She may have won an Oscar in 2007 for her teenage pregnancy comedy “Juno,” but screenwriter Diablo Cody says she’s definitely not the same kind of writer she was eight years ago. There’s more pressure on her now that writing scripts has evolved from a fun hobby to a real, honest-to-blog job. In her newest film, “Ricki and the Flash,” Cody found inspiration for the title character in her own mother-in-law Terry Cieri, the leader of a New Jersey-based rock ‘n’ roll band called Silk and Steel. Actress Meryl Streep plays Ricki, a lifelong musician who walked out on her family years ago to pursue fame, but never found it. The estranged mother returns when her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) calls and asks her to spend some time with her daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) who is suffering from depression.
During an interview with me, Cody, 37, talked about the idea of fame and if she’d like more of it, and what it was like to rock out with Streep on the set of “Ricki and the Flash.”
Tell me about your mother-in-law and how she became the inspiration for “Ricki and the Flash.”
I met my husband’s mom a few years ago when I was meeting the whole family. I was so blown away that she was the lead singer of this rock band. She was a grandmother, but she was still getting out on stage every weekend playing the electric guitar and rocking the house. I thought this would be a fascinating jumping off point for a film.
What is her band called?
They’re called Silk and Steel. They play on the Jersey Shore. There in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
Do you get a chance to see them perform at all?
Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of the band. I don’t get out as much as I’d like to because I have really little kids, but I’m definitely a fan.
Have you ever had conversations with her about her idea of fame and if she ever wanted to make it big?
You know, I think every musician hopes to have wider recognition. We have talked about that. At the same time, what I really admire about her is that even though she is not famous, she is still doing it every weekend just for the love of it. To me that’s true artistry.
What about you as a screenwriter – where does fame come in? Would you like to be more famous than you already are?
No, I actually think it’s sort of astonishing that I have any kind of public presence. Most screenwriters don’t. Just the fact that I’m asked to help promote the movie is enough exposure for me. Most writers are introverts. I’m one as well.
Did you write the lead characters specifically for Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer?
It wasn’t specifically written for them, but as I was writing the script, I couldn’t help but think, “You know, Meryl Streep would be perfect for this.” But I didn’t allow myself to believe she would do it because it seemed like such a long shot. When she agreed to do it, I was so happy. And Mamie Gummer is so talented. To be able to take that dynamic between the two of them and put it on screen was really a gift.
I don’t think there are many screenwriters out there who could think, “Meryl Streep would be perfect for this,” and actually have a shot at getting her for the part.
Hey, I didn’t think I had a chance either. I’m still in shock.
Looking back to a film like “Juno,” do you ever feel like people think of you as a specific kind of screenwriter? I mean, I think some people will be surprised to know you wrote “Ricki and the Flash.”
I think when you write something like “Juno” that’s a huge hit and has a really distinctive tone to it, people are going to assume that’s the way you’re going to work from now on. But the fact of the matter is, I wrote “Juno” 10 years ago and I definitely have other concerns in my mind right now. I’m older and I’m a mom. I do think that as I’ve matured maybe my writing voice has matured. I would still write another movie like “Juno,” but I want to try different things, too.
Has your writing process changed over these last 10 years or do you confront a new script the same way?
No, and I kind of wish that I could. It’s funny how things change when your hobby becomes the way you support yourself. At the time I wrote “Juno,” writing was just fun. It wasn’t my day job. It was just something that I did at night. The process was very free. I had nothing to lose, whereas now, I feel more under pressure as a writer. (Laughs) I am definitely writing in a different kind of space.
Were you able to rock out a little with Meryl when you were on set?
Yeah, I’m actually in the movie briefly dancing in front of the stage while her band is rocking out. That was a pretty cool moment. It made me think, “What a weird life I have.” I’m a big fan of The Flash, I’ll put it that way.
Wait, is that you in that one scene where the woman is dancing by herself?
Well, you have some pretty good moves, Diablo.
(Laughs) I do not have good moves, but that’s sweet of you to say.