How Julia Fox hustled her way into Uncut Gems

“I think not being ashamed empowers you."

by Kitty Robson
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03 February 2020, 6:44pm

For many, a new decade is all about beginnings, and if there’s someone who personifies that drive for change, it’s Julia Fox. A polymath for the new age, she has lived many lives in her 29 years on the planet: an artist, a designer, a photographer, a model, a dominatrix, a director and now an actor. “I definitely think that there is something to be said of someone who picks one thing and just masters it,” Julia explains, “but then I think that when you have this itch of something you want to try, I think you should just try it. At the end of the day I think we as humans create our own limitations, we are our biggest obstacles when we feel stuck.”

Taking her own advice, Julia has scratched every creative itch she’s gotten, and hustled her way through it all, manifesting dreams into realities. Italy-born and Manhattan-raised, Julia grew up with little supervision and so made up her own narrative from the get-go. “I think the hustler mentality comes from an instinct, a survival mechanism”, she muses, “I’ve just always been like that, even as a child, I was pretty much left to my own devices… I had to figure out how I was going to live, so for me, that’s where hustling stems from.”

It’s no wonder then that New York directing duo the Safdie brothers saw Julia as their hometown go-getter for their newest project. Having met almost a decade ago when Josh and Benny Safdie first began work on the script for Uncut Gems, the supporting role of Julia was perfectly suited to the real-life version. “Have you been spying on me?”, IRL Julia joked. One hundred and sixty screenplay drafts, one Martin Scorsese executive producing credit, and one Adam Sandler casting later, it looked less likely that Fox would get her chance, but after killing a studio screen test opposite Sandler, the role was hers. “I never thought acting was an option for me, I mean I was like ‘what am I going to do? Go and be a famous actor? Yeah, right!’” -- but of course, the hustle life continued.

Transporting us back to 2012 and set in the city’s diamond district, Uncut Gems is full of chaotic energy. A frenetic tale of high-stake bets and adrenaline junkies, Julia Fox’s first film is one-of-a-kind, just like the actress herself. Starring opposite an innovatively-cast Adam Sandler, the two run a gemstone shop filled with encrusted Furbies, bedazzled watches and rare gems. “It’s like an urban legend: the diamond district”, Julia laughs. “It’s just a very small pocket… just one block of New York. But it’s so prolific, and it definitely feels bigger because of the personalities there.” Based on stories the director's father would tell his young sons, the Safdie Brothers project focuses on these extravagant personalities, taking us on an electrifying odyssey through NYC's gambling underground.

Right at home among the chaos, Julia Fox came into her own in her debut film, calling upon her past lives as a New York club kid and rising designer to create a backstory. “I was definitely channelling a younger version of myself," she explains. "Remembering who I was in 2012 really fit that character: I had a fashion line which I was hustling and trying to get all the celebrities to wear.” There may be similarities between the two -- and the role may have been written for her -- but Julia’s life as a multi-hyphenate makes her much harder to pin down.

Moving from her early days in a Catholic household to spending her late teens as a dominatrix, Julia has had a paradox of an existence. The move from repression to autonomy is not an easy one, and as the actor explains, she once struggled with her esteem. “In Catholic culture I think you feel innately guilty”, she says. “But I think not being ashamed empowers you. I think there’s so much shame around a woman’s body, feeling like we’re responsible for other people’s reactions to women’s bodies. But they’re our bodies… I’m not responsible for other people’s reactions to me.”

It is this empowerment which has allowed Julia Fox to become the iconic hustler she is today, doing whatever she wanted until she found her one true calling in cinema. “I’m so jealous of those people who know from day one what they wanted to do; it’s taken me years,” she says. Yet for us at least it was worth the wait, bulldozing her way onto our screens with the intensity of a seasoned performer but the energetic rawness of a first timer. While directing is still her future dream (“I would definitely love to bring one of my scripts to life”) she’s certainly enjoying the acting ride for now, finding thrill in auditions and castings: “I can’t wait to prove to everyone that I can play not just a version of myself, but someone totally different. It’s going to be exciting.”

You may wonder if Julia is ready for what’s next, rising so meteorically from cult notoriety to international star. “I’ve been recognised on the street before and had people come up to ask for a photo multiple times, I guess now it’s just happening more," she says. "I’ve already been exposed to that type of response from people, and I think it prepared me for the massive one that was to come.”

Through her art, photography and modelling, she has readied herself for global stardom. In fact, by airing out her own past so publicly through creativity, it can no longer be weaponised against her. “I’m very happy that I did that because I think with all the attention I’m getting now,” she says. “I would’ve probably been very nervous if things were going to come out about me, but now I know everything’s out there. I’m also not that person anymore, that was a very long time ago.”

Uncut Gems is out on Netflix 31 January 2020. This article was amended on the 3rd of February, 2020.

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