Cody: I didn’t actually. I’d never seen “Thank You for Smoking” and I fibbed and told him that I had when we met, so he wouldn’t think I was completely unprepared, which I always am. Eventually, after our third meeting, I finally thought, “You know what? The jig is up. I should probably see ‘Thank You for Smoking.'” So I went back to my home in Minneapolis and my friends and I got together and we had a little party, and we rented “Thank You for Smoking”–it was on DVD–and I wanted to see what this guy could do, and he knocked my socks off. I mean, what a fantastic movie, visually, in terms of the writing, the direction, the tone. I think Reitman is a master at establishing tone, and after I saw the movie, I felt so confident and so blessed. I called Jason and said, “Let’s do this!”
CS: A lot of people talk about the dialogue in the script and how original it is. How was the collaboration when you started working with Jason, who as you said, is a writer himself? Cody: He was very very respectful of the material, and yet at the same time, because he’s a writer and a respected writer at that, I could take his suggestions very seriously, and I respected his opinion very much.
CS: What about some of the visual ideas? He told me that a lot of the detailed things like Herschel Gordon Lewis and Sonic Youth were all in the script, but even things like the cherries on her underwear, was that stuff you included in the script or stuff that you both came up with on-set? Cody: Oh, yeah. That was what was so wonderful about this experience is that it really was a true collaboration, and it’s rare for a writer to be able to come on set and make those kinds of suggestions. Jason was actively seeking that kind of input, not only from me but from Ellen. As he is fond of saying, he’s never been a teenage girl, so a lot of those details for him were useful.
CS: How did things change when he started casting the movie? At what point did Ellen come on board and was it fairly quick casting and how did things change once it came together, if at all? Cody: It was. Jason had a very definite vision for who he wanted in the film from the beginning, and he definitely wanted Ellen. I don’t think there was anybody else in his mind, and I was obviously in complete support of that decision. I can’t think of anybody who could have played the part besides Ellen. Jason–I don’t know, he probably told you this–but he took five of the cast members down to Panavision before they had been officially cast and he shot like 45 pages of the script as a test. I always joke that it looks like “Dogville” because it’s just a black backdrop, no props, but the movie is there already, that’s what’s astonishing. It’s all there. The footage is really quite amazing, and he showed that to Searchlight, and they said, “Okay, you got your cast.”
CS: How involved were you with the casting process and production design in terms of how Juno’s room should look, etc? Cody: Production design I was able to contribute. It’s my fault that some poor guy had to run all over Canada looking for Dr. Pepper Lipsmacker, which you can barely seen in the film, but it was a really important detail for me. So yes, I was involved in the production design to an extent, but I can’t take credit for the beautiful job that they did, because I really think the movie looks amazing.
CS: Was your script very detailed in terms of describing Juno’s room and things like that? Cody: Yeah, I did. You know what’s funny is that I did design her room obviously, but it was just a couple of sentences and that’s a testament to the talent of the production designers, because they were really able to extract a lot of information from just a couple of sentences, and I think the room in particular was a very emotional set for me, because it reminded me so much of my own little habitat when I was a teenager.
CS: You already had written a fairly regarded book and you have your blog, but did you always think you were going to write a screenplay for a movie? If you had written a fiction novel, you’d have complete control over it. Cody: It’s all on the page. You are the director when you write process. As a person who’s truly passionate about words, writing a screenplay never appealed to me because it is so skeletal, it’s just dialogue on a page. It’s only after having written a movie that I realized how much power there is in a screenplay, because if you’re lucky enough to have it produced, the collaborative aspect of filmmaking is so colorful and so interesting and you can really create something lasting.
CS: How closely did you work with Jason on the soundtrack in terms of having Mott the Hoople in the script? Cody: Mott the Hoople was not in the script, but that was something that Jason and I came up with together. All the Moldy Peaches and the Kimya Dawson songs, which are probably the most memorable tracks in the film, came courtesy of Ellen, who absolutely loves the Moldy Peaches, and she turned Jason onto that band and onto Kimya, and then he decided he wanted Kimya to provide the soundtrack. That’s what’s so cool about this movie. I mean, you’re not going to talk to a lot of directors who allow their star to determine the music or allow their writer to determine an outfit or anything like that. He really values that kind of input.
CS: Are you worried at all that any future experiences would not be this collaborative? Cody: Yeah, they’d all suck by comparison. I’ve said that before. I can’t imagine having an experience this positive again.
CS: I talked to Tamara Jenkins a few weeks ago, who directed “Slums of Beverly Hills” eight or nine years ago and then ended up fighting the system until she finally made her second movie. Are you worried about having to face those kinds of things or are you dealing with the system already where studios want to buy your script and then do different things with it? Cody: Yeah, it is challenging. That’s a difficult question to answer. I wish I could say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been wrestling with The Man” ’cause I haven’t been. I feel I’ve been given a fair shake.
CS: I guess I can ask you that question again in eight years. Cody: Yeah, let me become embittered! Don’t ask me that now while I’m really happy and lying on a couch, basking in awards buzz. Now is not the time to ask me if I’m in development hell.
CS: I asked her if she had any tips for you and she said, “She doesn’t need any tips or advice from me.” Cody: I love Tamara. I’ve met her in Telluride. Have you tried this water? I realize this is a strange question but it’s peppermint-flavored.
(Actually, it was a strange question and even stranger was the extended riff between Diablo and the publicist about the water, which ended with the publicist telling us we only have one more question. Nice.)
CS: What are your feelings about the pro-life movement embracing this movie because Juno chooses to keep the baby rather than having an abortion? Cody: You know what? Anybody can embrace the film that wants to embrace the film, but I will say on the record that it’s not pro-life propaganda and it’s not a political movie.
CS: How are things going with the Showtime show you’ve been developing? Cody: It’s going well. Unfortunately, the strike has sort of delayed things so I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s happening at the moment, but I’m very excited about it. We have Toni Collette cast as the lead, and I’m really excited to work in TV because the pace of features is very slow, and as a writer, it can be frustrating, but we haven’t shot the pilot yet.
Since that was all the time we got, here’s a little more with Cody from the roundtables earlier that day.
CS: Do you think teens really talk like Juno? Cody: Nah. (laughter) Actually, I was being facetious. I don’t know if teenagers actually do talk that way. I know I did. I know me and my friends had our own patois and I think teenagers are a lot more articulate than people give them credit for. All you have to do is hang out with Ellen Page and Michael Cera for five minutes and you’ll see that they’re not in fact all mouth-breathers.
CS: How do you feel about your film being compared to movies like “Waitress” and “Knocked Up”? Is that a fear of yours? Cody: Yeah, it is a few. You guys and people in the movie industry obviously understand that this sometimes this just happens, an idea gets into the zeitgeist and suddenly, there’s nine movies about it, but the regular filmgoers, they assume that there’s some sort of masterplan, like all the studios got together and decided that was the agenda for 2007. I don’t want people to think that. I don’t think want people see it as really crass and weird that suddenly there are all these pregnancy movies when it really is just a coincidence. Obviously, on some deep subconscious level, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the idea’s out there, but I didn’t know about “Knocked Up” when I wrote “Juno,” I didn’t know about “Waitress,” I didn’t even know about “Junebug,” that didn’t even come out yet. I think people are so starved for renewal right now that the idea of pregnancy is appealing. I guess that’s the only answer that I’ve been able to think of, and believe me, I’ve ruminated on it quite a bit.
CS: The MPAA gave the movie a PG-13 rating because they determined it was a movie with an important message to get out, which implies a certain political connotation. Do you sense that and how do you respond? Cody: It’s a tough one for me to respond to. The irony is that when I wrote the movie, I thought it was kind of a lefty, edgy movie that would like piss people off, because she was joking about abortion. I thought it was irreverent. I had no idea that anybody would ever perceive it as this right wing Valentine, which I’m not saying that everybody has, but I think some people have perceived it as such. It’s weird to me because I’m sure Jason has said this, but we think as the movie as personal, not political, and I think Juno’s decision to not have an abortion is very personal. As the person who wrote it, to me, it was fear-based, as opposed to this moral conundrum. Obviously, that’s going to happen, and I’ve been concerned about it from the beginning. I was concerned about how that would come across.
CS: Can you talk about how the movie is being marketed by Fox Searchlight and your experiences with that? Cody: That’s what they do, man! It’s good. I like working with Searchlight. I dunno, to me that was something I always fantasized about. I remember a few years ago with “Napoleon Dynamite” and I remember they had a talking Napoleon Dynamite doll, and at the time, I had just finished (writing) “Juno” and I remember thinking to myself, really peripherally, like “What if this movie got made?” (which already seemed like it would never happen) and then was “Juno merchandise what if there was like Juno lip balm? That would be like awesome!”
CS: Do you have any apprehensions about the overlap between commerce and your art? Cody: I should have apprehensions. I feel like that would be the punk rock thing to say. On the one hand, yes, I have apprehensions, because you want your art to retain its purity and its meaning, and you don’t want it to just turn into this commodity. At the same time, it’s cool when you have your little bookshelf at home and there’s lip balm from your film sitting there. In Toronto, they made little orange Tic Tac containers with “Juno” stickers on them, it’s cool.
Juno is now playing in New York and L.A. and will open in more cities on Friday, December 14. Also, read our interview with Ellen Page and Jason Reitman.