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Diablo Cody on United States of Tara

Published January 20, 2009 in Television
By Fred Topel | Image property of Showtime
United States of Tara United States of Tara

It's been quite a year for Diablo Cody. After winning the Oscar for writing Juno, she's got her second film in post-production, and now a TV show on Showtime. Cody created United States of Tara at the request of Steven Spielberg himself.

Cody and Spielberg's United States of Tara


"I actually thought my agent was joking," Cody said. "At the time Juno hadn’t been made. All I had was a script floating around town. To find out that Steven Spielberg wants to see me was surreal. I thought I was in trouble, like he was going to ask me to leave Hollywood. I found out what the idea was and I thought, ‘Oh, this is something I would like to do.’ I would have written anything for him, but I was genuinely interested. I pitched to him and he said, ‘This is great. Lets take it around.’ So we did."

Tara is a married mother of two who has multiple personalities. The first three we meet are T, a teenager, Buck, a man and Alice, a '50s-esque housewife. "There may be other alters, but it’s certainly not in the first few episodes. Obviously we had to establish all of them, so its not like there are going to be 100."

Which ones pop up in each episode depends on the story. "It’s totally contingent on what is happening in her life. It’s stress that triggers it and it’s sometimes stress that brings it back. You’d be surprised. It’s really not as predictable as you would think. I remember at one point, we had like Alice for three episodes in a row because that’s what suited the storyline, and then we’d realize, ‘This is a hell of a lot of Alice.’ But that’s just the way it has to be. We’re always servicing the stories as opposed to saying, ‘We need more Buck or this or that.’"



As for Buck believing he is a man, they've actually thought of what would happen when he looks down and sees that pesky vagina. "I think in one of the episodes it shows that Buck believes that his penis was blown off in Vietnam so it makes sense."

Expect to find out what traumatic event in Tara's past triggered these alters in the first season. "What actually caused her to disassociate was one massive event in her past which we are exploring in this season. It’s been alluded to but it hasn’t been established that early on."

Other than that, there has been no specific planning of the psyche of the show's main character. "It’s so strange because I never made an omnibus of the alters or even ideas. I didn’t really brainstorm that stuff. I hate to sound like a hippy dippy writer but they came into my head right away. I specifically knew that it was going to be Buck and T. It was a clean process."

TV has been a new discipline for the Academy Award winning writer, but now she can add it to her arsenal of talents. "The biggest challenge has absolutely been learning how to write episodically. I had no idea how to end an episode. I would end them on this satisfying note, and they would say, ‘You don’t understand. You have to make people want to come back.’ So that was a completely new mode of writing for me that I had to learn. I’ve never collaborated before, not even with one other person, let alone five or six. We did collaborate on the storylines, even though we all wrote our individual episodes. The biggest reward is that it’s exciting to me that we’re actually going to be invading people’s homes. That’s kind of the magic of television because you’re coming to people, and I think there’s an intimacy to it that you don’t get with movies."

United States of Tara airs Sunday nights on Showtime.
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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Showtime
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