Suburban outsider Diablo Cody sticks to the theme in her new film, 'Paradise'

Updated 10/15/2013 10:34 AM
  • Lemont native Diablo Cody already possesses a screenwriting Oscar for her script to "Juno." Now she's a director about to launch her comic drama "Paradise."

    Lemont native Diablo Cody already possesses a screenwriting Oscar for her script to "Juno." Now she's a director about to launch her comic drama "Paradise."

  • A shaven Nick Offerman joins Julianne Hough and Holly Hunter in the cast of Diablo Cody's directorial debut "Paradise."

    A shaven Nick Offerman joins Julianne Hough and Holly Hunter in the cast of Diablo Cody's directorial debut "Paradise."

Suburban rebels don't get much more rebellious than Diablo Cody.

The Oscar-winning screenwriter of the 2007 movie "Juno" was born at Hinsdale Hospital. She grew up in Lemont and graduated from the Roman Catholic Benet Academy in Lisle.

Her conservative suburban upbringing hardly held her back.

She may have been born Brook Busey, but she gave herself a more mysterious name, as the legend goes, after listening to the song "El Diablo" while cruising through Cody, Wyo.

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a media studies degree, she moved to Minneapolis, where she took a full-time job as a stripper for the Skyway Lounge.

Her clothes-shedding adventure fueled her memoir "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper." She was 27 and on the cusp of turning her writing skills and rebel's world view into a sustainable career. She admitted she embraces the weird.

"The nice thing about being weird is that you have nothing to lose. You can just do your thing, be creative," Cody told us. There's no need to worry about what people think about you, she said, "because they don't think much."

After writing a column for Entertainment Weekly, scripting "Juno" and the Megan Fox horror film "Jennifer's Body," and punching up the screenplay for Fede Alvarez's remake of Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead," Cody has directed her first movie.

"Paradise" opens Friday, Oct. 18, at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg.

The comic drama stars Julianne Hough as Lamb Mannerheim (yes, Lamb), a conservatively raised Christian woman who goes on a quest of self-discovery in Sin City (Las Vegas, that is) after a plane crash almost burns her alive. Yep, she's a rebel.

Russell Brand, Olivia Spencer, Holly Hunter and a shaven Nick Offerman also star in the movie, tracing Lamb's search for a home where she can feel free to be herself, a search that Cody herself is undoubtedly familiar with.

"She's an outsider," Cody said, "and I still feel like one, to be totally honest with you. Like in Hollywood, I don't really feel I'm part of the in-crowd. I feel like an observer. I feel like a spy. I kinda still have a journalistic mentality, you know? I'm still kind of watching everybody and taking notes."

Lamb and the pregnant teenage protagonist in "Juno" are remarkably similar to that. They have taken a step back out of their social worlds and given them some hard, critical examinations, a plot device that has become a Cody trademark.

She credits her success at creating such characters to being weird as a kid.

"I always felt weird," Cody said of her life in the suburbs. "Maybe if I had grown up now it would be different. Today, I think that offbeat kids are celebrated in a way. That wasn't the case when I was a kid. If you were a weirdo, you were just a weirdo."

But her elementary school and Benet Academy had teachers who shaped the young student's self-image and supported her talent.

"Most of the encouragement I got to be a writer came from school," she said. "My parents are awesome, but they were kinda down on the whole writing idea because most writers wind up broke and in the gutter.

"They (her parents) were incredible loving and supporting people, but they would say, 'Writing is great, but it's not a job!' They told me I could be an elementary schoolteacher and write during the summer. They viewed writing as something of a hobby instead of something you could do to support yourself."

With her movie "Paradise" about to be released, Cody said she's thrilled that young people will occasionally write to say she's become an inspiration to them.

"That's an amazing feeling," Cody said. "Occasionally, I will meet someone who will tell me I inspired them. I don't think of myself as particularly inspirational. It makes me really happy, especially if I can inspire another writer to go and tell her story. Or to inspire a young woman to maybe try directing, for there definitely is a scarcity of female directors. That's the greatest thing I could hope for."

As for her local roots, Cody remains cautiously proud. She does confess that people from the Midwest have definite character virtues.

"Believe it or not, Midwesterners are really funny," she said. "If you talk to executives out here in Hollywood, they will tell you that they specifically look for screenwriters from the Midwest because they have a particularly dark comic sensibility.

"You see it in Alexander Payne. You see it in the Coen brothers. I think Midwesterners are funny. They have a great work ethic and a refreshing lack of entitlement complex."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting column, email them at and

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