When sibling film-makers Josh and Benny Safdie were developing the script for Uncut Gems, their new film set in the shadier recesses of the New York jewellery trade, they scoured their native city for inspiration. For their protagonist, Howard Ratner, a risk-craving gemstone dealer played by Adam Sandler, they drew on stories their father used to tell from his time working in Manhattan’s Diamond District.
For Ratner’s girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Julia, the Safdies took a more direct approach: they based the character on a young New York socialite named Julia Fox, whom they met in the early 2010s. A glamorous fixture of the downtown club scene, Fox was running a minimalist fashion label and posting revealing videos of herself on the social media platform Vine. So closely did the Safdies mirror her in the character of Julia that, when they sent Fox a script a year later asking her to play the part, her first question was: “Have you been spying on me?”
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“There were a lot of similarities,” says Fox down the line from Los Angeles. “Even in the character description, I was kind of like: ‘This is a little familiar.’ It was pretty spot-on.”
At the time, the film kept getting pushed back. But the Safdies’ profile was raised by 2014’s harrowing Heaven Knows What, and then went sky-high after they released the thriller Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson, in 2017 (the New Yorker called it “an instant crime classic in the age of Trump”). As as result, when Uncut Gems finally came around, Fox’s claim on the role had become tentative. The fact that she had never acted before didn’t bother the Safdies, who enjoy casting first-timers in their films. But this production was much bigger than before, with heavyweight producers on board including Martin Scorsese and Scott Rudin, and...
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