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Diablo Cody Pens Sweet, Sassy 'Juno'


It's TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Right now, most people would say that teen pregnancy is no laughing matter, but then we meet 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, played by Ellen Page. She's a sassy, sardonic main character in the movie "Juno." She finds out she pregnant with a baby of her geeky, track-star boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker played Michael Cera. And after considering abortion, Juno decides to have her baby adopted by a young couple she finds through a classified ad. Then she breaks the news to her father and stepmother.

(Soundbite of "Juno")

Mr. J.K. SIMMONS (Actor): (As Mac MacGuff) You're pregnant?

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actress): (As Juno MacGuff) I'm sorry. I'm sorry. And if it is any consolation, I have heartburn that is radiating on my kneecaps and…

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY (Actress): (As Bren MacGuff) I don't even know you're sexually active.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) Who is the kid?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) The baby? I don't really know much about other than, I mean, it has fingernails allegedly…

Ms. JANNEY: (As Bren MacGuff) Nails, really?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) Yeah.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) No, I don't - I mean, who is the father, Juno?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) It's Paulie Bleeker.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) Paulie Bleeker?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) What?

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) I don't think he had it in.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) I know, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: The movie is a first for screenwriter Diablo Cody. Before making her mark on the silver screen, she chronicled her life as a stripper in her 2006 memoir, "Candy Girl: A Year in a Life of an Unlikely Stripper."

If you have questions for Diablo Cody, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The e-mail address, talk@npr.org.

And "Juno's" Oscar-nominated screenwriter Diablo Cody joins us now from our studios in Culver City.

Good to have you on the show, Diablo.

Ms. DIABLO CODY (Screenwriter, "Juno"; Author, "Candy Girl: A Year in a Life of an Unlikely Stripper"): Thanks for having me.

NEARY: So let's begin with what made you want to write a film - first of all, your first - your play about a young girl having a baby.

Ms. CODY: I really don't know what compelled me. I think the pregnancy was less interesting to me than the idea of this sort of childless couple that wanted to adopt, and the sort of dynamic that they might have with the birth mother.

NEARY: That's interesting because that becomes very much a part of this film, and I have to say I am an adoptive mother so I have to say going into this film, I had heard some things about that and I was little worried that you were - the film is going to be unsympathetic to this adoptive couple, but in the end, I think, you draw a very full portrait of that experience for that couple.

Ms. CODY: Well, I really appreciate that, you know, especially coming from somebody who have that perspective.

NEARY: And ultimately, though, I wondered what it was like for you to see this screenplay come to life. It's your first and it's had a phenomenal success. What was it like for you to see this emerge what you put down in paper then emerge into life as a full-blown movie.

Ms. CODY: It is really indescribable because I've been writing my entire life but writing is typically a very solitary thing. And it's, you know, it's you, it's what you and it's what you write, and it's, you know, it's lonely. And yet when you read a film, it's a completely different situation because it's so collaborative. So you write these characters and you think you have an understanding of who they are, and then all of a sudden, these actors come in, the director comes in, you know, production design, everything comes together and it becomes a whole new animal. And so it's really fascinating to just watch what you've created evolve.

NEARY: Well, I think, I read that you said you were a little bit worried, you didn't want to be directed as a sort of, you know, afterschool special about the horrors of teen pregnancy. That was something you were concerned about, but of course, then you had as director Jason Reitman. That was kind of - probably never would have happened. But…

Ms. CODY: No, definitely not.

NEARY: Did you agree with the choices he made for the most part?

Ms. CODY: I - not even for the most part; I agree with every choice that Jason Reitman made. He and I, it became extremely evident from the moment we met that we wanted to make the same film. And it's very rare that you have that kind of rapport between a writer and the director. But I knew it was going to work out, and we really had an excellent time.

NEARY: It's hard to imagine anybody but Ellen Page in the part of Juno. Is she what you envisioned also or even better?

Ms. CODY: She's better. And then - she brought so much of herself to the role as well, you know? It's just another example of the evolution of a character, you know? I felt like I knew Juno, you know, as pretentious as it sounds but then for Ellen to come in and sort of infuse the character with her own energy and her soul, it was really fascinating to see what Juno became.

NEARY: To what degree is that character based on you? And I don't necessarily mean that teenage pregnancy but just the sort snappy dialogue, the 16-year old who seems to have, you know, the retort everybody wants to have at the moment that you need to have it. To what degree is that based on you? It seems like you're somebody who's got that kind of personality to some degree.

Ms. CODY: At some day, I suppose, obviously, nobody is as cool as Juno. I wish I had been that about quickly to retort when I was her age. I wasn't, but I definitely, I really wanted to create a character that was to me reflective of - in myself as a teenager and a lot of the teenagers I've known who are curious about the world, who are adventurous, who are interesting, who are articulate, and who aren't, you know, just completely wrapped up in the sort of typical teenage pursuits.

NEARY: We are talking with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Diablo Cody about the film "Juno." She wrote the screenplay for it and she is now nominated for best screenwriter for the Academy Awards.

If you'd like to join our discussion, our number is 989-8255, 800-989-8255. We're going to take a call and we are go to John(ph), and he's calling from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hi John.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. How are doing?

NEARY: Good. Go ahead.

JOHN: Yeah. I loved the movie. I absolutely loved it. It's fresh and I know that's - you're probably getting sick of hearing that…

Ms. CODY: No. I never get tired of it. Thank you.

JOHN: And it is refreshing because you are not - it's obvious you are not in the L.A. area and you are not subjected to the typical writing that comes out of there. One question I have as an aspiring screenwriter myself who does not live in southern California, it was just serendipitous that you were able to get a low budget with such a wonderful director like Jason Reitman and such a wonderful cast and I know you're writing in your book and your blog is what introduced people to you, do you have anything - I mean, I'm just so impressed that you were able to get this film made.

Ms. CODY: Thank you.

JOHN: And I'm not here to say can you give any advice to an aspiring screenwriter because that is so cliche but can you give any advice to an aspiring screenwriter…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CODY: I can actually give you a really specific bit of advice that I give to everyone. I would not be where I am, I would not be any sort of professional writer if I had not self-published. We live in a day and age where there's so many opportunities for writers and filmmakers with YouTube to self-publish, to make their own work available without having to go through the rejection letters and the middleman and, you know, it used to be that you were, that if you wanted to share your work with other people, I mean, you had to go through so many channels and jump through so many hoops. And now, you can just put it out there. You know, the internet is a miraculous thing, so just share as much as you can self-publish blog, you know, podcast, whatever you need to do, just make sure that you are not withholding your (unintelligible) from the world because we have so many opportunities now.

NEARY: But how do you make that leap from self-publishing and blogging to, you know, to getting a screenplay actually made by a known director.

Ms. CODY: Luck and timing. You know, you just have to be seen by the right people at the right time. But it does happen. I see it happen every day.

NEARY: Yeah.

Ms. CODY: So we're in a new frontier.

NEARY: All right, let's go take another call. We're going to go to Rainy(ph) and Rainy is calling from Lake Tahoe, California.

Hi Rainy.

RAINY (Caller): Hi. I'm calling from the Lake Tahoe area.

NEARY: Yeah. Go ahead.

RAINY: And hi Diablo. This is just such a great honor to talk to you. I was a teenage mom. I had my daughter when I was 17. And I'm 44 now. And it's really something huge to sort of grow up with under this title of teenage mom. It doesn't matter really what I accomplish in life, this teenage mom is will always kind of trump everything. And while I don't advocate for teenage motherhood because it's a difficult choice, I really appreciate the way that you portrayed Juno as a whole decent person and not just kind of a stupid girl because having a baby is actually easier than growing up and living with some of the social attitudes about that choice.

Ms. CODY: Well, thank you so much. And I honestly would not - I would not doubt that for a moment. I went - I, myself, was not a teenage mother but a very, very close friend of mine was and I went through that experience with her and I remember how she was treated and continues to be treated, you know, 10 years later. And it is kind of a title that people is going to pin on you. And it's just, to me, it's like you said, it was very important to me to make Juno a three-dimensional, you know, whole person there. There is more to it than that, and I applaud your bravery.

RAINY: Well, thank you very much. It just helps me not to shrink and feel shameful…

Ms. CODY: Don't.

RAINY: …in a way that was very profound for me in seeing that movie, and I just appreciate you very much, I wanted to say thank you.

Ms. CODY: (unintelligible)

NEARY: Thanks so much for the call, Rainy.

Ms. CODY: Thank you.

NEARY: We appreciate your call.

Interesting now, you're saying that you actually did go through this experience with someone so there was this had some basis in your own life, this experience maybe, you were the friend.

Ms. CODY: Yeah, it wasn't really about the experience inspired me to directly but when I writing the script, I remember looking back on that and saying to myself, oh, you know, I remember, you know, when my friend came back from her ultrasound and told me that the nurse had been rude to her, that kind of thing.

NEARY: Yeah. And also people have questioned, you know, about the decision in the film for her to not have an abortion, to go ahead and have the child, what went into your thinking behind that?

Ms. CODY: You know, it's not a political film, and I feel that the message is actually pretty ambiguous. I, you know, as I stated numerous times, I'm pro-choice. I guess, you know, it - to me the core story of the film is the dynamic between Mark and Vanessa, the adoptive parents and Juno. And obviously we could not get to that place, you know, in the narrative if Juno had not cared her pregnancy to term, so the decision was that simple.

NEARY: Diablo Cody is the screenwriter of "Juno." She is nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay. And we're taking your calls here on TALK OF THE NATION. And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we're going to take another call now. We're going to go to Craig(ph), and Craig is calling from Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Hi Craig.

CRAIG (Caller): Hi there.

NEARY: Go ahead.

Ms. CODY: Hi.

CRAIG: I'd like to ask her as a writer how you explore a character who can be very real and personal but you don't know. I was born in Minnesota in the '80s to a teenager, and gave up for adoption. And the character of Juno is someone that maybe I fantasize about a little bit, it make up a story for a bit who I don't know at all, so I would like to know how you explore that kind of character as a writer?

Ms. CODY: You know, there's nothing more interesting than creating characters. And I would say that the process is probably half and half worth half sort of, you know, you're actively creating, you're thinking of traits you would like this character to have. And you're thinking specifically about what they might do and what they might wear. And then the other half of it is really more enigmatic. It's really more lighting in a bottle. It's almost as if the characters appear to you. At least, that's been my experience. And they almost seem to kind of grow and morph, you know, beyond your control. And especially when you're making a movie, and you know, there's an actor involved who's actually going to embody that character. Obviously, that actor is going to bring a lot of themselves into it as well. So it really is, it's kind of a mysterious process. And talking about writing is a bit challenging for me. But I think it's, you know, it's one thing to sit down and write down what kind of character you want to create. On the other hand, there's always this kind of, you know, rare and special moments where a character appears to you.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Craig.

CRAIG: Thank you.

Ms. CODY: Thanks.

NEARY: Let's take a call now from Katie(ph), and she's calling from Sonoma, California.

Hi Katie.

KATIE (Caller): Hi. I wanted to thank you on many levels. I saw the movie without knowing anything about it and the same night, my adoptive son saw it with a buddy his and when we got home, we had this incredible conversation about the fact that he didn't have a clue of what we might have gone through trying to find him.


KATIE: And I love the way you portrayed everything. I mean, we did photos and photos with our cats to make us look more appealing, and it started a conversation that was wonderful. So I really want to thank you.

Ms. CODY: Oh, I'm really glad. Thank you for telling me.

KATIE: Yeah, thanks for the movie. It was, like I said, great on all levels but that was really special.

Ms. CODY: Cool.

KATIE: Anyway…

Ms. CODY: I'm really glad to hear that.

NEARY: Thanks for calling, Katie.

KATIE: …(unintelligible) take care.

Ms. CODY: Thanks. Bye.

NEARY: Is it interesting for you, I think, Diablo, to hear these callers who all have experienced a little piece of your movie in real life.

Ms. CODY: It's absolutely the best part of this entire experience. You know, box office be damned, you know, awards, forget about it, like, of the coolest thing and something that's been happening really since the genesis of the film is people sharing their stories and telling me that they relate to different aspects of the script, and that means so much to me.

NEARY: Has that taken you by surprise at all? I mean, were you expecting that kind of thing to happen or…

Ms. CODY: I wasn't but I remember the very first time that we really showed the film, I was - and we did a sneak preview in Telluride at the film festival. And I remember coming out of the theater and they're just being this outpouring of stories from people who had just watched the film. And I mean, there were tears, and - it really knocked me off my feet because, you know, you think you're creating entertainment but then it winds up being so much more personal. It was really cool.

NEARY: All right. Let's see if we can get one more call in here, Fiona(ph) from Portland, Oregon.

Hi Fiona.

FIONA (Caller): Hi. I have a question. I got an argument with somebody about this movie recently and my feelings about it were, well, let's expose people to teen pregnancy and not make teen mothers feel so like you know, out of society. But the people are talking - I was talking to believe that it's promoting teen pregnancy because it puts a fun, light, spin on it. And I was just wondering what your response would be to that.

Ms. CODY: I think if you watch the movie, I don't think Juno's actual pregnancy is portrayed as fun. You know, the movie itself, yes, it's uplifting, it's nonjudgmental, it's positive because those are - that's important to me. Those are the kind of films that I want to write. But you know, we - think in several scenes, you see Juno herself just completely buckling under the pressure what she is having to go through. I do not think that her pregnancy seems appealing.

FIONA: You don't think that like by making jokes about it and making it fun that it promotes it in any way?

Ms. CODY: You know, I make jokes about everything in life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CODY: To me, there is - it is just - life is too short to be grim and grave, so that's - I don't feel that it promotes anything. If it promotes positivity in life, I'm happy.

NEARY: All right. Thank…

FIONA: (Unintelligible) good answer.

Ms. CODY: Thank you.

NEARY: Thanks for your call, Fiona.

So let me ask you, are you looking forward to the Academy Awards, that's kind of a big deal.

Ms. CODY: Well, I'm, you know, I'm a member of the Writers Guild of America…

NEARY: Oh. Right.

Ms. CODY: …so I'm currently on strike. And if that does resolve itself in time, I am very excited about the Academy Awards.

NEARY: All right. Great. Well, congratulations on the film and good luck in the future. I know you're - I think your next part was dubbed as a horror film.

Ms. CODY: Yes, it is.

NEARY: Well, good luck with that.

Ms. CODY: Thank you very much.

NEARY: Diablo Cody is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter for the movie "Juno." She joined us from our studios in Culver City.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.