Up-and-Comer of the Month: ‘Uncut Gems’ Star Julia Fox
You may not have known her name until just now, but Julia Fox has been famous for years. A former fixture in the New York club scene, Fox is an acclaimed artist and photographer who once owned and operated her own successful fashion line. But before Uncut Gems, she had never acted professionally before, let alone played the female lead in a major movie. Fox plays Adam Sandler‘s mistress in the Safdie brothers‘ kinetic gambling thriller, and the New York-raised firecracker adds to the film’s already-strong sense of authenticity. It was always meant to be like this, you see, for Fox feels she was destined to play the part.
The 29-year-old actress has had her eye on the role for five years, even as the Safdies went off and made two other movies before returning to Uncut Gems, for which they read 200 young women, many of them well-known to audiences. Instead, it was newcomer-yet-hardly-unknown Fox who boasted the raw magnetism that the part demanded, and the Safdies were willing to go to the mat for her. Like her character, Fox is a survivor who has a certain strength and resilience, having been forced to fend for herself after moving out of her parents’ home as a teen, when she worked as a dominatrix after school. That early job helped prepare her for life as an actress — an “actress of life,” in her words — as it saw her get into character to serve her clients’ needs, all while maintaining total control. Fox is always in control of her own environment, refusing to fall victim to the dangerous game that is life. Rather than sit around waiting for things to happen, she’s out there hustling to make things happen and write her own future, rather than be defined by her past.
Speaking of which, Fox grew up watching Sandler in films like The Wedding Singer, which led classmates to call her ‘Julia Guglia,’ so to find herself kissing him in Uncut Gems as a character named ‘Julia’ was rather surreal, to say the least. But like everything Fox has achieved, she just goes for it, and that willingness to live in the moment serves her well.
I typically start each of these interviews by telling the subject why they were chosen for Up-and-Comer of the Month honors, and I told Fox it was because her performance felt raw and real — the kind of thing that might’ve come off as phony from a more ‘polished’ actress. There’s something a little bit messy about her, which is part of her chaotic New York appeal. Fox just feels real — more real than the average actress, at least — and I wasn’t completely surprised when she called me herself for our scheduled interview, rather than allow a publicist to connect us, as is often customary. Get to know her below, and I hope you enjoy our interview.
You’ve known the Safdie brothers for quite a while, but how did you first meet them, and what were your initial impressions of them?
Julia Fox: Well, the New York artists downtown scene is kind of small, you know. I’d already known about them, just through friends who loved their movie Daddy Longlegs, so I had met them before even Heaven Knows What. I met Josh at a little coffee shop. He was sitting with a friend of mine, so I said ‘hi’ to him, and then he introduced me to Josh. And Josh did a little investigating of me and thought I’d be perfect to play Sadie. Sadie was Julia’s original name, but then when Adam Sandler got onboard, his daughter’s name is Sadie, and he just thought that would be weird, so they were trying to come up with another name and they could only come up with Julia. So that’s kind of how that came about.
So you met the Safdies under social circumstances, but did you ever think you’d wind up working with together?
Fox: No, not really, but they had been talking to me about this movie for like, 5-plus years, so I kind of knew that eventually we would work on something. But then they went and did Heaven Knows What and Good Time, and I loved both those movies, so I was just kind of like, ‘sure, if it happens, great, and if not, great.’ I didn’t really understand the magnitude of Uncut Gems and I didn’t understand what an opportunity this would be for me. I remember at one point telling an actress friend of mine, ‘hey, they’re making a movie and maybe you could play Sadie.’ I was like, ‘I’ll introduce you, maybe you could do it.’ That’s how casual it was. Now, I’m like, ‘what was I thinking, [nearly] giving away my role?’ So it’s been a long, interesting journey, but with a really positive outcome.
Were there doubters along the way, or people you had to prove yourself to besides the Safdies?
Fox: Yeah, of course. When Scott Rudin got onboard and A24, they all had their idea of who should play Julia, and Josh really stuck to his guns and said ‘no, I know this girl, and she would be perfect.’ He really stuck to his guns and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He got approved to do a screen test with me and Adam in New York, that’s kind of when it was all set in motion, because after I did that screen test, I was like, ‘oh, I need to get this role. I will die if I don’t get it.’ It was real. It became real. It wasn’t just like, this 5-year-long fantasy anymore.
What was your relationship to Adam Sandler like before working with him on this movie? Were you a fan? Did you grow up watching his movies?
Fox: Oh yeah. I didn’t have satellite cable, I just had basic cable, and I feel like TBS, all they played were Adam Sandler movies, so I’ve seen every single one. And growing up, everyone used to call me ‘Julia Guglia’ after Drew Barrymore’s character in The Wedding Singer. So I told him, ‘I’m gonna make this hell for you because I got picked on so much.’ He was always a legend and icon, and never in a million years did I think I’d share an onscreen kiss with him. Like, that’s crazy.
Do you have a favorite Sandler movie going into this project?
Fox: The Wedding Singer, even though I got made fun of. It was harmless, and I absolutely love that movie.
So you read with Adam and then you find out that you’ve booked this part after hearing about this project for five years. How do you celebrate a moment like that? Did you go out and celebrate?
Fox: Did I celebrate? I mean, everyone was just so happy for me, but I didn’t actually like, go out and celebrate or anything. I got immediately to work. I was like, ‘I need to get in shape and really look my best, and be present and healthy.’ That was kind of what I started to do. I had asked Josh, ‘should I take some acting lessons?’ And he said, ‘absolutely not! Don’t you dare!’ I was like, ‘okay, I guess I’ll just wing it.’ I had no idea, and I felt like I tricked them into thinking I could do this. I was so great at the screen test that I felt like I just had that impostor syndrome, like, I’d get to set and I’d flop, and they’d see that it was all an act. But that’s what acting is, it is an act. When I got to set and then I could actually act, I was like, ‘oh my God, thank God!’
What do you think Julia represents to Howard, and why do you think he’s willing to throw away his marriage for her?
Fox: Well, I think he kind of met his equal in Julia. I think he met someone who… his wife didn’t accept him for who he was, she resented him, and Julia doesn’t. Julia puts up with it and understands that it’s just the way he is, and she loves him anyway. I think Julia loves him unconditionally, whereas his wife loves him conditionally. I think he feels safe with Julia, because she’s not going to leave him, and his wife is always threatening to leave him, and was probably doing so since before he even met Julia. I think he finds security in her, and she helps him, too, in the business. She gets celebrities to wear the jewelry, and she hustles for him. He trusts her.
And what do you think Julia sees in Howard, this gambling addict who’s 20 years older than her, when she could have almost any man in the city? Why does she choose this guy?
Fox: There are really endearing characteristics about him. He does fuck up all the time, but in the end, he really does pull through. She trusts him, and she knows that he’s gonna fix it, because that’s what he’s done his whole life. He makes messes and cleans them up, and she knows he’s going to fix it. She trusts him, and they trust each other, and have this bond. And she’s damaged goods as well. They’re both broken people and they kind of hold each other together.
I read that Heaven Knows What star Arielle Holmes once worked for a jeweler, like you do in Uncut Gems. Do you think your character was based in part on her, or not at all?
Fox: I think so, yeah. Josh was doing research on Heaven Knows What, and met her in a train station and she was asking for money, or asking for a swipe, and then he met her and he thought she could play Sadie. She has this incredible story, and then she wrote that book, Mad Love in New York City, so she inspired Heaven Knows What. After that, it was like, back to the drawing board. And then Rob Pattinson expressed that he wanted to work with them, but they couldn’t put him in Uncut Gems because he just didn’t fit in, so they made Good Time, and that film was so incredible. I don’t think they could’ve made Uncut Gems if they hadn’t made Heaven Knows What and Good Time.
Is it hard not to judge a character like Julia, or is that the trick to playing her?
Fox: Sure. What I love about their portrayal of Julia is that, in most movies, the other woman, the mistress, has this kind of negative connotation. When there’s a younger woman with an older man, you kind of think ‘gold digger,’ and I love that they portrayed her in a positive light. And I love how her character blossoms throughout the movie. At first, you think she’s a little seedy, she’s been out all night, she’s not going to work. You think, ‘she’s just in it for the money, she doesn’t really love him.’ And then towards the end, you see that she’s willing to go to any lengths for him, and I love that.
You’re only 29, but you’ve already lived an incredible life. How prepared were you for this moment where you’re blowing up as an actress, and being toasted at festivals, and there’s a feeding frenzy among the agencies to sign you?
Fox: I kind of feel like this was a culmination of everything that I went through in my life, and now I see why I went through that. Everything kind of clicked and the puzzle came together, and then it all kind of made sense. I feel like my life has built up to this moment and this is the climax up until now. I’m sure there will be more amazing moments, but as of right now, it kind of just feels like, I finally got that validation and that recognition, and I’m being taken really seriously.
I feel like my whole life has been me trying to prove that I’m more than just this sexy girl, and I’m more than just this damaged girl, you know. I’m a real person and I can do things. I’ve gotten so much rejection, personally and professionally, so this kind of feels like, finally someone believed in me and really just put everything on the line for me, and that feels really good.
We’re in the middle of this #MeToo movement, so can you talk about how this film addresses that issue, because after all, Julia is sleeping with her married boss, who allows her to live in his swanky Manhattan apartment.
Fox: What I loved about Julia’s character is that she’s not a victim. I feel like the #MeToo movement, although it’s incredible and has done so much for women, it does, sometimes, on certain occasions, it really paints women as these helpless victims, whereas I feel like they really show Julia like, ‘sure, you might think that, but in reality, she’s actually very dignified.’ It might seem like these men are taking advantage of her, but in reality, she’s taking advantage of them, and I kind of love that they didn’t victimize her.
Even in that last scene in the hotel, she goes up, and then Wayne Diamond comes out and he’s in a bathrobe, and that’s the typical Harvey Weinstein situation. But she’s using him for the room, and to pick up the cash, so she doesn’t even blink or think twice about the robe. She’s kind of like, ‘look at this retard. Just because you’re in a robe doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.’ So I love that they show that other side of her, and how powerful she is.
Do you think of yourself as an actress first and foremost, or do you still think of yourself as an artist above all?
Fox: I think of myself as a creator, and I think that will always shine through in any medium that I decide to pick up. If you’re creative and you’re an artist, you could be doing anything and that creativity will shine. But I’ve always kind of felt like an actress of life. I’ve always said that I’ve been acting my whole life, and everyone always told me, ‘you should be an actress professionally.’ I’ve heard that my whole life, so it’s kind of cool to think, ‘yeah, they were right.’ I can do this and I’m good at it, and that feels really good. I loved it so much and I can’t wait to do more.
Is there an actress you admire, or whose career you’d like to emulate?
Fox: As of right now, I really like Margot Robbie. I really like her a lot. I just saw Bombshell and I think she’s amazing. And I love that she first got recognized in The Wolf of Wall Street, where she played the sexy wife. And then she did I, Tonya, and we saw a totally different side of her. She’s so multifaceted, and she didn’t allow herself to be typecast as the sexy blonde bimbo. I love that she has her own production company and makes her own movies. That’s what I want to do, I shot and directed my first short film a week before I got the call that I won the role of Julia. And I have my own little production company called Extra Virgin Films, and I can’t wait to talk about that as well, but I’m excited to write and direct and produce, and I feel like Margot has been able to do that.
And then I love Charlize Theron… there are so many amazing actresses. I love Penelope Cruz and Tilda Swinton, and I love Marisa Tomei. I feel like I get compared to her a lot, which I think is the biggest compliment, because she’s incredible. Debi Mazar I get a lot, and I love her, because I feel like we have similar stories. New York, club kid, just a complete train wreck, very independent. She moved out of her parents’ house when she was very young, and I did that too.
And she started out playing Ray Liotta’s mistress in Goodfellas…
Fox: Exactly! So I definitely emulate her a lot. I look at her and I think, ‘she was this crazy girl, so maybe it’s okay that I am. Maybe it’ll work for me.’ So that’s comforting. Also, I don’t have that thick New York accent, I’m about to turn it off and on, so I feel like that definitely works in my favor.
Are there any filmmakers you’re eager to work with after the Safdie brothers?
Fox: There are so many. I love Charlie Kaufman. I love Baz Luhrmann. I’d love to work with more female directors, and I hope more of them start popping up. I love Martin Scorsese. I love those Italian mob movies, and I am Italian. I’m half-Italian, and was actually born in Italy and I can speak Italian, so I would love to do something like that. I love Aaron Sorkin, and I love Sofia Coppola. There’s a lot. It’s hard to think of them on the fly, and I’m also kind of bad at remembering names.
You and I have something in common, which is that we’ve apparently been fired a bunch of times. Tell me about those experiences and how you picked yourself back up and moved forward following those setbacks.
Fox: I’m just not the best employee, and I came to terms with that very young, and I realized that if I was going to be successful then I’d have to be my own boss and take control of my life. I’m just naturally more of a leader. I’m not really the status quo, 9-to-5 type of person. That’s just not my personality. It’s not. I think it’s just about realizing who you are, and not forcing something that clearly isn’t working, and just having the balls and having the guts to be like, ‘no, I’ve gotta do this myself.’ In a way it’s kind of harder. It’s kind of easier to just be told what to do, and then just do it, and then leave and just feel empty. I feel like being an artist and being creative has allowed me to do whatever I want, so that’s really cool.
I have to ask you about working with The Weeknd, as I imagine he’s a very different co-star than Adam Sandler.
Fox: You know, he is, but he’s also not, in the sense that he’s so humble, and also such an incredible performer and actor. And he was just a natural. Like, the cameras turned on and he was just acting, and acting, like, well, and I asked him about that. I was like, ‘how did you do that,’ and he said, ‘it’s just about being a performer, and being on stage and sometimes having the flu and not feeling so great, and just being able to turn it on and perform.’
And that was the same thing with Kevin Garnett, who was also incredible. He didn’t ever do a bad take, he was just always great, and I asked him [about it] and he said the same thing. ‘It’s about being a performer and being able to turn it on and take direction, and be coached.’ They were both incredible to work with and it’s going to be, for sure, a lifelong friendship. It kind of feels like we all had this baby together, and now the baby has been born, and it’ll grow up and take on a life of its own. We’re all really excited to see where it goes.
Tell me about your experiences at the fall festivals, like Telluride and Toronto.
Fox: Well, at Telluride I got to see the movie for the first time, so that was really exciting. I wanted to wait and see it in a theater with an audience, because I really wanted to have that shared experience, and see and feel what they were seeing and feeling. And watching their reactions to what happened on screen was incredible. It was definitely a good soft opening to this whole awards season and this whole Uncut Gems ride, because it is this quaint little town, and there’s no paparazzi and it’s just casual. It’s not about the glitz and glam, and it’s not this huge production, whereas Toronto was the complete opposite with the red carpet. It was crazy, but that was really fun because for the first time, I was really being recognized for the movie.
There was this moment where I was pulling up to the red carpet and I’m wearing this really scandalous body suit, with this skirt made of gemstone chain mail, and these really tall red Louboutin shoes and the red lipstick, and I’m all done up and I really felt like a movie star. And we’re pulling up and there’s all these cameras and it’s just mayhem, and my publicist, who was in the car with me, was like, ‘Are you ready? Are you nervous? And I just looked at her and said, ‘I was born for this,’ and the doors flung open and I stepped outside and there were cameras going off and so many people screaming my name. And I was just like, ‘oh my god, this feels like a movie. This feels like a continuation of Uncut Gems.’ So that was a really pivotal moment for me in my life. I will always remember that moment. I live for a major, major moment, so that was really cool.
Have you been reading your own reviews or have you been cautioned against that?
Fox: I don’t Google them, but my manager and publicist send them along, and so far they’ve all been great reviews. It feels great, because I really went to set not knowing if I could do it. I had no idea, I’d never done this before, I was not sure if I could. So the fact that they loved it, it feels like I can do anything. I can conquer anything at this point.
Why don’t you have a larger social media presence? Is it just something you’re not that into these days?
Fox: Yeah, I just feel like when I was younger, I was much more involved. This Instagram I have is only, like, a year and a half old. I used to really be on Instagram, and I had another account, but I don’t know… now I’m just so present. I just really live in the moment, and I’m just preoccupied with other things, and I don’t really get validation from that anymore. I don’t get validation from constantly having my phone out and taking photos of things. I’m completely numb to it. I get validation elsewhere. And I’m really happy, so I don’t feel like I need it.
Do you have a dream role or anything like that?
Fox: A dream role would be… I’d love to be in an action movie or a spy movie. Something fun! I definitely don’t want to be, like, a rom-com girl. Although, I mean, I don’t mind it, I’ll do it, but I definitely want to keep the energy up, and do things that are fast-paced and exciting. I’d love to do stuff like that.
So when Hollywood inevitably remakes The Wedding Singer, you’re not down for that Julia Guglia role?
Fox: Probably not.
What are some of your favorite movies, and what have you seen recently?
Fox: I just watched Fleabag and I thought it was brilliant. But I don’t think they’re going to continue it for a third season. The director, who also stars in it, I think she’s moving on to other things, but it’s brilliant. I haven’t had a chance to watch much TV lately just because I’ve been so busy. But my all-time favorite movie is probably Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. I love that movie, and I also love Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation with Meryl Streep. And then I like easy, kind of stupid movies like Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I fucking love that movie, it’s so good! I love natural disaster movies, too. I just love really thrilling, anxiety-provoking, butterflies-in-your-stomach movies.
Have you ever placed a bet?
Fox: No. I’m not a gambler at all. I don’t play with money. That’s just… thank God I didn’t get that one… that skipped me. Thank God.
I now you just signed with WME, so what’s next for you?
Fox: I’m reading a lot of scripts right now. I have an audition in LA, so I’m flying out there. That’s pretty big, so I’m excited about it. I hope I get it. And I hope to have one of my scripts come to life. I’m sitting on so many, so we’ll see, but we’re just now starting to think about the next steps. One of them is kind of loosely based on my life as a teenager growing up here, but it’s much more episodic. It’ll probably be more of a TV show than a movie, just because there’s so much and it’s so good.
Right. I mean, you were a teenage dominatrix, right?
Fox: Yes, but even before that, it was mayhem. There are just so many fun, cute, but tragic stories of teenage survival in the city, and doing a lot with a little. There are so many great stories and amazing characters that I’ve collected throughout my life, and then I have some other scripts that are totally unrelated to me. We’ll see what happens.