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Tom Ford’s first film, “A Single Man,” based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, premieres today at the 66th Venice Film Festival. The movie, which Ford directed, coproduced and cowrote with David Scearce, stars Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode. The story is set in early-Sixties Los Angeles, and follows a day in the life of a gay British literature professor wrestling with the sudden death of his longtime partner.
“People who don’t know me well will be very surprised by the film,” Ford told WWD in a telephone interview from The Lido. “It shows a different side of me — not the one that people see. I’m actually much more serious, romantic, existential. And like everyone, I’ve struggled with feelings of isolation and the quest to find meaning,” he said, adding the film contains no sex.
The low-budget movie, which was shot in 21 days, moves to the Toronto International Film Festival next week.
Meanwhile, Ford is keeping mum about any plans for a women’s line, although he designed Moore’s dress for tonight’s premiere and for her red-carpet appearance in Toronto. He’s also made some men’s day suits and a tuxedo for the actress, who plays Charlotte, a friend of the professor.
WWD: How did you discover “A Single Man”?
Tom Ford: I’d read the book in the early 1980s when I was in my 20s and had just moved to L.A. It spoke to me. I just fell in love with the main character, George. I later met Christopher Isherwood, and became obsessed with his work. I reread it in my mid-40s and found it to be a very spiritual book, and it had a different kind of relevance for me.
WWD: Why did you want to make it into a film?
T.F.: You know, I’d spent two years reading so many scripts, but I just kept thinking about George. This isn’t a gay movie. It’s based on a book where the hero happens to be gay. Isherwood depicts homosexuality in a very matter-of-fact way.
WWD: Had you ever written a screenplay before? What sort of experience do you have?
T.F.: No, I’d never written one before. The book’s narrative takes place in George’s head, and there’s no plot, so I started from scratch. I’ve done a lot of writing and communicating in the past. I always wrote the press releases for the fashion shows, and I’d won every writing award at school. I spent about a year and a half writing and visually planning how I wanted to tell the story, and I loved it.
WWD: How did you fit writing around your day job?
T.F.: I’d come home from work and get on the computer. I’d write on holidays and weekends and at the beach. I drove Richard [Buckley, Ford’s partner] crazy.
WWD: What was it like directing a film for the first time?
T.F.: I don’t want to sound egotistical, but it felt so natural. I’m used to framing an image. In fashion, your job is to create a vision and then communicate that vision with help from a great creative team. Directing is similar to that, and I had a great group of people to work with. The whole experience was very fulfilling. It is, perhaps, my most purely artistic endeavor.
WWD: Has the experience whetted your appetite for more film projects?
T.F.: Yes! I’d like this to be the beginning of a parallel career alongside fashion. The process seems really natural to me, and I’d ideally like to make a film every three to four years. I love my day job, as well. It’s been great to bounce between the two.
WWD: What sort of hand did you have in the costumes?
T.F.: As the director, I had input in every aspect of the film, but Arianne Phillips, who’d worked on “Walk the Line,” did the costumes.
WWD: Do you think you’re going to be more sensitive about criticism than you would be for a fashion collection?
T.F.: I don’t know. I believe in this film and I put an enormous amount of energy, love, passion and a lot of myself into it. I love it, and I’m proud of it, and I don’t feel compromised in any way. Simply having completed the project gives me a wonderful sense of satisfaction. So I think, yes, it will be hard if it’s not received well.
WWD: As a famous control freak, is it strange for you to attend this festival knowing the film is final, and that no last-minute changes can be made, like could be done backstage before a show?
T.F.: Not really. With the Gucci shows, those clothes were ready and in plastic bags three days before the show. We were editing this film until just two weeks ago.
WWD: What are some of the other similarities between this Venice experience and your fashion work?
T.F.: I spent today sitting in a press room doing interviews. It sort of felt like a fragrance launch.
WWD: Why were you so reluctant to talk to the fashion press about this project?
T.F.: Because I didn’t want to be perceived as some fashion designer who’s come to Venice and decided to make a film. I hope this can be a parallel career. I wanted to avoid anything to do with fashion, and I wanted the film to speak for itself.