Cody lives brightly, but still writes darkly
NEW YORK - Diablo Cody gazes at her blackened iPhone screen.
“I keep checking on my son,’’ the 33-year-old Academy Award-winning writer says, looking up from the gadget. “I get unbelievably anxious when I have to go out of town.’’
Marcello, 16 months old, is home in Los Angeles where he is being cared for by Cody’s husband, television producer Daniel Maurio, and her mother, “Saint Grandma.’’ And while Cody wants to focus on her new movie, the Jason Reitman-directed “Young Adult,’’ which opens Friday and stars Charlize Theron, she is distracted by her maternal pangs.
“I used to come to New York and have fun,’’ she sighs. “Now I just sit here and stare at my phone.’’
The domesticated Cody bears little resemblance to the irreverent, tattooed punker who greeted press when she was promoting “Juno,’’ her surprise 2007 hit film for which she won an Oscar. She seems even more removed from the image she projected after the 2005 publication of her book, “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.’’ During that period, she described herself as “a naked Margaret Mead’’ during an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.’’ Cody told the host that she became a stripper because she was bored by office work and decided she would “rather be naked.’’
“I’ve always been interested in the seedy underbelly of society and this seemed like the best way to explore it,’’ she told an amused Letterman. “And if I can do it with my drawers down, so much the better.’’
These days, Cody, nee Brook Busey, is feeling increasingly remorseful about being so public about her past.
“I was super-candid and super-outgoing and it backfired,’’ she says, looking downright demure in a print, V-necked, long-sleeved dress. “I don’t think you should share that much of yourself with people because, if they reject it, it’s very painful.’’
That said, Cody says she has no regrets about the time she spent as a stripper. She just wishes people would move on.
“Regret doing it? No,’’ she insists recently, in a hotel room overlooking Central Park. “At the time, I thought it would be really cowardly not to talk about it. I thought, to suddenly get a break in Hollywood and distance myself from everything that happened in my past, and reinvent myself as a serious writer - that would be B.S. I’m still the same person I was. So I became very open and honest about it and [stripping] became the only thing people wanted to talk about.
“So now I feel like I should not have brought it up in the first place,’’ she continues. “I should have been the person I didn’t want to be, the person who says, ‘The past is the past.’ ’’
It seems unlikely that the next person who asks Cody about her stripping days will be deflected by an icy stare or a dismissive remark. Her open, friendly demeanor makes her prone to honesty, which, she admits, spills over to her work.
Since the success of “Juno,’’ which was directed by Reitman and starred Ellen Page and Michael Cera, she has been approached about writing an “up-the-fairway romantic comedy.’’ And, as much as she would like to comply, Cody says she just cannot get it done.
“I really enjoy watching a good romantic comedy, like ‘27 Dresses’ and ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ movies where you can see things coming and you can tell who’s going to wind up with who,’’ she says. “I’m in no way criticizing those movies - they’re fantastic. But, for whatever reason, my mind always veers into dark territory. Or at least quirky, strange territory.’’
Quirky and strange do not do justice to “Young Adult,’’ which tells the story of Mavis Gary (Theron), a writer of teen novels whose life is in shambles. In an effort to find happiness, she goes back to her small hometown, determined to reunite with her high school sweetheart, who is happily married and has a newborn daughter.
“[Mavis] is really annoying in a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room kind of way,’’ Theron says at a press conference.
“When I read Diablo’s script, I liked the idea of a woman dealing with mid-to-late 30s issues that [most] women can relate to,’’ Theron adds. “But because of how she runs her life, she deals with them the way a 16-year-old would.’’
In addition to being delusional, Mavis is also prone to heavy alcohol use and binge eating. Although the character is clearly unstable, Cody says people will find something familiar about Mavis.
“She’s like the mentally ill person next door,’’ Cody says. “We all know someone like Mavis.’’
As she plots to steal her ex-boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), Mavis enlists Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former classmate whom she largely ignored in high school. Although Matt sees the narcissism and immaturity at the root of Mavis’s plan, he is nonetheless sucked in.
Oswalt says Cody was open to suggestions from the cast and director.
“You could always tell a good writer because, if you need to change something, they’ll let you,’’ Oswalt says in a telephone interview. “We would cut whole paragraphs down and Diablo would say, ‘If it sounds better, do it.’
“She is also aware that, even though it sounded good on the page, if the actors don’t like the way it sounds coming out of their mouths, you’ve got to change it,’’ he adds. “She’s very cool about that and that shows a level of confidence and competence that a lot of writers don’t have.’’
Cody’s motivation for accepting input could have been fear rather than confidence. She says when she first conceived of the film, she and Reitman were not convinced it was a winning story.
After all, how many times can a writer get lucky with a story line that’s likely to make some people uncomfortable?
“ ‘Juno’ was an accident,’’ Cody says. “Certainly nobody thought a movie about a pregnant teen, played by an unknown Canadian actress, was going to be a blockbuster.’’
And while the sense of having dodged a bullet didn’t keep Cody from writing an unconventional script, it did cause some trepidation.
“Jason and I were nervous about making this movie. We were told the script was challenging, the character was unsympathetic, and the ending was ambiguous,’’ she says.
She believes they ultimately pulled it off, despite not fitting it into the “hit movie’’ mold. “I feel like people understand it and that’s a compliment to the intelligence of the audience,’’ Cody says. “It’s asking you to accept something as realistic, as opposed to the traditional Hollywood story arc.’’
Cody won’t completely abandon high school stories in the future. She is currently working on a movie version of “Sweet Valley High,’’ Francine Pascal’s best-selling teen literature series. Before that, she will make her directorial debut with “Lamb of God,’’ which she also wrote. It is a comedy about a woman who loses her religious faith after a plane crash and decides to live the life of a sinner in Las Vegas.
She is also hoping to write a television sitcom or drama series. She was the creator of “The United States of Tara,’’ about a wife and mother with multiple personalities who is, nonetheless, completely devoted to her family. The show aired on Showtime from 2009 until last spring.
Although things seem to be going great for Cody, both personally and professionally, she keeps her ego in check by looking at some of the bad behavior around her.
“There are a lot of people in Hollywood who have everything, but are miserable,’’ she says. “I got a glimpse of that lifestyle, very shallow and fame-driven, and I didn’t like it. So I just pulled away from it. I thought, I’m a writer, I don’t want to be a celebrity. So I went back to work.’’
Judy Abel can be reached at judyabel22@gmail .com.