Entertainment & Arts

Tom Ford: Nocturnal Animals' cautionary tale

Tom Ford Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tom Ford: Like his first film A Single Man, part of Nocturnal Animals deals with affluent but isolated characters

"Money," claims Tom Ford, "Doesn't insulate you from loneliness.

"Some people think that it does, and that loneliness within the wealthy is all relative. I think it's part of the human condition and occurs whether you are rich or poor."

The fashion designer, once the creative head of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and now the head of his own eponymous brand, is speaking as he launches his second feature film, Nocturnal Animals.

Like his first, the Oscar-nominated A Single Man, part of Nocturnal Animals deals with affluent but isolated characters - in particular the leading role of Susan, played by Amy Adams.

She lives, Ford says, in "the somewhat rarefied world of Los Angeles" which is "far too familiar" to him.

'Cautionary tale'

Ford adapted the screenplay from a 1993 Austin Wright novel called Tony and Susan.

He describes it as "a cautionary tale about coming to terms with the choices we make and the life that leaves us with".

Susan, a woman with a materially rich but emotionally poor life, is sent a manuscript - called Nocturnal Animals - by her ex-husband, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

She is then consumed by the story within a story, as the violent and deadly plot of the book she is reading forces her to confront her own choices.

Image copyright Universal
Image caption Amy Adams's character has all money can buy but her life remains empty of joy and meaning

"It's the contemporary world and a contemporary character taken to the extreme," explains Ford.

"She's a character that's been seduced and fallen back on what's expected of her in our culture - to be financially successful, to be with a very 'masculine' man - and she's made the wrong choice.

"She has a materially impeccable life but she's cold inside. The main focus of the film is loyalty - to find the people in your life that matter to you, and to keep holding on to them.

"She has made the mistake of letting go of her true soulmate, and by reading his novel, it not only makes her fall in love with him all over again, it's his way of making her realise what she did to him."

Image copyright Universal
Image caption Jake Gyllenhaal says regret is a key theme in the film

Adams believes that even with an outwardly successful life, "it's impossible not to reach a certain age and not have some regret".

The five-time Oscar nominee points out that "the choices we make lead to the person we become, and you're left with that, for better or for worse".

"I dealt with that in my own life, by becoming this actress, by moving to Los Angeles myself, and now my life doesn't resemble the one I used to have," she says.

"It's an effort not to lose who I really am, and playing a character who wasn't able to do that really struck me."

Image copyright Universal
Image caption Nocturnal Animals was awarded the Grand Jury prize at this year's Venice Film Festival

Gyllenhaal says of his role: "I play two characters within the film, the ex-husband and the lead character of the novel, as Susan imagines him, and they have profound regret too.

"In one case, it's a question of masculinity - that he didn't fight for the things he loved. Regret really is pasted all over the film for everyone."

Nocturnal Animals was awarded the Grand Jury prize at this year's Venice Film Festival, putting it in contention with both Damien Chazelle's La La Land and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (in which Amy Adams also stars) as favourites for rewards in this year's award season.

Asked why it took him seven years to make a second movie, Ford says: "I started doing womenswear and opening about a hundred stores, and my income as a fashion designer enables me to be a film director. But most importantly, I had a child, and I said I would be there constantly for the first few years of his life. So when Jack turned three, I decided then to look at another film."

Adams says: "I hadn't actually seen A Single Man when Tom sent me the script. But he had such a strong point of view.

"I also thought that it was nearly impossible as a story to pull off and that made me very interested."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Tom Ford says film-making gives him "the most fun that I ever have"

"The script was sent to me on pink-hued paper," recalls Gyllenhaal, "Which set it apart from the conventional way a script is delivered to you.

"But it was one of the best scripts I have ever read - it actually shook me, in the same way the character of Susan is shaken by reading the novel. It's a distinctly original vision."

Part of the narrative of Nocturnal Animals takes place in Texas, where the designer grew up. That part of the story also features Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Michael Shannon in what Ford thinks is "a contemporary Western".

'Exploring masculinity'

He adds: "Michael Shannon is an ageing Marlboro man and Aaron Taylor Johnson isn't a typical psychotic killer.

"In the book, this particularly nasty scene of violence doesn't take place in Texas, but in the north-east. However, the book's set in the early 1990s, and now mobile technology would mean cell phones eradicate all sense of danger. However, there are parts of Texas where I grew up where there are no phone signals for miles, and it was all too easy to imagine, so I set it there.

"One of the themes of the film that hit home personally for me was the exploration of masculinity in our culture. As a boy growing up in Texas, I was anything but what was considered classically masculine. I think it's important to write about what you know and I know that part of the world well."

Ford says that regardless of the effort involved in writing and directing, "this is the most fun that I ever have, aside from my family and friends".

He promises: "Whatever happens to Nocturnal Animals, I won't leave it another seven years until there's a third film."

Nocturnal Animals is released in the UK on 4 November 2016.

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