Amy Adams was Tom Ford's first choice for the lead character in Nocturnal Animals. Within 36 hours of sending her the screenplay, the 42-year-old actress said yes, landing her into a feature film by one of Hollywood's most unlikely filmmakers. While Ford's significantly new to making films, the 55-year-old Texan is widely-known in fashion's hall of fame as the former creative director of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and his eponymous label, which he created in 2006.
"Movies are forever," Ford says. "Fashion is fun, I enjoy it, but it does not last like a film lasts."
It's been seven years since Ford's filmmaking debut, A Single Man (2009) that starred Colin Firth. In the length of that gap, Ford had opened a hundred Tom Ford stores, had a son with his husband — the journalist Richard Buckley — and hadn't found the right project to work on. That is, until he read the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, which he would adapt into a screenplay for Nocturnal Animals — although his final screenplay does diverge from the book.
In comparison to A Single Man, his second effort is a more complex film, with multiple locations, a more complex storyline and more actors. With a cast led by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, Ford's supporting talent pool also sees the likes of Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney and Michael Sheen. You can also spot cameos by model Imogen Waterhouse and musician Beth Ditto.
Describing the story as a "cautionary tale", Ford set out to show the consequences of the choices we make in life, and the isolation and importance of relationships. While these themes might not seem as straightforward as when you watch the two trailers that have been released, the suspenseful drama does deal with the interior lives of characters Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield, inhabited by Adams and Gyllenhaal respectively. One day, ex-husband Edward, whom she hasn't seen for years, sends Susan a novel called Nocturnal Animals, written and dedicated to her. In the novel, a man and his family are harassed while driving across a stretch of road when unfortunate events follow. These two stories intertwine, feeding each other as Susan gets sucked back into her past with Edward.
In casting Susan, the five-time Academy Award-nominated actress was Ford's first choice "because of her spectacular ability to telegraph emotion without dialogue but with just her face and soulful eyes."
"There is something in her eyes that feels raw, and truthful," Ford gushes on Adams. "I wanted the character of Susan to be sympathetic. It would be very easy to hate Susan because, as she says in the film, she 'has everything' and yet she is unhappy. She has chosen a path in life that is opposite to her true nature. She is in a sense a victim of her upbringing and of what is often expected of women in our culture."
For much of the film, Susan's reaction to her ex-husband's novel is silent and subtle instead of relying on grand gestures. "This is where Amy's incredible ability as an actress stands out for me," the director continues. "She is so honest in her performance and was able to access Susan's pain in a way that makes us empathise with, rather than hate, Susan."
Nocturnal Animals is the first time Adams and Ford are working together. With any luck, the success of the film might just propel the duo to embrace more film projects together.
Nocturnal Animals will be released in theatres on 1 December.