Tom Ford is flying high, literally as he unveils new fashion collections in New York and a new movie, Nocturnal Animals in Venice and Toronto.
The famed designer/ director is doing it all and spending lots of time in the air so far this nascent awards season flying directly from his Venice World Premiere to NYC, then back to Venice to pick up an award, then straight here to Toronto for last night’s North American premiere and post party (that didn’t start until about 1:00 am), but this morning when I sat down with him in a suite at the Shangri-La Hotel, he was wide awake and said he didn’t even have jet lag. Of course when you have just won the Silver Lion, a major prize at the Venice Film Festival and your movie gets standing ovations in both Italy and Canada (despite projector breakdowns at both gala screenings), you probably don’t want to sleep.
Ford said he was excited to actually have to trek back to Italy over the weekend when he got word that he would be needed at the Awards Ceremony. This is his second film after winning acclaim for A Single Man in 2009, and it is the second time a Tom Ford film has won a prize in Venice. Not a bad track record. “I lived in Italy for a long time and we premiered A Single Man and Colin Firth won the Volpi Cup (for Best Actor), and I think living in Italy you understand how important that award is for the Italians. It is as important to them as the Oscars are to us. For me it was also very important, so I jumped on a plane and went back to Venice to get it,” he said about the quick trip which sounded like a whirlwind the way he described it to me.
“I was in New York, I got on a plane, I flew there, I got off in my tuxedo, I went on the boat to the thing, I got the award, I got back on the boat in my tuxedo, I went back to the plane and I came to Toronto,” he said. Whew. But, he says because of his old days working at Gucci and Saint Laurent, he lived simultaneously in Los Angeles, London, Milan, Paris and traveled to the Middle East every two weeks so he is used to the jet set life and doesn’t get jet lag. “The beauty of sleeping pills,” he laughed. For Ford the experience of seeing his movie in Italy, then Canada was not the same. “It was very different watching it last night in Toronto than in Europe. It was great. Everyone laughed at the things I wanted them to laugh at, everyone gasped at the things I wanted them to gasp at. I think culturally there are a lot of things in Italy that don’t have the same resonance they do for us,” he said about seeing his movie-within-a movie about a wealthy married woman (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript of a novel dedicated to her and written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads it, she soon realizes there is much from her own life in a violent and disturbing scenario.
Adams is again superb, right on top of her other spellbinding performance in Arrival and matched by Gyllenhaal and scene stealing performances from Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnson and Laura Linney (a real hoot in one scene as Adams’ steely mother). There could be several Oscar nominations in this one. The only problem with the premiere was towards the end of the film, a nightmare scenario for most filmmakers, but Ford was good-natured about it. “I did love watching it here last night until the projector broke, about eight minutes towards the end as we are building to the climax. But the odd thing is it happened in Venice, also at the premiere but it happened eight minutes in there. But I have to say Amy Adams, genius that she is because the audience was not happy, said let’s go down into the audience, so we went down, chatted, took pictures until the thing started. But actually it gave it a nice feel, people were with us even though it broke down, but it was okay, we recovered,” he said.
The film had the biggest pre-sale in Cannes history when it went up for grabs at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival selling to Universal and their specialty division Focus Features for $20 million. And Ford did that without having a single foot of film in the can. “It was just based on the screenplay. I stood up in a room with about 250 people, I sent them all my screenplay in advance, I did a quick audio visual presentation , then I took one-on-one appointments because I was just going to finance it myself and sell the non-North American rights. I need to have a certain amount of freedom so I was not going to sell the North American rights,” he said, adding that in the end it was Universal, which distributes internationally and Focus for domestic, who came to the table in a big way. “We talked and talked and talked and I said ‘okay, yes’. They have been wonderful by the way, absolutely wonderful, absolutely wonderful. They have been spectacular,” he raved, calling it a great partnership in every way.
Although Ford says you can’t compare his two worlds of fashion and moviemaking, the keen eye he has for both is quite apparent in this dazzling movie mix that seems to have all sorts of cinematic influences. It’s a very different kind of film from A Single Man, but the love of classic filmmaking is there in all departments. Movie fans will love it and reaction here in Toronto , as earlier in Venice, has been extremely strong overall. It is not just a movie-within-a-movie, it’s a movie movie suggesting work from some of the great directors in a mix that becomes pure Ford, especially in style and design.
Fortunately, his sometimes acidly funny screenplay is a substantial one as well, crossing genres. “This one is obviously very Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, people keep telling me Douglas Sirk. People keep comparing it to David Lynch too. I love David Lynch but that was certainly not in my mind. I think it’s because we have the nude (very obese) women dancing in the beginning,” he says when I asked for names that might have inspired this film. “I think Kubrick was pretty great at a thriller, but I can’t say one particular person. I have different favorite directors for different genres. My heart, which you really couldn’t tell from this, was from the 1930’s and George Cukor. That’s where it really is. If I am designing a collection it’s often Fassbinder. So depending on what type of movie we are talking about, I have absolutely different frames of reference. They go into any filmmaker’s head. They become part of your hard drive. You don’t even necessarily realize they are coming out. I wasn’t thinking about Douglas Sirk when I made this film, but I love him and the comparison is there, so great. Hitchcock’s humor was purposeful because I think if you can scare the audience you sometimes need the relief of making them laugh. And if you can make them cry, all the better. Scare them, make them cry, make them laugh, give them a roller coaster.” And that Tom Ford has done in Nocturnal Animals.