Tom Ford talks film, fashion and fatherhood
THERE are no Tom Ford products in his dazzling new film, “Nocturnal Animals”. “Not a single one,” confirms the fashion-designer-turned-director. “I want to be taken seriously.” His first film, “A Single Man” (2009), was a critical hit which bagged an Oscar nomination for Colin Firth, its lead actor. But reviews often focused on its glittering style and ravishing beauty, an emphasis they ascribed to Mr Ford’s fashion background. “I hate that,” he says, only half-joking. “There were very, very many film directors before me who were obsessed with the look of the characters and the look of the framing. I think if I hadn’t been a fashion designer in my other life, no one would talk about it.”
If some critics have a hard time discussing “Nocturnal Animals” or “A Single Man” without referring to Mr Ford’s “other life”, they can’t be blamed. Now aged 55, he brought sex appeal and phenomenal sales to Gucci in the 1990s, and he has run the company which bears his own name since 2006. Nor does he labour quietly behind the scenes; Mr Ford helps sell his products by marketing his own James Bond-ish image. He has been photographed by countless magazines, usually in his uniform of an immaculate black suit, black tie, crisp white shirt and just the right amount of stubble—a uniform he is wearing when we meet in a London hotel. When he announced that he was making “A Single Man”, it is hardly surprising that many commentators assumed it would be a dilettante’s vanity project. No one had ever been a fashion icon for so long before turning to film.
But Mr Ford says that the move has been “a very natural transition”, and that “a very similar skillset” is required in both disciplines. “You have to have a vision. You have to have something to say. You then have to then go out and hire very, very talented people to help you. You have to give them space to perform and create. At the same time, you have to guide them towards your own ultimate goal.”
Mr Ford delivers this spiel at such speed and with such unapologetic confidence that his success in both film and fashion suddenly seems to be less of a mystery: clearly he isn’t someone who has any problem with making decisions or issuing instructions. But the ease of his leap from catwalk to cinema wasn’t just a matter of temperament and man-management. He has “always been obsessed by film”, he says, and had a stint as a child actor in New York before he got into the rag trade. It was while he was at Gucci in the mid-1990s that he realised he wanted to be a writer-director, whereupon he did what we would all do in the circumstances: he bought a house in Los Angeles. But he didn’t make his first serious attempt at this “second career” until he left Gucci in 2004. Unusually for him, it didn’t work out. Unable to settle upon a project that suited him, he was beset by alcoholism and depression.
“I’d had a very strong voice in contemporary culture,” he says, a phrase which should sound revoltingly conceited, but which actually comes across as a casual statement of fact. “When that evaporated, I wasn’t really sure who I was. It was sort of an early mid-life crisis, but it was really pretty serious. I panicked, and said, ‘OK, better go back to fashion.’” He then set up the Tom Ford company, a process which he makes seem about as challenging as clicking his fingers. “I don’t regret it,” he says. “It enabled me to finance my first film.”
In the years between “A Single Man” and “Nocturnal Animals”, Mr Ford has married his partner of 30 years, Richard Buckley, and had a son, now aged four. It was his desire to be a hands-on dad which accounts for the long hiatus after “A Single Man”, but he now foresees no difficulties in juggling parenthood, movie-making and fashion. “I’ve got a great organisation, great people behind me, the company’s very structured, I’m very organised.” He regards fashion as “the day job”, whereas film is “the most artistic expression that I have”. When he was making “A Single Man”, he says, “I was terrified I was going to die before I finished it, because it was so important to me. It was me. If my son grows up and says, ‘What was my father about?’, he can watch that film and see who I was at that moment in time.”
“Nocturnal Animals” is just as personal, even though it was adapted from a novel as “A Single Man” was. In one strand of the film, which he wrote, directed, and produced, Amy Adams stars as a Los Angeles gallery owner who comes to realise that money hasn’t bought her happiness. She “goes through what I go through quite often,” says Mr Ford. In another strand, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man who is scorned as weak and unmanly when his family is terrorised by three rednecks in the West Texas desert. “I wrote a lot of myself into Jake’s character,” says Mr Ford. “I grew up in Texas, in a place where men were expected to be strong and macho and play American football and know how to shoot a gun. And I wasn’t like that. I was the sensitive one.” He thrusts a fist in the air, parodying a victorious movie hero. “And I ultimately triumphed!” Again, he is only half-joking.
“Nocturnal Animals” is available now in Britain and will be released across America on December 9th
This is from Nov 4th 2016, 11:10 by by N.B.