Diablo Cody and I had a chat as she was ready to unveil Jennifer’s Body. During the conversation, you will undoubtedly notice something interesting in her fun style of communicating, as well as the narrative behind her body tattoos, which I thought would be interesting to share.
There is a tornado in the room but Diablo Cody doesn’t notice. While a hairstylist buzzes around her, clothing stylists lay out a spread of dresses and jewelry, and various people, including a movie studio representative and photography assistants, run in and out of the room, Cody juggles three conversations, all without turning her head away from the makeup artist. She discusses ideas with the photographer, talks about a tattoo on the clothing stylist’s foot, and, from across the room, she overhears someone use the word reportage. “That’s a good word,” she says to no one in particular.
A brief overview of Diablo Cody
Diablo Cody is a word person. She grew up in Chicago as a punk rocker and began her writing career by blogging about her time as a stripper in Minneapolis, which led to a book deal for her memoir, Candy Girl. She received an Oscar for her writing for the hit film Juno, which was full of the odd phrases that have become her trademark. Fans adored her for being an unknown tattooed lady from the Midwest who conquered Hollywood, a city teeming with aspiring screenwriters gathered in workshops. For the same reasons, critics mocked her. Cody was completely oblivious to the situation. She stayed true to the words. She co-created the Showtime series United States of Tara with Steven Spielberg and scripted Jennifer’s Body, a 2009 horror film starring Megan Fox about a teen cannibal.
As she lounged on a couch in an L.A. photo studio, Diablo Cody, talked tattoos, the dark side of Bono, partying at the Playboy Mansion, and why she’s finally adding a new entry to her word list: no.
Inked: Tell us about Jennifer’s Body.
Diablo Cody: I don’t know what could be more appealing than a movie in which Megan Fox plays a teenage cannibal who preys exclusively on boys. [Laughs.] It was an idea I had after I wrote Juno but before Juno was made. I was feeling experimental and I felt like writing a horror movie. I grew up on horror movies, especially those classic ’80s horror movies with teenagers in peril, adults who don’t listen, women who are either incredibly heroic or incredibly sexy or both. You’ll notice that the last person standing in a horror movie is typically female, which is an interesting part of the genre. I didn’t want to write a modern horror movie. I wanted to write a classic horror movie. I wanted the whole vibe to be 1983, and I think we pulled that off.
Why a cheerleader instead of a cannibal goth girl?
She’s actually not a cheerleader. That’s a misunderstanding. She’s on the flag team. If you’ve ever been in high school you know there’s a distinction. Honestly, I think Jennifer is the kind of girl who knows that she looks good in the skirt. She wants an opportunity to be front and center. The other girls are like her backup dancers.
We’ve heard that she is possessed.
I don’t want to give away the whole plot to your readers, but she is possessed by a demon and there is a villainous rock band in the film.
Is that idea of the evils of rock music a reflection of your Catholic upbringing?
That’s interesting because all of the action takes place in this kind of Minnesota Lutheran town. Those are the kinds of people who make you burn your Kiss records. But, really, I was inspired by these earnest, cheesy eyeliner emo bands out there. They come off as so cuddly and sensitive. What if one of those bands was secretly totally fucking evil?
How much Slayer did you listen to while writing this?
The funny thing is I was listening to stuff like U2 and Coldplay. Everybody looks for the dark influences with a band like Gwar, but nobody thinks to look for the dark influences in somebody like Bono.
Were you forced to tone down any of the gore in the film?
In the first draft of the script I wanted somebody to be completely disemboweled. I wanted to see the intestines strewn about the forest like party streamers. I think I even used that exact phrase. It didn’t make it. I think people thought the party streamers comparison took it too far.
Why a cannibal? Are zombies and vampires over?
No. Vampires are very much in style right now. Look at Twilight. For me, it was the blatant symbolism of a female cannibal. Ever since Hall & Oates wrote “Maneater” we’ve had this idea of a beautiful woman preying on the souls of men. I wanted to do a literal version of that.
We read on your Twitter that you were at a party with Robert Pattinson from Twilight and didn’t recognize him.
Awww. I’m old. [Laughs.] That anecdote was merely meant to illustrate the fact that I am out of touch. He’s a beautiful man and I would certainly recognize him now.
So what happened?
He wouldn’t remember this happening. I honestly just went up and borrowed a light from him and I couldn’t understand why there was this vibration in the crowd like, You’re talking to him! I thought, You mean that guy with the cigarettes? Aw, this sounds terrible. You know what I love about Twitter is the spontaneity, like you can share an anecdote like you would with your friends—but then there’s always the risk that this brilliant, beautiful man is going to think I’m a douchebag.
Did you and Megan Fox talk tattoos on the set of Jennifer’s Body?
No. Megan is super professional and I think she was pretty consumed with the character. Plus, I try to keep my nose out of shit. I’m kind of like the leopard-print ghost on set. I drift in and out.
When did you get your first tattoo?
I got my first tattoo right after I turned 18. I had been counting the days. I went to a shop in Lockport, Illinois. I brought my friend with me and she had a fake ID because she was not 18. I was very into Led Zeppelin at the time so I wanted something with a celestial theme.
What did you get?
I got a fairy on my left ass cheek. It was flash that I chose from the display. She has purple wings and blond hair. Honestly, I have no regrets. It makes me smile and remember the person I was at 18—just completely pure of heart.
How long was it until your parents found out?
I showed my mom immediately. Part of the fun was tormenting my parents. She was really upset, but she realized that it could not be undone, so she was cool with it eventually.
You also have a Sailor Jerry pinup girl on your thigh.
I had it done at Chicago Tattoo on Belmont. I woke up and it was a rainy day. I was feeling kind of tragic overall. I just got the idea to jump on the El, go down to Belmont Avenue, and get a tattoo. I chose this one spontaneously.
Tell us about your arm.
Originally, the tattoo was a pinup girl with a banner that read “Jonny’s Girl”—Jonny being the name of your ex-husband. Nic Skrade at Uptown Tattoo is really talented. It was originally just the girl and the banner. The roses are a cover-up that was done kind of spur of the moment because it’s difficult to wake up after a breakup and see. So there wasn’t a lot of strategy that went into it.
Who did the roses?
I actually don’t remember. And now I’ve been building on it and it’s really turned into a piece that I love. I’m a theme park enthusiast so that’s why I have the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel and the clouds, all of those elements. The amusement park and the water and the new work is all being done by Dana Clinton at Studio City Tattoo.
How did you get connected with Dana?
I had been looking around. I had been looking at books and meeting with artists. I looked through his book and saw all of this bright, beautiful work. This is about fun. I love color. I know a lot of people don’t like my tattoos because they think they’re too cartoonish or too innocent, but that’s what I like. That’s why I have the Sailor Jerry on my leg, because I love the feeling of a tattoo being something spontaneous and fun.
How good are you at getting tattooed?
I do well for the first couple of hours because the adrenaline is protecting me, and then I turn into the world’s biggest baby. I was kicking and crying when the blue sky was being filled in on my shoulder. That was the worst part, that I could feel it in my bones. I was really a handful that day. There was a woman next to me getting her foot tattooed and she was being totally stoic. I thought, Aw, man, I’m a baby.
What do you want to get next?
I’m thinking of doing a tribute to sweets on my forearm. Maybe a partial sleeve with cake and cookies and candy. My friends laugh hysterically every time I tell them about this because they think that only I would get baked goods tattooed on my body. But I really love sweets! I feel like that would certainly be in keeping with my innocent tattoos theme. Just childlike things. Then maybe this arm will be all dark, biomechanical shit. [Laughs.]
Yeah! Vegetables and healthy things. Or, like, a cubicle. Things that are necessary but unpleasant.
What does it say on your wrist?
It says “Yes.” It’s one of my favorites.
What’s the story behind it?
I’ll say yes to anything. The funny thing is that as I’ve matured, I’ve contemplated getting “No” inside the other wrist. I have boundaries now.
What kinds of boundaries? How can you tell that they’re developing?
I used to actually be the most open-minded person in the world. I would go anywhere with anyone and try anything. Now, in the interest of self-preservation and continuing to live, I need to learn to live within boundaries.
Did this concept of “no” only begin once you arrived in L.A.?
I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years and I think now is the time. But honestly, I don’t want to cancel out the “yes” because it means a lot to me.
Has any celebrity ever said anything to you about your tattoos? We have this vision of someone like Harrison Ford pulling you aside and saying, “Maybe you should cover that up.”
No. [Laughs.] What’s surprising to me is that I don’t have that much ink, at the risk of using the much-maligned “ink” phraseology.
At least you didn’t say “tatts.”
Ugh! My tattoo artist really hates “tatts.” Don’t say “ink.” Don’t say “tatts.” So I’m acknowledging that that’s lame. I don’t have that many tattoos but the reaction when I came onto the scene—you would think I have a fucking suit of tattoos. People mentioned it in every article and interview. Why? It’s just a little thing on my arm or on my leg. It’s not a big deal. I know tons of people with tattoos. I think of it as a fairly common thing. It was such a strange thing for them to fixate on. It kind of made me want more. I thought, If I have to be the tattooed girl then I want some cool ones. I want to start on some big pieces. I love tattoos.
Have you seen any Juno-related tattoos?
No. I wish! You know what’s a funny story? Right after I won the Oscar, I got in the press room backstage and some guy goes, “Are you gonna get any new tattoos?” Like I said, because tattoos are always the topic of conversation. I just won an Oscar, by the way, but we’re gonna talk about my tattoos. But I sarcastically said, “Yeah, I’m gonna get Ellen Page’s face tattooed on my leg.” And it was reported everywhere! I could not have been more sarcastic. But it wouldn’t have made a bad one.
If you were going to get a band tattoo, what would it be?
I still want to get the Screeching Weasel emblem. I know so many people with the Operation Ivy or the Screeching Weasel logo. That was the tattoo to get in the ’90s in Chicago.
What are your parents like? Are they creative too?
They aren’t creative at all. They are very right-brained. My mom is an office manager and my dad works for the Illinois Tollway. I had a totally normal, middle-class, Midwestern upbringing. I don’t think they ever dreamed that they would have a child who wrote films, or had tattoos, or stripped, or any of those things.
What did your parents think that you were going to do for a living?
I was always into writing and my mom would say, “You’ll be an English teacher! You’ll teach high school English!” which is a wonderful profession. But I was not raised to believe that wild careers like screenwriting were within reach. That was something other people did, people from other parts of the country who had magic and money and connections. Nobody ever led me to believe that I could have this life.
You recently remarried. Does your husband have tattoos?
He doesn’t have one. And I won’t let him get any.
Do you typically date guys with or without tattoos?
I’ve done both. I’ve never dated anyone who was heavily tattooed. But I’m not averse, although I’m taken now. So, no, he doesn’t have any tattoos at all. I like the polarity of his perfectly clean flesh and my cartoon body. I keep telling him not to get any.
Has he considered getting one?
He’s been thinking about it. He never considered it before. I think he’s got some envy. You never know. I’m actually trying to get my mom to get one and she’s in her 60s. Tell me how cool this is, her maiden name is Dice. I said, “You and I should get little matching dice tattoos, like a mother-daughter thing, and it would actually be a tribute to our family.” I’ve got her considering it.
If Suicide Girls existed when you were 19, would you have been involved?
Oh my God. I always say that if the Internet had existed when I was a teenager, there would have been more naked pictures of me floating around the universe than anyone ever wanted to see. I was such an exhibitionist at that age and I was so irresponsible. My friend and I used to go into the photo booth at the mall, take our shirts off, and then hand the photos to strangers. So you can just imagine what we would have done with the Internet.
You would have been that girl who has naked photos of herself sent to everyone at her high school.
And they would have been sent by me! [Laughs.] I’m generally covered up all the time now. For some reason I’ve become extremely shy in my advanced age. But yeah, I would have been a Suicide Girl.
How soon after the success of Juno did Playboy ask you to pose?
I heard about it. I really love Mr. Hefner and have been lucky enough to meet him. I would absolutely love to pose for Playboy, but I promised my mother I would not. When it came up, she looked me in the eyes and asked me very sincerely, “Please do not do this.” I said, “You know what, Mom? You’ve suffered enough.” I gave her a pass.
You had your 30th birthday party at the Playboy Mansion. What was that like?
Amazing! You know what has been so fun about this whole experience? I’m honestly still very Midwestern. I still consider myself a pretty sheltered person. So to be able to try this crazy persona of Diablo Cody who has her birthday party at the Playboy Mansion, that’s been a trip. I’m really more likely to have my birthday party at a bowling alley. But I had to do the Playboy Mansion thing once just to see what it’s like to have a fucking bouncy castle on the back lawn of the Playboy Mansion and go in the Grotto with my friends.
What is the one thing that you are tired of hearing from critics?
To be honest, I often agree with my critics. I’ve certainly been very lucky and I definitely haven’t earned all of the accolades that I’ve received. So that criticism, I understand. But I think after the 400th person has said it, it ceases to be fresh or interesting so let’s just accept that I’m a lucky motherfucker and move on.
This is a transcript of a 2009 interview with Diablo Cody. It’s possible that some details have altered since then.