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Tom Ford on Directing 'Nocturnal Animals,' Inspiration and Working With Amy Adams

Directed by Tom Ford, "Nocturnal Animals" stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams
Amy Adams in "Nocturnal Animals."

The KCET Cinema Series continued its winter season at the ArcLight Cinemas, Sherman Oaks on Tuesday, October 25 with "Nocturnal Animals." Directed by Tom Ford, the thriller is based on the novel "Tony and Susan" and stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. This was the first U.S. audience to have a chance to see the film and Ford joined KCET Cinema Series host Pete Hammond for a Q&A session following the screening. A portion of the interview appears below. It has been edited for length and clarity. 

The winter season of the KCET Cinema Series is generously sponsored by the E. Hofert Dailey Trust and runs through December 13 at the ArcLight. Tickets for the season have sold out. 

Tom Ford on what drew him to make "Nocturnal Animals."

What sparked it for me was, maybe I'm old fashioned, but I believe a film should say something. I like a moral to the story. I like something that stays with you. It should challenge you. It should be something you leave the theater thinking about. And, for me, this film or this story is really about finding people in your life that are important and holding onto them. In a sense, this is a cautionary tale about what can happen to you when you let those people go and you make those decisions in your life. 

On screenplay writing. 

I have to say that I enjoy the entire process, but it's one of my favorite things because it's in perfect form while you're writing it. It is in your head. It's exactly as you intended. The cast is exactly who you wanted. Their performances are exactly so, it's in your head. In that moment, it is truly a singular vision because you are by yourself writing, unless you have a writing partner. So, yes, it's great fun. 

"Nocturnal Animals" directed by Tom Ford
Tom Ford on the set of "Nocturnal Animals."

On comparisons "Nocturnal Animals" has had to the work of Douglas Sirk, David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock. 

It's interesting. I would never say Douglas Sirk, but I absolutely see that. I love Douglas Sirk because the shots are so quite composed and it is, in a sense, melodramatic. 

You learn about what you do and what your style is when you hear people talk about it. I also wouldn't have said David Lynch, but I love David Lynch. Of course, you've got the women at the beginning, which might make you think of David Lynch. 

But, Hitchcock, absolutely. In this particular type of film, which is, for me, a psychological thriller — all of this takes place in her head, by the way. Remember, she's reading fiction and we're seeing it through her eyes. There are bits and pieces of it. Kubrick, for example, in "A Clockwork Orange," where the gang of guys break into the house. There are even moments in "Rosemary's Baby," Polanski, where you're thinking, is this real? Is she dreaming? Is she imagining? What is this? Where is this going? 

I'm someone who loves film and I watch and I watch. Things go in and I sometimes don't even realize when they come back out again, so it's always a hard question to answer. 

Ford explains a quote from the film: "Nobody writes anything except about themselves." 

I think any artist, whether you're a painter or a sculptor or a filmmaker, we all have this need to express and we're all our own filters and everything that we all perceive is really through ourselves, so when we express something, it is, generally, our point of view, our vision. So, I think in that way, yes, people do write about themselves. 

Certainly, in this, Amy's character is quite autobiographical, as are parts of Jake. When you're sitting there writing dialogue, everything becomes a little part of you because you're in the head of that character writing what they'll say — "no, no, they wouldn't say that." "OK, they would say that" — so it all is, in a sense.

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On differences between "Nocturnal Animals" and "Tony and Susan," the book upon which the movie is based. 

Some things really were changed based of where we are today with technology. This story was originally set in the Northeast, where you would have had cell phone service everywhere. Of course, in today's world you just lock your doors and call for help and you wouldn't have a film. So, I needed to move it to a place where, theoretically, there might not be cell service. 

I also believe in that old line, "write what you know." I was born in Texas and my family has been in Texas for a long time and I know this part of the world well and I also wanted to create a strong contrast between Susan's world and the gritty, grimy world of Texas. 

On how Los Angeles is presented in the film. 

It's reflective of where she is psychologically. I think most of us spend time in L.A. because we love the sun and the palm trees. That's what people think of, I think, when they think of L.A., but this L.A. is Susan's current state. It's gray. It's urban. It's foggy. It's sad. It's cold and that's really a reflection of where she is, where her life is. 

Directed by Tom Ford, "Nocturnal Animals" stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams
Amy Adams in "Nocturnal Animals."

On Amy Adams.

She is an amazing actress. I have always loved her, but I have to say working with her and then editing her, there was not a second of her that could not have gone on that screen. Incredible. I wanted the character to be sympathetic. It would be very easy to hate this woman. Oh, she has everything and she lives in this house and blah blah blah and she's not happy, who cares? I hate her. She did this horrible thing, but I wanted her to be empathetic because, as we saw with her mother, she's a victim of her own insecurity. She's a victim of places in our culture that still expect women to do certain things. She falls back on that. She wants to be something else, but she's not strong enough. She's not secure, so i wanted her to be sympathetic. I wanted to empathize with her. 

Amy has a soulful quality in her eyes. You cannot not love Amy Adams. I mean, her face, and she's reading a book for so much of the story, so she also — maybe more than any other actress working today — there are a lot of great actresses, but she's particularly good at telegraphing how she's feeling, what's going on in her mind, just on her face, in her eyes. 

On Jake Gyllenhaal.

I loved Jake as an actor. I've always loved him as an actor — Donnie Darko. Lately, I think he's taken on more and more difficult roles. It's a very hard role because he goes from someone — maybe we think of as Jake's character — innocent, optimistic, idealistic, to someone who has had absolutely everything stripped away from him. That's quite a dramatic character arc. Logistically, also, there are very few actors who can actually believably play early 20s and early 40s and both Amy and Jake have that quality to them. Jake is right in-between, in his mid-30s. Amy is a little older. She has such a youthful quality about her. They're both believable as characters in their 20s and in their 40s. 

Directed by Tom Ford, "Nocturnal Animals" stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams
Jake Gyllenhaal in "Nocturnal Animals."

On how visuals influence the script. 

I actually start with images. When I work on a character, I pull images of who that person is, what they might look like. Go online, pull things, interiors, things that remind me and then I write them in. When we discover Aaron [Taylor-Johnson] on the toilet, Aaron's character, that's not how we find him in the book. But in doing my research, I came across that picture. I won't tell you what I Googled when it came up [laughter]. It's a real life photo of someone sitting on a toilet, drinking a beer and talking on the phone. I thought, 'oh, this is genius. I have to work this into this film — A perfect way for us to find this guy. A perfect way to find this character.' 

On his seven-year gap between films. 

I don't know where time goes. I did not intend for it to be seven years. I had a child. He's now four. I spent a lot of time, was very determined that nothing was going to take me away from those first few years, and I hope for the rest of his life as well. Also, I developed my fashion business as well. We opened 100 stores and time just seemed to slip away. I also didn't find a project until three years ago, when I started working on this, that spoke to me in that way. For me, as a fashion designer, I'm a commercial fashion designer. What I do is artistic, but it is a commercial endeavor. I always had that. That's what it is. This, for me, is expressive. This is the most purely artistic thing that I do, so something has to speak to me and it has to be something that I want to say and communicate. 

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