Diablo Cody, from stripper to The Screenwriter

[10 December 2007]

By Colin Covert

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Diablo Cody’s Cinderella moment had arrived. Her film “Juno” was less than four hours from its Hollywood premiere. As the Centerpiece Gala presentation of the annual American Film Institute Festival, her highly anticipated comedy was about to be seen for the first time by hundreds of the industry’s most important people.

And so was Cody. It was to be a flashbulbs-and-red-carpet event and she had nothing to wear.

With her husband, graphic designer Jon Hunt, at her side, Cody blitzed L.A.‘s Grove shopping arcade, a tree-lined faux village of chi-chi boutiques. Cody’s mall-rat jeans and T-shirt, Jeff Spicoli checkerboard Vans and gnawed black fingernails marked her as an infrequent visitor to the realm of exclusive retailing. “I loathe shopping,” she groaned. In Nordstrom’s shoe department, she said, “Look at this madness. My feet are so wide and these are delicate little European lady shoes.”

When the clerk suggested high heels, Cody shook her head. “I wish, I wish, I wish. No, I actually can’t wear heels. I have nerve damage in my feet from stripping.”

Conversation died in a 20-foot radius. Eyes snapped toward her.

“That always gets looks,” she said with an untroubled shrug.

Welcome to the charmed and frenzied life of Minneapolis’ most celebrated former exotic dancer, turned Hollywood’s hottest scribe, whose prize-winning debut script has those in the know hailing her as the most distinctive new voice since Quentin Tarantino and a shoo-in Oscar nominee.

Right now, she’s caught in the headlights of her own onrushing success. Steven Spielberg tapped Cody to write the pilot for “The United States of Tara,” his Showtime series about a suburban mother (Toni Collette) with multiple personalities.

Soon shooting will begin on “Jennifer’s Body,” her feminist horror comedy about a small-town Minnesota girl who eats boys, with “Juno” director Jason Reitman producing and Megan Fox (“Transformers”) in the lead. Next up are “Girly Style,” her take on college sex comedies; “Time and a Half,” a hipster postgraduate satire; and “Burlesque,” a musical about cabaret artists. And she owes her publisher a book this month.

Under the circumstances, Cody is coping with her success as much as reveling in it.

“I’m completely overwhelmed,” she said a month ago. “My life is chaos. I cannot even begin to explain to you how busy I am or how drained I am. My entire life is completely upside-down. Promoting the film has been really exhausting. I’m a professional writer and yet I have fewer and fewer opportunities to write. And I have to try to maintain my personal life as well.”

The chaos boiled over Wednesday when she and Hunt announced the end of their marriage, a relationship that was often the subject of blissful commentary in her popular memoir “Candy Girl” and her widely read blog. The previous Friday she had obliterated her body-art tribute to Hunt - a large upper-arm portrait of Cody as a bikini-clad cowgirl wreathed by the banner “Jonny’s Girl” - covering the words with a spray of red roses. Their split made headlines in the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re not Brangelina,” she said Thursday. “I did not realize how much of a personality I had become until yesterday when all this stuff surfaced.”

Their relationship had been the subject of some speculation as Cody’s life radically changed. When a picture appeared of Reitman and Cody sharing a celebratory hug after winning the top prize at the Rome Film Festival, rumors circulated. When he signed on to direct her next film, Web sites jeered: “Reitman Jumps on Cody’s Body.”

No thanks, Cody said with an emphatic shake of the head. “He’s the most devoted family man. He’s got a new baby! He’s like my brother.”

Hunt also vehemently denied the insinuations. “That’s so disgustingly sexist. The reason it’s a meteoric rise is it’s a meteoric talent.”

In an interview for December’s Mpls.St.Paul magazine, Cody’s friend Steve Marsh asked her if “Juno” became a major success, would it mean Bye-bye Jonny?

“Are you kidding?” she replied. “That’s a ridiculous question. He’s not going anywhere. Everything we do we do side by side. I’ve got him tattooed on my arm, for God’s sakes.”

“Juno,” a comedy about an accidentally pregnant Minnesota teen, was the surprise hit of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Roger Ebert wrote, “I don’t know where I’ve heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm.” Much of the credit has gone to Cody. Typically, writers are shipped to a Siberian gulag when the time comes to publicize a film, but the sassy, photogenic, ever-quotable screenwriter is the film’s public face.

She not only shares the limelight with star Ellen Page and Reitman (who praise her effusively), but often eclipses them. In Italy, England, Spain and across the United States she has captivated interviewers with her unique brand of profane feminism, lit-geek erudition and blistering wit. She was offered up as a sassy role model by “Wired” and interviewed in Esquire’s Women We Love issue. She was The Screenwriter of the moment in Entertainment Weekly’s holiday movie preview, and ranked 38th on the magazine’s list of the 50 smartest people in Hollywood. (She acknowledges an IQ above 140.)

The frenzy of acclaim astonishes no one more than Cody, 29, who was living hand-to-mouth on her lap-dancing tips three years ago.

We were always in debt, she recalled. “One day we literally had $9 left. We went to Cub Foods in St. Louis Park and bought a loaf of bread, a package of bologna and some generic cigarettes because my husband was still a smoker at the time. I remember saying to Jonny in the parking lot, `Don’t worry, honey, we can buy more bologna tomorrow after I finish stripping.’ And we both started laughing so hard at how absurdly white-trash our situation was.”

How times have changed. Cody arrived in full Hollywood regalia for “Juno’s” searchlight premiere at the historic Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard. An off-the-shoulder frock showcased her then-intact “Jonny’s Girl” tattoo. She struck poses for photographers, looking like she’d be more at home in a hot rod than a studio limousine.

Before the house lights dimmed, Tom Rothman, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, the distributor of “Juno,” shimmied through the crowd to pay his respects. “This is such a unique, special movie,” said the man behind “Titanic” and “Star Wars” episodes 1, 2 and 3. “We’re going to do absolutely everything we can for this one,” he beamed. “Every now and then you get one you really don’t want to (louse) up.”

Originally scheduled as a low-expectation spring release, “Juno” was moved to a prestigious mid-December slot after its festival raves and stratospheric audience testing. It’s now positioned as this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine.”

At the afterparty, praise for Cody’s work flowed like champagne.

John Malkovich, one of the film’s producers, said her script was clearly destined as the blueprint for a very good film. It was funny, original and well-written.

Jason Bateman, who plays a married yuppie adopting Juno’s baby, said the screenplay deserves to be the star of the film.

“A great screenplay makes everybody step up to the bar and deliver,” said Catherine Hardwicke, director of the youth drama “Thirteen.” “You’d have to be a dirt clod not to like this movie.”

It’s a wonderful irony that the story of Cody’s rise to movieland icon would make a lousy film. No one would believe it. Stripper-turned-screenwriter has become the accepted shorthand for her career, but her life has been a gallery of sudden, dramatic reinventions. Cody’s very hair, rumored to be a natural reddish-brown, seems possessed by Sybil-like personalities. To look at her photos on her blog over the years is to see a restless chameleon.

Brook Joan Busey didn’t set out to be Diablo Cody. She didn’t concoct that identity until she entered the blogosphere in 2003, writing about her experiences in strip clubs, where she was known as Bonbon and Roxanne.

She grew up with older brother Marc, coddled to the point of asphyxiation in a lively Italian Catholic family in Lemont, Ill., southwest of Chicago. She attended parochial school for 12 years, a bright, geeky kid, deep into the normal teenage panoply of comic books, horror movies, rock n roll, boys and blabbing on her hamburger-shaped phone. She was a thrill-seeker and an extrovert, caterwauling for Yak Spackle, a horrible punk band that she and her friends started.

She attended the University of Iowa, famous for its Writers’ Workshop. One teacher called her the best writer he’d ever taught, but predicted that laziness would be her undoing. It was an early flare-up of Cody’s oppositional disorder, a tendency to torpedo jobs and responsibilities.

Returning to Chicago after graduation in 2000, she took a dismal secretarial position at a bankruptcy law firm. She began goofing off on the World Wide Waste of Time, stoking her passion for the Beach Boys through visits to a fan site operated by Hunt, a musician and music journalist in Minneapolis.

“She started posting on there, and she was very funny,” Hunt recalled. “After she shared a few of her weird, impressive stories, I thought, this girl is brilliant. So I kept encouraging her, saying, `You’re a genius and you’re going to be huge someday, so please believe it.’”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/diablo-cody-from-stripper-to-the-screenwriter/