Seven years after her Oscar-winning debut screenplay, “Juno,” won the hearts of critics and audiences, Diablo Cody is marking her first time as a director with the new comedy-drama, “Paradise,” which is now available on VOD and iTunes and will open in limited theaters on Oct. 18.
In “Paradise,” which Cody also wrote, Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) shocks her small Montana-based town by publicly renouncing her faith and belief in God, after a plane crash burns over two-thirds of her body. She sets off for Las Vegas with a list of sins she wants to commit. While there, she meets a bartender (Russell Brand) and a lounge singer (Octavia Spencer) who help her along the way.
The Chico Movie Examiner recently conducted an over-the-phone interview with Cody about the film; what it was like to direct for the first time; and why she might not be doing it again anytime soon.
Check out the full interview below.
Warning: There are quite a few spoilers about “Paradise” throughout the interview.
David Wangberg: One of the scenes in the movie has Lamb talking about how she’s never been exposed to pop culture, and one character goes, “Oh, you’re so lucky.” Was that a commentary on how much society is exposed to it?
Diablo Cody: No, it was a commentary about how people’s strutter drives authenticity so much these days. And I think that the hipsters in that bar were so steep in pop culture and social media that they just had total fatigue of it. So, they saw Lamb as somebody who was very unspoiled and authentic and real, and they were jealous of her for it.
DW: Yeah, I know that we’re exposed to a lot of it every day through news and the entertainment industry, so I didn’t know if it was a commentary on that or something else.
DC: I love pop culture; I would never want to be sheltered from that stuff. I’m on Twitter every day; I watch TV; I have an unfortunate addiction to celebrity gossip. It wasn’t me commenting on pop culture being toxic; it was more like me making fun of people that strive for that kind of authenticity. I have friends who are always like, “Oh, no screens!” or “Let’s turn our phones off this weekend!” And it’s like, “Really?” No, I’m not interested in being disconnected from that stuff; I live it.
DW: I’m on my phone all the time – not just for pop culture purposes. I’ll read up on it every now and then just to see what’s going on in the entertainment world, because I am an entertainment reporter after all. [laughs]
DC: Right? [laughs]
DW: I know a lot of your films are all original projects, and you draw some kind of inspiration from your life. Was there any in this film as well?
DC: I have to say that this one… obviously, every script I write is personal. But in this case, it wasn’t based on anything that has happened to me. But I just feel that idea of surviving a trauma and feeling like you’ve been transformed irreparably was a universal theme. I think a lot of people have friends or somebody in their life, and they know that they’re not the same afterward. And the question becomes, “How can you continue on and be positive?”
DW: Here, you treat Vegas almost differently than what we’re used to in other movies like “The Hangover” and the new one coming out, “Last Vegas.”
DC: I keep joking that this is the “anti-‘Hangover.’”
DW: [laughs] So, it’s where she would go to find herself and be reborn in a way?
DC: Well, I think she’s been raised being told that Vegas is “Sin City.” And what better place to be for somebody who’s actively pursuing sin? For her, it’s just the logical place to go. I mean, she even gets excited when she goes to the bar and it says “SIN” in the window, because that’s where she thinks she’s going to find it when – in fact – it stands for “service industry night.”
DW: In a sense, it’s almost like… this is kind of a strange example… but I was thinking that this is almost her own “Divine Comedy.” She starts off in her hometown, and she thinks it’s hell. She goes to Vegas because she hears it’s great, but it turns out to be more like purgatory. Then, she goes back to her hometown, because it’s paradise for her.
DC: Totally! I mean, paradise for her is balance – the idea that she can be a wholesome, spiritual person but break away from some of the judgmental stuff that she was taught as a child. And it’s pretty obvious in a lot of the imagery in the movie, but I was really inspired by “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s just one of my favorite movies of my whole life – and the idea that going somewhere that seems very beautiful and bright when, in fact, it’s kind of scary and awful. [laughs]
DW: [laughs] I know you’ve worked with Jason Reitman a couple of times for his films. Did he give you any tips on how to be a director?
DC: Jason has always been really helpful to me. I always say though that I couldn’t learn much from him. To me, it’s like someone who has never played basketball before being brought into the gymnasium with Michael Jordan and watching Michael Jordan for a few minutes, and then somebody goes, “OK. You see how it works. Now you try it.” Jason is such a natural, and he is so exceptionally talented at what he does, and I knew my process wasn’t going to be as simple as what Jason does. I’m not him – I’m very, very new – and, really, I was learning my basketball fundamentals, so to speak, and I was learning to dribble and shoot.
DW: For the ones that you just wrote, were you on set all the time or just some of the time?
DC: I was on set as much as I could be. And I was really lucky because I’ve known writers who weren’t even allowed on sets. I was very fortunate that for my first movie, which was “Juno,” Jason [Reitman] let me hang around. And then on “Jennifer’s Body,” I was an executive producer so, of course, I was there. I’ve logged a lot of set hours, but it’s different when you’re directing.
DW: Yeah, because when you’re directing, you’re there every day when all the actors are there.
DC: Oh, yeah – all the time. If they’re shooting, you’re there.
DW: Since this is your first time directing a feature film, did you have any nervous feelings, or since you have been working with others, did it not feel that bad?
DC: Oh, no. I was so scared. Oh, my goodness – I was terrified. I would be terrified if you put me on a set tomorrow. It’s [nerve-racking] when you’re doing something new, and it’s not like sitting there writing a script, where it’s a solitary pursuit and it’s just up to you. You have a bunch of people who are looking to you for guidance every day. There are a lot of decisions to make, and you’re a boss. And I’ve never really seen myself as a natural leader; I don’t really like telling people what to do, and I like to spend most of my time alone, frankly. So – just being surrounded by people and being an authority figure – that was very intimidating for me.
DW: Were you able to allow the actors to ad-lib anything that they wanted to do for the movie?
DC: Oh, totally. I’ve always been a big fan of ad-libbing. If an actor can make a line funnier or better, why wouldn’t you let them do it? Because then you get to take credit for that. [laughs] They don’t put a little asterisk in the script saying the actor made it up, so I’m a big fan of ad-libbing; I love it when people want to collaborate, or if they want to change the scene, and I have no problem telling I have the worst scenes ever. I’m not precious about my writing.
DW: I know that you wrote a draft for the “Evil Dead” remake that just came out, but I don’t think they used it for the movie, correct?
DC: I did what you would call an un-credited rewrite, which is like you go in; do some work on it; and it’s understood that you’re not going to be credited. I did, like, two weeks on it; it wasn’t a big job.
DW: Oh, well, one of the questions I was going to ask is, if you had a whole script, would you release your version of it?
DC: No. [laughs] I wish. It would be cool to be able to see the Diablo Cody version of “The Evil Dead,” but that isn’t out there. It was more like a scene or two, or a line or two, of mine in the one by Fede [Alvarez] and Rodo [Sayagues].
DW: I know you do a bunch of original stories, but do you plan on adapting a book that you like or remaking a film that you like?
DC: I don’t plan on directing again anytime soon – but definitely writing. I would love to write an adaptation of a book. I did, actually; I wrote “Sweet Valley High,” which I always feel like we’re just a breath away from getting green lit. Hopefully, that will happen.
DW: So, no more directing in the near future?
DC: Not in the near future, because I have really small children. And, to me, directing took me away from my son for a very long time. He was with me, but I wasn’t able to be fully present, and that hurt. I don’t think it’s something that I’m ready to do until both of them are older.
DW: Do you have any other projects that you’re doing at the moment?
DC: Yeah, I do. I’m working on a couple of TV pilots, actually. I would love to get a series on the air; that’s a good job for a mom.
This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Diablo Cody for taking the time to talk about “Paradise.”