Ricki and the Flash: Interview with Diablo Cody

ricki_and_the_flash_7_streepDiablo Cody‘s films have often centered on one female character who does not seem to be acting her age, or conform to the cultural conventions around her.  Remember Ellen Page in Juno, or Charlize Theron in Young Adult.

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–including husband and family–to make her music dreams come true.  But Ricky never quite made it.  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 conservative (in the opening scene she criticizes how President Obama has been running the country) with an American flag tattooed on her back.   When she returns home to help console her broken hearted daughter (played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer), she realizes the negative effects of her career on her family.

Cody, a mother of two with a third on the way, discussed her inspiration for Ricki, how they landed Meryl Streep and how the world has changed since Juno.

The idea for this story?

ricki_and_the_flash_5_streep_gummerI 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 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.

Character’s music career?

I thought if she had had mainstream success it would be less interesting because 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.

Meryl Streep?

I did think about Meryl Streep while writing, 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 Streep?

I had originally brought this project to producer Marc Platt and he was shooting Into the Woods at that exact time.  He was in England with Meryl and he maneuvered the script into her hands, which is not an easy thing to do. An A-list star has so many gatekeepers.

Character’s conservative political views

Ricki is a super complex character, and there are conservatives in this country who also love rock ‘n roll.  Just because somebody is in leather pants, we can assume she is an Obama supporter. I thought it would be an unexpected element that could make her more real.

Mothers are more shamed for going after career ambitions than fathers?

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 steel myself for disappointment.

Filmmaking changes since Juno?

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. 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.

Female voices in film?

I do think things are improving. I’ve only been in this industry for a decade, but in that time I seem to see more strong female voices emerging, and more women taking control of their empires like Shonda RhimesLena Dunham and Amy Schumer. But the director thing is a problem.  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 bring them into the fold.

Sony’s Barbie project

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.  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.