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Surprises, Oscar Clout & The "Magical Negro" Trope: Diablo Cody, Octavia Spencer & Julianne Hough Talk 'Paradise'

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by Charlie Schmidlin
October 15, 2013 1:03 PM
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For such a notable first-time event from one of our favorite screenwriters, Diablo Cody's directorial debut “Paradise” certainly stuck a soft landing. First popping up under the title “Lamb of God” with an odd blend of cast members—Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, and Julianne Hough—it then promptly disappeared before Cody announced on Twitter its DirecTV world premiere with the changed title. Following a young Christian woman (Hough) in Montana as she loses her faith after a horrific burn accident and travels to Las Vegas to transgress, the film is in fact one of Cody's sweeter efforts, away from the bitter laughs of “Young Adult” or the horror comedy of “Jennifer's Body.”

However, we found its more lighthearted tone to be one of the film's many flaws, calling it “an insipid confection of cloying hopefulness, bubblegum teen spirit and self-reflexive clever quips” in our review, but during a recent Los Angeles press conference, Cody joined Hough and Spencer as she described the surprising tone of the film.

“I think people might hear the logline and think this is going to be a movie that's anti-religion or anti-spirituality, where [Hough's character, Lamb] abandons her church and goes and has fun for the first time in her life,” she said. “If you see the movie you know that's not what it's about. I'm actually a very spiritual person, and I think that sometimes you have to find your own spirituality above the din of human voices. And that's what this is about--her finding her own moral compass outside of the more conservative structure of the church.”

Hough, an expressive actress and dancer who's starred in “Safe Haven” and the “Footloose” remake, found the role of Lamb a major change in terms of conveying the burns inflicted upon her character's body, saying that “all of that energy that I usually use had to be completely contained” in the film. Wrapped from the torso down in compression bandages while filming, also prepared beforehand by speaking to burn survivors and hearing their stories; these then contributed to the crucial scenes where her injuries are shown—disturbing moments that Cody wanted to push further.

“Honestly if I had had my druthers they would be [more substantial]. But let me put it this way: there are a lot of people who are more interested in making a commercial film, and I think it's hard to put a picture of a girl on a poster if she's disfigured,” she pointed out. “Up until the color correction process [her injuries] were always a discussion and sometimes an argument, because I wanted to take it as far as I could.”

While writing the script, Cody had to do a great deal of research because, she says, she was” not only talking about burn survivors—which is something that I knew nothing about prior to production—but I was also very interested in Vegas. The culture of Nevada in general is very conservative, and it's more like Utah than we think Las Vegas to be. But when you get into the inner city of Vegas, Paradise, that's where you find your colorful characters and people who are down on their luck. People who are doing things they maybe never imagined themselves doing, so there's an interesting dichotomy happening there for sure.”

For Spencer, the chance to play a curmudgeonly character that's “definitely different to what people know me as” was enticing, along with the opportunity to say Cody's words. She explained that writer/directors are her “bread and butter”, because “half of my research is just sitting down and having a conversation with them, because they know what their intentions are. There's not a mediator as far as the director that you have to go through. They're the writer, and it's their vision that you're seeing.”

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