Miranda July's 'Kajillionaire' Follows A Family Of Schemers NPR's Scott Simon speaks with writer-director Miranda July about her new film, Kajillionaire, which focuses on a family of thieves.

Miranda July's 'Kajillionaire' Follows A Family Of Schemers

Miranda July's 'Kajillionaire' Follows A Family Of Schemers

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NPR's Scott Simon speaks with writer-director Miranda July about her new film, Kajillionaire, which focuses on a family of thieves.


Robert and Theresa Dyne are career schemers whose highest compliment for their daughter, Old Dolio, is that she learned how to forge before she could write. They fall in with Melanie, who finds the idea of scams exciting, and there is an extraordinary moment in the middle of Miranda July's new film when they come into the home of a dying man and essentially play house - but for him, or for each other?


DEBRA WINGER: (As Theresa) How was school, hon?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It was fine, but I'm starving.

EVAN RACHEL WOOD: (As Old Dolio) Me, too.

WINGER: (As Theresa) Would you like some leftover cake?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) OK.


WOOD: (As Old Dolio) He just scored?

JENKINS: (As Robert) Oh, he scored a one-holer (ph).

SIMON: "Kajillionaire" stars Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez and Evan Rachel Wood. And Miranda July, the director, singer, actor and artist joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

MIRANDA JULY: So glad to be here.

SIMON: Boy, that's a scene. And I got to tell you, it's, like, almost the one time that I really liked the characters.

JULY: I know. And they're pretending, right?

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. But - as if, like, from emotional muscle memory or something, I don't know. It's an extraordinary scene. It really is. Did you like the characters? You had to spend a lot of time with them. Tell us how they came into being, if you could.

JULY: Yeah. I mean, they - this is the first movie I've made as both a mother and a daughter. So I think - you know, the way when you've only been a child, like, parenting is this kind of seamless - it's like the sky above. You can only shake your fist at it. And then when you become a parent, you're like, oh, this is just a series of somewhat arbitrary decisions I've made.

SIMON: Yeah.

JULY: And so, I think in that sense - I don't know that I'm sympathetic to the parents in this movie, but I understand their logic, you know? Like, I understand how it makes sense to them and, you know, how you could even become self-righteous such that you might become almost villainous.

SIMON: Well, tell me about Old Dolio, the daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood. First, how did she - and how did you, for that matter - come up with that name?

JULY: (Laughter) Well, it came in a text from a friend who wrote, I just had a dream that you gave birth to 10 kittens. And then she listed all the names. One of them was Old Dolio. Another one was Marijuana, but I didn't go with Marijuana. I went with Old Dolio (laughter). I just knew that was someone, you know? I was like, who could that be, and why would someone name their child Old Dolio, you know? That's a movie.

SIMON: As part of a scam, Old Dolio goes to a better parenting class, even though, of course, she is not a parent and is not expecting. But does it set off something inside of her?

JULY: Yeah. In the same way that I became aware of parenting as, you know, a series of choices, she suddenly becomes aware that she was parented. like, decisions were made on her behalf, and she starts asking questions, which doesn't really work in this family.

SIMON: Yeah. And there are - you're speaking with us from Los Angeles, of course - always tremors underfoot, aren't there?

JULY: Uh huh, right.

SIMON: How does that shake up everybody? No pun - no, all right, pun intended.

JULY: Right. I know. There are a few more earthquakes than is real in this version of L.A., although I will say, I follow that quake bot on Twitter, and it's always registering stuff that we can't feel. So I've come to think, like, maybe they're just very sensitive, this family.

But in any case, no one else in this scene is ever worried by these earthquakes, whereas they're always getting ready for the big one. And I feel like that is sort of a litmus test, living here. Like, what is your fear level? And theirs is, like, a 10, you know? So that tells us a lot about them.

SIMON: Yeah. You work in so many media, between art and writing - I guess nowadays we call them platforms. What can a film do? What can it reach and touch and tickle within us that other media can't?

JULY: Among the things that I do, films are maybe the most inviting, right? Like, they really call you in. And there's something inherently like a treat about a film. It's a different quality to work with. Like, in some ways I feel like I can be more radical in this medium because it's inherently delectable. And I love it for that. And I love it for being able to sort of cross cultures and languages. I mean, with my first movie, that was the first time I traveled around the world and realized, like, oh, the thing that I'm doing is relevant in spheres that are completely unfamiliar to me. I was hooked on that. I mean, it's hard to ever get unhooked.

SIMON: I like that phrase - movies inherently delectable.

JULY: (Laughter) I still think so.

SIMON: Yeah, meaning kind of hard to resist, even if you don't think you like it.

JULY: Yeah. You're in a world, right? I mean, you're in something like a fantasy or a dream. And we all have that interior space all the time, but to get to go into someone else's interiors space - how incredible is that?

SIMON: Yeah. Miranda July - her film, "Kajillionaire" - thank you so much for being with us.

JULY: Thank you, Scott.


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