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Tom Ford: 'I'm just like Susan in this film... she lives a very privileged life, yet she is tortured'

As his second feature comes to our cinemas, fashion designer turned film-maker Tom Ford tells Susan Griffin why it is friends rather than high-end goods that he now treasures

Published 04/11/2016

Lucky man: Tom Ford at the London premiere of Nocturnal Animals
Lucky man: Tom Ford at the London premiere of Nocturnal Animals
Complex life: Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford with an award for his fashion designs

Tom Ford's reputation precedes him. He's a perfectionist, a man of meticulous standards who favours minimalist monochrome and is always immaculately turned-out.

Rumour has it that his staff will be alerted if their outfit doesn't fit the Ford aesthetic. And then there's his bathing routine - he apparently has at least two soaks a day.

These things are whirling around my head as I wait to interview him when, all of a sudden, a bit of a commotion kicks off down the corridor. It turns out Ford has just cut an interview short. It's not possible to decipher what he's saying, but he's clearly not happy.

And so, it's with a little trepidation that I walk into the hotel suite a short while later to meet Mr Ford myself.

Straight away, the 55-year-old apologises for not standing to shake my hand. He reveals, in the faintest Texan accent, that his mother would be most disappointed by his lack of manners but he's got his suit, in signature black of course, looking "just-so" and doesn't want to ruffle it.

Although he made a name for himself in the world of high-fashion, namely at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, Ford proved to be a gifted film-maker when he released his directorial debut, A Single Man, in 2009.

The movie, which Ford adapted from the novel by Christopher Isherwood and produced under his company Fade To Black, earned Colin Firth - who starred as depressed, gay university professor George Falconer - his first Oscar nomination.

"A Single Man was the perfect film to start with, because it was very small and contained - I'll always have a great love for it," explains Ford.

Now, seven years on, he's promoting his second film, Nocturnal Animals, which he's adapted from Austin Wright's 1993 book Tony And Susan.

"Writing is one of the parts of film-making I love the most," he says. "In the screenplay phase, the process is entirely singular, and as the film at that point exists only in my mind, it's in its most perfect form."

Just as he creates mood boards for his fashion collections, Ford begins the screenwriting process by collecting images that relate to the characters and their worlds.

"I then start to write, and often actually write into the screenplay the details I have come across when doing the photo research," he says.

Ford believes you should write what you know and says he's "incredibly familiar" with the worlds his characters in Nocturnal Animals inhabit.

The movie opens on an art exhibition curated by the glamorous Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). When she returns to her beautiful home, it soon transpires she's leading an unfulfilled life with her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer).

When he departs on yet another business trip, Susan receives a parcel from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she's not heard from in years. Inside is a book he's written, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which he's dedicated to her, along with a note asking her to read it and contact him when he's due to pass through the city.

As Susan opens the pages, we're transported into the story and follow the protagonist, Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal), as he copes with the brutality suffered by his wife and teenage daughter by a gang who push their car off a remote stretch of road in Texas.

Moved by his writing, Susan's forced to confront the past and how her decisions have impacted everyone, including herself.

"The character of Susan is pretty much me," states Ford, who has a four-year-old son with husband Richard Buckley.

"This is a woman who lives a very privileged life. She lives in full-on contemporary culture and yet she's a little bit tortured by it. She's not necessarily happy and longs for a simpler life.

"It sounds very spoilt to say that, because I'm very fortunate. But I grew up in the American west in a very simple way, and I'm quite torn sometimes.

"I create products that tell people, 'You're going to be happy if you have this or that', and (I'm) quite involved in the world of materialism, even though I realise material things are not the things that make us happy.

"This story is about finding the people in your life that are the most important and not letting them go."

Another of the themes that "hit home personally" for the director was the film's exploration of masculinity.

"Our heroes, Tony and Edward, do not possess the stereotypical traits of masculinity that our culture often expects, yet in the end they both triumph," observes Ford.

"As a boy growing up in Texas, I was anything but what was considered classically masculine, and I suffered for it."

He says he was "lured to New York" in his teens - because "I thought I wanted all these 'things'".

"I'm very fortunate to have them and I'm lucky and I'm appreciative," he insists.

"But the older I get, the more I want to retreat and recede and the more appreciative I am of the people in my life."

In New York, Ford was a regular at the infamous nightspot Studio 54, and enrolled at New York University, initially attending courses in art history.

He later decided to refocus his education on architecture at Parsons School Of Design, and he spent part of his studies in Paris, where he worked in the Chloe press office.

On his return to New York, he reportedly exaggerated his experience in order to impress designer Cathy Hardwick. He was her chief designer for two years, before joining Perry Ellis in 1988.

Looking to Europe for inspiration a couple of years later, he moved to Milan as head designer for women's ready-to-wear at the then struggling Gucci fashion house.

Within four years, Ford was made creative director, and by the time he left in 2004, the Gucci Group was valued at $10bn.

With everything he continues to juggle (he launched his own brand in 2005), it's little wonder he describes himself as a "nocturnal animal".

Ford hasn't had much time to write of late, but there are a few ideas he's mulling over for his next movie.

"I can't hint - because I might change my mind completely and do something totally different!

  • Nocturnal Animals is in cinemas now

Belfast Telegraph

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