Uncut Gems interview Julia Fox

The path to Julia Fox‘s on-screen acting debut in Uncut Gems took her through a myriad of other successful creative endeavors, including art, photography, fashion design, writing, and even recently directing her first short film, Fantasy Girls. Fox first became well known in her native New York City for being something of an “It girl” on the club/party scene, and it was during that time in her life, nearly 10 years ago, that she became friendly with brothers and struggling filmmakers Josh and Bennie Safdie, who were developing a script set in the city’s diamond district which focused on a fast-talking jeweler named Howard Ratner, a degenerate gambler and a man who enjoys the thrill of risk more than the actual rewards it may bring.

The Safdies wrote the character of Julia for Fox, and through the many iterations of both the screenplay and the cast, Fox has remained the one constant in the production – but she still had to fight for the role and prove she could play the part of Howard’s mistress. Uncut Gems took many years to get off the ground (the brothers made their breakthrough movies Heaven Knows What and Good Time in the meantime), and when the Safdies’ first choice to play Howard, Adam Sandler, finally agreed to make the film, things fell into place fairly quickly. Fox was ready, and she’s absolutely electric as the charming, manipulative, and irresistible Julia, in a movie that feels like the cinematic equivalent of a panic attack and also happens to be one of the best of the year.

/Film spoke with with Fox recently about her long road to overnight success, how much of herself (past and present versions) she put into the Julia character, what she learned about acting from working so closely with Sandler, and the free-floating directing style that the Safdie brothers adopted to make the film both tense and funny.

I know that this part was essentially written for you. Had you even considered acting before the Safdie brothers created this character for you?

Julia: Not really, but I was always told that I should pursue it, but I was doing other things. I am a creative person, and knew my bigger picture would be writing, directing, and producing; that’s what I’ve always thought I would get to one day. So it’s really cool that these doors have swung open for me, and I’m entering the world I’ve always wanted to be in. I would love to act more, but I’m still keeping my eye on that ultimate goal — I’m not going to let that go.

I know you’ve done one short so far. So with acting, you entered filmmaking through the one door you hadn’t anticipated.

Julia: Definitely. People are interested and take me seriously, so I’m really excited to prove myself and show everyone what I’m capable of, because I think at this point, I can do everything, I’m on top of the world. When I got to set, I wasn’t even sure if I could act. I kept thinking, “What if I just tricked all of these people into thinking [I could] do this, and once the cameras start rolling, I’ll just freeze up, I won’t know how or remember my lines.” So it was cool that I could perform and deliver, and I’ve also gotten a lot of recognition for it.

I’m guessing it wouldn’t be much fun acting if the character wasn’t so interesting and layered. What aspects of the character Julia did you connect with initially?

Julia: Definitely that she’s an independent, dignified, strong, loyal hustler. She’s such a ride-or-die girl, and I can relate to those aspects of her. She’s a 20-something-year-old girl from New York; it wasn’t that hard [laughs]. It’s set in 2012, and she’s very similar to the 2012 version of me, when I was dating an older man, I had a fashion line, I was hustling it to get it on celebrities; that’s kind of what she does. So there are some parallels, and it felt like everything I’ve ever done and went through, it all was to get to where I am now — it feels like the culmination of all of those things. Now everything makes sense, everything clicked into place, and that feels really good.

You’re not the only person in the film who’s playing a version of themselves. Did it help ease you into the acting role by being able to pull from your own life rather than identify with someone you had nothing in common with?

Julia: Yeah. It definitely helped with my first role that it was so similar to who I am, to ease into the industry. But now I feel I could broaden this and build and expand on top of this, play other characters. I feel very confident in that.

By the end of the film, you are essentially the co-lead and so much hinges and is propelled forward by things that you’re doing.

Julia: That was actually added in after. We had shot the movie and wrapped at the end of November [2018], and then when they had the rough cut and they showed it to the studio, the studio was like, “No, we need to see [what happens to] Julia.” So that was really cool that I got to have that closing act and leave the audience guessing as to what happens to me next.

I think I read somewhere that you were the only actor who remained constant through the years this film wasn’t getting made. That had to be a nice boost for you confidence that the Safdies very much wanted to keep you in this film.

Julia: Oh yeah. That was definitely so cool. And to be even considered and be among these amazing men who are masters of their craft. All the call sheet, Adam was 1, I was 2, Kevin Garnett was 3. To be even sandwiched between these two incredible people gave me this amazing validation and felt really good, like I could do anything.

Did you have to audition or otherwise prove to anyone that you could do this before the studio would sign off on you?

Julia: Oh definitely. Even though Josh had me in mind for this role through the process, there was still proving to the money people that I was able to perform. They auditioned 300 people, and I was luckily was able to do a screen test with Adam, and because of that, I got approved for it. Our chemistry was great and undeniable and we had great energy on screen and were able to keep up with each other — the momentum was great. And because of all that, I was able to get this role.

Can you describe the nature of the relationship between Julia and Howard? It seems highly combustable but it also works somehow.

Julia: They are two damaged people who accept each other and take care of one another, and they have this amazing bond where they accept each other for who they are. That’s beautiful. I get asked that a lot: “What does she see in him?” It’s that he’s not going to leave her, he accepts that she’s had a tough life and she’s had to be independent and survive, and even though he does make so many mistakes and is such a fuck up, he always finds a way to clean up his messes. She trusts him and she knows that he’ll fix it and find the money and win the bet because he always does in the end. She loves him unconditionally, whereas his wife loves him conditionally. That’s what makes their relationship so special, knowing he can be vulnerable with her and keep it real with her. He’s not scheming or lying; he’s honest with her.

Howard strikes me as someone who isn’t satisfied with what many people would consider a normal life. Can you identify with that on a certain level?

Julia: Totally! That being addicted to adrenaline, walking the line and playing with fire and putting yourself in a position where the stakes are really high. You either win big or lose terribly, and he loves that thrill to the point where he’s addicted to it. I definitely can identify with that – not so much anymore, but I definitely use to be way more of a risk taker in a bad way. Now, not so much. I’ve kind of outgrown that, but I can certainly relate to his character.

Were there moments when Josh Safdie was putting your character together that he would ask you, “If we put her in this situation, how would you react?”

Julia: Yeah, yeah. Every few months, he’d call me and ask me “What would you do in this situation?”, and then I would give a rundown of what I would do. He’d ask, “What were some really wonderful, beautiful moments in your relationship?” and I even asked all of my ex-boyfriends, “What did we used to do in this situation?” Then I would send him screenshots of what they would reply. That was really funny because we went in-depth with it and really tried to keep it as authentic as possible.

Purely from an acting standpoint, what did you learn from working so closely with Adam?

Julia: Honestly, it was about losing yourself in the moment, put your ego aside, not be afraid to look silly or ugly, and just react to whatever is being thrown at you. Just keep going, even if you fuck up. Never stop the scene, just keep it going for as long as you can, because there will be some gold in there.

Julia is also an employee in Howard’s jewelry store. Did you have to do any prep work to look like you knew what you were doing in that situation?

Julia: Kind of, but I feel like I’m a natural saleswoman, like I can bullshit anything, but it’s not rocket science. I’ve been in a jewelry store and owned and talked about a lot of jewelry, and then sell it and embellish it, make it seem like it’s so amazing. It came naturally to me.

There’s a key scene in the film between you and The Weeknd. That’s the one time where the manipulative skills don’t work on Howard, and you can see the panic set in on your face. Talk about that sequence.

Julia: It was definitely about Howard just not having it at all. She really didn’t cheat on him in that moment; she was just doing coke with [The Weeknd] and trying to get in his good graces so he would buy that chain from her. In the end, she was trying to do a good thing for them, and he just got jealous and thought it was something that it wasn’t. She knew she was going to get him back, and she got that tattoo, and she knew exactly what to do to butter him up and get him back. She always knew she was going to; I don’t think for one second she thought it wasn’t going to work out.

Over the years, in all of your creative and artistic endeavors, you have been successful at just about everything. Where does that come from, that idea that once you’ve conquered something that you move onto something else?

Julia: Totally, that’s exactly what it is.

Do you get bored easily?

Julia: Yes! It’s true; I really do get bored easily. I like to conquer things; I like to say I’ve done it. I’m a collector of experiences and also very impulsive; I get an impulse to do something and my intuition of telling me to do something or if I get this idea and I think it’s brilliant, I just have to do it. I have to put it in motion and put it out into the world. However anyone reacts isn’t really the point; the point is to release it and not carry it anymore. I do feel even though now I’m acting, I still feel like I’m going to do a lot of other things, like write a book or multiple books, maybe a children’s book — just random things that I feel like I want to do, that I have an urge to do in that moment. It’s also about being fearless and not caring how people are going to react, because it’s not about that; it’s about me.

With acting, is it possible that perhaps you wouldn’t get bored quite as easily because each new character is a different accomplishment?

Julia: Totally. I hope my next role is totally different from Julia because I’m excited and also very interested as to how far I can go and what my capabilities are. I’m still learning all of these things about myself, and that’s the most fulfilling part of all of this, not just making a great movie and getting recognized for it, but also seeing what I’m capable of doing and always learning from others and from myself and about myself.

When you’re having a moment like this in any field, do you need people in your life to push you, or are you more self-motivated?

Julia: I’m pretty self-motivated as a person, and if I’m not feeling it, there’s really nothing anyone can tell me to make me feel it. It’s really begins and ends with me, but I’m good at getting into action and turning it on, even if I don’t feel like it. I’ll always perform and deliver.

Have you been approached about other acting gigs yet?

Julia: Yeah, I have. There are a few project in the works that I hope I get. I’ve read a lot of interesting scripts, but I haven’t really had time to consider them since we’ve been on this Uncut Gems rollercoaster. If I have a free day, sometimes I’m just reading scripts all day. They pile up.

Do you feel like any of the previous lives you’ve had in other fields in any way prepared you to be an actor?

Julia: Yeah, absolutely. Even when I had the fashion line, and I was hustling to get it on celebrities, or fighting with my boyfriend in a club — that happened [laughs]. Getting a tattoo with his name when things were rough and I had to prove how devoted I was. I mean, there have been a lot of parallels. It really does feel like this movie has been a culmination of all of those experiences that I’ve gathered.

Best of luck with this and your newfound career.

Julia: Thank you so much. Have a nice day.

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Uncut Gems is now playing nationwide.

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