Can Tom Ford cut it as a director?

Tom Ford spent ten years as creative head of Gucci and now has his own fashion and fragrance line. Now he’s releasing his first film, a Christopher Isherwood adaptation, no less. Nina Caplan meets him

He made Gucci cool again, started a successful own-name fashion label, dresses James Bond and is so much the epitome of metrosexual male glamour that he uses himself in his ad campaigns. And he has featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, fully dressed, accessorised by a naked Scarlett and Keira. In fact, pretty much the only supercool thing Tom Ford hasn’t yet achieved is directing a well-received film. Oh, wait…

A Single Man’ has been praised and won Colin Firth Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, so your decision to switch from fashion to film is vindicated. Were you worried about the reaction though?
‘Everyone expected I’d be ridiculed – but no one told me. They all said “Oh great! I can’t wait.” Now everyone asks how it felt to be snickered at. But no one snickered to me!’

You rewrote the story a lot. Why?
‘The book wouldn’t make a film. It’s a bereaved gay man’s internal monologue with no plot. So I took it as a starting point. This is the last day this man [George, played by Firth] thinks he is going to live, so he’s really looking at the world and learning to appreciate living. Not the beauty of things but of a man’s eyes, a girl’s lips or an evening with his best friend [Julianne Moore]. Which is exactly what I was going through when I was writing it. I had become too dependent on material things. I’ve always been quite spiritual, but [at Gucci] I neglected that. And I was mourning, not the death of a lover, but the loss of my voice in contemporary culture [when I left Gucci], and of my identity which was so wrapped up in that. I still love beautiful things. I just keep them more in perspective now.’

The title is from a Tennyson poem about someone who gets eternal life but not eternal youth. Would that be worth having?
‘I wouldn’t want eternal life. The death of a rose is what makes it beautiful. Sadness and beauty are linked.’

It’s a stylish film, which isn’t a surprise. The Hitchcock influence is, though: a huge backdrop of Janet Leigh’s eyes in ‘Psycho’, music that references Bernard Herrmann’s score for ‘Vertigo’…
‘Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors. Everything in his movies is absolutely stylised and I’m about exaggerated, enhanced reality. Even if I end up doing something unstylish, it will be stylishly unstylish. So it wasn’t that I set out to make a stylish film, it was more like: “Let’s move that clock slightly, that painting is horrible, he would never have had that.” I had binders of visual references on each character: I knew George’s perfume, I had his stationery made at Smythson and put Savile Row labels in his jackets.’

You had a costume designer. But Colin wears clothes you designed.
‘No, [designer] Arianne Phillips thought up Colin’s clothes, but I made them – because I could get the right quality. I still make his clothes. I’m his tailor!’

You’ve said that fashion is commerce while film is art. But fashion is creative too…
‘It doesn’t endure, though. Whereas with a film, you’re crying with these people, laughing with them – and it’s a film from 1932, they’re all dead! It’s the most permanent thing we have.’

Talking of other films, what did you think of ‘The September Issue’?
‘I loved it. I know all those people and I’ve always adored Grace [Coddington, Vogue’s creative director]. People think fashion people don’t have any depth, and certainly I never allow the public to see any more of me than what I put out there in clothes and images. But Grace is so passionate. And her work is art.’

What with ‘Far From Heaven’ and now your film, Julianne Moore is becoming the thinking gay man’s crumpet. She’s very moving as George’s lonely, ageing best friend…
‘I could make a whole movie about the plight of ageing women in our culture. There’s the cliché of men buying a sports car and dating a young blonde, but we don’t talk about what women go through. I work for and love women, in a different way perhaps to straight men… I think I see them more objectively.’

A lot of straight men don’t love women anyway!
‘If I were a woman I might be a lesbian.’

Then you’d have to fancy girls.
‘Well, if I were a woman I might. I don’t not fancy girls anyway.’

Colin Firth is amazing. He’s such a good actor but often he doesn’t deliver. Here he really does.
‘Every time I’ve seen him I’ve wanted more. And that’s a character trait of George’s: he’s one thing on the surface but underneath he’s a romantic, full of sorrow and longing. Colin is like that.’

George holds a lot of himself back – he has to. But that’s almost the definition of cool. And you’ve already said you do the same…
‘I think I’m different on the surface, yes. But that’s all I’m willing to put out there. Although actually I hate photographs. I’m good at it: I make them move the light and use my best angle and so on. People make fun but I don’t care: I know how my face looks best. So that’s all anyone’s ever going to see. It’s a selling tool and it allows me to do the creative part, which is the bit I love.’

Read our review of ‘A Single Man'

Author: Nina Caplan



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