Tom Ford is best known as a fashion designer, winning many prestigious awards including five from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. When he was in his early twenties he read the novel A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, but it wasn’t until he was in his forties that Ford decided to bring the book to the screen, as writer/producer and director.
The movie, set in Los Angeles in 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. is the story of George Falconer, a 52-year-old British college professor (Colin Firth) who is struggling to find meaning in his life after the death of his long time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode).
This was your first film, how difficult was it to get such great actors?
It wasn’t hard. I sent them a screenplay. I wrote the part of Charly hoping that Julianne (Moore) would respond to it. She did. She e-mailed me back immediately. Colin [Firth] had been my absolute first choice. We have the same agent and I checked on his availability at the very beginning and they said, ‘Forget about it. He’s doing this. He’s doing that and that.’ I went on and had another actor cast in the role and I ran into Colin at the Mama Mia premiere in London. I was standing there chatting with him, knowing that I didn’t have him, that I was working with another actor who’s a great actor, and I was looking Colin up and down and I was just thinking, ‘Oh, God. I can’t believe you’re not going to be George. You’re so perfect for this role.’
A few weeks later the other actor dropped out and I immediately got Colin’s e-mail address. I e-mailed him out of the blue and Fed Ex’d him a script. He read it and e-mailed me back the very next day. He had a couple of questions about it. I jumped on a plane and flew from New Mexico, where I was, to London. I was there for 18 hours. We had dinner. He came over to my house. I walked him through everything. I had a lot of visual images to show him and we talked a lot about the concept for the film. Basically by the end of the evening we had a handshake deal. So I like to think that the actors responded to the script.
Why was Colin was always your George?
That’s a hard question to answer. I think that I’ve always seen this character in Colin whenever I’ve seen him in anything, no matter what it was. Colin is such an amazing actor, and I’m not saying that he’s had small parts because he’s done some wonderful things in his life, but even in the smallest thing that you’ve ever seen Colin in there’s something that comes from inside him. He’s able to telegraph his thoughts or what his character is feeling, whether it’s real or not I don’t know. I don’t know enough about his process, but he’s able to telegraph that with almost no movement to his face. There’s something about Colin that does seem very contained on the surface and yet inside you know there’s enormous emotion. That seemed absolutely perfect to me for George.
Is shooting a movie similar to putting on a fashion show?
There is a certain similarity in that fashion it is a more collaborative field than one might think. You get used to working with [others]. You have to have an idea. You have to have a vision. You have to communicate that to a team of people to help you realize that vision and you have to create an environment that allows those people to give the very best that they can give.
So to answer your question about the actors, I was lucky enough to have great actors and I tried to create an environment where they could perform to make them feel comfortable, to get the very best that I could get out of them to make each one of them want this to be the best performance that they could possibly give.
The nudity in this film is so tastefully done. Was there ever more consideration to going full frontal like you’ve done in some of your ads?
You could have but if you know anything about my career in fashion it has been very much about full frontal male nudity and full frontal female nudity and sexuality and sex. I think that a lot of people think that’s all I’m about and they understood that surface. This for me is a story about love and a story about romance and had there been a need for that kind of nudity then sure, but there wasn’t that need and it didn’t seem to come from the story. So that’s why it’s not there.
How far do you think the gay community has managed to come in our time?
I think we’ve come a long way. I also think that Christopher Isherwood was way ahead of his time. One of the things that I always loved about his writing was the matter of fact way that he treated homosexuality. Most of his stories and novels were autobiographical and so there’s usually a gay character but that’s not the center of the story. The gay character is portrayed as a human being who lives a life and the relationship between George and Jim, I felt that it was very important to depict that in a very matter of fact way, that they were just really two people who are in love with each other.
I wanted this not to be a gay story or a straight story but to be a human story. I think the more we see that and realize that love between people is love between two people that the better off we’ll all be for that.