Director's Cut: Diablo Cody ('Paradise')


Diablo Cody likes plenty of things: Writing, leopard print, vintage Destiny's Child jams and coining cultural catchphrases ("honest to blog," anyone?) all make the list. Directing, however, may not make the final cut.

Cody, who won an Oscar for her debut screenplay "Juno" and can even make idle chat about the weather funny ("It's raining, kinda cozy," she told me. "People are completely melting down over the f**king rain. Like people are, ugh. I swear to God [they're acting like] it's a f**king F5 tornado. Dude, people in Los Angeles, because it drizzled. It's very dramatic."), takes a seat in the director's chair for the first time on "Paradise," out in limited release and VOD October 18. (She also wrote the script for the feature.) As the first-time director told in a recent interview, she mostly did it because she felt that she should. That she didn't catch the bug while directing the project, which stars Julianne Hough as Lamb, a conservative religious girl who shuns her Montana upbringing and heads to Vegas to live in actual sin after a near-fatal accident, disappointed her, because, as Cody said, "everybody wants to be a director."

First-time (and possibly last-time) directorial jitters aside, Cody said that she's proud of the movie, which also boasts Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer as the kind-hearted Vegasians who lead little Lamb astray in various nightclubs, tattoo parlors and zipline tourist attractions (you'll see) Sin City has to offer. We also got her to open up about fighting her innate slacker instincts, how "19 Kids and Counting" inspired her and the time she was almost on "Dancing With the Stars."

FILM.COM: Congratulations on "Paradise," it's so funny and sweet.

DIABLO CODY: Oh, that's nice of you to say. Thanks.

This was your directorial debut, as well as your script. How are you feeling about the movie now that it's finally coming out? Are you nervous about reactions?

I swear to God, this has been the most drawn out process. I don't think I've ever had so much time between wrap and release. So I'm like "let's get this movie out there, let's see what people think," and then let's move forward.

Right, push it out the door and see if it flies.

I -- seriously! -- this is always my attitude. By the time something is finally released, like at that stage, I'm kind of know..I don't wanna say over it, because that's not accurate, but I'm thinking about the next thing, or I'm trying to get something else produced. So it feels like, this feels like the end of a journey as opposed to the beginning. But for everyone else it's the beginning. Yeah.

But for you, it's yesterday's news.

Yeah. Like, you wanna see that movie?! My old movie?! No.

When you wrote "United States of Tara," was that weird to get reactions to new episodes week to week, or did you prefer it?

That's exciting because there's immediacy. Like you're writing things, it gets shot and it's out there. I think that's why some of the best writing is on television, is because it has that current energy to it. So yeah, actually that was fun for me. Although that was a lot of work and for somebody who identifies as a slacker...years after it was cool to say so. You know, that was the challenge.

It seems like if you write a TV show and you have a bad day, you're screwed. There's a little more give to movies.

Oh, you're totally f**ked all the time with series television. There's always something due. I can't tell you how many time I had to turn an episode around in like two days.

That sounds like a nightmare.

Yeah, it was scary. Although it's good training for a writer.

What drove you the director's chair for this movie? Was it something about this script in particular, or was it always something you had been wanting to try?

I never wanted to try it. Like, I told friends of mine that were directors that I had absolutely no interest in doing it. I told ["Juno" director] Jason Reitman like a hundred times I didn't wanna do it and I think the reason for that is because I was very spoiled by these present collaborations that I had with great directors. There was really no reason for me to do it because I kept being lucky enough to work with people who respect the writing and included me in the process and so I was having all this fun with none of the stress. I think with this one, I just I felt like this was my fourth feature and I'm ready to, to see what it's like. You know, at that point the curiosity got the better of me. So I thought, you know, this isn't that huge of an undertaking. [The script is] a small, personal story. It's people having conversations, you know, there's no elaborate battles.

Nothing explodes.

Yeah! Nothing explodes! That would've scared the s**t out of me, but in this case it was like, alright, you know, I think I can handle a conversation in a bar. But you know, for me, a conversation in a bar is like shooting the Battle of Waterloo. Because I was so stressed out on set. I was just having a heart attack every day.

So is directing a try it once and move on thing for you? Is this your escargot?

I keep saying this is my maximum overdrive. You know, like everything, try it once. But no, I mean, I learned during this process that I truly love writing and it's not something that I can live without doing. And I love to produce and I love to develop projects with other writers. I don't think directing is my strongest skill, but I'm glad I did it.

So you don't love directing?

I do not love directing, no. But it's a bummer because everybody wants to be a director. But I'm totally aware of that. So many people, particularly in Los Angeles, it's the dream. So you know, I feel super privileged that I had the opportunity to do it. I am grateful for the opportunity every single day but it's like...I don't think I have the leadership qualities required to be a great director. I really think I am a sit on the couch in pajama pants writing person.

Do you think it would have been easier or harder to direct someone else's script? Are you precious with your own work? That seems like it could make directing more of a task.

No! You know, I've never been precious with my script which is why I like working with other directors. People have rewritten entire scenes of mine and I've been cool with it. You know, I think it's all on surface with the movie. You want it to be better. If an actress can make the line better, let them do it. I don't know if it would have been easier or harder to direct someone else's script. Maybe I should try it. I might like that better.

Maybe if you're not quite as invested in it you can relax a little, maybe not.

Yeah, maybe. I guess that was a lot. I have to say I was really invested in it because obviously, you know, I wrote it. But I was just consumed with self doubt constantly.

Were you inspired by anything in particular to write the story?

I'm very interested in...I don't want to say..I don't know, how do I put this carefully? I really don't want people to get the wrong idea about this movie because this movie is meant to be this uplifting, sweet, pro-spirituality movie. I am a spiritual person. So this movie isn't like, you know, everybody who believes in God needs to renounce their faith and run off to Vegas, because I think ultimately Lamb comes back to her faith and I think that she's healed in some way at the end of the movie. Alright, that was a really roundabout answer to your question.

Here: I'm interested in people who are isolated in some way from mainstream culture because I feel like, especially with social media, there's just these constant nonstop 24/7 conversations about TV. You know, "Breaking Bad," f**king everything. There's constant chatter, so how does a person who's completely cut off from that stuff function? Do they have like a, do they still posses like, a retro brain? Do they still think the way a person might have thought prior to all that s**t? I just thought, you know, I wanna take someone who's totally sheltered from all that static and put her in a really over-stimulating environment.

Kind of the same reason people are obsessed with like "Breaking Amish" and all that.

Yeah! Oh my God! Yes! Like "Breaking Amish" or "19 Kids and Counting," which was totally a costume inspiration for me. You know, those long denim skirts like those girls always wear, I had to put one of those on Lamb.

You're like, "this is gonna be a Duggar look."

Totally! Oh my God, I'm so into the Duggars. I tweeted the other day that if one of the Duggars wants to leave they can come live in my house.

I was about to say, it seems like you're you're someone who would be pretty interested in reality TV. Did you ever watch Julianne on "Dancing With The Stars"?

I feel so bad that I never did. And it's weird because Dancing with the Stars easily would be my favorite show because I love dancing, I love stars. I love anything that sort of hearkens back to the cheesy seventies solid gold age programming. But I had never actually seen, I was so unfamiliar about Julianne in general. I barely knew anything about her when I cast her in this movie. I just knew she was perfect.

And, of course, she has great hair.

She has amazing hair.

Which is why I assume you cast her.

Yeah, I have to say the hair, there was some stunt hair being used in our film. And, yeah, quite a bit in fact, quite a bit. But yeah, she does have amazing hair. I'm always like, I wanna go to hairdresser and get that little choppy bob that she has right now. And then I'm like, you're not gonna f**king pull that off, honey. I don't have a button nose and dimples like Julianne but, yeah, she's amazing.

You have danced with zero stars. You're no Julianne Hough.

Did you know that I got offered that show in like 2008?

Are you serious?

Yeah, and I said no because I was trying to hang on to some, like, some imagined hipster credibility. I should have f**king done it. How funny would that be?

Would you do it now?

No! Do you know why I wouldn't do it now? Because I've had two kids and my body is so busted and, like, I cannot imagine getting out there in, like, tan nylons and having America judge my saddlebags. That's the only reason I wouldn't do it now. But I'm not a star and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't ask me now. I think my star has dimmed. But it's crazy. I should have said yes.

You could pull a Beyonce and wear like three pairs of panty hose.

That's what she does?


That's honestly like maybe three pairs of panty hose at least to keep my s**t in check. I don't know.

And what did your cast bring to this? It's a very personal story, so really only having three people in it, you have to choose those very carefully.

Yeah, I mean I kinda, like I try not to agonize over decisions. I'm a very decisive person. I just say yes or no and I knew that Julianne was the perfect Lamb. I knew that immediately. I went to an early screening of "Footloose" before it came out and there's this scene at the very beginning that shows her kind of before she's become the town bad girl. She's just kind of cowering at the back of the church and I was like, oh my God, this is perfect. Russell was in kind of an unexpected hire for me because I had never, I hadn't written the character British. I haven't thought of him as having that kind of Russell Brand Byronic quality. And then Russell came and talked to me about the script and he was so smart and so thoughtful and such a sensitive and wonderful guy and I just, I am so in love with him like every female does. And cast him and I'm very glad that I did.

We actually read a lot of people for Loray and it was like, there's just no question, like Octavia is undeniable. She's really amazing and incredible funny, like someone needs to give her a big comedy.

I liked that you guys touched on the on "I'm your magical black friend" thing and kind of got that out of the way.

Well yeah, I mean, it was cracking me up writing the script because I was like, you can't win in that scenario. If Julianne is helping Octavia then people are like, "oh, this is like 'The Help'" or like, "of course the white lady is changing the black lady's life" and then if you have Octavia helping Julianne it's like, "oh, the black female character only exists to help the white girl." So, the literally cannot help each other in any capacity without it offending people. So I just thought like, you know what, you're f**ked either way. Like, I can't write a relationship between a white character and a black character without somebody being mad. So it's like, let them do what they do and let them comment on it.

Russell Brand was also so incredibly charming. I was positively surprised, because I think seeing the Katy Perry documentary made me biased--

Oh! We can't talk about this because I'm the world's biggest number one Katy Perry fan. So like, I have to play both sides, if that's alright.

You know which part I'm talking about.

Yeah, I know what you mean.

And are you a Vegas fan? Not everyone is.

The biggest. Like I love Las Vegas so much. Like, even after shooting there, which you would think would ruin your relationship with Las Vegas. I really, I really love spending time there. It's probably my favorite place to spend a weekend. I don't go there very often anymore.

In the movie, they zipline over a bunch of tourists on the Strip. Have you ever done that, or is it too touristy for you?

I really wanted to because obviously we had it to ourselves when we shot it. And I couldn't because I was pregnant. Everybody was like please dont do the zipline and I was like really, what's going to happen? Yeah, but I didn't, I didn't do it on orders from people in front.

How pregnant were you?

At that time probably like 5 months.

So pretty firmly pregnant.

Yeah, I mean you could definitely tell that I was pregnant, although I'm one of those people that I look like I'm nine months pregnant the entire time.

Shut up!

Seriously, like, I always have just the biggest belly. So, it was, yeah, I think one day Russell referred to me as "hugely pregnant" and this was really early in the shoot and I was like, you realize I'm like first trimester.

And if you were casting this movie with '80s stars, who would you cast?

AHHHHHHHH! [laughing] Oh my god! Mare Winningham as Lamb. I mean, c'mon! I think Judd Nelson as in the Russell role. And then, hmmm, as Loray, I would literally think like...a young Whoopi?

Oh, that's good.

I mean, did I just nail it or what?

You can read our full review of "Paradise" here.