The story of one day in the life of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a 52-year-old British college professor in Los Angeles in 1962, who is struggling after a car accident has taken the life of his longtime partner Jim (Matthew Goode). We follow George through a series of events and encounters that lead him to decide if there truly is a meaning to Life.
Based on the 1964 novel of the same title by Christopher Isherwood, the movie was written, produced and directed by Tom Ford. Colin Firth was the first person Ford thought of for the role of George, and he was thrilled when the actor read the script in one day and called to say he would do it.
I spoke with Colin Firth about the movie and his performance, which many pundits say will be recognized during the awards’ season.
What attracted you to this story and the character?
Whenever I embark on a project it’s an opportunity to plunge into a particular world, a different perception, maybe learn about a time or a place I didn’t know as much about. Love is love, I don’t really feel there’s anything different to play because the partner happens to be male. The person I’m playing opposite is unlikely to be my lover anyway, you find the emotions from somewhere; it’s a job.
I think one of the things that I appreciate about Isherwood’s writing is that he doesn’t make the sexuality a salient feature, sexual love is part of it, but he was writing at a time when there were a lot of writers covering that up, but he didn’t feel the need to do that, his characters just happen to be gay
What was it like working with Tom?
He has a great gift, he’s never made a film before, but it didn’t feel like working with a man who was a novice at all. There was such a strong sense that he could be trusted in terms of his taste and his judgment that it actually relaxed people.
A film set can be a very neurotic place, it can be rampant insecurity, people are frightened of falling short, they’re frightened of failure, they’re frightened of miscommunication, there are all kinds of complications, and a good director smoothes that out and unites the set and creates a kind of unity of vision, something that everybody wants to fulfill.
Tom has that gift, and I think he’s learned that over many, many years working in the fashion industry.
This was something very different for him. But it was very clear to me that this was not a vanity project, just his choice of material indicated to me that this was not just a chance for him to show off his spring collection. It’s a lonely college professor in 1962; it’s very much at the service of the story.
There are many scenes without dialogue.
I love a scene without dialogue, when you first get a script a blank page is a blank page, so you’re not sure what that’s going to be. You know that’s going to come from the sensibility of your director, or whatever he’s going to allow you to do.
One of the most depressing things that can happen for an actor is when the material is incredibly coherent and elegant and you feel inspired by it, particularly when you believe in the power of just thinking things onto the screen, and you get there and the director says, ‘Okay, I’m going to start on the door knob and we’re going to pan across the floor and then we’re going to get a close up of your right eye.’
That may look great actually, but I just feel that’s a waste for me.
I love the kind of cinema that can spend a very long time on someone’s face, because to me the most interesting thing you can find in cinema is the human face.
Julianne Moore plays Charley, George’s closest friend. What was it like working with her?
I’ve never had such an easy time of it as when I worked with Julianne. That relationship felt real to me. I wasn’t sure about it on the page, but the minute I met her it was there.
It’s exactly the same with Matthew Goode and our scene on the sofa, there are moments of familiarity. If all of those things are happening it has got to be something to do with your director.
He’s cultivated an atmosphere where he’s not going to fuss around, he’s going to let people connect with each other or if there’s nobody else around, as often there wasn’t in my case, let your imagination take hold and just go.
Do you think George’s sexuality is irrelevant in this movie?
The sexuality is there because part of the love that he experiences is sexual. There’s sex running all the way through the movie, which I think is strengthened by the fact that we don’t see anybody humping. What’s interesting about sex is its implications, the barriers that are broken down on the way to it, the possibilities of it, the ambiguity. George’s homosexuality in 1962 might add to his isolation.
The speech on fear to his students definitely is referencing that, I don’t think it’s dependent on it, because the character is not taking this on as an issue. I think the fact that he’s comfortably open about the fact that he is gay is definitely significant, otherwise why bother to feature it at all; it’s not irrelevant, I think it’s about love and I think it’s about regret; it’s about losing your love of life.
What I like about it is it’s absolutely unashamedly and unassumingly there, it’s homosexuality simply as sexuality like any other sexuality.