Diablo Cody‘s films (Juno, Young Adult) often center on a main female character who does not quite seem to be “acting her age.”
The same could be said of the main character in her latest script, Ricki and the Flash, which stars Meryl Streep as a rocker who gave up everything to make her music dreams come true. But Ricky never quite “made it,” and instead she’s performing in a half-empty dive bar in Tarzana and working as a grocery store clerk, still dreaming of becoming a rock star like Mick Jagger.
Streep’s Ricki is also a staunch conservative (in the opening scene she criticizes how President Obama has been running the country) with an American flag tattooed on her back. And when she returns home to help console her broken hearted daughter (played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer), she discovers how much her decision to make music her main priority has hurt her family.
Ahead of the film’s Aug. 7 release date, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Cody, a mother of two with a third on the way, about her inspiration for Ricki, how they landed Meryl Streep and how the world has changed since Juno.
Where did the idea come from for this story?
I started writing this a couple years ago, and I was inspired by my mother in law, who is the lead singer of a cover band in New Jersey. The first time I went out to the East Coast to meet my husband’s family, we went to see her perform and she just completely blew me away. She was jumping up on the bar and singing her heart out. I was completely shocked. But for her family, they were so used to it. It was just what mom does. I thought that dynamic was interesting. That she was doing something extraordinary, but maybe her kids don’t appreciate it.
How did you decide what kind of success this character would have with her music career?
I thought if she had had mainstream success it would be slightly less interesting because then it might seem like the decisions she had made were worth it. Whereas in the case with somebody who really never got anywhere, to me that made the stakes higher, and would breed a lot of resentment.
Did you have Meryl Streep in mind while you were writing?
I did think about her, but it was a dare to dream situation. You never want to assume that Meryl Streep is going to attach herself to your project because everybody wants to work with her. But I couldn’t get her out of my mind.
How did you get her to do the project?
I had originally brought this project to [producer] Marc Platt and he happened to be shooting Into the Woods at that exact moment in time. So he was in England with her and he was able to maneuver the script into her hands, which is not an easy thing to do. An A-list star has so many gatekeepers.
In the opening scene, she reveals her political views by criticizing Obama’s presidency. Why make her a conservative?
She’s a super complex character, and there are a lot of conservatives in this country who also love rock ‘n roll. I don’t think just because somebody’s in leather pants that we can assume she’s an Obama supporter. I just thought it would be an unexpected element that could make her more real.
How heavily does this idea that mothers are more shamed for going after their career ambitions than fathers weigh on you? It’s definitely a theme in the film.
It was what drove the script. It weighs heavily on me. Obviously I have a creative job and I’m very passionate about it, and it is time-consuming. Are my kids going to see that as something admirable or are they going to resent me for it? I don’t know what the answer is, although I’ve talked to a lot of older parents who have told me that I should probably steel myself for disappointment.
How do you think filmmaking had changed since Juno came out in 2007?
I think the appetite for what people want to see in the theaters has changed a bit. Something like Juno I feel, if it came out this year, I don’t know if it would have had that kind of box office success. I think it maybe would have been a streaming hit. Now I see people are watching a lot of stuff at home and then they go out to the theaters to see the big 3D spectacles. I write movies where people sit down and have conversations.
Do you think there are enough female voices in film?
I don’t think so. I do think things are improving. I’ve only been in this industry for a decade, but in that time I do seem to see more strong female voices emerging, and more women who are taking control of their empires like Shonda Rhimes, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer. But the director thing is a problem, there’s no question about it. I’m not sure how we’re going to solve that, but I think the best way is the women who are having those opportunities need to be helping other women and bringing them into the fold.
What’s the status of Sony’s Barbie movie that you were hired to write?
I’m writing it. It’s how I’m spending my summer and it’s just an absolute delight. I’ve never worked in this area before. I feel like the image that people have of Barbie is her being completely pristine in her box with that perfect blonde hair, but the reality of Barbie is that it turned into this wild adventure. That’s what I want to capture: the creativity of it. When you’re a little girl, you’re creating your own stories with Barbie.