Ex-stripper Diablo Cody beats odds with `Juno' screenplay
JEFF BAENEN Associated Press Writer
(AP) - MINNEAPOLIS - Diablo Cody has a tough-chick reputation - the tattooed, punkish sex blogger wrote a book about her year as a stripper, and the name of her blog is too risque for family newspapers.
But the novice screenwriter also has written a sweet movie that's shaping up as a holiday hit.
"Juno," a sardonic comedy about a pregnant 16-year-old who becomes a "cautionary whale" for her classmates, is rolling out to more and more theaters, picking up rave reviews and Oscar buzz along the way. And Cody is in demand, with several projects - including one with Steven Spielberg - pending. Entertainment Weekly recently ranked her 38th on a list of the 50 smartest people in Hollywood.
"It's insane, it really is. I sometimes wonder how much stimulation one person can take," Cody said during a "Juno" promotional stop in her former hometown. "I really feel like I have adrenaline fatigue or something."
Cody, 29, has defied high odds. Not only has her first screenplay been produced - "Juno" reaches the screen just over two years after she wrote the first draft - but she says it's virtually untouched from her original vision.
The chances of that happening are "one in a bazillion," said Mason Novick, who stumbled across Cody's racy blog while surfing for porn and ended up becoming her manager.
"Hollywood likes to hire a lot of writers and go through a lot of rigamarole," said Novick, one of the "Juno" producers. But the film's partners "knew that was her (Cody's) voice ... and left it alone."
"Juno," released by Fox Searchlight, opened with an amazing $60,000 (â‚¬41,300) per-theater average take in limited release in early December and goes into wide release around Christmas. Reviews have been positive, with The Associated Press calling it "the kind of movie all indie comedies wish they could be: light and lovable, perhaps a bit too pleased with the cleverness of its dialogue, but a small charmer nonetheless."
In the movie, precocious Juno MacGuff (played by diminutive, 20-year-old Ellen Page) finds herself pregnant by high school friend Paulie Bleeker, a breath-mint-popping track star played by Michael Cera. After deciding against an abortion, Juno seeks out a childless yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) "desperately seeking spawn" (in the words of Juno's cheerleader girlfriend) who agree to adopt Juno's baby.
Cody, who grew up in Lemont, Illinois, outside of Chicago, was inspired by a high school friend who got pregnant and had some of the same experiences as the movie's title character, such as being mistreated by an ultrasound technician.
But Cody (real name Brook Busey-Hunt - she took her pen name during a trip to Cody, Wyoming.) said Juno is based on herself as a teenager. Juno's hamburger-shaped phone echoes one Cody herself had when she was growing up.
"I always say I'm kind of an emotional scavenger, because everything that I write about is drawn from life, it's drawn from experience that I actually had," Cody said between sips of Coke at a downtown hotel. She wore a Green Day T-shirt, blue jeans and classic Vans checkerboard slip-on shoes, with her hair dyed black and bobbed and her eyes outlined in mascara.
(There is another recent change in Cody's appearance. She's going through a divorce, and a freshly tattooed rose covers the "JONNY'S GIRL" banner on the pinup girl tattooed on her upper right arm.)
Cody chronicled her adventures as a stripper in Minneapolis in the 2006 memoir "Candy Girl." For "Juno," she said, she drew on her experiences when she was "young and sweet."
"I was able to kind of revisit that time," she said, "before the stripping, before anything in my life was vulgar.'"
"Juno" director Jason Reitman, 30, said he was intimidated to meet Cody after reading her sophisticated screenplay, but the feeling didn't last long.
"And I've just kind of absolutely fell in love with her. We just clicked from moment one, and it became kind of a very strong collaborative working relationship in which she was on-set almost every day," Reitman said in a telephone interview.
Cody's wit shines through "Juno." In one scene, Juno explains how her father named her after the Roman queen of the gods who was "really beautiful but really mean - like Diana Ross." When Garner's icily perfect character tells Juno that her parents may be wondering where she is, Juno replies: "I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans can I get into?"
Reitman said he was amazed to find out that Cody - who banged out "Juno" on a laptop at a Starbucks in a suburban Target - had no formal training as a screenwriter. He also didn't know her background as a one-time stripper.
"I thought, `This girl's got a lotta wit,' and the words on the page seemed to live up to the woman. I was also struck by how much heart she had," Reitman recalls. "In our first meeting we talked ... as much about the ending of the movie being moving as we talked about the beginning of the movie being kind of snappy and funny."
Cody credits Reitman for setting the movie's tone and Page, a Canadian actress whose film credits include "Hard Candy" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," for the musical and fashion choices, such as the decision for Juno to wear sweater vests. Page is "the soul of Juno," she said.
"She's 10 years younger than me, but I still consider her a hero of mine," said Cody.
In the run-up to the Academy Award nominations, to be announced Jan. 22, "Juno" picked up three Golden Globe nominations - for Cody's screenplay; for best picture, comedy or musical; and for Page as best actress in a comedy or musical. It's also up for four Spirit Awards for independent films.
Before the writers' strike, Cody was moving ahead with Steven Spielberg on "The United States of Tara" for Showtime, starring Toni Collette in a comedy about a mom with multiple personalities. Cody also was working on "Girly Style," a college comedy for Universal, and will be a producer, along with Jason Reitman, on her horror comedy "Jennifer's Body," set to start filming in March.
Now living in Los Angeles, Cody said she's done five scripts or so since "Juno." And she has no plans to return to stripping.
"I can't," she said. "I'm too old."
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