Running with Diablo

Hollywood's hottest screenwriter talks about the price of fame, life in the film biz, and her early days at City Pages

Minnesotans might be forgiven for thinking that the year in film revolved around Diablo Cody. The former City Pages editor and current screenwriting star was everywhere, promoting her first film, Juno, in virtually every local publication except Apartment Finder—not to mention The New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR.

City Pages was literally her last interview on the international Juno PR tour. Following her Golden Globe screenwriting nomination earlier in the day and a media marathon around town, Cody arrived a little worn out but game. Within minutes she was on a roll and ready to talk about the upside and downside of sudden fame, her second thoughts about calling herself "Diablo," and why she showed up drunk to her first meeting at City Pages.

City Pages: So, Minneapolis: the last stop on your promotional tour. What kind of mood are you in right about now?

Diablo Cody
Nick Vlcek
Diablo Cody

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Want more? See our slideshow gallery with photos (and notes from the shoot!) by Nick Vlcek. Also, hear an excerpt from Matthew Smith's interview with Diablo, as she reflects on her time at City Pages, here (MP3).

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Diablo Cody: I'm pretty bushed. I'm tired, I've got to be honest with you. I don't want to sound like an ingrate, because I'm having a wonderful time, and it's such a privilege to talk at length about something you've created. But at the same time I'm feeling a little bit drained emotionally right now. We've been doing this for weeks. A city a day. It's been wonderful, though, getting to go around the country, go to Europe. These are not the sorts of things I anticipated I would be doing in my life. Not at all.

CP: What did you think you'd be doing?

Cody: Nothing. I never thought I would have an extraordinary life. It's all come as a surprise. That's why it's amusing to be referred to as shrewd or crafty, because I've never been good at strategy in my life.

CP: It might be a little hard to strategize what's happened to you, and then to pull it off.

Cody: No, I think it would be impossible, in fact. I can't even imagine someone managing to engineer the sequence of events. It's not possible.

CP: Just to recap: You worked as a stripper. You started your blog, Pussy Ranch. That led to an offer to write your memoir, Candy Girl. David Letterman asked you to be on his show. Then you wrote your first movie script. It got sold. It was produced. It's gotten rave reviews. There's Oscar talk. Now you're writing a TV series for Steven Spielberg. You have two or three movies in development. Either you're a very talented writer or you've sold your soul to the devil.

Cody: [Laughing] Not in the least. I'm one of the good guys. But yeah, I've been exceptionally lucky, and I would never be so pompous as to credit it all to talent. I have had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

CP: At what point did you first know you wouldn't have to work as a secretary again?

Cody: Actually, you know, in one of my last sort of straight jobs I was working as an insurance claims adjuster, and Steve Perry [former editor of City Pages] contacted me. He asked me if I wanted to come and work at City Pages, and that was actually, honestly, one of the most exciting phone calls of my entire life, including all the stuff that has happened afterward. Because that was when I made the transition to professional writer.

And I was so terrified before my first Monday-morning meeting at City Pages that I got drunk in my office. Melissa Maerz [the former music editor] had left behind some airplane bottles of liquor, and I poured them into a glass and added some Capri Sun, because that was all I had to drink, mixed it around, created this incredibly toxic bug-juice-type cocktail, downed it, and came into the meeting drunk. I was so petrified, and I have not been that scared since in an artistic situation.

That was the turning point for me. I'd gone from an office drone to a stripper back temporarily to office dronage, and then suddenly I was a writer, and it was amazing. And I thought, I get to get up in the morning and write. It's never mattered to me if I was writing about the local band in Minneapolis or writing a pilot for Steven Spielberg. To me, it's a miracle either way.

CP: Of everything that's happened to you in the last two or three years, what's been the most satisfying?

Cody: You know what I'm proud of? It's one thing to write something like Juno and you hear the resounding cries of "Fluke!" You know, like, "Oh, she wrote one good script." But then the fact that I wrote subsequent scripts that were well received, even though they are still in development. To me, that's the hardest jump to make, from beginner's luck to, "All right, I am actually going to do this."

Obviously we don't know for sure if I've pulled it off because none of these things have been revealed to the world yet, but I do know that some people I really admire believe in them already, and to me that is an accomplishment.

CP: Has there been a downside to so much success so soon?

Cody: Yeah, I mean there's a lot of pressure. I suffer from feelings of unworthiness on a daily basis. I think of myself as a novice writer, and I am. I have so much to learn.

You always wish for this kind of recognition, but you don't expect it to be hurled at you at warp 10, which is what has happened to me. And I hope I can fully appreciate it.

And you have to wonder where you can go from here. I just want to be a working writer. That is my aim. I just want to be able to write more movies. Maybe write another book. These are things I want to do. I certainly don't have a need for this kind of recognition. It's quite intense.

The publicity demands have been insane. The one probably biggest misconception about me is that I'm out there courting publicity. I've never solicited an interview in my entire life. People want to talk to me. When I went on Letterman, people on the internet were snarking, "Oh, she must have a hell of a publicist." I didn't have one. I went on that show because Dave Letterman read my book and liked it. And I know that seems so improbable that a first-time writer would just randomly wind up on Letterman, but that's what happened to me. And that's how my life works, for some reason.

I want people to realize that I am not a media whore. But I desperately want to support this film, and if the studio is asking me to do these things, I'm going to do it.

CP: Has a screenwriter ever had this much attention?

Cody: I can't think of one. I have that whole ridiculously cheesy stripping back story and a fun name that I chose by accident, that I never dreamed was going to haunt me. It was completely random. It was just an internet pseudonym. And I wound up using it for the book because I wanted people who had read my blog to recognize me when they went to the bookstore. But then the name followed me from the book to the screenplay, and now I have to live with the name, which I chose in 30 seconds with no thought about how it might sound or what it might imply. It was just a funny thing.

The entire package is really vulgar and goofy, but people like it, so you get a lot of ink. Which is fine. And if people are rude and sarcastic, I completely understand. Because God knows I would tear myself to pieces were I someone else. I am the princess of snark.

CP: What's the worst thing you've heard anybody say about you?

Cody: Oh, let's see. You know what, it bothered me because it was so out of left field, and it was such a random assumption. Somebody said, "She stepped on so many people to get where she is." I think they must have imagined some kind of soap operatic scenario in their mind, because I don't even know who they could be referring to.

I've done this entire thing on my own, and I still have all the same friends. So I don't know who I stepped on, but I'm dying to know. And that's frustrating to me. Because I do think, although I can be self-centered, I am at my core a nice person. I definitely don't have a reputation in Hollywood or elsewhere for being an asshole. So it hurts when somebody jumps to that conclusion.

And it also bothers me when—this is a real paradox for me: My entire life I've been told I wasn't pretty enough. My entire life I was told by people that I was ugly, that I was too tall, that I was flat-chested, that I was this, that I was that. When I was a stripper I was never quite pretty enough. I was never one of the beautiful girls. I was never one of the top earners. Suddenly I achieve something in my life that is purely intellectual and purely creative, and I'm being told that it's because I'm pretty. To me that is the weirdest, most ironic thing ever. Like all of a sudden I'm attractive when it suits people's purposes. But in the past when I needed to be attractive I was ugly. So let's pick. Which is it?

CP: We were talking about all of the ink you've gotten recently. Up to now you've been pretty open on your blogs—

Cody: Yeah, too open, in my opinion.

CP: Are you going to scale that back a little bit?

Cody: I have to. I'm dealing with too many people who don't want me exposed. It's unfortunate, but now I don't want to expose too many details in my life. I'm very candid. I couldn't care less about what people think about me, but I don't want other people to be dragged into the shit storm that is my life. I'm thinking about their privacy, not mine. I don't need privacy.

CP: You've even been the subject of a gossip item or two about your recent divorce.

Cody: Which is really gross. But you know what, the only thing that frustrated me was that they beat me to it. I like to be the person to disclose things about myself. And I always will. I'm never hiding anything. But they could have given me a couple of days. I didn't like them scooping me on my own life. But I'm glad it's done.

CP: What are the three biggest lessons you've learned in the last two or three years?

Cody: Hmm. Shit, man, here's the problem. Most people would probably be able to spit something out for you, but I'm such a control freak about stuff like this that I want it to be the three perfect things, a delectable trio of sound bites. So anything I say will seem so pedestrian it'll break my heart.

But there's one bit of advice I have that is going to make me sound like a douche bag. And that is, when you're in a competitive environment, always give out the impression that you don't care. It makes people want you more. If you act desperate, it's over. I think a passive attitude is helpful. It comes naturally because I'm lazy. If I show up to a meeting in flip-flops, it makes me seem extremely appealing for some reason. But it wasn't something I orchestrated. I just didn't feel like putting on regular shoes.

CP: We've all heard the stereotype about Hollywood: the shallowness, the backstabbing—

Cody: It's all true. But one thing that people don't realize is, I have never met people more passionate. Yes, there's a lot of distasteful stuff, but the people who are passionate about their art in Hollywood are more passionate about their art than anyone I've ever met anywhere else. Because people are literally living their dreams, so they are just clinging to that so ferociously, and it's really kind of beautiful and inspiring. People are willing to chuck their entire lives for their work in Hollywood. I've never seen a bank teller do that.

CP: What's the next big thing that we'll see from you?

Cody: Probably this horror movie I wrote [Jennifer's Body], that Jason Reitman is producing. I'm really excited about that. It's a departure from Juno, but the funny thing is, Juno is a departure from my actual personality. I've always loved horror movies. Horror has become in recent years my favorite genre, and I've loved it since I was a kid. Jennifer's Body is similar to Juno, I think, in the cadence of the dialogue. The characters are teenage girls, who are underrepresented in cinema. But there's this horror element. There's blood and guts and gore and fun, which I enjoy. We're going to shoot it in March. I'm very interested to see what happens with that one.

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