Interview: Diablo Cody on Jennifer’s Body, Juno, and More

Interview: Diablo Cody on Jennifer’s Body, Juno, and More

 

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“I have this insane fear of hitting a pedestrian with my car,” Diablo Cody says when I ask her to divulge some of her fears, simultaneously answering with the kind of quirky aside that one would expect from her and gently deflecting my attempt to peek under the hood of her most intriguing creation to date, which is to say, herself. Those close to the 31-year-old memoirist and screenwriter, whose Marvel-esque civilian name is Brook Busey, have sometimes described an insecure, deeply vulnerable soul that bears little resemblance to the brash dynamo I’ve encountered twice now, the one who materialized out of the blogosphere two years ago complete with an appealing yet prismatic bio (is she a poor stripper made good? A canny feminist who toiled in the flesh trade for research? All of the above?) and a sixth media sense that enabled her to vacuum up more attention than the stars of her debut script, the pop-savvy teen pregnancy fairy tale Juno.

In her second produced screenplay, Jennifer’s Body, Cody’s verbal signature shows maturation beyond the quip-deep level, as the writer’s distinctly feminine anxieties over issues of body image and the constancy of female solidarity are laid bare by a succession of wounding barbs and pained outbursts she provides to her heroines, a pair of unlikely high-school BFFs whose friendship, grossly unequal at the outset, suffers further strain when one becomes an indestructible hellbeast. Kidnapped and made a virgin sacrifice to Satan by a desperate indie-rock singer who believes consorting with the devil is his last shot at becoming “rich and awesome, like that guy in Maroon 5,” Jennifer (Megan Fox) eventually reappears in the school hallways as a demonic echo of her former self, flashing blood-stained pearly whites at horrified friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and embracing her former label as a maneater in all new ways. This past Saturday, after a long day at the Toronto Film Festival, Diablo Cody called me up to talk about the movie and her continuing efforts to process unexpected fame.

How’s the festival going so far? Are you worn out?

I am totally fucking devastated. [Laughs] I am tired. But it’s cool, I’m having a good time and I love Toronto. It’s good to be back here.

I saw Jennifer’s Body for the second time last night. Was that Lance Henriksen I spied near the end?

As a matter of fact, it was! An uncredited Lance Henriksen. I’m glad you’re down with that.

Totally. I hope you took him to dinner and discussed the finer points of Pumpkinhead 4.

I am so freakin’ pissed that I was not there that day. We were shooting the pilot for Tara at the same time, so I’d had to go back to L.A., and I missed Lance Day. I’m still incredibly bummed about that.

My reaction to the movie might be somewhat atypical, in that I actually felt rather sorry for Jennifer. I think it was the sacrifice scene that really sold me on her humanity.

Oh yeah, I totally feel for Jennifer. I had a lot of sympathy for her. There’s that scene, and there’s also the scene where she’s kind of perched in front of the mirror and she’s just kind of smearing makeup all over her face. You see how incredibly pathetic and vulnerable she is there. The only self-worth that she has lies in her appearance, and I actually find it heartbreaking. I felt bad for both girls, to be honest. People have been asking me if I’m more like Jennifer or more like Needy, and I’m like, “I’m not like either of them, I think both of these girls are tragic!”

I’d imagine that your facility with language helped you sail through high school more or less unscathed.

Yeah, I was one of those kids who just kind of skirts along on the perimeter and has lots of different friends. Honestly, high school was kind of a positive time for me. I know most people say it was a nightmare, but I was fairly popular in high school. I didn’t mind it so much. I like people.

We’ve all met our share of Jennifer types though. I’m sure you encountered a few.

We all know Jennifer types because society creates Jennifer types. There’s something about an insecure girl that can make her become very intimidating and creepy. But I can’t say that my high school experience was some kind of never-ending catfight, that’s not true. I’m kind of a girl’s girl, I’ve always liked girls. But yeah, we’ve all met that girl who is, like, the alpha female, the cold-blooded nightmare.

Megan Fox is something beyond though. She seems like the Terminator to me.

[Laughs] She is, she is! To me, she’s just like a male action hero in the way that she carries herself, and I admire her so much. She totally has balls. She’s very intimidating and very, very focused. She’s always like a snake that’s about to strike. But also extremely likeable. If you talk to the girl for five minutes, you’ll want it to turn into 20. But yeah, I am intimidated by her, for sure.

She’s also getting a reputation for being a quote machine. Are you worried she might upstage you?

Jesus, please, please upstage me! I want to be upstaged, I never wanted this. You know what? I can’t help that I got stuck promoting Juno with a bunch of quiet people. I was having to do all the work. The serious actors didn’t want to whore themselves out to the press, so I had to do it, you know? But this time I’m like, please let’s put Amanda and Megan on display. They’re beautiful girls, they’re very articulate, they’re clever and charming, and I will be over here writing, which is what I wanted to be doing in the first place.

There are relatively few famous writers though. Why retreat? Why not assume the mantle of a public intellectual?

First of all, I’ll never be an intellectual of any stripe, but it is very cool to be a visible writer, there’s no question about that. It’s wonderful to be appreciated in a field where people don’t always get their due. A lot of writers get the shaft in Hollywood, and I’ve been incredibly lucky. At the same time, if I wanted to spend days and days talking about films with journalists—and I am not talking about you, by the way, I’m just pointing this out—I probably would have wanted to be a rock star or a movie star. Some people are just born wanting to be famous, but I never really was that. I always just wanted to write, and that’s really it, so it’s weird. I kind of became accidentally famous and it’s such a strange situation to be in.

Oh, come on. Even on Twitter you’re the big superstar.

I am not a superstar on Twitter! There are people on Twitter who have millions and millions of followers. I just have my weird little corner of Twitter where me and my people hang out.

Why do you think it is that, as a writer, you gravitated toward body horror and not something more in fashion, like suspense? Are you a Cronenberg fan?

That’s funny, I do like David Cronenberg. That’s a very, very interesting question. I’m not really sure. I don’t think I have nearly enough discipline to write something that’s suspenseful. I don’t like to wait for anything. I’d rather just have somebody pull a guy’s pants off and then eat him.

Body horror is all about the internal. Would you say your fears are more internal or external? What’s more apt to scare you, something like cancer or a madman?

[Laughs] All of it! You shouldn’t even bring things like that up to someone who is OCD. Actually, most of my fears are very irrational and abstract. Like, I have this insane fear of hitting a pedestrian with my car and I’m not sure where that comes from. I think I must have done it in a past life.

I thought you might say girls are scary to you. Girl-on-girl animosity is one thread in your writing.

Nah, I love the ladies. I flew three of my ladies up here with me. I actually like to surround myself with women. From a feminist perspective, I suppose that if society ever reverted to a Handmaiden’s Tale kind of situation, I might not enjoy that.

Did you and Karyn [Kusama, the film’s director] consciously go about trying to inject a feminist viewpoint into this movie? Or is “by girls, for girls” sort of the message itself?

Well, obviously there is some feminist stuff in there, but we tried to be as subversive as possible. We know that no one wants to be hit over the head with a frying pan of a feminist movie. But we definitely had something to say, and the fact of the matter is my stance is that I just want to give women the best lines. I think about what the best lines in the movie are, and then I give them to girls. That might not seem so radical, but it doesn’t happen that often, and that’s my M.O.

I’m not sure you succeeded in this case. Nikolai has all the best lines, for my money at least.

Ah, Nikolai! That one is actually not my fault, because Adam Brody is, like, the king of improv. A lot of that funny shit that he says comes from his own mind, and we were really glad for it, ’cause he’s such a really funny guy. But he didn’t improve the Maroon 5 line, that was me.

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