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Movies

Miranda July: 'There's so much anarchistic potential for self-invention right now'


Miranda July, 46, is an acclaimed US film-maker, author and artist. Kajillionaire, her third film, and first for almost a decade, was a hit at Sundance and will be released later this year; her debut, 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, is being honoured with a Criterion Collection edition. There is also the release of a chunky, eponymous monograph that traces her idiosyncratic creative output, with commentary from the likes of Spike Jonze, Carrie Brownstein and David Byrne. She lives in Los Angeles with the director Mike Mills and their son, Hopper.

How are you coping with lockdown in LA?
You know, holding up. I’m healthy, as is my family. And now we’re a bit more used to this new schedule, wherein I teach my child school instead of that child going to school.

How’s home-schooling going?
It’s a little worrisome. My child’s only in second grade and, like, the math… My husband walked by us the other day and I had 121 pennies out and we are dividing them into groups of 11, because that was the only way I could think of to figure out if 121 was divisible by 11. He said, “What are you doing that for? There’s other ways.” And I was like [whispers], “I don’t know them!”

A theme in your work is about human connection. Have you thought about what longer-term impact coronavirus might have?
I have this fantasy that we’ll somehow think of social media and the online world as pandemic tools after this. We’ll be so grateful for them: we’ll understand that we were brilliant to have thought of this thing that is going to help us survive the many, many pandemics to come, but that we won’t feel quite as beguiled by them when there’s not a pandemic, because we’ll have this association.

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Kajillionaire is about a family of small-time con artists. You’ve described it as deeply personal but not autobiographical – what do you mean by that?
Well, the characters are fictional. I did not grow up like them, or live like that – it’s more an emotional resonance than any practical thing. At Sundance, a number of people came up and were like, “This is so like my family…” And then they would describe something that was actually so unfamiliar to me. So I realised, “OK, this is extreme enough that this family could be the unconscious of many different kinds of anxious families.”

Is your work ever autobiographical?
I have only ever written two things that are biographical or based on my life: It Chooses You, the book that was about the making of my second movie, and one short story, It’s Something That Needs Nothing [which appeared in the New Yorker and her 2007 collection No One Belongs Here More Than You].

Tell me about that…
It’s sort of about gay love and it’s loosely based on me and my first girlfriend. Whereas with none of the other stories can I even say that. Or books or movies.

And yet people often assume your work is autobiographical?
Maybe that distinction got kind of blurry for people, because I acted in my first feature – even though all my friends looked at that and were like, “Just pure fiction.” I think people tend to do that to women anyway, sort of assume that they’re not conceptualising a whole world from the ground up but they’re pulling from their diary or something. There’s a bit of a bias there.

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There’s an aside in the new book that you somehow got Roseanne Barr’s FedEx number back in the 1990s and you’d use it to ship things. Was that just what you had to do to make it as an artist?
I think very few people have to use Roseanne Barr’s FedEx number for their artwork. In my 20s, my rebellions were not always that enlightened, they were for their own sake. And it maybe took a little while to realise: look how radical you could be in how you do your work, all that energy can go into this. This is a great place for it!

Looking at the new book, it seems you keep everything from your life and work. What was the weirdest thing you found in your archive?
There’s a man in my neighbourhood, he’s quasi-homeless and I pay him to do different gardening things. He’s the only person I talk to, other than my family, every day. He also gives me letters and gifts. And I’ve saved every single thing over 15 years that he’s given me, except for a few things that eventually attracted rats, like boxes of chocolate

Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Evan Rachel Wood in in Kajillionaire.



A scene from
Kajillionaire. Photograph: Matt Kennedy

What sort of things?
A baby blanket, a 56-colour eyeshadow kit, a purse. They are taking up a disproportionate amount of room now, but at a certain point, once you start saving things you can’t stop. Things accrue meaning because they’re saved, sometimes.

What will you do next?
At this point it seems pretty clear that after I make a movie, I write a book. So I’m writing a novel now; that’ll be done in many years.

In a strange way, might you have more time now you are stuck at home on lockdown?
If I was 25 without kids, that would be the case, but I’ve barely written at all since the pandemic. But if I wasn’t writing this novel, I’d be awfully tempted to invent something that could only function at this time. I see people are doing that. There’s so much anarchistic potential for self-invention and to dismantle all these old-fashioned ways of doing things. That’s really interesting to me and, frankly, sort of distracting. I have to not get pulled into that; I have to tell myself: “Other people should do that. You should write your novel.”

Miranda July is published by Prestel (£39.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply



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