'I feel more naked as a writer than I did as a stripper'
A former lap-dancer has been hailed as the most exciting new voice in Hollywood, thanks to her screenplay for the unconventional low-budget hit Juno. Diablo Cody tells John Hiscock about her amazing journey
Diablo Cody thinks she knows why she is currently the hippest person in Hollywood. "It's odd I'm receiving so much individual attention,'' she says, "but I think it's probably because of the stripping thing.''
The striking, outspoken 29-year-old's colourful background as a stripper, lap-dancer and peep-show performer may have something to do with the interest she is attracting.
But the main reason is her screenplay for Juno, a low-budget film that has caused a sensation in Hollywood. Not only has it become the number one film in the US, fending off National Treasure: Book of Secrets and the Will Smith blockbuster I Am Legend. It has also earned a total of six Bafta and Oscar nominations, including nods on both sides of the Atlantic for her (for original screenplay) and young star Ellen Page (for best actress).
The quirky, unconventional little heartstring-tugging comedy about a teenage girl who gets pregnant was Diablo Cody's first venture into screenwriting, and has those in the know hailing her as the most distinctive new voice since Quentin Tarantino.
"The same stories get told over and over again in Hollywood,'' says Cody, "and I wanted to do something different. Juno is like a personal, emotional scavenger hunt for me. I dragged so many of my own experiences into it that I'm shocked the movie is so coherent. I managed to get every person, quirk and object that has meaning in my life into the script. I wanted to make it deeply personal. I didn't want it to be generic.''
Juno was the surprise hit of the Toronto Film Festival in September, but since then much of the credit for its success must go to the photogenic, exuberant and ever-quotable Cody.
Rather than the stars Ellen Page and Michael Cera, or the director Jason Reitman, it's she who has become the film's public face, plunging full-tilt into the media limelight.
"It's pretty overwhelming,'' she acknowledges. "But it's cool. It's great and I enjoy it very much but it's all happening at once. Sometimes I wish all these wonderful things could be rationed out.''
We're talking at a party thrown by 20th Century Fox CEO Tom Rothman at his house in Bel-Air, with a dish of fire floating in the swimming pool and guests thronging the bars and buffet tables set up under the palm trees.
Diablo Cody and Ellen Page are the guests of honour, and as always nowadays Cody is the main attraction and continually in demand. Talking is a little easier when we meet again the following day in a Beverly Hills.
Cody is a sassy, witty, profane feminist; a refreshing conundrum who receives angry emails from people condemning her former association with the porn industry, and fulsome praise from conservative pro-lifers who hail Juno's decision to have her baby adopted rather than aborted.
Diablo Cody isn't her real name, any more than Bonbon or Roxanne -- the names she used while stripping. Born Brook Busey in Chicago, she grew up in a suburban, middle-class home. After leaving Catholic school she became a typist and launched a little-read blog called The Red Secretary.
She moved to Minneapolis, married, adopted the name Diablo Cody and launched a new blog called Pussy Ranch.
Bored with secretarial work, she took a job in a strip club and for the next year she stripped, lap-danced and performed in a peep-show booth, chronicling her experiences in a ribald blog about her life onstage, backstage and in customers' laps.
"I caught people's attention with sex, so I kept stripping and blogging.''
A Hollywood producer and manager, Mason Novick, discovered Cody's blog, suggested a comedic memoir and helped her land a book deal, which led to an appearance on David Letterman's chat show. Novick then urged her to whip up a script as a screenwriting sample.
'It was incredibly natural,'' she said, of putting Juno's story into words. "It was like breathing. I saw Juno as an extension of myself. My friends and I were like Juno and her friend. We talked about sex all the time.''
Her screenplay reached director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking).
"I was only halfway through it when I was so taken by it that I knew if I didn't direct it I would regret it for the rest of my life,'' he says. "I thought it was a wonderful, charming movie. To me, it's not a movie about abortion versus adoption. It's about how 30-year-old men refuse to grow up and 16-year-old girls grow up too fast.''
One of the movie's many memorable scenes is when Juno confesses to her parents that she's pregnant. After she has left, her stunned stepmother says with a sigh, "I was hoping she was expelled or into hard drugs.''
Cody conjured up the scene from memories of when she told her parents how she had been earning her living.
"First I told them the good news that I was getting a book published, then I had to tell them it was about something that I did for a year which would horrify them, and I guess my mother thought I'd been a crack dealer.''
She is surprised but not put out by the outpouring of goodwill from pro-lifers who perceive an anti-abortion message in Juno.
"Personally, I am pro-choice and liberal, but anyone who enjoys the movie is OK with me,'' she says with a shrug. "To me, it is a movie about relationships, unconditional love and maturity. The pregnancy is just a trigger.''
Despite the constant whirl of interviews and promotional appearances, Diablo Cody has found the time to keep working. She has been hired by Steven Spielberg to write the pilot for his television series The United States Of Tara, about a suburban mother with multiple personalities, which is due to start shooting when the writers' strike is over.
She has also written her next feature film screenplay, a horror-comedy called Jennifer's Body, about a cheerleader who devours men, which is being produced by Reitman. She has three other screenplays in the works and owes her publisher another book.
"I feel much more naked as a writer than I did as a stripper,'' she says. "When I was stripping I felt pretty emotionally neutral because it wasn't a massive event in my life.
"But when I watch Juno, there are bits I can only watch through my fingers because I cringe at how personal it is."
Juno opens nationwide tomorrow