As New York As It Gets

Meet Julia Fox, the “thoroughbred New York biotch” of Uncut Gems

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Google “Julia Fox” right now and you’ll see that she’s the “crown jewel,” “breakout star,” “diamond in the rough,” and all-around darling of the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems.

But a few pages in, you’ll find yourself in a Julia Fox K-hole, like I did in the days before meeting her. In her 29 years, she’s flitted from art to fashion to filmmaking to modeling and back to art, publishing books, posing for Playboy, and holding exhibitions along the way. Her work is visceral and masochistic: silk canvases daubed with her own blood, photos of needles in arms, and faces beaten bloody. She’s often her own subject.

When I meet her at Lucien in the East Village for lunch, I didn’t know who or what to expect: the former dominatrix in Office Magazine or the sparkly ingenue from Jimmy Kimmel? She’s wrapping up another interview when I get there, and I ask her if she wants a break before we get started. She waves my suggestion away and starts digging into a salmon fillet.

She’d come from back-to-back photo shoots earlier that day, and in the week after we met I saw her on my Instagram feed constantly: a Coney Island cowgirl in Interview; a “white trash” Barbie in Paper; herself, I think, in the New York Times. True to the photos, she’s baby-faced with big, doll eyes and shiny brown hair; a scrawl of tiny tattoos and a hot pink bra are visible through the white top she’s wearing. She’s yawning at our 3 p.m. but still looks fresh-faced, and laughs when I ask her about her skin-care routine. “Literally such a cluster of things,” she says. “Right now I like Laura Merci-er — Merci-ay.” She has a Long Island lilt like Julia, her character in Uncut Gems, and calls people “baby” like her, too.

“Her name was Sadie at first,” Fox explains. “But when Adam [Sandler] got onboard — his daughter’s name is Sadie — he said that would just be too weird for him.” Fair enough. Fox plays the mistress of Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a New York diamond dealer with a gambling problem. She says her similarities to movie Julia are uncanny, but points to a scene where Howard kicks her character out of his apartment, and she leaves it spotless, without a fuss. “If that were me, the house would be trashed. Or I just wouldn’t leave. Like, kick me out, good luck,” she takes a bite of salad. “She’s just a really thoroughbred New York biotch.”

Real-life Julia is also, ostensibly, a thoroughbred New York biotch. Outside of a few years in an Italian Catholic school, she grew up in Kids-era Yorkville, and is the only person I’ve ever met who describes New York as a “small town.” “It used to be a town for freaks,” she says, a group she counts herself among. “I’ve always kind of been an outcast. I pride myself in having the ability to go from the Ritz Carlton to the trap house. I’m so many different things in one. I’m like, really, truly a New Yorker.”

Fox just signed with William Morris, but hasn’t yet auditioned for her next role — she’s getting sent a lot of “feminist types of things” but is open to anything, “like a criminal investigator or like a sick hero or like a super villain or something.” Whatever it is, people keep telling her it won’t be like Uncut Gems, a movie that her longtime friend, Josh Safdie, had been talking to her about for years. “I really micromanaged [Julia] because I wanted her to be perfect,” Fox explains. She refers to a nightclub scene where the Safdies had originally put her character in body-con dress. “And I was just like, ‘No, no, no! She’s not wearing a dress. She’s bossy. She’s wearing pants’ — like, ‘She wears the pants!’”

In a film made up of frenzied moments, the club sequence is one of its most intense. Fox says the scene, in which Julia (in pants) gets into a violent screaming match with Howard outside of 1Oak, was the easiest for her to film. “I just went back to when I was in a huge fight with my boyfriend at a club,” she explains. The incident, which landed on “Page Six,” spurred a brief move from New York to a poor Louisiana bayou, where she chronicled the drug use and debauchery featured in her 2016 art book, PTSD.

Acting an intense scene isn’t that different from “taking out your blood and painting over a bale of silk,” Fox says, referring to some of her previous artwork. And while Fox feels like she was “born to act,” she’s still interested in creating, and ultimately wants to direct. “I love to write, to create my own characters and make them do whatever I want,” she says, and smiles. “I mean, life is kind of like your own movie. You collect your characters to play your friends or acquaintances, your lovers. You’re the casting director of your own life.”

The salmon filet is long gone and we’re both picking at the bread basket, Fox pushing butter pats on me. It occurs to me that since I’ve spent hours researching her and more hours grilling her, is it possible I know everything there is to know? But Julia Fox feels like an open book and lockbox at once. She calls herself “a woman of the people,” “full of surprises” “from the street,” “a piece of shit,” and “a regular girl.” She’s not “an ‘It’ girl,” “mainstream,” or “starstruck, ever” (except for when she saw Jerry Springer at Cipriani, “because it’s, like, fucking Jerry Springer”).

And after all of this, there’s a quick good-bye hug. “Just text me if you need anything,” she says, leaving a $5 bill on the floor in her wake. Then she’s gone, and I feel like I do know a great deal about this woman — but also nothing at all. Which is perhaps exactly how she wanted me to feel.

As New York As It Gets