in conversation

In Conversation: Diablo Cody

The Oscar-winning screenwriter on the Fempire, her Megan Fox therapy breakthrough, and Jagged Little Pill the musical.

Photo: Dina Litovsky
Photo: Dina Litovsky
Photo: Dina Litovsky

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Read the press surrounding Diablo Cody from 2008, the year she won, at the age of 29, an Oscar for her screenplay for Juno, and you might imagine a hard-living, hard-charging, rockabilly sexpot with a penchant for wordplay. The wordplay part is true — though she keeps it out of her scripts these days — but as for the rest, Brook Maurio, the real person behind the name, is not much like the persona she used to storm the gates of Hollywood a decade ago. “Anybody who has remained in my life has a relationship with Brook, not Diablo Cody,” says Maurio over breakfast one recent autumn morning.

This split personality is both convenient and, perhaps, necessary. In the years after Juno, as Cody found herself routinely in the internet’s crosshairs, Maurio got married and had three boys, all the while continuing to write thoughtful, complicated stories for thoughtful, complicated women — the kinds of stories that attract actresses like Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Tully) and Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash) despite their productions’ modest budgets. Most recently, she has penned the libretto to an Alanis Morissette musical, Jagged Little Pill, which started previews on Broadway this month. “I now regret not having been a theater kid my entire life,” she jokes.

Along the way, the internet seems to have finally come around on Cody. Some of her previous work — including Young Adult and the 2009 horror flick Jennifer’s Body — have since achieved cult status, and the criticism she endured post-Juno now seems to reflect more on the ones who did the criticizing than anybody else. “There’s a specific type of woman that triggers people,” she says now. “I’ve been able to watch from the other side a couple of other women go through the same cycle, and I just thought, Oh, they do this to any woman who is enjoying her success.

I found a recent interview in which you said social media isn’t fun anymore.
It’s definitely not fun anymore. I’ve been off Twitter since 2013 now. I don’t think my voice is necessary. I think there are a lot of quirky white women expressing their opinions on Twitter.

You started as a blogger, writing a blog about moonlighting as a stripper in Minneapolis. In those early days of blogging, the internet did feel like this exciting community, and people, including you, were putting everything out there.
Yes. It was confessional. For me, there was just a desperation to be heard, because I was an aspiring writer and I was trying to get published and failing. Suddenly, I became aware of this opportunity to write things, self-publish them, and not have to get permission from anybody. I could write anything I wanted and just shoot it out there, and that was a thrill, you know? Now it’s something everybody takes for granted.

You had amazing luck with timing, when you could actually become a famous screenwriter from blogging. That does not seem like a path to success right now.
I don’t even think I would have been any kind of exceptional voice in today’s landscape of online writing. Juno was probably the last moment you could write an indie movie starring an unknown Canadian teenager and do that kind of business. I was able to have that classic Hollywood experience at the last possible moment it was possible to have that.

A lot of the original coverage of Juno was framed as “Climbing the Stripper Pole to Hollywood Stardom.” That narrative did not age well.
Some of the stuff that was written then — can you imagine if the coverage was the same now? It wouldn’t be done.

So much of the criticism of you back in 2007 or so felt so, so, so sexist when I was rereading it. If you had won an Oscar now, there’s no way people would have shit on what you wore to the awards.
I think people would probably still shit on me, but now the angle would be something about “tone-deaf privilege” and “white stripper.” It would just be a different backlash. I would have deserved it, by the way. It’s a valid criticism, for sure.

How do you address that criticism in the stuff that you do now?
Oh my God. I might be overcompensating, but I do think that people have an opportunity to redeem themselves, which is actually a controversial statement right now. Because I certainly have observed my own growth. I can look at things I said and did now in my 20s and just cringe and feel totally repentant.

Is there anything in particular you’re thinking of?
I feel like the book is really mean-spirited. I get upset when people read it, actually. I wouldn’t be telling that story now the way that I told it. I don’t think I would tell it at all, to be honest. I have guilt about that.

To me, it feels like the stripper narrative was this Trojan horse you used to sneak a nerdy midwestern girl obsessed with her hometown into Hollywood. All of your movies seem to be about “Am I the same person I was when I was younger?”
Yeah, absolutely. I’m like the emotional Cronenberg, because all I care about is personal transformation and reckoning with your past. Nobody paid attention to my blog until I started stripping and writing about it, and overnight I had this spike in page views. I thought, “Well, let’s see how far I can take this.”

Even so, you’ve made 15 years of generally pretty wholesome movies.
I’m proud of that because, when I first came to town, everybody assumed I was going to be exclusively pushing stripping projects. I went to HBO to pitch United States of Tara, and this was before Juno had come out. I pitched the whole thing, and they said, “Well, we were prepared to buy a show from you today, but we thought you were bringing us a stripping show. We don’t want this.”

You basically created Diablo Cody as a separate person from Brook to con Hollywood. Who is Diablo to you now?
I don’t have much of a relationship with Diablo Cody anymore. One of my proudest moments as a parent was when my oldest son learned to read. He picked up my Oscar and said, “Who’s Diablo Cody?” because he had never even heard the name in our house. I guess now it’s really just kind of a Sasha Fierce situation, where I have an alter ego I can call upon when I need to.

I have this theory that everyone has a tiny former them in their head that they check in with for moral-compass purposes. Do you have a little, young Brook who’s making sure you’re staying the course?
No. Grown-up me is making sure I stay the course. Little Brook is a mean machine that just wants to indulge herself. I’m keeping Little Brook in check. If anything, I would say I’ve developed a compass in adulthood that I didn’t have when I was young. I just was like a self-indulgent, self-centered artist. I don’t know a lot of kindergartners with a superiority complex, but I can tell you that I was one.

So you had a feeling you were meant for better things.
Oh hell yeah. I would say when I found success, I can assure you no one in my hometown was rooting for me. Instead, I’m sure the reaction was like, “Oh no. That bitch was right.”

One of the nastiest statements I found was from—
Oh, please don’t read a nasty statement, please. No, that’s going to hurt me. Please don’t. I’m very sensitive.

Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. But it just felt very sour grapes, like somebody… I don’t want to hurt your feelings. It was not meant like that.
No, I know that. You can’t know that I’m made of glass.

I know the backlash to your early success must have been super-hard for you. You’ve talked a little bit about how therapy really helped you. What sort of things did you take away from therapy?
For me, it was more like the talking cure. It just feels good to be able to talk about those things. I certainly couldn’t talk about it with my friends in the business, and most of my friends at this stage of my life are my peers, you know?

Right. They’re like, “Fuck you. You just won an Oscar.”
Exactly. So, I’m not going to sit and cry about it in front of people who might be aspiring to that. The thing that surprises me is I see certain people who get dragged and then almost seem to continue to court the negative attention, whereas I would just rather drop off the radar, which is what I did.

But you kept working.
I kept working, but I’m not on social media. I’m pretty underground. I don’t go anywhere, and there’s a reason for that. I don’t want to leave myself vulnerable to attack.

Alanis also faced some backlash. Did you two ever talk about it?
She got a little bit, but she also sold a gazillion records, which I think would have salved my wounds. There is a price on my dignity. But for Alanis, I think the most painful thing was just losing her anonymity completely. I never got to a level where I was being paparazzied or anything like that, whereas she was one of the biggest stars in the world and is still very recognizable. I think that was a lot for her because she wanted to be famous, and she thought it was going to solve her problems. Then she got it and had this realization that many celebrities seem to have, which is that it solves nothing and in fact kind of exacerbates your personal pain to be famous.

I couldn’t find an origin story of how you got hooked up with Jagged Little Pill.
I was actually one of the last pieces to slide into place. The producers and Alanis have been trying to get this made for several years. They knew they wanted to make a Broadway musical featuring the songs of Alanis Morissette, and they knew they didn’t want it to be autobiographical. Alanis, specifically, didn’t want to do The Alanis Morissette Story. I had never written a play before, let alone a book for a Broadway musical. It was daunting, but occasionally you get those gut feelings that you have to trust, and I just had a pull toward this project.

Morissette and Cody. Photo: Jenny Anderson

How did you devise the narratives in the show?
I’ve watched a lot of jukebox musicals since being hired to write this one. There are some that I watch and I think, How did the writer do this? These songs are inane. You really have to be a genius to figure out how to work this into a narrative. Whereas Jagged Little Pill was a cinch. You listen to that album: It is cinematic. The songs are telling stories.

It seems like a lot of the songs were maybe originally about Alanis wrestling with child stardom and her overprotective parents.
People always think about “You Oughta Know,” but that song is kind of an anomaly, actually. It’s like the one aggressive song on the album, and everything else is about wanting to be seen by her family, wanting to be recognized as this artist and a spiritual person, which she really is. The most prominent theme on the album is “Wake Up,” this idea of You cannot avoid pain. You have to face things. Well, that’s something I can certainly relate to, having grown up Catholic in the suburbs with a family that was very concerned with presentation. I’m lucky with those songs. Now that I’ve done this show, I’ve had some other musicians approach me, and I look at the music, and I think, I don’t know how I would make this interesting.

I was really surprised at how much politics are in the forefront of Jagged Little Pill.
One of the central characters, Frankie, is an activist. It just seemed impossible to tell a modern story about activism and empathy and not acknowledge the climate emergency, not acknowledge mass shootings, not acknowledge racial tensions, not acknowledge sexual assault. I know there are some people who feel that there might be too many issues in this show, and that’s fine with me. That makes me want to pile on more, because the reality is there are too many issues in the world. I wish we were living in a simpler narrative where we only had one or two things keeping us awake at night. But I have like seven, and they are all represented in this show.The opioid epidemic has affected my family personally in a major way, and for me to write about that has been cathartic.

What was your writing process with Alanis like?
We always use the term fairy godmother, because that’s what she is. She gets involved. She gives you the best notes ever, then she backs off. So I’ve had a ton of creative freedom. I have found myself sitting in my garage, rewriting Alanis Morissette lyrics. At the same time, she will let us know if something in a performance isn’t working for her. We hear from her at least once a week. She used to be more physically present, but she just had a baby so she’s nesting.

Did you and Alanis talk about making the jokes in the musical about “Ironic” not being ironic?
We didn’t discuss it at all in advance. I just strongly felt that we had to address the criticism of that song head-on and make something charming out of it. It was actually one of the very first scenes I wrote for the show, and it was left largely unchanged since the workshop, which is crazy because the rest of the show changed significantly. Alanis is a really good sport. She was totally down with it from the very first step.

I read that when the show opened in Cambridge, the character Jo was questioning her gender, but that aspect of the script has been cut.
It’s so hard to talk about this stuff. The publicists for the show aren’t even here, and they just shuddered somewhere. I want to be clear that Jo is somebody who is experimenting with her gender expression but that this is not a trans or non­binary person at this moment in time. Obviously, obviously, we would never cast a cis person in the role of someone who was trans or nonbinary identifying, ever. My worry is that there are people who didn’t see the show in Cambridge who are convinced that the character was gender nonbinary in Cambridge, and it was never, ever that stated. Jo has always been she/her pronouns, and I do feel shitty if there was a misread or misunderstanding — especially when the show was still a work-in-­progress, which is what an out-of-town tryout is. I don’t want anybody to feel excluded, hurt, triggered by this show. I want people to come and feel good about it. I know that I can’t please everybody, but, you know, we have so many experts involved. We have like an entire task force dealing with this issue. So I just have to listen to them, keep my own mouth shut. I’m not on any kind of gender journey. Aside from being a boring-ass cis lady.

I heard the decision to take out the gender questioning was also criticized. If you are a creator who wants to embrace where the conversation is now, it does kind of put you in this weird position where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Oh my God, that’s my favorite phrase. You’re screwed either way on a lot of issues. I think important work creates a dialogue, and there’s always going to be opposite sides of a good conversation. I’m okay with it because I’m old and I’ve been through so many controversies in my career. I’ve been through it all, man. I’ve had to apologize to pro-choice people. I’ve had to apologize to people with postpartum depression, even though it was an experience that I personally went through. I had to apologize for writing about my own experience and triggering people.

For Tully you had to apologize to postpartum people?
Yeah, I had to give a statement in the New York Times because people led to believe that it was a romantic comedy went to see it and were triggered.

One movie of yours that feels like it’s gotten massive reconsideration is Jennifer’s Body.
Yeah. This is so strange to me. I love that movie. And unlike the backlash to Juno, which left me feeling kind of wounded and quizzical, the backlash to Jennifer’s Body was utterly predictable. Saw it coming like a freight train.

What do you think it was about?
I think the public was collectively irritated with Megan Fox and me. By the way, the world should have been thanking Megan Fox for those incredible, candid, real-ass interviews she was giving at the time. That girl’s balls …

How much did you guys talk about her experiences with Michael Bay when making the movie?
Not much at all at the time. We’ve actually talked more about it lately, because we had the opportunity to reunite since people are interested in the movie. We did something for Entertainment Tonight. I literally kept stopping the interview, going, “I’m really sorry, because I know this is not what you want us to say.” It was like a therapy session. There was a part where she was like, “Don’t you feel like ultimately it was good for you to have the film fail?” And she proceeded to talk about how my life was going in a direction that I wasn’t happy with at the time, and how if the movie had succeeded, I would have continued on my trajectory. And I’m like, “I honestly haven’t had such moments in therapy.” I found a transcript of it and took a screenshot because I was like, “This is a therapeutic breakthrough that Megan Fox brought me to.” But yeah, that was an intense day since they thought we were going to like giggle about behind-the-scenes high jinks. Megan Fox is a fascinating person. Ordinarily, when someone says being sexy has limited them in some way, you roll your eyes, or at least I do. And in her case, it’s true. People find it impossible to take her seriously because of this overt sexuality of her appearance, but she’s such a smart, insightful person.

It sounds like, even more than that, she was really objectified and bullied.
Big time. I feel like some of the bullying that I’ve experienced I may have brought on myself, whereas Megan is specifically being paid to and pressured to be a sexy actress and then is punished for being so.

I feel like if Jennifer’s Body came out now, it would be considered like a feminist Get Out movie.
I wish.

You think about Hustlers; it arrived at this perfect time where audiences are ready to receive it. 
I love Hustlers.

Should we just talk about the Fempire because obviously we have to talk about the Fempire.
Yeah.

You’re all in your 40s or almost in your 40s now. How has that relationship shifted?
All still friends. I’m still collectively proud of the Fempire, because I think people were maybe hoping that we wouldn’t live up to our potential, and I’m proud to report that, a decade on, that was not the case.

Do you still all get in a limo and go to each other’s openings?
I wish. There’s a lot of children now. I think the Fempire collectively has seven children. Everybody is older and busy, and there just isn’t as much time for popping bottles. There is still a tremendous amount of support in that group, and right now we are all celebrating the success of Hustlers crossing the $100 million domestic mark.

What does that support look like?
It’s texts. It’s phone calls. It’s home visits. It’s Postmates. It’s just being as present for the failures as the successes. I think we’ve all experienced some disappointments, except maybe Liz Meriwether, who just succeeds. It’s just a lovely group to be a part of.

Why aren’t there more models like this?
That’s a good question. I do feel like there has been more of an emphasis on female solidarity in the last few years, which is good, because when I came up, even though it wasn’t that long ago, there was still a crabs-in-the-bucket mentality where it was like literally one woman gets to direct a feature each year.

Photo: Dina Litovsky

You’re still the last woman to have won an Original Screenwriting Oscar.
Is that true? Wow. I do look at the nominees every year to see how many women are included, and I’m always upset.

It does feel like now we’re quick to celebrate women’s success in Hollywood, yet I wonder how much has actually changed.
Everything has changed. I remember being told by UPN, if you want to take it way back, that I couldn’t have a gay character in a pilot I was writing. Now no one would dare to say that. It was tremendously difficult to convince people to invest in unlikable female protagonists when I started. I can’t imagine a show like Fleabag succeeding a decade ago the way it has now. It’s fascinating how much I’ve watched things change in just 15 years. So that’s great. That makes me happy.

Young Adult was a really interesting example to me, at the time it came out, it was such a crazy character to see. Now, we’ve broadened our palate for unlikable women ever so slightly. It totally holds up, by the way.
You think so?

Oh, yes.
I rewatched it recently, and I hadn’t seen it since it came out. I don’t typically rewatch my stuff because it makes me want to die. I could not believe how bleak it was.

Now that Charlize has been in two of your movies, do you write with her in mind?
I do now. Maybe she wouldn’t do a third. I don’t know. But I really like her a lot, and obviously she’s insanely talented. It’s nice working with somebody more than once because you really begin to understand their voice and write to it. Writing Tully, I was able to hold her in my mind.

Had she signed up for that before you did it?
She hadn’t, but I had pitched it to Jason. He was like, “I’m going to get Charlize.” Jason and Charlize are very close. I don’t think anybody else could have been Mavis [in Young Adult]. When I wrote that role, I was thinking, All right, I think this is Reese Witherspoon or Gwyneth Paltrow. Then Jason said, “I know who’s perfect for this role. It’s Charlize Theron.” I was like, “Can Charlize Theron chug Diet Coke out of a two-liter bottle and just like—”

That was the grossest image to me.
Yeah, but that’s pulled from my life, you know?

Don’t do that!
I don’t. I’ve changed. But there was a time that I did, or binge-eating fast food like an animal. I’ve been there.

How do you decide what’s a Jason Reitman project?
I think everything’s a Jason project, and he’s free to pass or accept. I send everything to him. I just really enjoy working with him because he was the first director I ever worked with, and he had no reason to respect my voice as completely as he did. A lot of first-time writers aren’t even going to get invited to set. He had me there every day. He has been like that across the three movies that we’ve made, and he was also producer on Jennifer’s Body, so really it’s four. It’s a relationship built on trust and telepathy, and it’s very nice.

He doesn’t come across as someone who’s going to make a trilogy about women and their changing life phases.
No, he doesn’t. I kind of feel like it’s sort of unexpected energy that he brings that makes it work. He’s an interesting dude. I’m very excited about this Ghostbusters movie. Is this going to be sensitive Ghostbusters? He’s extremely sensitive. Our joke, which is probably problematic now, but we’ve always joked that I’m the dude in our relationship. He’s very thoughtful, and I am very decisive actually. I write from my gut. Jason is considering things always.

It seems hard for a director to be non-decisive.
Well, no, he’s decisive, too. He’s fast. That’s always a good thing, especially when you’re working with a limited budget.

I’m curious about Paradise and what made you want to direct it yourself.
I didn’t want to direct at all. I had no more business directing than waking up and deciding to be a nuclear physicist. I have no depth perception. I hate telling people what to do. I am happiest alone and writing. But when you come to Hollywood as a screenwriter, it is sort of drummed into you that your trajectory is to become a director because that is in some way superior to writer. You will get to control your vision. But I always got to control my vision. So, for me, there was no value add. I didn’t enjoy it. I guess I just picked that one because it felt like the time to try it. I had just been putting it off, and I thought, Okay, we’ll do it now. The timing was horrific because I was pregnant and had a 1-year-old. To be honest, the pregnancy wasn’t the most difficult part. It was having a toddler. I’m not one of those women who’s ever been really great at staffing up and delegating tasks. I didn’t bring a nanny or anything. I just brought my mother with me. I always felt guilty about all the work that I had put on her, so I would be up at four in the morning with my 1-year-old, pregnant, and I was to shoot in three hours. It sucked.

You’ve said part of the reason you started doing more TV is because it keeps you in L.A. I appreciate how realistic and candid you’ve been about how you navigate a career and also have a family instead of this idea of “Of course. I’m a superwoman, and I just do it.”
No. Hell no. I wake up every day and I have to pick one. I have to say, “Am I going to prioritize my career today or my kids?” You can’t do both. I can have days of the week when my children are the priority, and then there are days when they’re not. I wish I could say, “Oh, they’re always the priority,” but right now I’m in New York and they’re in Los Angeles. I am a bad mother right now. And that’s okay, because I’m providing for them.

I watched Tully on maternity leave, and that point where the pumped milk tips over in the little plastic bag —
Oh, it’s a nightmare, right? Yeah. By the way, I’ve never been delusional to think Tully’s going to be a huge hit. Nobody cares about women. Nobody cares about postpartum depression. If this was something that affected men in the same numbers, maybe it would have been a hit.

But why is that? Don’t women watch movies?
When I focus-group films that I’ve written, women are inevitably the hardest on the characters. Ricki and the Flash was a really interesting situation, because we showed the movie to test audiences, and the people who were the most critical of Ricki were older women who said that she was selfish and a bad mom, and the men forgave her and said, “Look, she just wanted to follow her dream. Let the woman be in a band.” Isn’t that interesting?

Meryl’s character Ricki is challenging. To me, a female rocker Republican was kind of hard to digest. Do you feel like she’s a familiar midwestern archetype to you?
I know people like Ricki. So, for me, it was just realistic. You do meet people who present as rebels who are politically conservative. It’s actually pretty common.

How do you write a part for Meryl Streep?
I’d never dared to dream that Meryl Streep was going to take that part. I will never forget the night I realized that she was doing it. I met her out for sushi, and I thought we were just going to discuss the possibility of her doing this. I thought to myself, She’s probably not going to, but this is a nice meeting to have. Then she started talking about scheduling in a way that indicated that the decision had been made and I just levitated.

I imagine that part of what attracted her is the complicated character.
I think so. I think the opportunity to just sing and play guitar was appealing to her. I don’t know her that well, but it appears to me that she likes to acquire skills for roles. Of course she became really good at playing guitar like overnight.

I guess she probably got lots of training. Rick Springfield was probably helping her out.
I think she got her first lesson from Neil Young. Jonathan Demme hooked that up. Who, by the way, is the most magnificent human being. We were so simpatico. We would go out after shooting and talk and talk and drink martinis. I miss him so much.

Music is clearly so important to the stuff that you do. Have you ever had a case where you weren’t able to use a song you wanted in a script?
I wanted to put “Starman” by David Bowie in Jennifer’s Body. I believe David Bowie was displeased with the fact that it was going to be used in the scene where Jennifer is killed, because it’s violence against women, and I respect him for saying that. They sing “867-5309/Jenny,” which people seemed to like. It worked in the end. I’m lucky because typically as a screenwriter you’re advised not to put songs in scripts, because we might not be able to clear it. The director isn’t going oftentimes to like that song. And I’ll put the most random shit in my scripts, and Jason Reitman’s like, “Perfect. Okay. Got it. We’ll make sure we get that.”

You seem like you work all the time, so I imagine you must have hard drives full of unmade scripts.
Oh yeah. I have scripts that have never seen the light of day. I’ve written a few pilots that have been produced and never went to series.

Are there any that you’re particularly attached to?
There’s this British show called Raised by Wolves that Caitlin Moran created. I wrote an American adaptation of it for ABC, and I really loved that pilot. It didn’t go to series. Honestly, I don’t know if a network was the best place for it because it was about a woman who has like five kids by three different men. I don’t really know if that’s what ABC is trying to do.

One project of yours that I read about and was like, “Oh my God. I really wish this existed.”
Are you going to say Sweet Valley High? Because I wish that existed too.

It was supposed to be a musical.
And incredible songs were written for it by Tom Kitt.

Then what happened?
Oh, just Universal. They just didn’t like it. It’s fine. It happens.

The other project that seemed so ahead of its time and never got made was Girly Style. All I know is it was supposed to be college nerdy girls doing Superbad.
Oh, fuck. Yeah. It was kind of like Booksmart, but it definitely wasn’t as good as Booksmart. It was probably shitty. I don’t know what happened with that one. I couldn’t even tell you who the characters were. I think someone was a squirter.

I feel like squirting is also something that was discussed more in the late ’90s and early aughts, or maybe that’s just when I became aware of it.
Who doesn’t love talking about squirting? I was trying to think of a good novelty plate for my car. I drive this yellow Dodge Challenger. And I was like, “Oh, I’ve got a good one. Squirter.” Isn’t that gross? Can you imagine me getting tailed by the nastiest men on the 101 every day?

I feel like most people would not know what that was in reference to.
You don’t think so?

I don’t know. Maybe in L.A.
Maybe I can get a custom bumper sticker explaining it. Female ejaculatory fluid.

Photo: Dina Litovsky

I’m curious about writing for TV versus writing for movies.
In my case, movies get made. So, that’s the big difference. TV, I’ve really had an uphill battle.

Well, you had two shows. That’s pretty good.
That’s cool. I always wanted to have the watercooler show. And who doesn’t? That was the one thing that was genuinely thrilling about the experience with Juno — being part of the cultural dialogue. I always wanted to write a TV show that many people were discussing the day after it aired, like me and my friends are with Succession, where that’s all we want to talk about. That hasn’t really happened for me. I don’t think people were having, like, urgent Monday-morning discussions about United States of Tara. And people love One Mississippi who’ve seen it, but it’s not part of the greater cultural conversation. So, for me, that’s what I want. I don’t know if that will ever happen.

Do you think you can plan that? I feel like nobody believed in Succession the first season. I loved it from the beginning.
Yeah, me too. I was there from the beginning. I’m totally going to get shit on for this, but don’t you think some of the writing on Succession is a little reminiscent of the writing that I got dragged for early in my career? “You can’t make a Tomlette without breaking some Gregs,” which is my favorite line in the world.

Yeah, they are allowed to go there. That’s interesting.
People thought it was just so glib and obnoxious when I did it, and now people are enjoying it. I don’t know. By the way, I fucking love Succession. Please do not set this up like —

I think it’s very clear that you love Succession. But it is totally true.
Big time. I watched Succession, I’m like, “Did I write this?”

You’ve gotten way less slangy. I wonder if Succession will bring back a desire for wordplay.
I hope so. God knows I wish I could. I didn’t stop being slangy of my volition. I was just tired of being mocked for it. Honestly, I should have doubled down, but I didn’t. Instead I was like, “I’m not going to have anyone speak for the first ten minutes of Young Adult to show people that I’m capable of it.”

You’ve said that, when you wrote Juno, obviously you’d never written a screenplay before, so you weren’t worried about what the reaction was, and so you threw everything in there.
Yeah, man, I had nothing to lose. Are you kidding me? I was just so thrilled to be playing the game I didn’t care at all. That can’t be replicated for anybody.

You should just come up with another name.
I could start over. Don’t think I haven’t considered this.

Okay, here’s the plan: new name, new script, and you send it to the writers’ room of Succession. They have no idea it’s you.
It would be funny if I wrote a Succession spec.

Does it feel just like luck what shows get picked up?
A lot of it is casting. You can write the best script in the fucking world and if you do not have a recognizable name attached, you’re fucked. Especially since now we’re in a world where we have A-listers doing television. You’re competing with projects that have Jennifer Aniston attached. You’re competing with the Paul Rudd show. I have a project right now I can’t talk about yet, but it’s a familiar piece of IP. I’ve been thinking to myself as I’m writing it, Okay. I need to get someone who is very, very cool and 24, a Zendaya-type person to do this.

What decade is it originally from?
The ’90s.

Is it 90210? The O.C.?
I don’t know if you would ever guess. This is one that would surprise you, but it’s in the world of things that are getting made. I’ll put it that way.

Our literary critic, Molly Young, has this theory that all the old IP is being recycled because it was the last time we had a collective consciousness.
I could talk about this shit all day. I think it’s comfort food. I think it’s like tomato bisque. I have found ways to write a commentary on that into this script, which I have written already, because I just thought there has to be a way to talk about reboot culture within a reboot. Hopefully, it’s not too meta.

Please tell me it’s Buffy.
I would get crucified if I did Buffy. I got approached about that Heathers TV show that they did. I was like, “Fuck no, because I love Heathers and people will hate me.”

That show got a lot of criticism. Turns out a show about teen suicide and blowing up a school might not play well right now. Maybe the context is a little different now.
Yeah, the context is changing constantly. I do think Juno is a … I don’t know why I keep talking about Juno. It’s a million years ago. Juno is a pro-choice movie, but I probably wouldn’t make a movie with that narrative now.

Because abortion didn’t feel under threat then?
It didn’t feel threatened in the least.

You’ve said that’s part of the reason you wanted to do that Juno table reading as a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.
Oh yeah, it was really important to me. I think that Jason Reitman did a magnificent job directing that movie, but then I don’t think the script has aged particularly well.

The one thing that stuck out to me, and I found this in a couple of your scripts, are these “That’s so gay” jokes. It really surprised me.
I mean, think about how prevalent that was then. Think about The 40-Year-Old Virgin, how there were those runs of “How I know you’re gay.” People were just laughing their asses off. That was just part of the dialogue. By the way, I’m not making excuses for myself. That’s fucking atrocious. Major regrets. But yeah, at the time, nobody thought that was offensive or that could potentially hurt somebody, and now? Oh my God.

It does feel like we’ve gotten more conscious about how a joke might make other people feel.
I’m happy. The more sensitive and quote-unquote PC people become the better is the way I see it. I’m thoroughly on this side of evolution and growth.

As a mother of three boys, do you think about how to make them good feminists?
We have a lot of conversations about consent in my home. It’s funny because it backfires on me sometimes when a child will scream in my face something like, “Mom, I didn’t consent to having sunscreen put on my nose.”

I feel parenting brings out the inner totalitarian.
For real, you do realize, I actually have to make decisions for this person and I do have autonomy over their body and it’s kind of fucked up.

Do you worry that your kids will get too L.A?
Constantly. It’s already happened. Life is too easy for them, even the weather. I feel I was forged in snow. Every day, it’s warm. They’re encouraged to express themselves and be inquisitive and not be ashamed of their bodies. We talk openly about sex and how it’s okay and, I mean, give me a break. They are soft.

You need to give them some struggle.
What they need is a little bit of shame. They’re not having a shame-based upbringing and I think it might be to their detriment.

Some things should be repressed.
A little bit, right? I have made parenting mistakes, by the way. The biggest mistake I made is, because I always said I was never going to censor my language around my children, I wasn’t going to censor their language — you know what happens if you do that? You have a 3-year-old walking around the house being like, “Fuck my life,” because he dropped his sippy cup. I have regrets about that.

In your early interviews you would often say you don’t have ambitions.
I didn’t. I still don’t.

Do you think that’s self-protective?
No. I don’t know why. I’ve just never had a really strong drive. I work because I enjoy it, you know? So much of it has just been selfish. I’d be doing writing even if I wasn’t being paid to do it. I don’t have a lot of big dreams beyond what I’ve accomplished. I would love to say, “Oh, I think I’m afraid of success,” or like, “I’m protecting myself by not endeavoring to be the next Martin Scorsese,” but I don’t want to be. I am really not an alpha female. I think that’s actually disappointing to some people because we don’t see women getting the opportunity to be the alpha. So I think people wanted that from me. They saw an outspoken woman with a strong point of view, and they thought, Okay, so become an auteur. Create big things. That’s not really my inclination.

Is Jill Soloway that kind of person in your mind? She was producer of United States of Tara.
Yeah, I fucking love Jill. Jill 100 percent. It’s given me such satisfaction to watch them succeed, because Jill desperately wanted to direct an episode of Tara and was not allowed to. It’s hilarious to me in retrospect, because I’m like, “See? You guys were wrong.”

How does “You’re not allowed to direct this” actually play out?
The producers said no. That’s how it goes down. I didn’t have enough power. I wasn’t the showrunner. Nobody listens to me anyway.

One Vulture editor has this theory that, for TV especially, the woman-driven projects like One Mississippi get canceled more quickly.
I don’t know. I’ll say that an outspoken female creator is definitely up against something. People don’t like that. That includes women, by the way. For some reason, people are willing to deal with angry Dad, but angry Mom is terrifying.

Speaking of things that stress out publicists, how was your working relationship with Louis C.K. on One Mississippi?
He came out with us to pitch the show, which was at the time thrilling, because having someone like him in the room who had so much power and who could sell the show was great for us. I had a cordial relationship with him. I wasn’t involved with him day-to-day. I don’t know him socially. I haven’t spoken to him since all the shit went down.

How did his association with the show affect what you were doing?
You know, you’re literally the first person to ask me about this, which is interesting. I thought for sure that, when all that stuff broke, someone was going to reach out to me and ask me about it, and nobody did. I was like, Phew.

Well, now you’re in the hot seat.
Now I’m in the hot seat. Obviously you don’t want that association. But you know what’s interesting is everyone already kind of knew. I feel like that story had been regurgitated for years. So, it’s fascinating to me that suddenly people gave a shit. There was a change in the culture, a welcome change, but I feel like I was complicit myself because I had heard that. I had heard that story before I went in to pitch with him.

Once that came out, I know Tig was just like, “Off with you.”
Yeah, Tig was just … scorched earth.

Did you two talk about that?
Yeah, we talked about it, for sure. That was one time where I was actually relieved to not be on Twitter as well, because I thought as a woman in Hollywood who everybody can assume has been through some shit, people are going to want to hear all my #MeToo horror stories, and I don’t really feel like dragging them out.

Do you want to drag them out now?
I don’t want to talk about that stuff. I respect the people that do, but for me, it’s like, Use your imagination. When I first came to Hollywood, my image was so overtly sexual. I was this known sex worker. So the energy surrounding me in those meetings was often a “You’re one of the guys” kind of vibe.

When you say you were treated like one of the guys, what do you mean?
Nobody felt that they needed to be on their best behavior around me. I wasn’t wife material. I don’t know how else to describe the vibe. The attitude surrounding me was, “She’s an ex-stripper. We can’t shock her. We can’t offend this one.”

Did you enjoy that or did you feel kind of exploited by it?
At the time in my career, in a personal context, yes, I enjoyed that. In a career context, I was just in survival mode. I honestly would have put up with anything to have the opportunity to stay at the table. And I did. I mean, I can’t tell you how many things I laughed at that could have made me burst into tears. I can’t tell you how many meetings I went to on studio lots — legitimate meetings — where a man would just ask me 35 questions about the Champagne room. At the time, I did not see anything wrong with it because I honestly felt that I had earned it. I thought, “My reputation precedes me, I don’t deserve to be treated with respect. I’m just lucky to be here.” But then I’ve also obviously have been in experiences where I was intimidated or harassed or grabbed or whatever. I mean, we all have.

I get not speaking up. I don’t know I would be that brave. But then does it feel like you’re letting these dudes off the hook?
You know what? I would be punished in equal measure. It’s the same reason Megan Fox doesn’t like to talk about these experiences, because we both feel that we wouldn’t be seen as credible. I know there are a lot of people who genuinely think that I deserve any sexual harassment or sexualized criticism that I receive because I was a stripper.

So if your movies tend to be about personal transformation, is there an in-your-40s transformation movie to be made?
Hell yeah. Oh my God. Are you kidding me? I’m going to go to town on menopause. That’s going to be my opus. I am fascinated with the concept of the female midlife crisis, because I feel like it hasn’t been explored at all. There is no American Beauty for women. Where’s the female Lester Burnham?

Have you written this yet?
No. I’m living it. I drive a fucking muscle car. I am deep in crisis.

You’re going to go back on the stripper pole now.
Oh my God. And I would, too. It’s a very real thing, especially for me because my youngest is going to kindergarten next year. My entire 30s I was just having kids. Now I am looking around and remembering who I used to be before all that went down. Obviously I’m not done parenting, but I’m done with the diapers and the strollers and all that stuff. It’s thrilling, and it’s scary. I’m like, “Who am I? Oh, I remember who I was.” I was 31 when I got pregnant with Marcello. I almost feel like I’m regressing to 31 again, like none of that ever happened. I hope that my 40s are fruitful. I do have this scary thought sometimes, like, Oh, what if all the professional highs are completely behind me? And I’d be okay with that, but I’d like to have one more shot. I’m so fucking defeatist. I’m just like, This is it. Take me out back and shoot me.

This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.

*A version of this article appears in the November 11, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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Cody began blogging in her early 20s. It was her blog, the Pussy Ranch, that first got her noticed by Hollywood producer Mason Novick, who became her longtime collaborator. Ellen Page. Juno would eventually gross $231 million worldwide. That’s an actual headline from the New York Times at Juno’s release. A leopard-print Dior dress with jewel-encrusted skull-and-crossbones earrings. Gawker called the ensemble “tackiness exemplified.” Slate said she looked like a “grown-up Pebbles Flinstone.” She also caught flak for daring to pair the dress with flats, not heels. Cody was working at an advertising agency when she decided to take up stripping and later turned the yearlong experience into a memoir, Candy Girl. Steven Spielberg tapped Cody to write the script for the Showtime dramedy starring Toni Collette as a mother struggling with dissociative identity disorder. Collette would earn an Emmy for the role, but the show was canceled after three seasons. Beyoncé’s alter ego on her 2008 album, I Am … Sasha Fierce. The first single from Jagged Little Pill, “You Oughta Know,” is a scorched-earth lament from an ex-lover made infamous by a dirty line about what she used to do to him in a theater. It’s significantly harder than the rest of the album thanks to guest appearances by Flea and then–Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro. The song, ironically (and famously), doesn’t contain any actual ironies. In the musical, the song becomes a poem Frankie reads to her English class and for which she is roundly mocked. “If I knew more than ten people were gonna hear this,” Morissette said of “Ironic” in 2015, “I would’ve been a stickler instead of being shamed publicly, planetarily, for 20 years.” In the 2018 movie, Charlize Theron plays a mother experiencing a psychological break after the birth of her third child. Before it was even released, an online essay argued that her portrayal of postpartum depression was too triggering: “Had I went to see it, I know that it would have triggered me and upset me quite a bit,” argued one preemptive critic. The story of a popular teen girl who goes on a demonic rampage eating boys, Jennifer’s Body was panned by critics (sample: a “gruesome paint-by-bloody-numbers succubus story”) and grossed just $31.6 million worldwide. During the press tour for Jennifer’s Body, Fox spoke openly about how difficult it was working for Bay, calling him a tyrant on set. Later, she would reveal that to audition for Transformers, she was asked to wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. The self-named Fempire consists of Cody and her screenwriter/director friends, Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Dana Fox (Couples Retreat), and Liz Meriwether (New Girl). The foursome have been friends for over a decade. Jason Reitman, who directed three of Cody’s scripts: Juno, Young Adult, and Tully. The 2013, direct-to-video movie starred Julianne Hough, who, after suffering severe burns in a plane crash, sheds her religious upbringing and sets off for Las Vegas to dabble in sinfulness with the help of Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the 2015 movie tells the story of an aging rocker, played by Meryl Streep, who is forced to confront the family she left behind to pursue her rock dreams. Rick Springfield plays her lead-guitarist lover. The Tony- and Pulitzer-winning composer behind Next to Normal and American Idiot, Kitt also did the arrangements for Jagged Little Pill.
Diablo Cody on the Fempire and Her Alanis Morissette Musical