You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Director Tom Ford Used Two Key Rules for ‘Nocturnal Animals’

Focus Features’ “Nocturnal Animals” is only Tom Ford’s second feature as writer-director, but already he knew the two key rules for a filmmaker: Do your homework and hire the right people.

After a long career in fashion, Ford made his movie debut with 2009’s “A Single Man.” Like its director, “Nocturnal Animals” is sleek and glamorous, but there is a lot going on below the surface.

Adapting the novel by Austin Wright, Ford tapped into his fashion background by using a lot of visuals — even when writing the script — grabbing various images from online. “I make binders for every character and their world. And then before writing a scene, I look at that character, so they’re fresh in my mind.

“Certain images work their way into the script. I found a photo of a person sitting on a toilet on their front porch, talking on the phone and drinking a beer. I thought, ‘We have to use that.’”

It’s a brief moment in the film, but it conveys much more about the character than the softball scene that’s in the novel.

When Ford cast Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor- Johnson, he shared these binders with the actors. He adds, “Three-quarters of directing is hiring the right actor.”

Most directors know the technicals of making a film, but surprisingly few know how to talk to actors. Ford’s cast enthuses that he’s a rare director who helped them understand their characters (and the art of acting).

“You have to respect every actor’s process,” says Ford, who earned Golden Globe noms for both writing and directing. “Good actors want to give you their best performance. You have to inspire people; that’s part of your job as a director.”

That chemistry is equally important when hiring the team behind the cameras.

“Somebody taught me to hire people you want to have dinner with. I would want to have dinner with every person on my below-the-line team. Of course they’re very qualified and that’s the most important thing, but they’re also kindred spirits.” And this helps create a good atmosphere, he says. Some people believe tension leads to more edgy creativity. “I don’t like tension,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s counterproductive. Why put your energy into tension and fighting? Put it into the work.”

And the work is complicated. “Nocturnal Animals” intercuts among three worlds: the life of a successful art-gallery owner (Adams); flashbacks to her marriage to a struggling writer (Gyllenhaal); and her visualizations of the novel that her ex has sent to her, many years after the breakup.

The worlds start to overlap and spiral, because the depictions of the novel are in her head, says Ford. “For example, she sees a photo by Richard Misrach, with two guys pointing guns at each other in a grassy field. Later, when she’s reading his novel, the characters are in that same grassy field, which we re-created. She might not even know it, and the audience might not be conscious of it. But there are all these little connections and they hopefully register unconsciously.”

The film is marketed as a sexy thriller and it definitely has those elements, but it’s also a tale of personal values. “It’s about finding people who are important in your life and not letting them go. Materialism is fun but don’t get carried away with it. I parody today’s world and the superficiality of it — which I helped contribute to,” he adds with a smile.

The film seems 180 degrees from his earlier film, but Ford says there are parallels there too. In “A Single Man” George (Colin Firth), “like everyone, has a heart and soul; but he also has a shell. Susan [Adams’ ‘Nocturnal’ character] is like a crustacean; her protection is all from outside layers. Inside, she’s not like that. She’s polished and controlled, but trying to hold onto what is soft.”

More Film

  • First Look at Cannes-Bound ‘Diego Maradona’

    First Look at Cannes-Bound ‘Diego Maradona’ Feature Documentary

    Diego Maradona waves to raucous Napoli fans before heading into a media scrum and press conference in the first clip from the feature documentary about the soccer superstar. “Diego Maradona” is the third film from the team behind the award-winning “Senna” and “Amy,” with Asif Kapadia directing and James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin producing. They [...]

  • Raising Hell: The Life and Times

    Film Review: 'Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins'

    One of the more entertaining as well as insightful political commentators of the past half-century is paid a suitably entertaining tribute in “Raise Hell.” A long tall Texan too amusingly outrageous to draw real resentment from most of her targets, Molly Ivins nonetheless aimed stinging criticism at political figures both national and in her native [...]

  • The Lighthouse

    Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Unveils Lineup

    Robert Eggers’s anticipated “The Lighthouse” with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, Bertrand Bonello’s “Zombi Child” and Japanese helmer Takashi Miike’s “First Love” are set to unspool at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight under the new leadership of Paolo Moretti. Described by Moretti as a “hypnotic two-hander” powered by Pattinson and Dafoe, “The Lighthouse” is fantasy horror film [...]

  • Media Luna Acquires ‘We Had It

    Cannes Festival: Media Luna Takes ‘We Had It Coming,’ ‘The Friendly Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    In the run-up to next month’s Cannes Festival, Cologne-based Media Luna New Films has acquired international rights to “We Had It Coming,” starring Natalie Krill (“Wynonna Earp,” “Below Her Mouth”) and Brazil’s “The Friendly Man,” one of the standouts at Ventana Sur’s strong Copia Final showcase of near-finished Latin American movies. MK2 Mile End will [...]

  • ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Stars Make Emotional Speeches

    ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Stars Make Emotional Speeches at Historic Marvel Premiere

    If more than twenty worldwide blockbusters over ten years sounds like a big undertaking, try locking up the cell phones and smartwatches of Hollywood’s most important people for four hours. Only a franchise with the cache of the “Avengers” series could have A-list talent, celebrity fans, agents and executives gladly turn over their gadgets for [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' First Reactions: 'Most Emotional, Most Epic MCU Film'

    The end is finally here. “Avengers: Endgame” had its world premiere Monday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center and reactions on social media from fans, journalists and critics are already pouring in. The reaction has so far been almost universally positive, with several commentors warning fans of the movie’s emotional elements. Brandon Davis wrote [...]

  • Josh Brolin, Kathryn Boyd. Josh Brolin,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Josh Brolin: Thanos' Butt Is a 'Beautiful, Purple Peach'

    On the eve of “Avengers: Endgame’s” world premiere, everyone’s thoughts have turned to the one crucial detail that could be the difference between life or death for the Avengers: Does Thanos have a butt? “I don’t know what that whole thing is about! I really don’t!” Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, told Variety‘s Marc Malkin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content