Diablo Cody is terrified. Her directorial debut, the comedy “Paradise,” opens in select theaters this Friday (it’s currently available to watch on VOD) and Cody is feeling vulnerable. This coming from a woman who won an Oscar for “Juno,” her screenwriting debut, seven years back.
Set largely in Las Vegas, “Paradise” centers on Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough), a young religious woman who heads to the city of sin following a terrible accident, to cut loose and find herself.
In the below interview, Cody talks to Indiewire about why she directed her own screenplay this time out, the experience of shooting in Vegas, and being on set while pregnant.
Congratulations on getting your first film off the ground.
Did you enjoy it?
I mean I’m in this really vulnerable exposed state right now with the movie is coming out. I’m terrified. I’m interested in people’s reactions and at the same time avoiding them, like an ostrich with my head in the ground.
Why did you feel the need to put yourself out there in a vulnerable way? Was directing always in the cards for you?
I kind of felt it was time. This is the fourth film I’ve produced and it seemed like it was just time to direct, like it was just something that I should try. I’d been curious about it for a while, but it also wasn’t something that I had a burning desire to do. But I thought, I wonder what it’s like to just take a script to the screen without any middle man and I wanted to have that experience, but it was exceptionally weird and stressful.
What was the weirdest thing about production?
The weirdest thing about directing in general is that you’re surrounded by these actors that you respect and they’re so good at what they do and they’re asking you what they should be doing. That’s directing, but to me it was such a mind-fuck because it’s like you’re asking me what you should be doing in this scene? I have no idea, I’m just the hack that wrote the script! It’s crazy the amount of trust people put in you; it’s a tremendous amount of pressure.
You’re not giving yourself enough credit. You won an Oscar for your first screenplay and have one of the most discernible voices in the industry.
Well thank you very much. I mean “Juno” was like a fluke, I’m really proud of that movie, but when I think about it, it’s pretty ridiculous to win an Oscar your first time out. It was a really surreal experience. It seems like it almost happened to someone else. I feel like the perception of my career is bigger than it actually is because I haven’t been around very long. I’ve only been around for six years so I still consider myself a novice and I still have a lot to learn about filmmaking. I hadn’t directed anything before “Paradise,” not a short, not a commercial, not a video, nothing. It was my first time behind a camera and I was shitting bricks, let me tell you.
Early reviews for the film all harp on how distinctive “Paradise” is from your body of work because your heroine is a “good girl,” which is funny given the gentle nature of Amanda Seyfried’s character in “Jennifer’s Body.”
People are going to always associate me with “Juno” and I had just come off “Young Adult” so I think a lot of people assumed that both Jason [Retiman] and myself were going in a darker direction because of that movie. That turned to not be the case for either of us. Jason made this exceptionally beautiful romantic movie “Labor Day” and I made this sweet uplifting movie about a girl that loses her faith in God and finds it again. I think that was the last anything anyone was expecting post- “Young Adult.”
Lamb is also extremely cynical, it must be noted.
She is, she’s super cynical! I don’t think of her as a goody-goody, I always say we don’t get to meet Lamb before the accident but if we did, we’d think she was a real bitch. It was the accident that humbled her.
Does writing come easily to you?
I think it’s something that I selfishly enjoy; I really like writing. I always hear people using out that old quote, “I don’t like writing, I like having written.” I don’t feel that, like I’m sad when I’m done writing something. I think it’s gotten harder. With something like “Juno,” I didn’t think anybody was going to read it, whereas something like “Paradise” I’m writing it thinking I might actually direct this and people are going to comment on it and watch it. It’s really hard to do that kind of thing especially when you’re perceiving how the audience will react.
How was shooting in Vegas on such a low budget?
Well we actually got lucky. Not to ruin the movie magic, but we actually shot all the interiors in Louisiana so I had a great production designer who managed to take Tarot’s Casino in downtown New Orleans and make it look like Vegas. Or we would find a bar on Bourbon Street and make it look like Vegas. The exteriors of course we shot in Vegas cause you can’t make it look like Vegas unless you’re green screening it, but its not that kind of movie.
What’s crazy is the shots with Julianne Hough and Octavia Spencer walking down Fremont street, those are basically stolen shots. We had the permits, but the people you see are just regular people so it was chaotic. I was thinking to myself, “Is someone going to tackle Julianne?” We shot on the strip at like four the morning, which was interesting — you have people that are drunk and on ecstasy and just running past. I was so tired because I was pregnant and I had my toddler there too. I was so topsy-turvy. I was fucked up.
Wait, you were pregnant while shooting?
Yeah, yeah and I really fucked myself with that one cause you know I thought, “I’m going to be an example for people. That was the dumbest idea ever.
Is that something you’d ever recommend?
No! It’s really funny, I had another director email me after I wrapped and she was like, “Oh my gosh, my movie just got green listed and I’m pregnant, am I going to be okay?” And I totally lied, I was like, “Yes, you’re going to be fine.” I didn’t have the heart to be like, “Ah man this is like the hardest thing you’re ever going to do in your life.”
Why not be honest?
Because I can’t watch a female director be out of a project. There’s not enough of us.