There’s something about Miranda July

Two images side by side of a woman's face.

Following the release of her third film, Kajillionaire, the artist and filmmaker talks turning social media into a DIY canvas, rabble-rousing, and the search for that ‘15-minute connection’

By Osman Can Yerebakan   Photography by Diego Uchitel   Video by Luke Scroggins   Styling by Rebecca Ramsey   Hair by Ian James    Make-up by Nicole Walmsley   Monday 2 November, 2020

I could have done it, and probably should have: run to a toy store and got some blue playdough for my interview with Miranda July. She and I later agreed it wouldn’t be that crazy since she ‘already established it as a thing’ – July famously thought about pulling out a piece of blue dough from her purse in lieu of a recorder during her interview with Rihanna. ‘I would quickly gauge if this person is nuts or if they’re cool and we can be friends,’ she tells me, now over Zoom, on the flip side of an interviewee and inquirer dynamic. 

Ice-breakers are a foreign concept for Miranda July, a Renaissance woman whose characters in film, literature and art always appear far from needing one. Playing a struggling performance artist in her directorial debut Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005), or directing Evan Rachel Wood as the protagonist in her latest film Kajillionaire (2020), July crafts misfits who embrace all the awkwardness life has in store. As much as they find their voices through colours surrounding them, a sense of floating rests in her characters. She lives in LA with her partner and their child, but admits to hardly connecting to places, ‘because I am such an internal person, and so are my characters.’
A black and white portrait of a woman in a black coat
Through her work, July wraps our in-between moments of dilemmas and what-ifs with riotous passions and longings – everyday disappointments, heartaches or glories suddenly appear larger than life, both relatable and strange. Sound familiar? That’s social media for you. She was rewriting methods of storytelling long before we began editing our lives or other people’s in Instagram memes and comments. In her second feature, The Future (2011), it was a crippled cat narrating the drifting apart of a thirty-something couple, voiced by July, who was also playing one half in the relationship. The cat was vulnerable but honest, similar to comments, DMs or retweets that at that time were just starting to populate our screens and minds.
A close up black and white shot of a woman wearing a jumper
The 46-year-old has recently turned social media into her canvas and clay, colouring and reshaping its rough edges and malleable bumps into a form of art. ‘The wonderful thing and danger with Instagram is its instancy – you can try an idea and get a response immediately, which is so great,’ she says after witnessing ‘things get overly laboured by the time they see the light of day.’ 

A heartbreaking love story with actress Margaret Qualley was July’s most recent immersion into that sweet immediacy. The couple’s on-and-off FaceTime love letters still live on their personal accounts, hiding their intimate confessions to each other between selfies and film announcements. Two public figures’ supposedly scripted relationship on social media breaks barriers of real and fiction.
A blurred photo of a woman looking through a wire fence
She texted Qualley, ‘This could not be more perfect!’ after their scene where she is at the airport in between promoting Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and attempts to break up with July. ‘We were pouring our hearts out while the phone had bad reception and it felt like time had slowed down.’ The same-sex love story she exclusively wrote for Instagram with a rising Hollywood star came right after wrapping Kajillionaire. July had just worked with her largest budget to date, so why not jump to a no-frills experiment on social media? ‘I was drawn to its intimacy and spontaneity, but also to having no producers and a refusal to constantly up myself in terms of scale,’ she admits. ‘I keep re-earning the right to do things the way I did them when I was younger.’

Beyond her star power, which can have her call on friend Jaden Smith to do a cameo in a labour of love project (‘He memorised four pages of dialogue in a really short time’), July is a riot girl who started out playing in female rock bands, and making zines around California and Portland in the 1990s. She sees a parallel between the soul back then and now. ‘Instagram’s success depends on its grass-roots opportunities.’ 
A black and white portrait of a woman with her hand in the air
July grew up in Berkeley among ‘outsider counter-cultural types’, which cast a lasting impact on her latest film. ‘We create these traps for ourselves often exactly in the territory where we protest to be free, and then we have someone like Melanie.’ She’s referring to her latest film’s free-spirited and unabashedly open character played by Gina Rodriguez, across from Evan Rachel Wood’s painfully closed-off Old Dolio Dyne, a con-artist trained by her soulless parents to scam. ‘I’m in all characters, especially the creepy or less lovable ones,’ she says, and Old Dolio Dyne is not an exception. ‘For someone like me, she’d be a heartthrob,’ she says about her lead character’s unassuming, ugly-chic catalogue charisma. ‘She wears clothes that make sense of her own body and gender, which feels pretty loose and undefined.’ 
A woman in a yellow jumper standing by a window
‘Is he going to rip off his scrubs like a stripper COVID-19 doctor?’ she wondered when a doctor visited her house for a test. They had 15 minutes to wait on the results, 'and that was a perfect parameter to turn into something between two strangers.' Rapidly disarming strangers has always been central to her scripts or books. The pandemic, however, has shifted her approach to her dynamic with people – for an inventor of an app that attempted to connect strangers through one reading their received text to the other, distancing is still an evolving concept. How would her app, Somebody, function today? She gives it a quick thought and responds: ‘It wouldn’t even be about strangers, but instead have the person you’ve been spending every day with play the parts of different friends and family members you haven’t seen in a long time.’ Did she really never think about this before? To end a true Miranda July encounter, I leave it to mystery, and let reality and fiction suspend and float in the air. 

From top: coat, vintage; necklace, July’s own
Jumper, Hermès
Jacket, Gucci; jumper, stylist’s own
Top, Dries Van Noten
Jumper and skirt, both Hermès; necklace, July’s own
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