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"Juno" writer went from stripping to Hollywood

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on December 9, 2007

Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s sudden arrival on the Hollywood movie scene could well be compared to Lana Turner’s famous discovery at Schwab’s Drugstore — that is, if the drugstore were a blog, and Turner were a former stripper.

Cody, whose screenwriting debut “Juno” arrives at several Seattle-area theaters Friday after a charmed run through the film-festival circuit, is having the kind of debutante ball that most writers only dream of. Not so long ago, the 29-year-old was living in Minneapolis, working as a phone-sex operator and an insurance adjuster (the stripping had come earlier), and writing a blog about her life. Online one day, Hollywood producer Mason Novick (“Red Eye”) happened to come across Cody’s writings, and wondered if this fresh voice just might consider writing a movie.

“It was very serendipitous and very weird,” remembered Cody (formerly named Brook Busey-Hunt), in Seattle last month with “Juno” director Jason Reitman. “It was not like I had, you know, a master plan.” Prior to Novick’s call, Cody hadn’t thought much about screenwriting (though she was working on a book, “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,” which would later be published).

“He didn’t so much ask me [to write a screenplay],” said Cody of Novick’s out-of-the-blue telephone call. “It was more of a suggestion. He said, I think you could do it. To his credit, I don’t know where he saw a screenwriting voice in the type of writing that I was outputting in those days. But he did. I really didn’t want to let him down, because I was flattered that he had seen something in me that I had not seen myself.”

Wanting to write a movie with a smart, funny teenage girl at its center, Cody began to work on “Juno,” the story of a pregnant teen (Ellen Page, of “Hard Candy”) who, with the support of her eccentric but warm family, decides to have her baby and give it to an infertile couple (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman). The character began “as a sort of autobiographical version of myself as a teenager,” said Cody (though she has said in previous interviews she did not get pregnant as a teen). Juno, whose wry self-possession does indeed resemble Cody’s interview demeanor, has a wicked way with words. “I am a sacred vessel,” she tells her best friend in mock-serious tones. “All you have in your stomach is Taco Bell.”

“It was easy for me,” Cody said of the writing process, “but I like to say ignorance is bliss. I had nothing to lose. I lacked any formal knowledge of screenwriting. I just did it, it was that simple. When you live in the real world, you exist in the mindset of ‘just do it.’ You wake up every day and there are things that you have to do. So I just wrote the movie.” She wrote it on breaks, in the evenings, at a Starbucks or in a Target store on the weekends.

“I always felt so embarrassed and delusional. I even get embarrassed now if I sit in the Coffee Bean in Los Angeles and work on a screenplay. I always think everyone’s looking at me with pity, like, ‘Oh, there’s another struggling screenwriter, another loser.’ I don’t like to reek of desperation, and at that point in my life I certainly did.”

When the screenplay was finished, Novick helped get it into the hands of directors — among them Reitman, the talented young filmmaker who made a splash in 2006 with “Thank You for Smoking.” He was in the process of writing his next film when a copy of “Juno” was messengered to him and he fell instantly in love.

“Usually when you read a screenplay, it’s just awful,” he said. “It’s just horrible. There are so many bad scripts, and you read them and you’re looking for a glint, you’re looking for something, anything I can grab onto, and usually there’s nothing, not even a foothold. And then once in a thousand scripts … it’s the exact opposite. It’s so good that before you get to the end you’re already scared: Oh my God, I’m in love with this, I’m never going to get it.” The script he was writing immediately went on hold.

Cody, for her part, was such a neophyte in the business that she didn’t even watch “Thank You for Smoking” before meeting with Reitman. (“That just shows you where I was at,” she said. “I was a quintessential slacker.”) But once the deal was done, she watched the movie with a group of friends and loved it. “It was a really exciting moment,” she said. “It was like when you go to the sperm bank and they bring out the piece of paper saying where the guy went to college.” (At this, Cody and Reitman — who share a wisecracking rapport — burst into hysterical laughter.)

Since “Juno,” which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September (where it was runner-up for the Audience Award), Cody’s career has taken off. She and her husband have moved to Los Angeles, where she has several projects under way: a horror movie (to be produced by Reitman’s company Hard C); a Showtime television series called “The United States of Tara” (executive produced by Steven Spielberg, starring Toni Collette); and another movie comedy, “a very high-concept fun sex comedy told from a female perspective, which is very important to me,” she said.

Though the writer’s strike has temporarily halted some of her work, Cody remains happily astonished by the turn her life has taken. “I didn’t think something like this would ever happen to me,” she said, remembering the desperate-looking writers who’ve approached her on the picket lines, trying to network. “I see the hunger in their eyes,” she said, “and I can’t say I feel all that appalled.”

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