Julia Fox Was On Her Way, You Just Didn't Know It Yet: Inside the Rise of Kanye "Ye" West's New Muse

Julia Fox's street-savvy character in Uncut Gems was inspired by her real-life persona, and she had a scene all her own long before joining forces with Kanye "Ye" West.

By Natalie Finn Jan 20, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Julia Fox Addresses Rumors Kanye West Romance Is a Setup

For Julia Fox, turning in a compelling performance as a degenerate gambler's street-smart girlfriend in Uncut Gems, her acting debut, was a hell of a career move.

This just may be a better one.

Which isn't to say that her new romance with Kanye "Ye" West isn't perfectly genuine—"It's such a Gemini-Aquarius connection," Fox described their bond on her Forbidden Fruits podcast—but hanging out with the rapper can't help but be a profile-boosting scenario.

And the self-described "actress of life"—whose "refreshing energy" a source has said West loves and whose real-life New York scenester cred inspired her character in Uncut Gems—is fine with a few extra eyeballs on her.

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Talking to Interview in 2019, Fox recalled pulling up to the film's premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and seeing a sea of photographers. Her publicist asked if she was nervous. "And I told her, 'Are you kidding? I was born for this.'"

Talent agency WME signed her soon after and the real publicity gauntlet began.

Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

When the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down city life and postponed all gigs months later, Fox took matters into her own hands and posed for her photographer friend Richie Shazam at various spots around a relatively deserted Manhattan, later sharing some shots with GQ.

She also used the free time to catch up on films, which she'd always been too distracted to focus on—"now I can watch, like, four movies back-to-back, and I'm totally loving that," she told the magazine—as well as write and think about her future.

"I'm always a big-picture kind of gal," Fox explained. "I always think in the long term, and I like to see things through from beginning to end in my head."

Well, we know that West appreciates a fellow visionary, and ambition is his jam.

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"In life, I don't play it safe," Fox told The Guardian in 2019. "I always put everything out there, and I'm shameless. I've always done whatever I wanted to do, and I think that intimidates people—whether it was publishing my very personal art book, or creating a fashion line, or even making this movie having never acted before and not knowing if I would be good at it or how it would be received."

Be still a certain Grammy winner's heart.


West, who's spent time with a few women since Kim Kardashian filed for divorce last February, met Fox on New Year's Eve in Miami and was first spotted in her company on Jan. 1. They had "an instant connection," Fox wrote in a Jan. 6 dispatch for Interview.

"His energy is so fun to be around," she shared. "He had me and my friends laughing, dancing, and smiling all night." 

So they took their show on the road. They caught a performance of Slave Play on Broadway a few nights later, followed by dinner at Carbone, where "Ye directed an entire photo shoot for me while people dined!" Fox wrote. "The whole restaurant loved it and cheered us on while it was happening."

After which he took her up to a hotel suite and surprised her with an array of new clothes, "a real Cinderella moment."

Emilio Madrid

"Like, who does things like this on a second date? Or any date!" she marveled. "Everything with us has been so organic. I don't know where things are headed but if this is any indication of the future I'm loving the ride."

(Side note: West does this. It's kind of his signature move.)

In the middle of that whirlwind, Fox also told The Cut, "I mean, it's all just happening so quickly. I'm going with the universe and the flow and seeing where it takes me...where it takes all of us."

The following week they had a high-profile dinner date at Craig's, the West Hollywood hotspot not meant for the shrinking violets of the celebrity set. Another night Fox invited West to join her dinner meeting with Madonna, who reportedly is considering Fox for the role of her good friend Debi Mazar in a planned Material Girl biopic, at WeHo restaurant Delilah. (All of which has a touch of the inevitable, because Fox has been getting Mazar comparisons for years.)

FilmMagic / Getty Images

"You know, I'm so used to being f--ked over in relationships," Fox explained in a Jan. 15 state-of-the-Ye update for Interview, "so I keep waiting for him to disappoint me, because he makes very grandiose promises, and it's like, 'How could he ever pull it off with all the other things he has going on?' But he always does. Last night was a testament to that."

West's latest grand gesture was surprising her Jan. 13 with an intimate (yet still celeb-studded) screening of 2020's Zola in a meticulously lit warehouse space ("Ye loves to play with light and darkness"), already the second time they'd watched the darkly funny film about a stripper who unwittingly falls in with a sex trafficker and has to escape, the plot originating from a 2015 viral Twitter thread. Which sounds exactly like West's kind of movie.

When they were together, she and West talked about "ideas," Fox, 31, continued. "That's what's so exciting about being in the vicinity of someone who's operating at the level that he is. These seemingly crazy ideas, he can make them come to life."

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Of course, it's early days, and West, 44, has also been outspoken about his hopes that he can salvage his marriage to Kardashian, the mother of his four kids. "I want us to be together," he said on Revolt TV's Drink Champs podcast in November. "But at the end of the day, I ain't got the paperwork yet. So I'ma come on this joint and try to save my family and keep my family together."

A source told E! News earlier this month that Kardashian is "the only one in his heart and he believes they are soul mates and will end up back together." (Meanwhile, the SKIMS founder has been dating Pete Davidson since at least November.)

Fox can at least relate to what it's like to end a marriage, GQ reporting in May 2020 that she was divorcing her pilot husband of two years, Peter Artemiev, and couldn't wait to make her long-awaited move to Los Angeles. "We're friendly, but we're not together," she told the publication. "He's still my friend. I'm sure he would like it to be more, but it's not happening."

Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

Seven months later, she gave birth to their son, Valentino, but didn't publicly announce his arrival until Feb. 14. Sharing some unclothed photos of herself in the full bloom of pregnancy, she wrote, "Right after the shoot I went to the hospital and had my precious baby boy," she wrote. "My forever valentine, Valentino. Born on January 17th, 2021. The best day of my life. #milf."

A source close to Fox told E! News this month that she was "having fun and taking it day by day" with West, "but being a mom to her son is her number one priority."

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However, having boxed up all her stuff in favor of the new wardrobe West bought her, Fox told Interview Jan. 15, "I'm really surrendering. For someone like me who's such a control freak and always so used to taking care of myself, to just let go and be taken care of is foreign at this point in life. I've been the primary caretaker of everyone for so long, so it's a new sensation, but honestly, I think I deserve it. Even a month ago, I was so f--king like…not getting along with my son's father, or not having help. It was just me alone. I was so tired and everything was work."

Last month, Fox posted a pic of Artemiev on her Instagram Stories, beginning a multi-post rant with, "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS DEAD BEAT DAD? He can be found at most strip clubs, Lucien, Paul's bbg, Casablanca, the streets etc." (Artemiev told Page Six in response to her accusations that he wasn't holding up his end of the parenting bargain, "I was saddened to learn of the utterly false statements made on social media by Julia Fox, my co-parent, who is clearly struggling. Out of respect for her privacy and to protect our child, I will not comment further.")

Referring to that fraught time, Fox told Interview, "I just remember being like, 'I know that there's going to be a reward for this, like this is so f--king miserable that I know something good will come of this if I just hang in there.' And then a few days later there I am with Ye, and it was the most instant natural organic attraction and connection. I just feel really safe with him. It's a redemption story."

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About laying into her ex so publicly, she told The Cut on Jan. 7, "I really just kind of want to clear the air. Because I obviously was not expecting all the publicity to come after I had come for my son's father online. My son's father and I had our issues and I wanted to scare him into being a better dad, but I went about it the wrong way. My son's dad loves his son more than anything in the world. He just has some issues that I shouldn't have made public."

Fox and Artemiev reunited for Valentino's first birthday Jan. 17 in New York, and the actress captioned a video and family photos celebrating her son, "Thank you so much for showing me what love is. Thank you for humbling me and teaching me patience and hard work. Thank you for being my biggest blessing. My greatest accomplishment. My masterpiece. I don't deserve you but somehow we're here and I promise to love you unconditionally and accept you for who you are."

Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage

So she still hasn't made a full-time move to L.A. since telling a bewildered Jimmy Kimmel in 2019 (on her first-ever talk show appearance) that she felt she had outgrown New York. Asked how that was possible, Fox insisted, "It's a small town!"

She was born in Italy but moved to New York to live with her American father, a contractor, when she was 6. It was a fairly itinerant life, the two of them often living in whatever apartment he was renovating at the time. She moved back to Milan to live with her mother for a year when she was about 13 ("I really learned about fashion there," she told Vogue), and then it was back to her peripatetic ways in Manhattan, where she attended a handful of high schools.

"I think I started going clubbing when I was 14," Fox relayed to Into the Gloss in 2015. "I remember I made a fake ID and laminated it myself. I forget what the name on it was, but I remember it was something so stupid. We went to Kinko's to do it."

Talking to Interview in 2019, she said of her dad, "He was very eccentric. I had zero supervision in New York. It's kind of like I was an orphan. I would just go wherever the wind blew, and I would always get myself into crazy situations. By some miracle, I'm still alive."

Party Pics: New York

When writer-directors Josh and Benny Safdie sent her the script for Uncut Gems, her response, as she recalled to The Guardian, was "Have you been spying on me?"

She met Josh first in the early 2010s ("Josh particularly was very enamored by me," she told Paper) and both brothers became friends with the onetime dominatrix, who was launching her own body-con fashion line, Franziska Fox, with friend Briana Andalore and building a following on Vine back when the six-second-video platform had its moment in the sun.

Josh actually recognized Fox from Vine when she walked by his table at the West Village café Jack's Wife Freda. "When you think you know her, you see another facet of her," the filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter in 2020. "She's like an uncut gem, really. The more you dig, the more beauty you see."

And "there were a lot of similarities," Fox said of herself and the character of Julia De Fiore. "Even in the character description, I was kind of like: 'This is a little familiar.' It was pretty spot-on." While in real life she wasn't a jewelry shop clerk having an affair with a married man who was dangerously in over his head betting on basketball, as Adam Sandler's Howard Ratner is in the frenetic film, Fox rattled off the qualities that spoke to her: "Being independent, resilient, being a hustler, having a ride-or-die mentality, and overall just being really cute."

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center

She told Interview, "I've crossed paths with so many different people from all walks of life. Any situation you put me in, I can manage. From the Ritz to the trap house, I'll find some sort of common ground with anyone." Julia in the movie has "had to fend for herself. I feel like I have a Julia in me, and although we are very different, I've been there. I've been that girl."

Not that the part was automatically hers. The Safdies had been talking to her for years about the movie they wanted her to be in, but when the time came to make it, they had had enough success with their previous film, Good Time (starring a grimy Robert Pattinson), that the studio wanted a big-name actress in the role. 

Pete Davidson and Julia Fox Pose for Paper Magazine Photo Shoot

"They auditioned about 300 girls," Fox recalled to The Guardian. "I heard Lady Gaga's name thrown around. I heard Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson. I think at one point I even heard Kim Kardashian, though I never asked because I didn't want to put myself in an uncomfortable position where I would be obsessing over it and doing the compare-and-contrast thing."

As they say, it's a small world after all.

Not that Fox—who also coincidentally co-starred in a Ken and Barbie-themed photo shoot with Pete Davidson back in 2019—is the type to compare-and-contrast herself to anybody.

"There was just no way someone could play that part better than me," she told Interview. "I knew I would literally kill this movie."


She did a screen test opposite Sandler ("He has a very warm, welcoming energy"), nailed it and got the job. "I was nervous the first day because I was like, what if I tricked all these people into thinking I can do this, and then they yell 'Action!' and I have no idea how to act?" she recalled to The Guardian. "I only slept one hour the night before, but it kind of helped, because in the scene Julia hasn't slept—she went out partying and didn't come to work on time—and everyone loved it. After that I felt so much better."

A longtime believer in the power of manifesting one's own opportunities, Fox practices what she preaches.

Julia Cervantes/Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

"She's a legitimate sorceress. She's the Michael Jordan of vixens … She's devastating, like a hurricane," writer Cat Marnell gushed about her to The Cut via text, calling Fox "doper than Pete Davidson, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West combined."

Marnell continued, "If she became a legit 'Minivan majority'-known household name, as is happening right now...it will be the greatest thing to ever happen in my lifetime. I f--king love that bad bitch. Julia Fox is a Camille Paglia wet dream." (Paglia, a professor and cultural critic, is the author of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.)

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Fox certainly owns her sexuality, her brief stint as a dominatrix when she was a senior in high school providing a crash course in harnessing her inherent power. "This was back when Craigslist still had an 'adult gigs' section," she told Rolling Stone in 2020. "I was scrolling, and in between ads for prostitutes, I clicked on one that said 'no nudity, no sex.' That appealed to me."

And it paid a lot more than other jobs she'd had scooping ice cream and working in a pastry shop.

"You're given a few words on what the client's interests are and then you have to build from there and improvise the rest," she explained. "So imagine having to do that multiple times a day in different outfits—a nun, teacher, nurse, mom—according to the clients' desires. I went in an angsty teenager and left a really self-assured woman."

She actually dated one of her clients, a rich older gentleman, for about five years, and though she loved him and he wanted to marry her, "I felt like I was always playing a part," she told The New Yorker last summer. Not that she considered herself some sort of wild-sex maven, either.

"I prefer a great conversation, or a great meal, but people think I'm, like, this sex goddess," she remarked. "It must be because I never treated it like a hush-hush thing. It's a necessary bodily function!"

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for IFP

Fox has also spoken frankly about abusing heroin and pills and surviving an overdose at 17, all of which inspired her self-published art books "about abuse and addiction and sex work," 2015's Symptomatic of a Relationship Gone Sour: Heartburn/Nausea and 2016's PTSD

"You have to use your pain as your gift," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2020. "If you're able to take something really negative and repackage it as something positive, you've nailed it."

She staged her own art exhibit, "R.I.P. Julia Fox," in 2017 and wrote and directed a short film called Fantasy Girls, about teenage sex workers in Reno, Nev., after meeting with victims of sex-trafficking.

"I hope I can do more things like that and give people a voice using mine," Fox told Paper in 2019, "while also raising awareness for causes that I think are really important and special—and doing it in an artistic way so people will be into it and it will get more attention that way."

Otherwise, she said, "I don't really have a day job, I haven't in a long time. I've gotten fired from any job I've ever had, so I basically just do everything for myself. Right now, I guess I'm kind of veering into acting, by accident. I really like it and I think I'm good at it and I hope I can do more stuff like that. My real passion, though, is directing and producing."

Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images

Still, she acknowledged on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2019 that starring opposite one of the biggest box office stars in the world in the critically acclaimed Uncut Gems after not having been in so much as a school play was "a miracle."

"It does not happen," she declared. "So I'm really grateful." But as an "actress of life," she explained, "I kind of have always been acting, whether it's like, 'try to be normal,' or 'try to be, you know, whatever it is,' I've always kind of been in that realm. I knew I wanted to be in Hollywood."

She was nominated for a Gotham Award for her breakout performance, then starred in the indie thriller PVT Chat, which came out in February 2021, playing a webcam performer caught up in a client's psychosexual obsession. Most recently she was part of the all-star ensemble in the Steven Soderbergh-directed 1950s-set crime drama No Sudden Move, which premiered on HBO Max last summer.

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"It was hard to be a woman then," she told The New Yorker. "She's always going to be someone's wife or girlfriend—she's never going to have a career. So if she wants to kill a few a--holes, let her!"

She had been posing for famous photographers even before she was a known name, and since Uncut Gems she's been photographed for VogueVogue Italia, CR Fashion Book (a distracted driver slammed into another car when he glimpsed her posing on the street in Hollywood), Wonderland and more, and has modeled in campaigns for Diesel and Coach New York.

Asked if she was now West's muse, Fox told Interview, "I've always been someone's muse." Asked what being a muse meant to her, she simply replied, "You're either born a muse, or you're not."