How did Julia Fox go from unruly teenager, with her face plastered on missing persons fliers put up by her parents across New York City, to tabloid fixture, with her face plastered on Supreme ads?
The story is messy, tense and sometimes tragic — and that covers only what she decided to include in “Down the Drain,” her car crash of a memoir of addiction, abuse and sex. There is her first kiss at age 11 to a man she said was 26; there are physical fights with family members, boyfriends and best friends; there is a literal pissing match with a fellow dominatrix at the dungeon where Ms. Fox worked at 18, when she was still in high school; there is a miscarriage shrugged off in a bar bathroom; there is the whiplash of her waking up in a hotel suite in Miami and then a drug den in New Orleans.
Every new anecdote brings a fresh opportunity for disaster: Which character will be arrested or die or nearly die by the end of this chapter?
“I had to censor a few things and obviously left out a bunch of stuff,” Ms. Fox said, sitting in a booth at Victoria, a Lower East Side bar that her publicity team had suggested. (Ms. Fox, 33, doesn’t often drink, she said; she writes in the book that has survived multiple drug overdoses and swore off opiates in 2019, the year a close friend died of an overdose.)
Yet the book can also be darkly funny. Ms. Fox describes visiting the Vatican with high school classmates to pay respects to Pope John Paul II — she spent parts of her childhood in Italy, where her mother’s family lived — and being smacked by a priest for hugging a boy in front of the coffin.
“Did I seriously just wait 16 hours to get slapped in the face in front of the dead pope?” she writes. “I didn’t even get to have a moment with him!”
She changed most names (except for the dead, “because they can’t sue me,” she said), although she notably refers to a character who is obviously Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, as just “the artist.” In her retelling, their brief relationship was seemingly being directed by “the artist” for the public eye.
“Down the Drain,” which will be published on Oct. 10, ends after their highly publicized breakup in February 2022, right around the time Ms. Fox last spoke to The New York Times at length.
In the edited interview below, she offers her take on sticking to the truth in memoir, writing sex scenes and depicting complicated female friendships.
Julia Fox, at the corner of First Avenue and Second Street in New York, in November 2019. Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times
How do you feel about the book almost being out there in the world?
I don’t know. What did you feel about it?
When I interviewed you after your relationship with Kanye ended, you said something like, “Believe it or not, he’s not the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to me.” I had only a vague sense of what you meant by that, but now, after reading the book, I think I understand.
Good. I’m glad.
You’ve been vocal about how you “wrote every word of the book.” Are you still getting asked about that?
Yes, I’ve had people be like: “Off record, between you and I, did you use a ghostwriter? Did somebody help you?” It’s kind of offensive. I wouldn’t make that statement if there were some ghostwriter out in the world — that feels really stupid. It goes back to people always underestimating me or not taking me seriously. What else is new?
Who were you writing this book for?
My publisher. No, I’m kidding. I had been given a deadline, and I kind of misunderstood what that meant.
I had to turn it in in, like, three months or something. I thought I had six months. The book swallowed my life. Everything became book, book, book. I didn’t go out. I didn’t take other jobs.
I was doing it for me. It felt really cathartic. It was really important to be honest and vulnerable. My hope now would be that someone reads it and thinks: “She went through this and look at her now. I can get over anything.”
On the note of honesty, how did you decide what was and wasn’t going in the book?
A lot of it had to do with, “Well, do I want to ruin people’s lives?” It’s my story, but it’s also their lives.
I feel like I did a good job at disguising people as much as I could, but obviously people will know. If anyone does get upset, I’m going to be very quick to remind them: “I went easy on you. I could have done more damage.”
Did you show chapters to anyone in advance?
No. None of my friends have read it.
Is there anyone you’re particularly worried about?
Probably my parents, my immediate family. It doesn’t paint the best picture. But it’s real, and I’m sure a lot of people will be able to relate. Nobody has great family situations.
Were there certain books or writers whose work inspired you?
I know it’s really cliché, but I love William Burroughs — I loved “Junky” a lot growing up. I love books about drugs: “A Million Little Pieces,” “Naked.”
Did you always know sex was going to be part of your book?
I felt like it was the truth. Why not write it?
I have this thing where, in my personal writing, I don’t go into as much detail as I could. I’m like: “This crazy thing happened. OK, moving on. …” So I made it a point to put the reader in the room. I didn’t want to skip over things. So maybe some things are too detailed.
One boyfriend you don’t describe sex with is Kanye.
Because there, like, wasn’t any. It wasn’t really about that.
I was surprised at how vividly you remembered being 6 years old and landing in New York City from Italy, which is the first scene in the book. Do you have a good memory?
No, I have the weirdest memory. I remember innocuous, mundane, small details, and then I forget really big, traumatic events. A lot of it was having to piece it all back together.
Especially with the early stuff, a lot of things didn’t happen at the time I said they did. They happened at a different time, but I wrote them into that one scene because it doesn’t matter. It’s still the truth — it’s just for the sake of writing a book and making it cohesive and able to flow.
So you were more attached to truth as an emotional concept than an actual literal concept?
Yes. As long as the message was real, who cares when it happened? What’s a couple months off? But as I got older, the writing sticks more to the actual timeline because I remember that way more clearly.
The title of the book comes from someone telling you that you’re throwing your life down the drain. Why did that strike you as the best title?
It had an “Alice in Wonderland” vibe. If I were to picture what my life has been, it’s been spinning in a circle around a drain and then coming out on the other side and being OK.
Are you still acting?
I’m doing a movie this month. I have my upcycling fashion show that I’m so excited to do because I love young designers. It’s a dream to be able to give them a platform. I also wrote a movie with my friend Sara [Sara Apple].
Ultimately my goal is to fade into obscurity and write scripts, develop movies, TV shows, maybe children’s books. I would like to be able to hole up somewhere and write at my leisure.
That’s so different from what I imagine your life to be now. I’ve heard you get paid something like $20,000 just to show up to a brand event, at minimum.
More than that?
Yes, but it depends. If I love the brand, I’ll go for a $5,000 store credit.
I’ll go to events for free if it’s for my friends or designers who I look up to — or I know that they don’t have a lot of money and this exposure could mean a lot to them.
What is your script about?
It’s about these two girls that go on a bender — they’re in and out of A.A. — and they accidentally kill one of the girl’s sugar daddies. It’s really funny and crazy and, I think, very empowering. It’s ditsy. It’s dark.
In your book, you describe female friendships from childhood to your adulthood in detail. There are girls who leave you and girls that you leave, and there’s violence and tenderness. It’s friendship depicted in a way we don’t see very often.
Well, yes, because there are really no movies about female friendship, unless it’s like some lesbian thing. I think female friendship is a great topic to explore because when it’s that intense, it can move mountains. At least for me, they’re the strongest, most beautiful, trusting relationships I’ve ever had, and they are the ones that stand out in my mind way over any boyfriend I’ve ever had.
One of the constants in my life is that I’ve had a girl bestie, and we’re obsessed with each other, like super-codependent. It’s maybe unhealthy but still so much fun — laughter and tears, just very raw and authentic. You can’t really have that with a guy, at least I can’t. Maybe with a gay guy.
Do you have that with a person or people now?
My son. [She laughs. Her son, Valentino, is 2.] No, ever since I had my son, I haven’t engaged in those kinds of relationships. Being in a codependent relationship is a full-time job, and I don’t have the bandwidth.
There’s one story I wanted to hear that you didn’t write about in the book. How did your Birkin bag get macheted?
Well, I don’t want to disparage anyone, but I was in a fight with one of my codependent besties.
Do you still have it?
Do you still have the Birkin Kanye gave you and your friends?
Well, in the book, you mention selling a Birkin at some point.
That was a Birkin that an older rich man had bought for me. It was enough money to get a car and live in Louisiana for six months, and then I blew through it all and had to come home. But you can get far with Birkin money.
I understand the privilege of having nice things, but I also understand the burden that comes with it. Because now you’re constantly guarding your things. You’re paranoid about your things, you’re getting insurance on your things. Things get stolen or they get damaged, and it’s totally out of your control. I don’t put my self-worth in my things anymore. I’d rather wear some young up-and-coming designer that nobody knows than a full Dior outfit.
You end the book on the thought that men no longer find you attractive. You write: “I can finally walk around without getting honked at or catcalled. It’s as if I’ve been living as a slave to the male gaze all my life, and I’m enjoying this newfound freedom.” Do you really think that’s true?
At the time of writing it, definitely. I lost a lot of weight, and the comments I was getting were that I’d lost my curves, that I’m not the same as I was in “Uncut Gems,” that my butt is gone, that I look crazy with my eyebrows, that I’m uglifying myself on purpose. It was incessant.
Obviously, I know there are men who would totally hook up with me in a heartbeat, but it’s not what defines me anymore. Before, that was my identity: the hot girl. That’s not me anymore.
Who are you now?