Diablo Cody’s kids have no idea she’s famous
When screenwriter Diablo Cody had her third child, life got unexpectedly weird.
“I felt very overwhelmed and anxious, and I was having a lot of professional stress,” says Cody, who had previously juggled two kids and a thriving career. “I haven’t spoken that much about this, but I definitely went through something rough. I just felt like I was drowning. Like I was sinking to the floor of the ocean. And I thought to myself, ‘I wish someone would swim down and pull me back up.’ That’s where ‘Tully,’ [Cody’s new dramedy] came from.”
The film, out Friday, stars Charlize Theron as an exhausted mother of two small children and a newborn, whose affluent brother (Mark Duplass) insists on hiring her a night nanny, named Tully (Mackenzie Davis). An unexpected friendship blossoms between the two women in the film, which is tinged with the same dark humor as “Young Adult,” the previous collaboration between Cody, director Jason Reitman (who teamed with Cody for “Juno”) and Theron.
Over the course of making “Young Adult,” Cody says, “Jason and I both became obsessed with [Theron]. There’s just nobody like her. We had always said, ‘How can we work with Charlize again?’”
Theron put on a much-discussed 50 pounds to play the role of Marlo, “who’s really an everywoman,” says Cody. “Everyone’s fascinated when someone who looks like her transforms themselves. To me it just showed a commitment to the role, to the realism of the movie. But it’s not that big of a deal.” (Theron has echoed that sentiment in interviews.)
More important, Cody thinks, is to represent the experience so many new mothers have of feeling completely overwhelmed — and, often, unable to articulate that they’re in the surreal depths of postpartum depression.
“When you’re in it, it’s impossible to see the end of it,” she says. “It feels permanent.” For Marlo, salvation comes in the form of the enigmatic and vaguely mystical Tully, who enables her to get a good night’s sleep and begin to feel like herself again.
In the real world, this is a solution only available to those who can afford to throw money at this problem — a tale of two parenthoods starkly outlined in the film.
“Marlo’s brother is rich, and everything at their house is hunky-dory,” Cody says. “If they have a dinner party, they can just send their kids into another room with a nanny.”
Cody has seen this firsthand living among the well-to-do in LA.
“There are a lot of very happy mothers here, because they’re very well rested,” she says. “They have a lot of help. And it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have a fourth child,’ when you’re not struggling financially. When you can leave anytime to go to SoulCycle. That’s very different than the experience I witnessed growing up in Illinois, around working-class people, when you have two working parents and it’s tough to make ends meet.”
The screenwriter, whose real name is Brook Busey-Maurio, says the past decade has been “kind of a blur.” While in her 30s, she moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, won an Oscar for her wildly unique first screenplay for 2007’s “Juno” and embarked on a high-flying film-writing career. She got married for the second time and “started popping out kids,” says Cody. “By 37, I had just had my third, and I owed a major project to a big movie studio.”
Cody, who had children with her actor-producer husband Dan Maurio after she’d had some success, could have afforded a night nanny.
“But I didn’t do it with my first two kids, because I was very stubborn and quite judgmental about it,” she says. “I’m ashamed of that now. After doing it [with my third child] I realized it’s the most amazing thing ever. Every mom should have this support system. When you’re well rested you’re a better parent, you’re a better person. To be able to wake up and be there for your other kids — that’s huge.”
Beyond mothering, she says, “Tully” is about transitioning into a new phase of adulthood.
“Honestly, what it really is about is growing up and coming to terms with the fact that you’re not young anymore,” she says. “It’s about more than parenthood — it’s really more about realizing, holy s - - t, I’m turning 40, and there’s suddenly a lot more expectations, personally and professionally. It’s scary.”
Cody says she’s fought to keep her children separate from the often-intrusive industry in which she works.
“My kids are completely sheltered from Hollywood,” she says. “If you said the words ‘Diablo Cody’ to my kids, they would not know what you were talking about.”
She hopes other mothers see “Tully” and feel a twinge of recognition, of “being represented in a movie,” she says. “It seems like most stories about men have been told a million times, and there are a lot of stories about women that have not been told a million times. Because women have not been invited to tell them.
“I guess,” she says, “that’s been my mission for every film I’ve worked on.”
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