How Tom Ford Went From Designer to Director With ‘Nocturnal Animals’

TheWrap Oscar magazine: Fashion is “very different from making a movie, which is hopefully not going to be marked down in three months,” director says

This story about Tom Ford first appeared in the Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

You can probably guess what Tom Ford was wearing: a trim, immaculate black suit, a crisp white shirt, a perfectly knotted tie. He greeted me without moving too far from the most comfortable and best-lit chair in the hotel room, commented on my handshake and asked me what was in the glass I was carrying. (It was iced tea.)

He adjusted the thermostat in the room, sat down, started to talk and then heard a couple of his reps talking softly in the hallway outside. He stopped, went outside, asked them to please be quiet so he could focus, and came back in the room. Before he sat down, he adjusted the thermostat again.

Yes, it is safe to say that Tom Ford is a control freak. (I don’t know for sure that he wiped up the ring my glass left on the shiny, coaster-less coffee table after I left, but I’d put money on it.) “To be blunt, I’m someone who has to control the material,” he said. “I have another job that supplies me with income, so movies are something I do out of passion and love and fun and the need to express something. And I could not ever, ever, ever imagine doing a film where I did not have complete control and final cut. That’s one reason it took so long to make this.”

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“Nocturnal Animals” is only Ford’s second movie in seven years, after 2009’s “A Single Man.” While his debut film was intimate and controlled, his new one is big and bold. It cuts between three different arenas: the impossibly stylish but cold world of art-gallery director Susan, played by Amy Adams; warmer flashbacks to her past relationship with an aspiring writer played by Jake Gyllenhaal; and scenes out of a novel written by Gyllenhaal’s character, a noirish and bloody fever dream set in West Texas.

“This is a huge step up as a director,” Ford said. “The story is much more complex than ‘A Single Man’ — more locations, more actors, really three different films in tone, but they all have to hold together.”

Ford adapted the novel by Austin Wright, he said, because the cold art world and the importance of human connection spoke to him.

“I’m very familiar with Susan’s world,” he said. “I live in her world. It probably sounds weird coming from a fashion designer, someone who is very much part of creating contemporary culture — but maybe it’s because I am such a part of it that I can scrutinize it and see the dangers of it.

“I have a kind of love/hate relationship with materialism, and at times I have put too much value on it, and lost touch with my relationships.”

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Filmmaking, he added, is far more creatively satisfying than designing. “I am a commercial fashion designer,” he said. “It’s artistic, but the clothes have to sell, and they have a lifespan — they go away, and you have to make new ones. That’s very different from making a movie, which is hopefully not going to be marked down in three months.”

He paused. “I remember when I was making ‘A Single Man,’ I was terrified that I would die before I finished it, because it was so personal to me. So much of who I was at that time of my life was in that film, and the same with this film. If in the future my son wants to know what his father was like in 2016, he can watch this movie.”

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