In 2017, at the age of 27, Julia Fox held a funeral for herself. To be fair, she’d lived more lives than most by that point. A fixture of the New York City club scene since her early teens, as well as an artist, fashion designer, photographer, and muse, this wasn’t even her first brush with death — 10 years earlier, she nearly overdosed. Still, the art exhibit, called “RIP Julia Fox,” curated by Richie Shazam, and featuring silk canvases painted with her own blood, represented a new chapter in Fox’s life. Now, at 29, she’s the breakout star of the upcoming Uncut Gems, directed by Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time), and co-starring Adam Sandler, The Weeknd, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, LaKeith Stanfield, and Eric Bogosian.
Fox has history with the brothers. She’s known them for almost a decade, after meeting Josh through their frequent collaborator, producer Sebastian Bear-McClard (also known as Emily Ratajkowksi’s husband). That’s almost as long as Uncut Gems has been in the works. The movie, about a New York diamond dealer named Howard Ratner (Sandler) who’s as careless with his gambling debts as he is with the people he cares about, is the Safdies’ passion project. It’s gone through many iterations during that near-decade of development — Josh Safdie recently told Vice he found 160 drafts on his computer. Sandler, whose performance is being hailed as one of his best in years, and even earning Oscars buzz, was only cast in April 2018. Before that, Jonah Hill was attached to the role. One thing that hasn’t changed: Fox’s casting as Howard’s mistress and employee, written and named for her.
When we first meet Julia, she’s working in Howard’s diamond district showroom, as much an ornament as the high-end jewels she’s helping him sell. But as the film progresses, Fox’s natural charisma breaks through, turning her character into an essential component of the story, rather than a shiny accessory. More than that, she became the film’s crown jewel.
Uncut Gems is her feature film debut, but she already knows Hollywood is her future. She’s written and directed a short film, Fantasy Girls, about child sex trafficking and kidnappings in Reno, and has several more scripts stashed away. And though New York is in her blood, she’s ready for a new challenge. Ahead of Uncut Gems’ Netflix release on January 31st, Refinery29 talked to Fox in a suite at New York’s Whitby Hotel about the unconventional film.
Refinery29: Did the character of Julia change at all throughout the different drafts of the scripts?
Julia Fox: “I think that [her] relationship [with Howard] was a little more toxic — she was a little seedier. And as she evolved through the different scripts, [Josh and Benny Safdie] made her more dignified. They didn’t want to paint her as the cliched mistress, bad girl. In the end, you see that Julia is actually very level-headed and strong. She’s in-control, determined, empowered, and powerful. She’s all these things that at first, when the movie starts, you don’t realise.”
In the beginning, we see her through Howard’s eyes — as his plaything. But as the movie goes on, she really starts to come into her own.
“She’s his rock; she’s his foundation. They really trust each other, and even though Howard is such a fuckup, and things are always going wrong, in the end he always fixes everything, he always pulls through. He’s always able to pick up all the pieces and clean up his mess and provide for her and take care of her. She trusts him.”
How much input did you have over the character? Do you relate to her?
“There are definitely parallels. While we were making the movie, it just kind of clicked at one point. I was like, Wow I went through all of these experiences, and all of these amazing things, terrible things, tragedies, whatever it may be, for this moment, for this scene, for this movie. I was able to pull from those stored feelings; reenact them and own them. It was all very authentic and real, and it really came from the heart.”
This was your first professional acting job — did you find it difficult?
“It was pretty easy, I would say. It’s not rocket science. Just like act and react, and memorise your lines. You really have to be able to let go lose control, and destroy your ego. You’re not you, you have to let go of yourself and be this whole other person, and really feel the scene that you’re in. There is an art to it. You either have it or you don’t, I think.”
As a teen growing up in New York, and then in your early 20s, you were famous for being yourself. Were you ever worried about not being able to disappear into the character?
“I kind of feel like this is just a continuation of me. I played myself into a movie. But obviously these are different scenarios, and you do have to act — no matter how similar you are to a character, you still have to act according to whatever predicament you’re in. I was more concerned about doing a good job. All these people really fought for me, and I need to perform. When I got to set the first day I was like, What if I just tricked all these people into thinking I can do this, but once the cameras are on I just freeze up, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing? But now I feel like, Okay, I can act. I can do this, I’m good at it. I can’t wait to do more.
Was there a scene in particular that you were intimidated by, or struggled with?
“The most intimidating scene was probably that bathroom scene with The Weeknd. I had never met him before, and the bathroom was really tiny. We were flirting with each other — acting flirting, not real flirting — and it’s such and intimate scene. I was kind of like, I hope I’m not sweating, I hope you can’t tell how nervous I am. But after a few minutes — he’s so chill, and so humble and funny and nice. Just a regular guy, who just happens to be super, super talented. That immediately left and I was able to go on.”
You’ve known the Safdie brothers a long time. Do you think you would have been as comfortable on another set?
“I think it was particular to this set. Everyone who has worked on many movies told me, ‘Don’t get used to this. This is not how it usually is.’ We had a lot of non-actors. There were a lot of personalities, but it was so friendly, and it really did feel like I was just making a movie with my friends. We became this little family, and we all had this baby together. There was a really strong bond, and we all knew that we were taking part in something really special. The vibe on set was very electric and exciting.”
“That’s also another thing that was really cool. I was definitely among greats like Adam Sandler, and Kevin Garnett, and The Weeknd, and LaKeith [Stanfield], but I was also aligned with all these New York legends, and that was just as cool: to be grouped in with them as iconic New Yorkers. But I’m very excited to make the transition and be a Hollywood Girl.”
You wrote and directed a short called Fantasy Girls. Is that the kind of work you want to pursue going forward?
“Yes, definitely. I’m going to act a little more, but then my bigger picture is writing, directing, [and] producing.I have so many scripts. It’s about fine-tuning, and finding the right team. Even though I do love being in front of the camera, I feel more comfortable behind it. I just want to let my work speak for itself, and not always be the center of attention.”
Are there any women in the industry whose careers you want to emulate?
“[Margot Robbie] is always someone I reference because she started in Wolf of Wall Street in such a sexy role, and then did Mary Queen of Scots where she had like boils all over her face. And she produced I, Tonya, and I think it’s so cool! Her path is amazing. I just watched Bombshell; she’s incredible. And I also love Charlize [Theron], she’s such a badass woman. I love Marissa Tomei, I love Debi Mazar. She and I are probably the most similar because we’re both New York club kids, very colourful life, wild child, independent New York girls. I always look to her. If she could do it, I could do it.”
Uncut Gems is available on Netflix from January 31st