Single Man: Interview with Writer-Director Tom Ford

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Tom Ford makes his writing and directorial debut with "A Single Man" starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. The film is being released December 11 by The Weinstein Company.

Reading the Book

Ford states, "I first read the book “A Single Man” by Christopher Isherwood in the early 1980s and was moved by the honesty and simplicity of the story. At that time, I was in my early twenties. Three years ago, after searching for the right project to develop as my first film it occurred to me that I often thought of this novel and it’s protagonist, “George.” I picked it up and read it again. Now in my late forties, the book resonated with me in an entirely different way. It is a deeply spiritual story, of one day in the life of a man who cannot see his future. It is a universal tale of coming to terms with the isolation that we all feel, and of the importance of living in the present and understanding that the small things in life are really the big things in life."

Intuitive Story

“We seem to have lost character driven films with dialogue, and these are ultimately the most rewarding films for me as a viewer and this is the type of film that I set out to make.”

Ultimately for Ford, "Single Man" was the right story at the right time. “I have always had a kind of intuition or inner voice that has served me well. Fashion is so much about intuition because you have to anticipate what people will want a year before they want it.”  When "Single Man" kept nudging his psyche, his intuition told him that he had found the right property.

?“I’ve been working on this project for quite a while. I worked on the screenplay off and on for almost two years and did many drafts. When you are imagining a scene while writing it, there are no problems. Actors speak their lines perfectly. The shot is beautiful. But, that is because you aren’t working in reality,” muses Ford.

While the hero of the story is gay, Ford points out that the film transcends sexuality. “The movie is about loss and loneliness. It could be the same story if it was George’s wife, instead of his partner, who had died. This is a love story and one man’s search for meaning in his life. The theme is universal.”

Personal Touch

Ford put an autobiographical imprint on A SINGLE MAN. The suicide that George constructs in the film is a replica of a suicide in Ford’s family. More importantly, Ford went through his own difficult juncture, like George, a few years ago. “There is much of me in my version of George. A kind of spiritual crisis at mid life comes to many people. I achieved much in the material world at a very early age: financial security, fame, professional success, more material possessions than I knew what to do with. I had a full personal life, a wonderful life partner of 23 years, two great dogs, and lots of friends but somehow lost my way a bit. As a fashion designer, one spends one’s life living in the future designing collections several years ahead of when they will actually be in stores. Our culture encourages a belief that all of our problems can be solved with material things. I had completely neglected the spiritual side of my life.”

Ford then reawakened himself with a new interest in philosophical matters such as the Tao Te Ching and similar introspective works. “In re-reading the Isherwood book at this point in my life, I realized that it was a book written by the true self about the false self. Christopher Isherwood was a student of Vedanta and this is very evident in the novel. It is incredibly spiritual and very much about the struggle of living in the present. I think that people who know my work as a fashion designer will be surprised by this film. It is very personal and an expression of a side of my character that most people don’t know.”

Casting Julianne Moore and Colin Firth

“Julianne was the first actor to say ‘yes’,” Ford recalls. “Colin’s part was the hardest to cast because there are very few actors in the world with the right sensitivity to play the part of George.”

Ford says, “The incredible thing about Colin is his ability to telegraph what he’s thinking through his eyes, almost without moving his face and certainly without saying a line.” He adds that Firth’s subtle acting skills worked perfectly for the restrained character of George.

“Julianne was amazing on the set,” says Ford. “She would be talking away with Colin until we called ‘action’, and just immediately go into her British accent and her character. She did it so smoothly…but you never really know how an actor prepares in their head.”

“I constructed a new Charley than that of the book,” explains Ford, “who is a conglomeration of my female friends and, actually, my grandmother. I also created a new back-story for George and Charley to illustrate the relationship that I have with several women in my life. Mr. Isherwood’s Charley was less complex and certainly less attractive,” comments Ford. “All three of our principal characters are going through a change of life. Charley is having a mid life crisis just as George is and she too cannot see her future.”

“I believe that you need a team of people working with you who want this to be the most important thing that they have ever done,” emphasizes Ford.