When our own James Rocchi saw Miranda July's latest film, "The Future" at Sundance back in January, he noted the film succeeded "as a single story about the terrifying possibilities of life, the uncertainty of love and the certainty of the passage of time." A month later, we caught up with July at SXSW, she mirrored his thoughts on the film calling "The Future" a "a horror movie about facing the void, the empty moment where you don’t know what to do with yourself." And it's in that pre-mid-life crisis of sorts that "The Future" finds its compelling pulse.
The film focuses on an L.A. couple, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), intent on adopting a rescue cat (Paw-Paw, who also narrates the film). As the cat is still receiving medical care, the adoption looms a month away and the couple decides to drastically alter their life goals -- but they may not be prepared to go down the road their choices will take them. Occasionally surreal, with a keen sense of personal pain and the flighty nature of time, an existential horror film is just one way to describe Miranda July's follow up to "Me and You and Everyone We Know". We had an opportunity to speak with July and Linklater again recently about the film, and they shared their own journey, filled with quirks of its own, in getting the film made.
1. Hamish Linklater would’ve played any part simply to work with Miranda July – who says Linkater was at the top of her list.
"I’d seen her first film, loved her first film, read her short stories, I was just like a fan walking up and down the street, and then I heard she had a new movie and I read the script for it and then I turned from a fan into a rabid fan. I was just desperate to have coffee with her, try to convince her to let me audition and eventually down the road she’d consider me for the movie," Hamish Linklater said. July downplays the desperation, saying that she'd already had an eye on Linklater, a rising star (he's a regular on "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and has a role in Peter Berg's upcoming board-game-inspired "Battleship") saying, "[Hamish] overplays that – we found him too [laughs], he was very much at the top of a lot of people’s lists of who would be a good fit for this part. He’s kind of one of those actors who’s well know and respected, in people who know actors, but is just now breaking out, I think. And there just aren’t a lot of guys that age range who are both funny and soulful, although you don’t have to be smart to be a good actor but I like that, it makes it easier for me. There was an easy connection, which seemed just as important as that he really is so excellent at what he does."
2. July met Joe Putterlik (Joe/the voice of the Moon) the same way that Jason (Linklater) does in the film.
One of the most disarming and genuinely funny parts of July's film is an elderly man named Joe (Joe Putterlik), who Jason meets in the film through the PennySaver classifieds. "I was doing a project where I interviewed people selling things that way and he was one of them, and this project was totally unrelated to the movie," July said, describing her upcoming non-fiction book "It Chooses You", due out November 15th.
"When I met him, I was like 'Ok, I’ll either…what do I do? Write a character based on this guy, write him in, or can he just be in the movie?' I mean, he’s a total non-actor, that’s his house, his clothes, those are the cards that he made for his wife, the dirty limericks. [laughs] So I just kinda went for it, and was like 'Let’s see if this will work and if I can carry his spirit through into a fiction.' He’s part of a fiction, but he’s not really acting, except when he plays the voice of the moon." Asked whether Putterlik was uncomfortable acting, July said "It was a little scary working with someone at the end of their life; it’s just a different set of realities. But he was so game and such a hard worker, and all the sort-of improvisation stuff, like selling the hairdryer, was improvised, he was so great at all that. Anything that involved saying a specific line was almost impossible, to the point where he ended up kind of accidentally changing lines, and I had to sort of live with it and they ended up better than the lines that I wrote."
3. July locked Linklater in a closet with her as part of their preparations to play a couple in the film.
As a couple in a lengthy relationship, Sophie and Jason are the film's emotional anchor, and despite the fact that we never see them touch, the quirks that people pick up when they've invested emotionally in another are all there. Hamish Linklater dropped some interesting tidbits about the process that he and July undertook to get a handle on their coupling. "We rehearsed everything together, we worked on the scenes, but then we just spent time together doing, kind of uncomfortable things, like I took her to a basketball game, which is not the most comfortable place for Miranda, and it was like a rainstorm but we really hung together and that was good. She locked me in her closet with her, which was not the most comfortable place for me, and we read our journals to each other or shared music and stuff, and we just tired to build that relationship or as much of that relationship as we could have, both for survival, mainly for survival of shooting so fast, but also for the sake of the couple, so that it’s in that place. That lived-in feeling that you could barely stand living in because it’s so comfortable."
4. Paw Paw the narrator cat was inspired by a dead stray July had buried.
One of the more debated/derided aspects of "The Future", especially by people who hadn't seen the film, is July's choice to utilize a talking cat as a narrator. The cat, Paw-Paw, an injured rescue that effectively acts as an occasional Greek chorus of the film, is voiced by July and was inspired by once-living cat that met its untimely demise. "The cat came in at a really kind of, sideways way. I was writing and I saw a stray cat get hit by a car and I had to bury that cat. So the cat was always dead in my mind, and it was sort of like, the beginning was me kind of working backwards and imagining what had happened when this homeless stray cat had lived and felt. More than that, it began to feel it was important to have a voice in this story that was very honest and clear, and transparent in the way the human characters weren’t," July said, elaborating that "the cat became the soul of the movie for me, and…always was sort of in danger of getting cut out, because it is almost a separate movie within a movie and therefore really easy to point a finger at and be like, 'that seems like it might not work.' But I just sort of stuck with it, and ultimately did the voice myself, which I had not planned on doing, but I think it was part of standing by it and trying to make sure it was exactly, you know, my vision to the very end."
On the topic of representing the cat as only a disembodied set of paws, one bandaged up and the big and furry, July said, "If a talking cat is kind of corny or laughable, it seems like you shouldn’t even go near what that looks like...having the audience do the work of making it real and connecting the voice with the paws, and having the paws showing so little of the cat, to me almost made it a more elegant endeavor, and kinda asked more of the audience to believe."
5. A sex scene between Sophie and Jason was cut for being too “porny”.
Though they've been together for a long time, Sophie and Jason's physical interaction in the film is surprisingly limited. As it turns out, "The Future" at one point included a sex scene between the characters. "It’s funny, there was, there used to be a sex scene in the movie between us, that was in the script, and we shot it, and then I cut it out, it seemed really kind of like accidentally 'porny' [laughs]. I don’t know how I shot it that way, but I somehow did. But I think it served its purpose in that, we were forced to actually touch each other, which, you have to do that in order to get over the taboo of it. If you’re four years into a relationship, you’re not thinking about them as sexual most of the time, there’s like this real ease so, we were pretty good at that, more than people will even see [laughs], which is for the best for the movie," July said adding, "Once you cut out that scene, it shifted things a lot, it became very brother-sister like."
6. July conception of the world’s future has become decidedly less sunny in the last decade.
A key moment in "The Future" occurs late in the film when Jason, working as a tree salesman, delivers an impassioned monologue to win a potential costumer. The man ultimately shuts the door in his face, and while July denied having an outright environmental message at heart, she did talk a bit about her opinion about where humanity's future lies. "I think what I was interested in was the fact that, my conception of the future has changed in the last ten years. I’ve gone from thinking that everything would just continue like this forever, to thinking like, no, we’re probably somewhere near the end, relatively speaking, of this way of like, we’ve probably pretty much fucked it up. I don’t know that for sure, but that is my mind now, assumes that. It seemed like, wow, that’s a pretty huge shift to have, so I was trying to ultimately have Jason say that and have that realization."
7. However, the future looks good for the filmmakers: Linklater has just wrapped “Lola Versus”, while July is busy with a plethora of projects
When we spoke to Hamish Linklater, he was due to wrap up "Lola Versus" -- a film that most recently lost Orlando Bloom but gained "Snabba Cash" star Joel Kinnaman. "It’s by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones, who made a movie called 'Breaking Upwards,' a terrific 15 thousand dollar movie, so this is their second movie. Greta plays a 29-year-old who gets dumped by her fiancée, I’m her best friend who becomes her rebound boyfriend, Debra Winger and Bill Pullman play her parents," Linklater said. When asked about his work on Berg's "Battleship", he called the experience "totally different, but that’s why it’s so great to be me right now, or it was last year."
July, ever the polymath, has "It Chooses You", a non-fiction book based on her exploration of the PennySaver classified ads and the people behind them on the horizon. The book drops in November, and with that out of the way July already is making plans for more performance work, and has a novel and a screenplay for a third film waiting in the wings. "I’m working on another book, a novel that will be years in the making," she said about what she's got brewing. "And I’d like to perform also, I have a performance idea, and I want to make another movie of course, but I have to do all the other things I like to do first or else those are just gonna go away. I do have a third movie idea, but that’ll be the backburner project that I’m doing when I’m sick on working on the novel."
We are certainly looking forward to seeing "The Future" again. Perhaps Linklater summed it up best when asked why people should see the film. "If you’ve ever felt really alone at a transitional period in your life, here’s a movie that says you’re not alone, and I think in some ways it’s a coming of age story, we’re always coming of age, that’s what you’re doing every day, if you’re hopefully looking at your life with clear eyes. I just think she’s a great artist and people should take advantage of seeing through her eyes when they get an opportunity to." Well said.
"The Future" opens in limited release starting July 29th.