Q&A with Miranda July


The inimitable multi-hyphenate Miranda July, whose new film, “The Future,” opens in Philadelphia today, is a woman of great contradictions. Also responsible for 2005’s much-beloved “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” the 37-year-old is something of an enigma, yet she opens her heart in her work.

She’s on the same artistic wavelength as her kindred spirit of a husband, yet she’s very much in tune with a part of herself defined by loneliness. And though her new movie covers mature themes surrounding pre-midlife crises, it’s rooted in a whole lot of childish thought. Over tea at Philadelphia’s Sofitel hotel, the ever-busy July — whose many additional job titles include performance artist and author — dished on the unique nature of her creative process, the sweet madness behind her method.

Here are excerpts from the one-on-one interview.

R. Kurt Osenlund: You have your hands in a whole lot of projects but, as a filmmaker, do you have a set body of work you want to create? And, if so, what sort of artistic goals does “The Future” fulfill within that grand scheme?

Miranda July: Well, that’s a new question. I don’t. It’s not that clear-cut. It’s sort of shadowy in my mind. But I think “The Future,” for me, has this idea that a second movie should be more me, to the degree that you always want to be expanding the space that you have to make stuff in. Even if it did less well because of being more me (whatever “more me” is), that would be best for everything that came after. So, there’s that, and then there are these vague ideas. In my journal are notes that say things like — believe it or not — ‘a thriller.’ Of course, it probably wouldn’t end up looking like a thriller, but I do have a few kinds of movies I entertain myself with, whether or not I’ll ever make them. In my mind, “The Future” is a bit of a horror movie, so that should tell you what genres are like for me. It’s kinda weird.

RKO: One of the reasons I ask, of course, is “The Future” is very much about a certain point in life, perhaps autobiographically. This movie is about where you are now, whereas “Me and You and Everyone We Know” was about where you were six years ago.

MJ: Yeah, I think that happens, for sure. And maybe to some degree that’ll always be true — I’ll just be where I am with everything I make. I don’t think it’ll be that obvious next time, though. It can’t be like, “Oh, the next one’s about being 40 …”

RKO: It’s very rare for filmmakers to present bold eccentricities without seeming pretentious. Yet, you have this ability to make films that are at once especially eccentric and deeply human and honest. Where do you think that ability comes from?

MJ: I’m trying to think. That’s such a hard thing to think about yourself, you know? I don’t even know how I seem from the outside. But I’m thinking of what my husband [writer/director Mike Mills] would say to that, and he’d probably say, “Well, it’s because you’re actually pretty weird!” And he knows me pretty well, so if he thinks that, it reinforces that I’m just coming from where I am. To be honest, in my daily life, I often feel like I’m trying to hide a certain amount of my point of view. It’s like I have a perspective that I realize is so completely wrong that I sometimes have to overcome a certain amount of weirdness just to get things to seem normal enough to be in movies! So maybe it’s that!

RKO: Are there other filmmakers out there you identify with? Whose ideas you find similar to yours?

MJ: Well, there are people I admire. That gets sort of self-complimentary, like to say Charlie Kaufman and I are on the same level or something. But I remember the first movie I saw that Charlie Kaufman had written. I hadn’t even made my first movie yet. I was doing these performance pieces, and though his world was very much his vision, his ideas were just the kinds of things I was thinking about creatively. I remember thinking, “Oh man, by the time I finally make a movie, it’s just gonna seem like I’m ripping him off!” Granted, I don’t think anyone’s thinking that, but that’s the closest I ever came to feeling like I admired something to the point of wondering, “Is there room for my thing?”

RKO: In ”The Future,” Sophie and Jason sort of have their own language, and they casually make up these impromptu, hypothetical scenarios that they can both sort of run with. Do you have a similar rapport with Mike?

MJ: Yeah, in fact, while the character of Jason is very different from Mike, that thing is probably the thing that I took from us, you know? None of the actual games, but, that willingness to go all the way with scenarios that are not logical at all.

RKO: There’s so much substance to the couple’s eventual experience — the simultaneous, yet individual, previews of the consequences of both wanting change and avoiding it. Through all of that, what would you most like people to walk away with?

MJ: I mean, this is kind of dark, but in terms of Sophie, her actions came from a place of thinking, “Well, if I screw up bad enough, maybe I won’t have to go on being me.” You know? It’s almost on a kid-like scale, like, “Well maybe if I just get really sick or destroy my schoolbooks or something, I won’t have to do that report.” But you still have to, you’re just doing it later than all the other kids. It’s kind of that, but with your whole self. Like, I sort of see Sophie as getting so far from herself and thinking maybe she’ll never have to come back, and be her, and do the dance. But you still always have to. It’s just harder. It’s just a longer road. So you can do that, you can do that serious wrong turn, whatever it may be. Maybe it’s the only way. But you will still have to figure out the thing that you’re wrestling. You’ll just have to do it from that new place you’ve put yourself in.

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