“I Don’t Want Any Boners in My Direction”: Julia Fox, in Conversation with Charli XCX
“I think, deep down, everybody wants to be famous,” Julia Fox told her friend Charli XCX over Zoom last week. “Growing up, I didn’t necessarily even know that I wanted it. I always just felt like it was going to happen.” It did, tenfold. Fox has done something unusual for a celebrity, defying easy categorization and making her fame a kind of performance art. Trying to fit her career into any one category is almost as hard as trying to list her many, many titles: breakout star of A24’s Uncut Gems, former dominatrix, perennial muse, soon-to-be television host, and co-host of the podcast Forbidden Fruits. Now, a month after the release of her memoir Down the Drain, she’s also a New York Times bestselling author. “I literally used to do seances in my bedroom and pray that I would get a book deal,” she told Charli, the newly engaged mega pop-star and self-professed Fox fan. “Before even reading your book, I wrote this song, which is basically about how you started every trend of 2022,” she confessed. In a revealing and wide-ranging conversation, the two iconoclasts got deep about Kanye West (“He’s the least interesting part of my book,” Fox says), the nature of modern celebrity, and the two people who’ve left them starstruck.—ELOISE KING-CLEMENTS
JULIA FOX: Charli. Hello.
CHARLI XCX: Is this going somewhere, the video for this?
FOX: No, it better not. It better fucking not. I just did this crazy skin treatment called the CO2 laser.
XCX: What is it?
FOX: It’s the most insane laser. But look, my skin has been orange ever since. My whole skin peeled. First, it was as swollen as a pillow. Then my entire skin peeled. And now, my skin is orange.
XCX: But you’re going to have baby skin.
FOX: I know. It feels like when snakes shed their skin, and then the skin under is gorgeous.
XCX: That’s absolutely glam. I made so many notes on your memoir because you’ve been on this press tour. Every time I open my phone it’s, “Julia Fox is doing this, Julia Fox is doing that.” Are you loving it or do you never want to talk about this damn book again?
FOX: I was so nervous leading up to it because I was feeling really inward and I was going through my own transformations. Then the book was coming out and I felt so not ready to come out of my hermetic zone. And overnight it was all thrust out there again. Being asked about Kanye all the time, it’s just so annoying. I literally put my whole life in this book. This man is in five pages of it. He’s the least interesting part of my book. Why are we talking about this? And having to just talk about the same shit over and over, it feels like Groundhog Day.
XCX: Yeah, yeah.
FOX: A part of me is glad that it’s done. I did it, whatever. But there are some lingering feelings of, “that was annoying.” I don’t want to be a negative Nancy. Obviously, it’s a beautiful opportunity. I literally used to do seances in my bedroom and pray that I would get a book deal. It’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to be an actress. I just wanted to write a book. The cherry on top was I wanted it to be in the New York Times bestseller list and I got both of those things. So I don’t want to dwell on the negative but there are some things that are just annoying that come with being a woman, how your value is based on the man that you’re with.
XCX: You’ll be happy to know I don’t have any questions about Kanye.
FOX: I love you. Thank you.
XCX: It’s interesting that you said that you were in your hermit phase before because you are so honest in your book. I feel like your honesty, in the public eye, is super refreshing and has cemented you as this beacon of hope for young women who maybe have always felt a bit outside of modern day standards. I include myself in that. Before I’d even met you, I’ve always felt very inspired by you. But despite all the honesty and realness, were you afraid?
JULIA FOX: Yeah, I was really afraid. I was more afraid of people coming for my family or the people close to me, because nothing is black or white. I have my story but my brother has a totally different story. And in his story, I’m the villain. We’re all just victims of our circumstances. Even my dad, who was abusive, he’s really the best guy in the world. He takes in homeless people and houses them and picks up animals off the street and nurses them back to health. But he was abused as a child and he didn’t know any different. So I think we’re all just victims. I can be a villain in one story and a hero in another and both are equally valid. I was more afraid of that. I didn’t really care about what people would say about me because I’ve heard it all and I don’t give a shit.
XCX: Right. At the beginning of the book, you say that you really hope your dad doesn’t read it. Has he read it?
FOX: I actually don’t know if he’s read it or not. He was at Strand downtown and he sent me a photo of him holding it in his hand.
XCX: He’s read the book.
FOX: I was like, “Put it down. Don’t waste your money. I’ll give you one.” I was hoping that he wouldn’t get it and then I’d just never give him one. If he did read it, he hasn’t said anything to me about it. Which is strange because he talks a lot and he always has an opinion about everything.
XCX: That’s funny. Okay, I want to know, do you think that you were born to be a star?
XCX: I knew you were going to say that.
FOX: I do. Yeah, when I was little I would stand in my mirror with a hairbrush and pretend to give acceptance speeches. “I want to thank God and I want to thank…” I would literally fucking do that. I would talk to myself for hours. I always loved clothes. I never had money for clothes so I would go to all these really nice stores on Fifth Avenue and steal gorgeous clothes. Then I would make them my own by cutting them up. I loved leotards and I loved performing. I was always putting on shows in my living room—I’d recruit my little brother and his best friend and make them perform with me. I was really tyrannical about my performances. And I see it in my son too. My son is me. He’s a performer.
XCX: Do you really see baby Julia in Valentino?
FOX: Yeah, I do. And I’m learning so much about myself because watching him I’m, “Oh my god, wait, I did that too.” And Obviously I’m going to nurture that and do the dance classes and the music classes, things that I didn’t do.
XCX: That’s so joyous. I think anyone can be famous but I don’t think anyone can be a star. I think there’s a real difference.
XCX: What I think is really interesting about you is you really understand the commerce of celebrity and “the fame game,” but you also have star quality. You’ve never really been afraid to admit that you understand the system of fame. I call the paparazzi on myself. I know I do that.
FOX: Everyone does, that’s the thing.
XCX: Yeah, but no one’s fucking saying anything.
FOX: I’m too embarrassed to pretend that I don’t.
XCX: Same! When I stay at the Bowery Hotel in New York, I say to my boyfriend, “When we are leaving, don’t talk to me because I can’t be mid-talk in a photo.”
FOX: [Laughs] Same, same.
XCX: I’m looking down with glasses on. I’m like, “Let’s go.” Everyone knows. But why do you think some people are so afraid to admit they know why there’s a paparazzo on the fucking street? Bitch, you know he’s there. You called them.
FOX: I think historically paparazzi were really frowned upon. And for some celebrities, it has been a really big point of misery.
XCX: Sure. Sure.
FOX: And it’s gotten shitty for me too, like when I didn’t call them and they were just literally chasing me. I’m running. They’re running after me. Bananas. I get it. There’s this thing with fame where it’s like, you have to interact with it. It has to be this push-pull. But who made up these rules? And who cares?
XCX: I know. In recent years, we’ve lost this honesty to admit to wanting to be famous. Fame is supposed to be this exclusive club that you just stumble into.
FOX: I’ll tell you where it changed. The rise of the internet.
XCX: Totally. I recently went to this award ceremony where Bob Geldof was honored as songwriter of the year. And he did this incredible speech where he said, “Every single person who’s won an award tonight has been so fucking humble, I’m so surprised that I’m here. When Sting and I were younger, we were bitter rivals who admired each other and all we wanted to do was be famous and we would never shut up about it.” It’s so interesting how that dynamic has switched. It would almost be seen as inauthentic now for a musician to say, “I want to be famous,” because it’s supposed to be all about the art.
FOX: I think everybody, everybody has a desire to be seen and to be recognized. People want to feel special and obviously to varying degrees. But I think deep down, everybody wants to be famous. Especially the shy people who are introverted. I’m sure they dream of being seen and recognized on a global scale for something that they did or who they are. Growing up, I didn’t necessarily even know that I wanted it. I always just felt like it was going to happen. But I always really wanted attention. I didn’t get attention growing up in my home, so I acted out and did crazy things to get attention. That has stayed with me. Obviously not as much as before but, in my earlier teens and early 20s, I was a maniac. I would do anything for attention.
XCX: Yeah, yeah. You talk about in your book about how sometimes you just want to disappear.
FOX: Oh my god, yeah. My ultimate dream is to just let the work speak for itself. To be in a writer’s room, cooking up ideas, directing, producing, creating, and then being recognized for that. I think that is cooler, to make something that will transcend you and your lifetime. I hope that I go in that direction. But I still have a lot more to do.
XCX: Also are you a pop star?! What’s happening? What’re the words? “I’m a mother, I’m a bitch, I’m a whore,” or something.
FOX: Yeah, I’m a mother, I’m a girl, I’m a bitch, I’m a whore.
XCX: She’s coming for me.
FOX: I felt like doing the song was more symbolic than anything else because the whole point of my book is you can literally do whatever you want to do. You can be who you want to be, as cheesy as it is. But I think getting into that room and just putting on a full pop performance was the embodiment of that. I could literally be like, “I’m going to be a pop star, fuck everyone.” And do it. There’s nothing stopping anybody. Do whatever you want to do in life. Don’t leave one box unchecked. I always take over karaoke nights. It’ll just be me doing my ballads the whole fucking night. So I was like, “fuck it, why not?” But I don’t know if I’m actually going to pursue music. I did it more as a symbolic thing.
XCX: I see, I see. Because I was like, “Bitch…”
FOX: I had you quaking in your boots.
XCX: You did.
FOX: No, I could never sing and do it at a level that you do it, obviously.
XCX: Oh, shut up.
FOX: You’ve put in work into what you do.
XCX: Never say never, babe.
FOX: We’ll see.
XCX: Back to directing. Is that where you want to go?
FOX: Oh yeah. That’s my ultimate dream. I just want to get a deal with HBO for four projects. TV shows, movies, documentaries, whatever it may be.
XCX: You have a really good quote in your book where you talk about how you single-handedly started every trend of 2022.
FOX: [Laughs] I stand by that.
XCX: You should. And so do I. Before even reading your book, I wrote this song, which is basically about how you started every trend of 2022. And there’s this line in it that goes, “I’m everywhere. I’m so Julia,” as in, I’m the fucking reference. I’m everywhere like Julia Fox is everywhere.
FOX: Wait, when are we doing the video?
XCX: Okay, bitch. I’ve been speaking to Richie about it. I want you, Richie, Paloma [Elesser], Gabriette, Alex Consani, EmRata.
FOX: All the hot girls.
XCX: It’s going to be sick. We have the vision.
FOX: What’s the setup?
XCX: We each have our own room in a house and one of us is ultimately super posed whilst there’s chaos swirling around behind them.
FOX: That’s Alex.
XCX: It’s going to be iconic.
XCX: Anyway, you mentioned that there were people in fashion spaces who maybe didn’t give you credit. But who did give you your flowers?
FOX: Well, I didn’t even realize that there’s this code when you become a celebrity or whatever, that it becomes a lot about who’s dressing you. In the beginning, I was wearing the big brands, but then I was like, “Wait, this other stuff’s more interesting.” It wasn’t me trying to snub the bigger brands. I didn’t realize that that’s not how the politics of it works. You have to wear the brands. There’s this weird unwritten thing. Then I just feel like they canceled me, but really I had canceled them first. And ultimately they just all end up copying me anyway.
XCX: That’s the quote.
FOX: And I hate that I have to get on here and sound cocky and arrogant, but if I don’t, I’m going to get walked all over and pushed to the side. It’s like, I understand why Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and all these women have to get in public spaces and be like, “I’m the queen, I’m that bitch.” It’s because they have people all the time trying to discredit them. Obviously I’m not at their level and never will be. But it’s that same poison.
XCX: From there, I’ve seen you talk about how you dress for yourself now, whereas in the past you were dressing for the male gaze.
XCX: How do you feel about the term “sex symbol” now?
FOX: I’ve been told that I’m a sex symbol for women. That’s the best compliment I could ever receive in life. Because prior to that, it was very much giving bombshell.
XCX: Does that bother you now though?
FOX: Not so much. I mean, it is a little objectifying. And it’s like, I’m a sex symbol but I haven’t had sex in two years. But listen, if girls want to fantasize about me and it makes them happy, I am so for it. I’d rather have a bunch of girls fantasizing about me than a bunch of dudes jerking off to my photos. I don’t want that energy. I don’t want any boners in my direction. Ew.
XCX: Do you still get starstruck?
XCX: No one?
FOX: Jerry Springer is the only person that I ever actually had a physical reaction to. I started sweating. My heart started racing. I was like, “Oh, how am I going to get a photo?” I started panicking.
XCX: Wait, this is in your book.
FOX: Yeah, I wrote about it because it left such an impression on me. I froze because I had such a physical reaction, but the guy I was with went over to him and got a little autograph on a napkin.
XCX: I’m the same. I don’t get starstruck, but I was starstruck by Rihanna. She just does that to me.
FOX: That’s understandable.
XCX: This was years and years ago. We were working together. I had tonsillitis. I was so sick. She was working from 1:00 AM. I was like, “What? This is insane.” I was so ill. I had to go to the studio at midnight and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so sick. I really want to cancel.” But obviously, you—
FOX: You can’t cancel on Rihanna.
XCX: That’s psychotic. I wore a dressing gown and slippers to the studio because I was trying to be like, “Okay, I’ll make this my vibe.” And then I asked her, “Do you want to go outside and smoke?” Cigarettes, not weed. She was like, “Bitch, I’m Rihanna. I don’t go outside.” And I was like, “Wow, you’re such a star.”
FOX: That’s so good.
XCX: It was fabulous. Do you think that this book is going to get made into a movie? I would love that.
FOX: Oh my god. Well, I’m actually working with a team to develop it. We’ll see. It’s really difficult to do, but I am obviously open to it.
XCX: Would you play yourself?
FOX: They want me to, but that’s not really the vision that I had in mind. But if it happens, sure, of course I’ll do it.
XCX: Who would you choose to play yourself instead?
FOX: Honestly, I would go to every public school in New York and audition girls. I would want something similar to what happened to me for Uncut Gems. I just think that’s more interesting. I prefer to see real people.
XCX: Did you see that Basquiat movie?
FOX: Oh my god. I watched it 10 or 15 years ago, but it just came up on my TikTok. Courtney Love is in it.
XCX: Sam Rockwell is an extra in it.
FOX:I love Sam Rockwell. He’s my favorite.
XCX: He’s so sexy when he dances.
FOX: He’s hot.
XCX: He’s really hot. But I watched that film last night and it reminded me of you and your crew of people. You guys have this Factory-esque nature, the way you rumble through New York. And at least that’s what I felt when I was reading the book. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t grow up in New York and I look at the city with this very romanticized tint.
FOX: I think it was just the perfect recipe for disaster. At the time, I don’t think I realized how crazy and special it was because I was just rolling with the punches. Looking back, I see that it was really such a colorful upbringing. Every Thursday was gallery night around New York. We would go to the galleries because they served the free pinot grigio. We would go from gallery to gallery and just meet random artists, drink up all their free wine, and get wasted. But in turn, we were taking in all this beautiful art. There was a little bit of everything. I feel like I’m really gifted because I feel comfortable anywhere I go. I know who the fuck I am. I can be in the most crazy rooms with the most famous, rich people in the world and I can be in a literal crack house with roaches and feel exactly the same in terms of comfort. New York has this really humbling quality where you could be the richest person or the poorest person, but you’re still sharing the same sidewalks. You know what I mean? It’s an equalizer.
XCX: That’s really interesting you say all that because I generally feel like a nervous wreck whenever I’m anywhere, period. I’m always just second guessing myself.
FOX: I think it’s important to remember that nobody cares as much as you do. Everyone else is feeling that about themselves, too. Just always remember that.
XCX: Especially during Fashion Week. We’re all fucking dying on the inside.
FOX: Oh, Fashion Week is the worst fucking time of the month. People are like, “Oh, it looks so fun and glamorous.” I’m like, no, everyone’s breaking down, everyone’s angry. Nobody’s trying to go to the after parties. Nobody wants to do that.
XCX: I do, actually.
FOX: You do. I don’t.