Miranda July is a 37-year-old multi-hyphenate with an incredibly dense oeuvre to her name—short stories, performance art and feature films, among other things. The MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney have all showcased her work, her words have been published in The New Yorker and her directorial debut film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, picked up four awards at Cannes (including the Camera d’Or for best first feature) and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2005.
Her sophomore effort is The Future, a hilarious and, at times, viciously heartbreaking film, which July wrote, directed and stars in with an energy that can only be described as obsessive. The triple threat has crafted another film that is unmistakably hers. It hovers between neutral observation, fairy-tale enchantment and surreal eeriness, holding what is told in a limbo between dream and reality.
Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) live in a small L.A. apartment with jobs that they hate. In one month, they will take in a talking cat—the trusty mainstay of any film worth watching—that will need around-the-clock care. Terrified of their looming loss of freedom, they quit their jobs and set out to pursue their modest dreams. But as the month slips away, they find themselves living in two starkly different realities, their sense of comfort lastingly and irrevocably destabilized.
Anthem sat down with July and Linklater in New York to discuss their collaboration, what fame seems to promise and why a talking cat won’t appeal to investors.
The Future opens this Friday in New York and on August 5th in Los Angeles.
Miranda, being the polymath that you are—writer, director, actress and performance artist—is there a line that you see running through your creative output as a whole? And is that important for you to consider?
Miranda July: I would never do anything that didn’t feel right to me, even if it was a very small thing. It’s never, “I need to acquire as many professions as possible.” It all comes from the same creative thread in that respect. I’m just trying to figure out how to keep being truthful and keep being free, and a good way to do that is by coming at making things from different angles with different formal limitations.
How high were the stakes for you as a creative person when you decided to tackle a feature film for the first time with Me and You and Everyone We Know?
M.J.: You don’t really know how hard it’s going to be. I had made a movie that was a half-hour long before that and I was like, “Well, it’s just three of those. How hard could that be?” [Laughs] I think I retroactively understood that the stakes were high after the movie already debuted and had done pretty well. I had a sort of reverse vertigo where I was like, “That could have been really horrible.” But then I managed to have that fear for the following three years so I made up for it.”
Directing a feature seems scary enough, but you also star in your films. Does the fear grow exponentially when you wear multiple hats like that?
M.J.: Yeah, but that was also my way into this. As hard as it is, it’s also a self-comforting thing. I used to play all the parts in everything I did, which meant that everything was exactly how I wanted it, you know? Maybe I don’t notice how hard that’s making it because I’m just focused on having my comfort and my security.
The Future is an extension of one of your performance art pieces. What were some of the core elements of that performance that you wanted to mine a bit more deeply with this film?
M.J.: I always sort of thought it was going to be a feature, but thought it was going to be much weirder like, “I’m going to reinvent what movies can be and the movie will have audience participation like performance [art] does!” [Laughs] I think in some ways I was interested in the story enough that the narrative part pulled me in. I actually wanted it to exist in the real world—that seemed like a great challenge.
Hamish, how did you get involved? Were you friends prior to working together?
Hamish Linklater: No, we weren’t. I had seen Miranda’s first film and loved it so much. I loved her short stories as well. So when my agent sent me the script for The Future, I basically went full-blown stalker on her and eventually got to have coffee with Miranda. We were strangers in a coffee shop when we first met.
What initial conversations did you have with Miranda regarding this creative partnership?
H.L.: The main thing that we wanted to figure out was how to build a relationship or a comfort level with each other that would translate onto the set. It took two weeks to shoot the scenes of us together. We wanted to have that level of banal comfort, you know? We crammed that into about two weeks of rehearsal and theater games.
M.J.: I locked Hamish in a closet with me for like 4 hours or something.
H.M.: And I made her go to the Staples Center and be in a sports arena with me for 3 hours. [Laughs] We went interior and exterior. It was like a decathlon.
When you’re trying to finance a movie that has stuff like a talking cat and a t-shirt crawling down a street, do you think those are positive selling points for investors?
M.J.: Well, I thought it was! [Laughs] I always led with that stuff thinking it was the “money in the bank” kind of thing. But it must not have been because it was so hard to actually get the money.
H.L.: Did you have to pitch this or was the script the pitch?
M.J.: There was a script, but—
H.L.: You had to logline it in a room?
M.J.: I guess I just had meetings with people who had read this script and they were like, ‘How are you going to do this? How are you going to do that?’ In a way, it wasn’t until I started giving interviews that I started getting comments like, ‘You hear “talking cat”… Well, I don’t want to see stuff like that!’
M.J.: I’m like, “Really? Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”
H.L.: But Garfield: the Movie made so much money! A gazillion dollars in foreign sales, right?
M.J.: Yeah! What about Garfield? I think I still would have had the cat in the film, but I might have downplayed it a little bit.
Miranda, I read an interesting quote from you recently where you said something along the lines of, “Being constantly seen by others will alleviate the burden of living.” Can you expand on what you meant by that?
M.J.: Well, that’s the hope. That’s not true, though. That’s like a fantasy. If you could be watched all the time—my character in the movie finds someone who she thinks will do that—that everything you do will be fascinating and you will never feel the need to ignite yourself ever again in order to capture the gaze of others. I think fame seems to promise that, you know? But that’s not true at all, not even a little bit. I think I used to have that fantasy, which is why it’s in the movie.
Although the film is entirely accessible, The Future has its offbeat humor and quirky diversions. Have people come up to you after screenings with readings of certain things that you found particularly interesting?
M.J.: Yeah, that does happen. But I guess even if I could remember one, I probably won’t want it printed anywhere. It’s always sort of like you want to keep your mouth shut, especially if they really loved it and it was their favorite thing that you didn’t even think that you did. All you can say to them is, “Oh, thank you. I really love that part—the part that you wrote for yourself.” [Laughs]
H.L.: I was surprised by all the crying that people did at Sundance.
M.J.: You didn’t expect that.
H.L.: Not at all! I know it was a coming-of-age story and about mortality, but—
M.J.: That was pretty calculated. I remember when I was working on the score with Jon Brion, especially the music for the cat’s last monologue, I was like, “You have to hit that note because that’s the crying note!” With the music, especially when you’re trying to be in touch with a specific emotion, it’s sometimes a little different from what’s actually happening on the screen.
H.L.: I’ve run into people who are like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll able be ever to watch it again.’ It shook them up so badly. And other people who laughed so hard that they were worried they would die from it.
M.L.: [Laughs] Just in case you missed that, you want to see this movie!
You’re really good at balancing comedy with the more tragic elements, and still have it all feel completely necessary and cohesive. Was that hard to pull off?
M.J.: It felt like it should be pretty light and funny for the first third of the film, but a certain kind of sadness should creep up on you and kind of take you by surprise. I wanted the film to end up in a really different place from where it starts out. In fact, when I’m listening to the audience at screenings and they’re laughing a lot in the beginning, I get a little bit like, “Okay. Let’s slow down here!” because I know where it’s headed. It’s also about the audience just coming and wanting to do what they want to do—luckily I don’t have any control over that.
Do you see a lot of yourself in the characters that you play in your films?
M.J.: As far as the stories and what happens, none of that is reflective of my own life, but I’m using the stories to communicate true things that I wouldn’t be able to explain in any other way, you know? I have no other way to explain that feeling. So, in a certain sense, it starts to feel very literal to me, like that is literally the feeling I have had so many times, and now, here I am acting it out. It’s almost like a documentary. And yet, anyone who knows me knows that that’s nothing like my life. There’s nothing in it that’s real in that sense.
H.L.: But I think that you as the character of Sophie in The Future is a more self-contained thing. It’s the world of the film as a whole that sort of speaks to the exuberance or the wildness of Miranda as a person, the certain kind of emotion, passion or thing.
M.J.: Yeah, that’s true. It’s the whole movie, the whole world of the movie that does feel very transparently me.
A lot of people out there are quick to judge, as we all know. How do you respond to critics who maybe think that you’re being weird just for the sake of being weird when it comes to your art?
M.J.: People have said that to me since high school. Now those people have grown up and write for blogs. [Laughs] But what would we do without those people? They have to hold down their end or else the world would be out of balance. For me, in a way, I wanted to use some of the space that I felt like I was granted or made with my first movie and kind of go further into some of the things I felt like I had been doing for a long time, things that weren’t quite as literally real. It’s a very craft-orientated process. You don’t just feel kooky and do that. It takes a lot of work.
H.L.: I have to say that all the things that are magical that happens in the movie are sort of the inevitable things that has to happen. Reading this script for the first time, it was such a relief to be able to have my character be able to stop time, for instance. You’re given a character or given a person in the world who can express heartbreak in that kind of way. It’s like, “Oh, yes! Thank god someone has said that that’s how it feels,” and be able to act that out. I think it’s the most perfect wish fulfillment. It’s not arbitrary. It’s necessary. When someone says that it’s being weird just to be weird, they’re just being lazy about reading the film.
M.J.: It’s so great to have you here. [Laughs]