Kody Keplinger, NY Times bestselling author of The Duff, sat down with Word & Film for a Q&A. She speaks about high school, her inspiration for writing The Duff, and the movie adaptation.
WORD & FILM: Let’s start with brass tacks. What inspired you to write The DUFF while you were still a student?
Kody Keplinger: It was hearing the word DUFF being used in my school. That is not a word I made up. Actually, I did research on this after the fact – it apparently got popular on some reality TV dating show in the early 2000s – but I first heard it my senior year, when a girl was talking about a boy as “The DUFF.”
W&F: Were you inspired by any books? Any movies?
KK: I loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because I’d never read a book that was so honest. And everything by Judy Blume, also because of the honesty. As an adult now, I love Courtney Summers. Her books have really, really compelling main characters that aren’t concerned with likability. I’m probably more influenced now by books, but as a teenager I was more influenced by teen movies. “Juno” came out while I was in high school so that was a big one for me, to the point where, when my editor compared my book to it, I was like, “Oh, she gets it.” Of course, “Mean Girls” is also forever going to be a favorite. And “Easy A,” which is based on The Scarlet Letter. I think “Easy A” is just genius. “10 Things I Hate About You,” which is a a modern adaptation of Shakespeare. And, going in a completely different, darker direction, I was obsessed with “Cruel Intentions,” an adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons.
W&F: Why do you think so many of these films – and your book – reference classic literature?
KK: I have a theory about why classic lit appears in a lot of teen movies and other YA, not just mine. Teenagers are really exposed to these stories in English class, and are in the time of life when you relate to the plights of a lot of these characters. I mean, being that age is so dramatic. My second book, Shut Out, is a modern retelling of Lysistrata. I thought it would be interesting to try that story in a high school setting, and I was very influenced by the teen movies of the ’90s that were inspired by classic lit.
W&F: Bianca’s an interesting character because she’s not automatically “likable.” Do yourelate to her?
KK: It’s funny, because I think people see more of me in Bianca than I do. That may be partly because there’s an assumption that fiction is always slightly nonfiction, and partly because she and I were both seventeen. I always tell people Bianca is me on my worst day, only she’s that way all the time. I was a really good girl, I followed the rules, and I wasn’t interested in writing about good girls. I was interested in characters who got angry sometimes, and whose actions were more like my dark thoughts.
W&F: It’s so cool that Mae Whitman plays Bianca in the movie.
KK: Funny story: Back in 2010, just for fun I did a blog post about who I’d cast in a movie based on the book, and I said Mae Whitman would be perfect as Bianca. CBS Films did not even know this when they cast her! I had been worried about how some of Bianca’s darkness and sass would translate in a movie but while Mae plays it very close to the book, she manages to do it so you still totally empathize with her, even when she’s making wrong choices and being kind of snarky and moody. She does a really great job.
W&F: The common wisdom is that Hollywood is more salacious than literature. But the movie “The DUFF” is actually a lot more sanitized than your book. Class differences fall by the wayside, Bianca’s alcoholic father isn’t even in the movie, and she’s sexually active with two different boys, which is actually pretty unusual for YA.
KK: The film really focused on the book’s main message, which is that every one of us is the DUFF. We’ve all been the weak link at some point. And a big reason some things were left out of the screenplay is they would have been R-rated. The book is marked at being “fifteen and up,” and there is not a fifteen-and-up movie. You can either go PG-13 or you can go R, in which case you eliminate a lot of your teenage audience. As for the dad – well, the movie’s more of a straight comedy than the book, and I don’t think you could do the stuff with Bianca’s dad’s drinking in a teen comedy film without losing a lot of the humor.
For the full interview click HERE