Kajillionaire marks the third full length feature film for writer-director Miranda July. It’s about to be released in Australian cinemas and I was lucky to chat with Miranda about the production…
Matt: The first time I think I heard the name Miranda July was back in 2005 when you made and starred in You and Me and Everyone We Know. It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed. Do you look back on that film fondly?
Miranda: This year, the film became part of the Criterion Collection so I was forced to watch it. It’s sort of torturous because I don’t generally watch my movies after I’m done with them. I think enough time has passed now that I forgive myself for whatever I didn’t know at the time.
Matt: Kajillionaire is such an offbeat story. Where did the idea come from? Was it inspired by something?
Miranda: I watched Mission: Impossible, the TV show, a lot when I was a kid. It was like every single night with my big brother. I feel like I’ve always had that language of reversals and high anxiety and where nobody knows who’s good and who’s bad.
I had all that in my back pocket and so when these characters came to me one morning, this family of con-artists, the great challenge was how to develop them using “my emotional language” like me as a mother and a daughter.
Matt: The characters here are very distinctive. I’m not talking about just the 4 leads but also the supporting players – like the crying office landlord. How do you approach that? Do you have that vision from the very start when writing the screenplay or does it more evolve through the casting process?
Miranda: I’m a fiction writer and so I err on the side of thinking I can put it all on the page. My scripts are always long because I try to explain every part of these people. It’s then kind of a miracle when you meet the right actor and suddenly, there’s the soul of a person who has lived this whole life. I love that. That collaboration is like magic.
Matt: An interesting attribute to these characters is their paranoia around things like earthquakes and flying on planes. How did that weave its way into the screenplay?
Miranda: I’m calling from Los Angeles right now where there could be an earthquake at any moment and I have grown up with that fear living here in California. It’s always an interesting barometer of a person’s broader anxiety levels here. How much are they actively thinking about earthquakes or are they more like Gina Rodriguez’s character and going “YOLO, what are you gonna do?” That was a really helpful metaphor.
Matt: It’s an interesting performance from Evan Rachel Wood who takes on such a deep, monotone voice – different from what we’d normally see from her on screen. Did that take a huge amount of effort on her part? Where did that come from?
Miranda: She revealed that to me during our rehearsal process. She started talking with a deep voice and she said that was her original voice and that she’s trained it higher with a vocal coach because she’s a singer. When she did that, I could see right away that she’d drop into the character of Old Dolio. I felt lucky that she’d never used that voice for anything else.
Matt: Two accomplished Oscar nominated actors – Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger. How did they come on board?
Miranda: I wrote a very heartfelt letter to Richard. I thought he was the best possible person for such a shifty character that we have to believe. There are points where we need to trust him and then points where we’re shocked by him. I have a long history of trusting Richard Jenkins characters. He came in with something that works to his advantage and he’s also quite funny in the movie too.
With Debra Winger, it’s almost cheating to cast her because she adds depth to any role she’s ever done – a deeper layer that probably wasn’t there in the script.
Matt: Without giving too much away, I’ve got to ask about the bubbles in the office. Was that an easy visual to pull off?
Miranda: It was very easy to write which was my job. The greatest thing about filmmaking is that I got to work with these incredibly skilled effects people who figured out how to do that. We did a million tests and I still look at them on my computer. There’s a lot to getting bubbles right. Sometimes they were too heavy and they slid down the walls too fast.
Matt: This film premiered back in January at the Sundance Film Festival and since that time, the entire cinematic world has changed due to the impact of COVID-19. How has it affected the release of this film?
Miranda: Yeah. It was supposed to come out back in June. When COVID-19 took hold, I guess all I had to work with was massive disappointment but then people started seeing the movie and I realised that the most essential thing was still there – the movie was connecting with people. Things that seemed very personal to me, like the anxiety of the “big one”, I’m pretty sure we’re in the “big one” right now. These weird things in the movie weren’t so weird anymore because the world has become so strange that they’re now accessible.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment?
Miranda: I’m writing a novel. I’m glad I’m not trying to shoot anything right now because that would be much harder. I’ve also found myself taking on the role of teacher for my 3rd grade child that takes up a big part of each day.