Diablo Cody | Interview
Diablo Cody plays with identity-on TV as in life.
Born Brook Busey, Diablo Cody—yes, “former stripper”—published a book about her sex-work experiences, Candy Girl, in 2005. A little over two years later, the Lemont, Illinois, native won an Oscar for her screenplay Juno. Now she’s writing for the small screen: Based on an idea by Steven Spielberg, the new Showtime series United States of Tara stars Toni Collette as a mom with dissociative identity (i.e., multiple personality) disorder, whose various identities unfold before us. We gave Cody a call.
Time Out Chicago: How’s your day going?
Diablo Cody: I just woke up. I don’t normally wake up at 11, but I was up really late last night—you know, writing, burning the midnight oil.
TOC: I thought you’d say, “Out partying.”
Diablo Cody: I’m just kidding. I was out partying.
TOC: So, Tara—how does that happen? Spielberg calls up and says, “I’ve got this idea I want you to write”?
Diablo Cody: That was exactly what happened. At that point Juno hadn’t been produced yet. People had mentioned to me, “Oh, you would love television. It’s a writer’s medium.” Little did I know “writer’s medium” translates to “the writer has to work extra super hard.”
TOC: I wonder how the show’s premise of inventing personalities resonates with you personally: going from Brook Busey to Diablo Cody.
Diablo Cody: I’m glad you asked this because I’m constantly trying to introduce this theme in interviews, and nobody wants to run with it. The idea completely resonates with me because—hang on. [Off phone] No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. [Back on] Sorry.
TOC: I hope you’re talking to your dog.
Diablo Cody: I am talking to my dog. [Laughs] He’s new and a rescue. No, it totally resonates with me because I have a persona that I can hide behind and observe.
TOC: You’ve said before, “There’s a lot written about me being totally candid and outrageous when I’m actually pretty cagey.”
Diablo Cody: Very much. It’s very easy to masquerade as a candid, exhibitionistic person, but I’m really not. My actual life never gets written about.
TOC: Because it’s just mundane?
Diablo Cody: No, it’s pretty exciting. I’ve got stories that’ll make people’s heads spin. I can’t wait till I’m, like, 67 and dripping with jewelry and I can write my memoirs. I’m good at deciding what to share and what to keep to myself. Blog culture has nurtured that—people are getting better at controlled sharing.
TOC: Is the show’s take on dissociative identity disorder pure fantasy?
Diablo Cody: Oh, my God, no, it is absolutely not fantasy. It was really important to me that we meet people who have DID, that we talk to experts.
TOC: In the pilot, Tara takes on two identities: the smart-alecky, randy teen T and Buck the Southern hick. Both strong stock types.
Diablo Cody: There are plenty of people whose alters are strong stock types. They’re often protectors, and the person dissociates to hide. As a woman, there are times when if I feel threatened, I wish I could be an alpha male. With T, everybody wants to be juvenile and escape responsibility. They’re archetypes.
TOC: What do you make of the media’s fascination with your stripping past?
Diablo Cody: I can’t fault someone from, like, Akron for wanting to write about that. It’s sensationalistic. You get more page views if you consistently refer to me as a former stripper.
TOC: It’s always “Diablo Cody, former stripper.”
Diablo Cody: Which doesn’t bother me. [Candy Girl] saved me from a life of processing insurance claims, so I certainly don’t regret it. I never voluntarily bring up the stripping thing—ever. But it would be really hypocritical if I didn’t talk about it when prompted.
TOC: Does it smack a bit of: She’s a pole dancer and she can think, too?
Diablo Cody: [Laughs] You know what’s funny? People accuse women writers and comedians of using their sexuality to get ahead, and then in the same breath this vitriolic asshole will say, “She’s ugly.” You can’t have it both ways. You either need to be fair and feminist or you can be an asshole.
TOC: In your blog response to your critics last September, you wrote, “I don’t deserve to be here. We’ve established that. But I’m here—”
Diablo Cody: Definitely not. With the exception of a searing talent like Meryl Streep, so many people don’t deserve to be here.
TOC: What exactly were the criticisms that got you so riled up?
Diablo Cody: It wasn’t actual criticism, because that I can deal with. I’ll take a million haters over one sycophant any day. But what upset me was it seemed like more than one journalist had written about me like I was Sarah Palin, this nationwide object of scorn. I don’t think people know how to write about me. I’m a really weird person and a difficult subject, and people don’t know what to say.
TOC: So what should they say?
Diablo Cody: Here’s the thing: Most women with sex work in their past would be apologetic about it. They would issue a lame-ass PR statement about how it was a different time in their life. It wasn’t a different time in my life. I’m still that person. I’m unapologetic. People do not like that.
United States of Tara premieres January 18 at 9pm on Showtime.