Tom Ford reunited with music director Abel Korzeniowsi, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and costume designer Arianne Phillips to help him revive his past cinematic acclaim with his latest fare, “Nocturnal Animals.”
This time around production moved at a rapid pace, with a “laser focus,” and a greater sense of synchronicity after working together previously on 2009’s “A Single Man,” the creative heads recalled on Monday in Los Angeles at “The Art and Vision of ‘Nocturnal Animals’ ” panel at The Theatre at Ace Hotel.
Admittedly, Ford takes a linear approach to finesse his projects until they meet his grand expectations — and that also applies to his full-time gig in fashion. “I can’t multitask,” Ford shared. “A lot of people can, but I can focus really sharply.”
Ford honed his focus on adapting “Nocturnal Animals” for the big screen from Austin Wright’s 1993 book “Tony and Susan” for around three years after a friend recommended the novel to him in 2011. He dedicated time in the morning toward screenwriting while opening new stores, launching a women’s collection and expanding Brand Ford.
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The drama, which debuted Nov. 18, stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Aaron Taylor-Jackson in an unhinged performance that scored him a Golden Globe best supporting actor award last week. Ford earned a BAFTA best director nomination.
It’s Ford’s first time returning to filmmaking after a seven-year hiatus.
“Nocturnal Animals” follows Susan (Adams), an unhappily married art gallery owner who laments the actions of her first past after reading an emotionally disturbing book written by her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). The storyline plays out through Susan’s present; through flashbacks of her first marriage; and through the narrative within an ultraviolent novel that has been dedicated in her honor.
“Tom and I talked about these three worlds together — they are very distinct worlds,” Phillips explained. “In terms of design, the job of a costume designer is to expedite the director’s vision. When Tom started this he had incredible visuals for each section of the film and they had their own unique parameters.”
Bursts of color and compelling textures provided transitions that propelled viewers through a disparity of visually intoxicating universes. Susan’s materialism is seen through her world of luxury in L.A., with no shortage of glamour and galas. Meanwhile her contempt for Edward’s idealism unfolds through the novel’s character Tony — whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are savaged in the stark Mojave Desert by three troublemakers led by Taylor-Johnson.
Where fashion is heightened is through Susan’s narrative. She’s trapped in a world of excess that she was groomed to believe would be fulfilling, only to find the opposite.
It’s a void that Ford knows well.
“It may seem strange having a fashion designer talk about this film because one of the themes of the film is the materialistic world she lives in and its emptiness,” he said. “That’s something that I struggle with. I’m passed the point Susan is with, and I’ve come to terms with it. We are in a material world: Certain fabrics feel good; certain things smell great. It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy them but you can’t loose sight of the bigger things in life — connections to people and spirituality.”
The materialism is almost suffocating for Susan at a staff meeting — in a room that could rival the Starship Enterprise. In the scene she’s flanked by women dressed in quirky getups who stomp around in mixed media dresses teamed with boots, brogues and Botox. Throughout the film, Susan maintains a consistent shuffle in her wardrobe of chic separates in black and white with over-the-knee boots.
While she’s metropolitan-chic, Susan’s mother, played by Laura Linney, proves the old adage true: Everything is bigger in Texas. Linney’s time on screen is short but her presence and presentation is unforgettable: a blond bouffant, colossal pearls and a Southern twang.
“She’s an example of how a terrific actress is prepared,” Ford said about the acclaimed actress. “She arrived on set but had emailed us before. She sent an email before and said, ‘If she lived in Dallas … here are four different houses, which one would she live in, and why?’ Then she sent a note saying, ‘I’m thinking of Lady Bird Johnson’s voice as a model.’ Watching Amy and Laura play that scene was terrific in real life — just standing there. I was so happy cinematically as well.”
In the film’s final scene — after Susan arranges a tete-a-tete with her ex — she finally embraces color in a stunning green dress.
“Costumes are about creating expression for characters, and we use clothing as the tool,” Phillips said.
The parallels are obvious in Aaron’s final moments on screen, when his brute character rocks sleek cowboy boots.
“My favorite [costume] is the green boot that Aaron wears,” Phillips said, “and we gave Aaron a pink birthstone pinky ring that was part of this macabre back story that we created, Tom and I, that maybe he stole from a girl he raped or something. And you see it — Seamus beautifully shot it in the scene in the car.”
“Whether you picked it up watching or not, it informed you,” she continued. “Those are little clues that help build the work the actor is doing. The costumes should be a like a beam-me-up machine to help the actors get there. Those are the things Aaron embraced.”
Watch the trailer below: