Diablo Cody: Juno makes ex-stripper a Hollywood A-Lister | EW.com


Diablo Cody: From Ex-Stripper to A-Lister

Meet the sharp-minded Hollywood outsider whose comedy 'Juno' is being called the next 'Little Miss Sunshine'

(Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Before her screenwriting debut Juno received a rapturous standing ovation at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, before Steven Spielberg called, before she found herself in a world where people cancel meetings because they have a 2 o’clock with the Dalai Lama, Diablo Cody was giving halfhearted lap dances to greasy men at a Minneapolis strip club.

That was when she still went by her birth name, Brook Busey. Fed up with a dull copy-typist job at an ad agency, she decided to give the finger to her middle-class, suburban, Catholic-school upbringing and get naked. She spent a year strutting for tips and gawking at the seedy suckers waving their dollar bills, though while her colleagues were undulating around the stage like drugged eels, she punctuated her routines with screeching ninja kicks. When she started chronicling the experience on her divinely crude blog, The P—y Ranch, she decided to ditch her real name. ”I’m writing on the Internet,” she says. ”I’m writing about sex work. I wanted to maintain some anonymity so I didn’t get f—ing killed.”

Nothing about this 29-year-old woman, who changes the color of her hair every week and likes to wear a ”broke-ass weave,” is boring, and neither is the story behind her name: On a road trip out west with her graphic-designer husband, Jonny — whom she met on the Internet and married on the Star Trek ship at the Las Vegas Hilton, surrounded by aliens — they passed through Cody, Wyo., while listening over and over to ”El Diablo” by the Duran Duran side project Arcadia. ”I think when we get back home,” she told Jonny, ”I need to invent a new persona. So from now on I am Diablo Cody.”

Mason Novick, a talent manager/producer from Benderspink, was surfing the Internet one day when he stumbled onto her blog. ”She was distinctively funny, and her tone was so great, and she’s so current,” Novick says. He reached out to her, and she dismissed him as a creep. ”Some random guy from L.A. is e-mailing me,” recalls Cody. ”I’m not going to take the bait.”

For eight months Novick courted her, eventually hooking her up with a New York book agent who scored Cody a deal for her memoir about her state of undress. While Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper was in the works, Novick encouraged her to produce a screenwriting sample so he could persuade a studio to let her adapt the book. She sent him Juno, about a wiseacre 16-year-old who gets pregnant and decides to give her baby up for adoption. ”She pitched me this quirky little comedy that sounded like it could be a Lifetime movie,” says Novick. “But from the second I got the script, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever read.”’

Cody recently moved with Jonny and their dog, Barnabas, into a 500-square-foot guesthouse in Los Angeles. She suggested we meet at Fred 62, a hip café that the actress Eliza Dushku had taken her to for a meeting. “I always remember where the actor suggests and then I recycle those places,” she says. “Honestly, if I picked the place, it’d be like, ‘Oh, this Arby’s on DeLongpre is really awesome.’” She orders a salad for lunch, despite the fact that she once wrote that salads were for losers and Best Supporting Actresses. “I got a trainer now, man,” she says. “I’ve sold out. It’s a shame, I know. But I ate cake for breakfast.”

Looking around at all the other diners, most of whom are male and floppy-haired and tapping away on their laptops, she acknowledges that life has gotten deeply weird. “When you live among other screenwriters in the center of the entertainment industry, it’s difficult to maintain perspective. It’s not the same as sitting in Target in suburban Minnesota, which is where I wrote Juno. People there just thought I was schizophrenic. I would say I was writing a movie or my book, and they would just nod and say, ‘Sure you are. I’m sure you’re going to be a big star. Big star!’”

When Jason Reitman, who’d made a name for himself with 2006’s Thank You for Smoking, read the script for Juno, he scrapped plans to direct his own project to work with Cody instead. “When I think of the response to Diablo and her screenplay,” he says, “the only person I can equate it to in recent history is Tarantino, that kind of overwhelming excitement about a fresh new voice.” But the movie would have imploded fast without the right actress in the title role. Enter the impressive Hard Candy actress Ellen Page, who, Cody believes, beautifully embodies her wry, tough-talking, secretly tender main character. “It would have been really heartbreaking to meet Ellen if she was like, ‘Oh, hey, wassup?’ while talking on a rhinestone-encrusted cell phone,” says Cody. “But she’s so cool, she scares the s— out of me. She is Juno.”

With Page in the lead, Michael Cera as her surprisingly fertile friend, and Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as the adoptive parents, Juno started filming in Vancouver late last year. “I don’t even remember the first day,” says Cody, “because when we pulled up and I saw them shooting my movie, there were just tears streaming down my face.”