Before she was an artist, author and filmmaker, Miranda July was a locksmith. Seriously.
"When I was 23, I worked for a company called Pop-A-Lock, unlocking car doors when people would lock their keys in their car," July explains. "They called the service, and I would come. It was a pretty bad job. I mean, I learned a lot. I learned how to unlock car doors. But it was bad because I was on call, sometimes through the night, you know? So if I got a call, sometimes I’d have to drive really far away and find this one car and this person. It was miserable. Plus, I wasn’t that good at it. I could always get the door open, but sometimes it took me like 45 minutes— which isn’t reassuring to the customer."
The protagonists in July’s new film, The Future—which opens July 29 at the IFC Center—face a similar predicament. July plays Sophie, a thirty-something aspiring dancer who makes ends meet teaching children at a dance studio. Sophie’s artistic failure inadvertently threatens her relationship with Jason (Hamish Linklater), as it prompts her to seek diversion in the form of an affair with a middle-aged single father, Marshall (David Warshofsky). But as we know, July herself has avoided the fate of her big-screen alter ego and found success in an array of artistic endeavors. She said the depth of her feelings drives her to produce.
"You have to locate the part of yourself that is secretly dying because you’re not doing it," she says. "It could be secretly dying your whole life until you die, and it dies with you, finally. So it’s not like anyone really has to do it. But if you feel very close to that part of you that needs to, then the urgency propels you.
"It’s constant work to stay connected to that part of myself that needs it," she continues. "I mean, it’s much easier to just be sort of disengaged and take in stuff, and kind of be in a fog and find other things to focus on. So it’s to realize, like, your sadness is valuable. All the things you feel deeply are actually valuable, because they propel you to do things that might seem impossible."
Still, July says that wanting to make something despite its not being easy is still very much part of her daily life. She disconnects the Internet in her office, hides her cell phone in the glove compartment of her car and makes some strong lapsang souchong tea as part of her routine. When her creativity suffers paralysis, she temporarily turns to someone else’s art, such as a book or a song that resonates with her, for inspiration.
"The problem is you forget you have options," she says. "You just keep pushing further and further on one thing, which sometimes can work but almost always it doesn’t. Sometimes even just taking a walk around the block or the room—just walking around the room three times—can help. You’re literally just trying to change and remember that you are free."
Although July’s deep desires to create have proven very effective, she still doesn’t get to do everything she wants to do. Aside from notebook after notebook filled with ideas for art, sculpture and performances, she admits that there are artistic expressions that she isn’t particularly good at.
"I wish I was a better dancer," she says.
"Every now and then I’ll take a dance class and be sort of depressed to realize that as much as I love to dance, it really doesn’t come naturally, the whole coordination, doing things on a count and stuff. I’m not very good at that. That’s too bad, because when I see it I’m like, I want to do that. But I can only do it at parties. I created a way in the movie to get to do my own sort of awkward kind of dance. I wish I could play piano. I wish I was one of those people who had lessons as a kid and who now can pick out a tune, but I can’t even do that. But yeah, none of that keeps me up at night."