In a leafy backyard in Soho, Miranda July, in town to promote The Future, recently discussed her film and other things, in a wry, clear voice whose thoughtful cadence gives the impression of unrehearsed introspection. The film is reviewed here.
Why do you think people say things like “Hello, person” when they wake up next to somebody they love [as July’s character Sophie says to her boyfriend Jason, played by Hamish Linklater]?
It’s funny that it’s not that easy to say “love,” to use words for it. To me that was a very sweet—the dumbness of calling someone “person”—to me that was real. I’ve done that, I’ve used that as a term of endearment.
There’s a weird sort of power and depth, is it a way to efface that? To avoid being embarrassed or self-conscious?
Sometimes me and my husband will—out of the blue one of us will go, “Separate person,” which is a reminder that we’re…separate people. And you forget that, and it’s always to us like this moment, “whoa, acid trip, just remember that this is all a dream,” except it’s real, that’s the feeling. So “person” is a derivation of “separate person.”
More generally, I wanted to ask about this metaphor, and why you think it makes sense—why it feels right to you that Sophie should confront her need for validation through the medium of interpretive dance, or why, in my favorite short story of yours, “The Swim Team,” for loneliness to be embodied by elderly people swimming on the floor?
I think in some ways you know the feeling, it’s so clear. You have the feeling but you almost need something out of left field to put it in, because if you just do the obvious example of that feeling, it’s inaccurate, it’s dulled…
Dulled by familiarity?
Yeah, and by the fact that you didn’t have to reach for it, you didn’t have to invent it. I think sometimes reaching out kind of blindly and grabbing something that you don’t even know why it’s right at first—an image has come forth and you just keep going with it and turns out, “Oh, in fact, this is the fruit that I was looking for.” But it’s the most uncalculating part…
But the impulse to go to the unconscious in the first place?
I mean, that’s what you do, trusting that. Getting in a space where you can trust that, is the real discipline of it, is the job to me. That is what I’m here to do—and you can only do that for fleeting moments at a time and then you sort of look at what you have, these riches that you’ve made. Some of them are important, and some of them aren’t. Then you kind of get to work, understanding them.
You’ve said in other interviews that you think film is a more symbolic medium because there’s not a voice guiding you the whole time.
You don’t get the intimacy you think you are, because you are looking at skin, and sometimes people are naked, and it seems so intimate, but you’re not inside of them. And you don’t have their voice in your head the way you do with a book. So you have to let go of all that, and think in a much more symbolic and lighter way. You’re just skipping through time, and using time itself, and rhythm, in a much bolder way that you wouldn’t have to do with fiction. It would be too chaotic anyway.
This is a question I ask in every interview: Was there ever going to be more sex in the movie?
Yes, in fact there was a sex scene between me and Hamish Linklater—between our characters—that we even shot. And it was accidentally almost too pornographic. I wanted it to be this real sex scene between a couple that’s been together for four years, but it just honestly looked like a porn movie and I cut it out. Which changes a lot: they don’t touch that much in the movie now. But it kind of served its purpose, to make us more intimate and more comfortable with each other, because we thought we had to do this. We had to be willing to do it, and do the work to be ok with that. So I think it served its purpose.
To what extent is your movie about Los Angeles?
In some ways it’s not a very good portrait-of-a-city movie because it’s just indoors—a lot of it is indoors and in these kind of mundane spaces—but I also think that people are quite isolated there. When Sophie goes to Tarzana, it’s like moving to another state or something. It seems just totally different. In truth, people from L.A. know that that’s just like fifteen minutes away from where they lived, probably. And there’s something crushing about that: so nearby, but in another world. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s super-L.A. and that probably reflects my disengagement from place and more involvement with interior worlds.
What are you reading right now?
So randomly, because I’m traveling and I finished my book of Alice Munro short stories, Friend of My Youth, I bought the Siri Husvedt book in the Philadelphia train station. Someone handed me an Italo Calvino book last night at the Apple Store. And that actually looks pretty good, and I haven’t read it. So I’m glad to have it.
Do people often…?
No, I was like, “This is a great thing to do. Instead of asking me to sign my book, just give me a book.”
I think it’s an understandable impulse…
In fact I love that author. That’s a good idea, to give me that book. Also, that it wasn’t a book that they wrote was a particularly generous move.