December 19, 2007
Career Change: From Stripper to Screenwriter
"I was the world's worst stripper," Diablo Cody nonchalantly announces.
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That might be true, but Cody (real name: Brook Busey-Hunt) needn't worried. She's got a new gig as Hollywood's hottest screenwriter.
Her debut screenplay Juno, a film festival darling, is being heralded as 2007's Little Miss Sunshine and the award nominations are already pouring in.
Directed by Jason Reitman, who made Thank You for Smoking, Ellen Page is cast as the pregnant teenager, Juno, named after the queen of Roman gods, who decides to put her baby up for adoption. But first, she insists on getting to know the intended parents, a yuppie couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman.
Falling somewhere in between a not-so-neatly wrapped fairy tale and sobering reality, Juno doesn't make any political judgment calls. Instead, the film focuses on the 16-year-old teen, who confronts her situation with unapologetic sass and laugh baiting humor.
Just for the record, Juno's story isn't exactly autobiographic. The 29-year-old Cody was never pregnant, but the two females share a common, independent, rebellious streak. "Yeah, I was a lot like Juno in high school, not popular, not unpopular. I bounced from one group to another, had a core of boys that followed me around that I could bully.
"I don't think I really ever got past my adolescence. I've spent the last 10 years of my life in suspended animation. I never had to assume responsibility and was maybe in the real world for year before I became a stripper. Then this stuff happened. I really feel like a teenager even though my body continues to atrophy," said Cody, whose right shoulder boasts a pin-up girl tattoo.
"This stuff" began with a blog in 2001. "When you're an unpublished writer and you want to write and have people read your stuff, and you don't want to deal with publishers, you start writing a blog," the writer explained.
Signing up for amateur night at a Minneapolis strip joint as a lark, Cody didn't win, but she made a quick $100 for two hours' work. Aside from the adrenaline rush, stripping seemed an ideal alternative to her secretarial job at an advertising agency.
One bonus she hadn't anticipated was the sudden popularity of her feminist blog Pussy Ranch. "Initially, four people, my friends, read it. Then when I started stripping and writing about it, miraculously 10,000 people were reading the blog because it was about the sex industry. They loved hearing about it from the perspective of someone coming at it from fresh eyes, I guess," she observed.
The blog generated a book deal. That required coming clean with her parents. "Of course, that was a thrilling call to make, but then I had to tell them that the book was about me being a stripper for a year. It was a really interesting evening. They didn't know whether to be excited or horrified," she laughed.
The book, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, became a bestseller, while sharing intimate details about the industry. Strippers who wear white, for incidence, are perceived as "good girls" and make more money. Cody's most profitable night was $800, as opposed to top dancers who earned upwards of $3000.
On the wake of Candy Girl, Cody was encouraged by her manager Mason Novick to write a screenplay employing that same self-deprecating tone that had endeared the public to her book. The result was Juno.
In July 2007, Showtime announced it would produce Cody's Dreamworks TV comedy series, "The United States of Tara," based on an idea by Steven Spielberg. Temporarily suspended because of the Writers Guild strike, "Tara" will star Toni Collette, who literally takes the multitudinous roles of women to the extreme as a victim of multiple personality disorder.
Next up is a horror script titled Jennifer's Body, purchased by Fox Atomic and set to star Megan Fox. Reitman reprises his director role, while Cody has also signed on as producer. "It's my way of finagling my way onto another set," she said.
What is Cody's reaction to her whirlwind success? "It came about really quickly, more quickly than I've been able to process it. I was raised Catholic so I feel guilt and shame a lot of the time because I feel so happy and that's not natural. Since I moved to Los Angeles, I have a lot of peers in the industry – writers, directors, and a lot of those people had to really fight to get where they are and pay their dues.
"I feel very fortunate that I didn't have to go through that experience. Although I did pay my dues in other areas I guess. None of them had to give a lap dance," said Cody snapping the strangest of fashion accessories – a surgical glove.
Playfully holding up her right hand, she proclaimed, "It's important for a writer to have quirks. People like that shit, you know."
At face value, Diablo Cody is the perfect moniker for Busey-Hunt. She confessed, "I made it up. I was on a road trip and was listening to this song 'El Diablo.' It was late at night and I was driving really fast and my friend warned me to slow down. I was like, 'No, Brook is not driving. Diablo Cody is driving this car. It was like a persona to drive recklessly. So Diablo Cody was going to drive whenever I had to get some place in a hurry." There's little doubt that Cody's life will remain in fifth gear.