Miranda July

[PERFORMANCE ARTIST AND FILMMAKER]

JUNE 2005

Miranda July is a performer, a writer, a filmmaker, and an instigator, in various combinations and often all at once. Her unique aesthetic, deeply idiosyncratic yet strangely comforting, will soon reach a wider audience through her first feature film, Me and You and Everyone We Know. The film premiered at Sundance, where it received the special jury prize for originality of vision, and went on to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Humane but unsentimental, unabashedly artsy but instantly approachable, this is a movie for just about everybody. We spoke on the phone amidst a day of promotional interviews.

—Eli Horowitz

THE BELIEVER: So, I don’t know how to do these things, and I imagine you’ve done way too many, so I’m just going to give you options, OK?

MIRANDA JULY: OK.

BLVR: Here are the choices: I can try to ask actual questions—well, I had some questions prepared, but then I accidentally dropped them in the mailbox today, on the way to work. I was mailing some postcards, and I was really focusing on the mailbox, and I don’t know what happened—whatever, so they’re in a mailbox on Allston Street. But I re-prepared them from my memory. So, option one is actual…

MJ: Questions.

BLVR: Right, good questions. Or at least semi-good, you know, like: “Could you trace a path from the Big Miss Moviola project through your own work and now this film?”

MJ: Right.

BLVR: And then option two is things like, “So that final scene with the son, it sorta seems to suggest this, but then I kind of had this theory that it’s sorta like that—what do you think about that?”

MJ: Right, and I can tell you right now I’m really bad on questions like that.

BLVR: Really, the second kind is harder?

MJ: The ones that have a whole lot of theory.

BLVR: And then option three is like, “Hey, have you heard that new Sleater-Kinney album?”

MJ: Saw them two nights ago.

BLVR: How was that?

MJ: It was good. At this point, watching Sleater-Kinney makes me think of my entire adult life, you know? And it actually makes me feel a little bit old.

BLVR: But this new album is so not old.

MJ: It is incredible. This had nothing to do with the album itself. When I just listen to the album, I feel awesome and very hopeful. Anyway, so, well, let’s do—You know, maybe you should do just a requisite amount—

BLVR: Of the first kind, so then we can go into the others—Nice, perfect.

MJ: Yeah.

BLVR: OK, how about this: In the past you’ve worked in a wide range of mediums, but you chose to do this project as a film, and in some sense a fairly straightforward film—at least, not overtly artsy. What were some of the advantages to doing it like that, and what were some of the limitations?

MJ: Well, I feel like I know I can work in all those other mediums forever. This is the only one that you kind of need to be given permission on.

BLVR: Just for the financial and logistical reasons?

MJ: Yeah. The limitation was sort of self-inflicted. I became really interested in how much I could show these hard-to-articulate, kind of magical or somewhat ephemeral things through really worldly, grounded ways. And it just seemed like this medium was good for that. I’m interested in general in different ways to approach that thing, these sort of hard-to-talk-about things. Actually, as a result of doing something so narrative, my more abstract pieces have become even more abstract. I’ll be working on a performance and I realize, “Wow, I seem to have just totally let go of narrative.” Whereas I used to really try to have more of a story in my performance. And I guess I feel more freedom in both realms—

BLVR: To go in both directions.

MJ: Yeah.

BLVR: Were there any times in the middle of this film that you wanted to do something totally nuts and you had to restrain yourself?

MJ: Well, I actually was more wanting things to be normal. We budgeted for two days of reshoots, and a lot of the weirder stuff happened then, and it actually was other people’s encouragement.

BLVR: What were some of the things that made it in?

MJ: It wasn’t weird compared to other stuff of mine, but things like the Me and You Shoes.

BLVR: The making-out feet.

MJ: The movie ended up being a little bit more like my work than I even intended.

BLVR: Do you think it’s going to be tough at all to keep going with the weirdish performance pieces? If all goes well, or even already, you’re going to be getting all this maybe-superficial but still probably kind-of-pleasing feedback. Will it then be tough to go back to a little thing in a small theater? Or will it be refreshing?

MJ: No, I think it’ll be great. I mean, there’s all different kinds of people, but I don’t think it’s that unusual that once you get like a little power, you get to do your weird thing even more. It’s like, Ha ha! You know, Now I can really take this to

BLVR: And people might be willing to come with you a little farther?

MJ: Yeah, exactly. And I’ll be totally thrilled to have people in the audience who are just like, “Oh, it’s that girl from that movie.”

BLVR: One thing I was wondering—and this might veer into the Option Two realm of questioning, but: Not to say the movie was actually autobiographical, but the main character was played by you and had at least some superficial similarities, and her artistic interests were along some similar lines. Was there an element of wish-fulfillment when creating the movie? Not that it was an always sunny movie. But especially during that first big conversation between your character and the shoe salesman, the two of you walking along the street—I really had the feeling of you imagining, Wouldn’t it be nice if I saw the dude in the store, and he was actually a nice guy, and then—?

MJ: Right—totally. It was so easy to write that because I feel like I’ve already written both sides in my head so many times. But it’s a problem when you’re always doing the other person’s part, you know?

BLVR: But now you can force them to do it!

MJ: And get it documented!

BLVR: It seems that these performed dialogues are a recurring concern not only within the movie, but also in the creation of the movie and in your work before that. It felt almost childlike. Did you do that when you were a kid, just for kicks?

MJ: Yeah, I did. When I was really little I did these cassette tapes that were one-half of a conversation, with spaces left so that I could play it back and talk with it.

BLVR: Oh, man—were you lonely back then?

MJ: Was I neglected? Not technically. Not legally. I didn’t even remember having done it until I found the tapes. And I was playing them, and at first I was really confused, you know, because they’re weird. And the really weird part was that I was actually able to talk to myself as a child.

BLVR: And were they especially juicy conversations?

MJ: No, they were pretty boring. I think they were all the questions I wished people would ask me. And so then I just invented answers about vacations I hadn’t really taken.

BLVR: I think that kind of mundane longing is somehow typical. I have a book from when I was a kid that says, “My name is [blank]” and then, “I wish my name was [blank],” and all these other question pairs. And the life I created for myself was so boring. The only detail I remember is, I wanted my name to be Joe Washington. That just seemed like it would be so great.

MJ: Yeah, go wild!

BLVR: And I think there’s maybe something to that: as much as kids have far-out dreams about ogres and fairies, there are also dreams of a normal, comforting, boring life.

MJ: Right, exactly. I definitely wanted much more normalness than what was around me.

BLVR: You grew up in Berkeley, right? Was it a real Berkeley Berkeley childhood?

MJ: Not in a cliché hippie sense, and not in a druggie sense. But definitely an extremely weird cast of characters. There was always some borderline crazy person who nonetheless my dad was publishing their book. And they needed to live in the house while they finished it, you know.

BLVR: You did shows at Gilman back then? [924 Gilman, famous all-ages Berkeley punk club]

MJ: Yeah, yeah.

BLVR: What were those like?

MJ: Well, the first one, I wrote it when I was in high school. And actually—in keeping with what we were saying—it was probably one of the most conventional ones I’ve done. I was trying to write a play. And I even hired actors to be in it. Adult actors. Very weird. I actually hired an adult Latina woman to play the part of me.

BLVR: Were you aware of that being kind of unorthodox?

MJ: No, no. In fact, I only just described this to a friend two weeks ago. And he was like, “Whoa…” He made me realize that that is pretty… weird.

BLVR: Did you—wait, did you think you were an adult Latina woman?

MJ: No, not at all. That’s just who came to the casting. I have documentation. To be directed by a teenager, rehearsing in her attic, was pretty weird. But once I told them the situation and they realized I was the boss, you know, as opposed to the assistant, they kind of got into it because they weren’t professionals. I mean, they all had other jobs.

BLVR: Do you see an important connection between your childhood games and your art-making?

MJ: Yeah, I work pretty hard to feel totally free. I’ll create all these artificial constructs so that I can feel like it’s just this thing I’m doing.

BLVR: As opposed to capital “A” Art?

MJ: Yeah. My ideal life is just lounging around the house and every once in a while I’ll kind of write something, and then I’ll leave and eat something and masturbate or whatever—just this very fluid life of comforting myself, you know. And somehow out of that, I end up with a screenplay.

BLVR: Actually, there are kids’ books that are basically that—ninety-nine activities for a rainy day and things like that.

MJ: That’s true. And I’m always the kind of friend or girlfriend who suggests, when there’s some cataclysmic problem in the relationship, I’m like, “Well, maybe we can come up with a creative activity that will help us out.” I’m like, “Let’s get out the pens! Draw a picture of how much you hate me!”

BLVR: Does that work?

MJ: Well…

BLVR: Just not the right guy. “If he really understood me, it would work.”

MJ: Yeah, definitely.

BLVR: What else? Shouldn’t I make you explain some things? Do you have a whole lineup of interviews today?

MJ: Oh yeah, yeah. There’s like ten to do. But wait, should I—

BLVR: Oh, no—I just don’t want you to feel cheated if I don’t ask you questions like—

MJ: I won’t feel cheated.

BLVR: OK.

MJ: No, I’m totally like, Wow, this is almost like talking to someone!

BLVR: Maybe we should do just a couple more real ones, just in case, OK?

MJ: You know you only have two minutes?

BLVR: Oh really? Then forget it. Who cares? We have a lot of good stuff.

MJ: I think so. And I’m sure you can make it into something.

BLVR: Oh yeah, I’ll make it sparkle.

Eli Horowitz lives with friends in Berkeley.

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