Diablo Cody has come a long way since “Juno,” which blasted her into a studio writing career. In our wide-ranging interview below, the screenwriter admits that she’s a lucky indie who writes personal stories about women–and still manages to work within the studio system. Five movies have been produced from her scripts in eight years: not bad. And she swears she will never direct again!
Below she talks about independence and why she’s the right person to write Sony’s “Barbie” movie (2017).
Anne Thompson: What was it like writing Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” starring Toni Collette as a mom with multiple personalities?
Diabo Cody: That was a really great experience, but it was also really strange because I had never worked in television before. And typically when you’re given your own show to create, you work your way up through the ranks; maybe you’ve been a staff writer, a show runner — point being, I came into that experience so green, and I had no idea how television was made. So it was very stressful trying to figure that out, while actually making a show. It was definite “on the job” training.
So that had Spielberg’s involvement?
Yeah, Spielberg was the co-creator, it was actually his idea that he brought to me. At the time, I just thought, “I can’t possibly say no to Steven Spielberg.” It was thrilling for me to even meet him.
So who was the actual showrunner?
We had several…
That’s the problem… If you were the showrunner, if you were Nic Pizzolatto, you could’ve run it.
And I can’t fault them at all for not hiring me as a showrunner, because I wouldn’t have had the faintest clue about what I was doing. But it’s also problematic when the creator isn’t running the show, because you can’t “own” things.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be Lena Dunham, with Judd Apatow, who enabled her.
Well that was a great situation, because she also had Jenni Konner, who obviously, is very compatible. And in my case it wasn’t really until Season Two, when Jill Soloway came on as the showrunner, that I went “okay, you and I have the same sensibility.” Like, “let’s do this.”
And did that end up happening all the way through?
It was an incredible season, and the best experience… And then Jill got fired.
Because other people who worked on the production weren’t thrilled with her. And I know why… It was because the two of us, together we had such a strong —
You were powerful.
Exactly! And it scared people. But now, I just cackle when I see this incredible success (“Transparent”). I knew that she had brilliance in her, and she knew it too. And now, everybody knows it.
When you look at Lena Dunham, what do you see?
Oh, I’m her biggest fan and admirer. It’s stunning to me that she’s so young.
I interviewed her very early on, it’s not rocket science, to recognize that voice. And talking to her amazed me. She was just so young, and so smart. Have you met her?
I’ve met her. It’s strange these days when you meet people over social media… We’ve never actually sat down and talked, but I feel like I could learn a lot from her. I would love to sit down and pick her brain, because I think she’s one of the greats working right now.
So you directed a movie, “Paradise,” which was widely panned. That must have been a difficult experience.
I have to say, I don’t really internalize that stuff like you’d think. I can’t afford to, because I have so many responsibilities in my regular life outside of filmmaking. I have a husband, I have two kids —and a third on the way. And I have a lot of relationships that are really important to me. I know there are certain people who go into hiding and allow themselves to get really depressed when they have a disappointment, but I can’t afford to do that.
Failure is inevitable. But did you consider it a failure in your own mind? Looking back on it now, what did you learn? What was good about it?
It’s funny to even talk about it, because I have a really unusual way of dealing with it. I don’t actually read any reviews… [On the film] there was a loveliness with the people I worked with, it was such a love fest. I worked with the nicest, kindest people, and I felt totally protected the entire time. So I’ll take that with me forever.
Does that mean you’d do it again?
Oh, hell no. I’m retired from directing. It wasn’t because I felt I was unsuccessful, it was just something that I never aspired to do in the first place. You can go back and read old interviews of me from 2008 where I’m talking about how I don’t want to direct. Because I still fail to see how screenwriting and directing are related. I’m a writer, I like writing stories, I don’t see what that has to do with discussing costumes and lighting. For me, all I care about is the page.
So what made you do it?
I liked the story and I wanted to see it get made, and we couldn’t get a director. I stepped in, I did it. The timing was horrible. [She was pregnant.] But it was something that I thought, you know, “you gotta try it once.” And it seemed like kind of a low risk proposition, so I was like, “let’s do this.”
You worked on a soap opera, right? “Children’s Hospital”? What’s that?
No no, that’s actually a comedy show. It’s on Comedy Central, my friend Rob Corddry does it. And I’m actually working on this incredibly cool Amazon series with Tig Notaro and Louis C.K., we’re off to shoot it in like, a couple weeks. So that’s happening… And it’s been a really awesome experience, especially to write for someone like Tig, who has such a unique voice. It’s like a writer’s dream.
Besides “Juno,” you’ve worked with Jason Reitman on some films I loved: “Jennifer’s Body” and “Young Adult.” I still like every movie that he makes, even “Labor Day,” even though other people are having trouble with them. I haven’t quite figured out why. But I recognize that he’s actually telling women’s stories.
Jason is telling women’s stories, and it might be because he’s such a dear friend of mine, but his films are a real honest expression about how he feels about the world. They’re real, and they’re auteur films in a way that not a lot of people are making these days. I feel like he and I do something similar, where we have these products that are very personal to us. And we know they might not be for everybody, but we want to put them out there.