‘I don’t get asked questions about stripping anymore—which is a relief,” beams Diablo Cody. Understandably. Cody spent one year on the pole, and a whole lot longer on her knees at a Roman Catholic school, where the priests had old-world accents and made young Diablo attend mass before class every morning at 8:10, and then again on Sundays.
Diablo—then just prom queen Brook Busey—knew hardcore Christianity wasn’t for her. “There was a lot of blatant sexism and bigotry being spewed during the sermons,” she says. But instead of railing against religion, as you might expect from someone who essentially rechristened herself ‘Devil,’ she’s empathetic. “The country has become so divided that people who are spiritual are just automatically painted as stupid and ignorant and bigoted,” Cody sighs. “I still believe in God, and I get mocked by my friends for this.”
Over a diner breakfast in Studio City, where Cody and her husband, Daniel Maurio, an actor on Chelsea Lately, relocated from Laurel Canyon after the birth of their second child (“We succumbed to the siren call of the valley. You can walk down the street and not get hit by a Porsche”), she digs into her concerns about Christianity. Tentatively. “Kevin Smith got into a lot of trouble when he did Dogma,” says Cody. “I’m worried about my kids, and people are crazy.” She’s concerned for the moderates, the reasonable believers who have been pushed out of the national conversation. And she’s especially concerned for young girls raised in fundamentalist families who haven’t had their own chance to rebel.
“I respect other people’s religions, but I think it’s pretty obvious when it’s the patriarchy operating under the guise of a religion,” says Cody, pointing to the Duggars of TLC’s 19 and Counting who believe that women should be continually pregnant. Earlier this month, she tweeted to their fourth-oldest daughter, “We have a spare bedroom waiting for you in L.A., Jinger Duggar.” Alas, Jinger isn’t on Twitter. But maybe she’ll hear of Cody’s directorial debut, Paradise, a more ambitious attempt to reach both girls like Jinger and the indie-movie–loving intellectuals who write off devout women like her as brainwashed simpletons.
Paradise stars Julianne Hough as a sheltered Christian named Lamb who disavows God after a disfiguring plane crash leaves her arms and legs severely burnt. Where’s a good girl to go when she wants start sinning? Vegas, duh, where her new friends Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer are as amazed that she’s never tried booze as she is that they chug it every day. Despite dissecting faith and God-talk, which most films avoid like a plague of locusts, Paradise is a sweet—not cynical—story that Cody prays will make people smile. “Instead of wanting to shoot themselves, which is how test audiences felt about Young Adult,” she deadpans.
Hough, a pocket-sized country singer and ballroom dancer, was willing to go even darker. Raised Mormon in Utah, where her father was the chairman of the Republican Party, she was booted from the church after a divorce in her family.
“She understands what it’s like to be judged by a religious community,” says Cody. “I think the script spoke to her because of that.” While Cody struggled—and failed—to convince her producers that Lamb should have more facial scars, Hough begged to strip off her waist-length blonde wig and shave her head. Laughs Cody, “She was like, ‘I think her hair would have burned off.’ I said, ‘Honey, I agree. But we’ll never get to make that movie.'”
Brand, however, wasn’t game to mess with his looks. At one point, Cody attempted to convince him to chop off his shoulder-length locks for a normal-person hairdo. “That didn’t go well.”
No matter. She had bigger things on her mind, like trying to finish shooting and post-production before her second son was born. “I peed constantly,” she confesses. “Twenty-seven times in one day—I was counting because it became so comical.” And then her water broke before she could complete editing and re-shoots, leading to a surreal moment at 5 a.m. on top of Vegas’s Palms Casino, where Cody directed a tender scene between Hough and Brand while attached to a noisy breast pump. “It sounded like a Gregorian chant,” she says.”Whaaaooooouuuuummmm—really ominous and super creepy.”
After Juno, the big question for the Oscar-winning screenwriter was: Did she want to direct? No. And now that she has, she doesn’t want to do it again. “I never would have directed in the first place if I hadn’t felt obligated to increase the number of female directors by putting myself in that position,” Cody insists. “I have no idea how somebody makes a movie like Saving Private Ryan. Are you fucking kidding me? This was my fucking Avatar, and it killed me.”
Instead she’s writing a script for an older actress, a Cher or Geena Davis type, while devoting herself to getting her Sweet Valley High musical greenlit by Universal. Whether or not Cody directs again, she’s grudgingly aware that being a female filmmaker means being responsible for the ambitions of all womankind. “That drives me bananas,” she groans. “If a guy writes a shitty movie, nobody says, ‘Ugh, this is proof that guys can’t write.'”
Besides, be they evangelical or rebellious, sometimes girls just want to have fun—sometimes even while they’re pregnant and helming their first feature. Laughs Cody, “Certain days, I’d have my on clip-on extensions and be like, ‘When I have my long hair, that means I mean business, guys.’ I don’t think Scorsese does shit like that.”