Tom Ford opens up.
Yesterday, I was invited to the press day for A Single Man (official site) Tom Ford's singularly satisfying adaptation of the classic Christopher Isherwood novel about a man reacting to the sudden loss of his lover, set in L.A. in 1962. I arrived, got my notes in the hospitality suite at the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South and wound up with a front-row seat downstairs. Held in a room off the bar, passing tourists could peek in through the windows to see actors Nicholas Hoult (he of About a Boy fame), Colin Firth and Julianne Moore as well as the director fielding a strange mish-mosh of questions from the assembled media.
L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Colin Firth on the gay aspect of the film, Firth on the relevance of showing a happy gay couple in a movie, Nicholas Hoult on if Kenny is gay, Hoult on the significance of gay identity in the film.
I was sandwiched between an interesting older woman (Ford was, at one point, called a "gay man of a certain age" to his face) from HuffingtonPost who was using an antique tape recorder and a younger Polish woman with serious film questions who'd snatched so many of the free cookies that she almost had to offer me one when I happened to glance at her stash.
Ford and Firth, sharp-dressed men (of a certain age)Questions ranged from the banal ("Julianne, have you picked up any fun makeup tips while making movies over the years?") to the strangulated (a strange request of Firth to connect his character to Harvey Milk since the films are set in basically the same era—which they aren't), but one thing that stood out for me was how reluctant the men were to concede that this is a uniquely gay story, albeit one readily absorbable by a non-gay audience. Instead, it was repeated a few times that George is gay but the story could be about a straight man...and this just is not true.
L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Tom Ford on Gore Vidal, his Oscar buzz and his film's gay role models, Ford on Rupert Everett's advice to actors to stay closeted, Ford on his seriousness about directing, Julianne Moore on the unique relationship between gay men and their female friends.
I do think much of this comes from a marketing directive. However, the fact that such a marketing consideration exists proves that "gay" really does still matter, something the decidedly liberal and enlightened principals seemed to want to disbelieve. The main disconnect is those who don't want this to be a gay film seem to define that as a film in which the character or characters are struggling with being gay. For me, a film can be gay (and also potentially universal) even if—or perhaps especially if—the characters are content with their sexualities.
I don't overly fault them for their opinions, or even the studio for attempting to de-gay the film in its marketing because what matters most is the fact that the film itself is unflinching, a masterpiece really. But I still find it endlessly fascinating that a movie with a strong theme about the invisibility of its gay characters is making its own gayness invisible as a means of getting by in an unaccepting world—47 years after the supposedly ancient time in which it's set.
I asked Ford about the invisibility theme. He seemed to like my question (after initially politely asking someone near me to not take his picture while he was talking):
Nicholas Hoult was gorgeous and fresh and articulate beyond his years, Colin Firth was handsome and dry-witted and had such a commanding presence, Tom Ford was charmingly gregarious and bore no resemblance to the menacingly macho images we've been force-fed and Julianne Moore was ravishingly beautiful and hilarious—she really seems to not sweat the small stuff, which made a stern request that we not photograph her and a sudden softening of the lights seem silly and unnecessary.
Be sure to see A Single Man when it opens. Here is my original review. Tons more video and transcriptions of all the best quotes after the jump, including Firth on whether Ford called him fat and Ford being asked if Jon Hamm makes a voice cameo in the film...
L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Hoult on why he did this film, Hoult on his nude scenes and that infamous angora sweater, Hoult on his favorite scene/scenes, Colin Firth on Oscar buzz.
L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Firth on how clothes really do make the man, Firth on choosing to do this film and working with Ford, Firth on his favorite death scenes (spoilers), Firth on whether or not Ford called him fat.
L TO R, TOP TO BOTTOM: Ford on the film's incredible music and being a "gay man of a certain age", Ford on Jon Hamm's unconfirmable voice cameo, Moore on her character's frenemy qualities, Moore on first meeting Tom Ford in 1998 and how she came to take this part.
Key quotes (SPOILERS):
IS KENNY GAY?:
"Do I think [Kenny's] gay?...I think that's debatable either way and people can take what they want. I think he's somebody who's trying to understand himself and possibly doesn't know himself if he is or not. But he wants to have a connection with George and an understanding of himself and the world surrounding him, yeah."
ON HIS NUDE SCENES:
"The other thing with all the naked stuff was not so much actually doing it at the time...it was when they say cut and then that's the awkward moment when you're left as yourself and everyone's, you know, the sparks are moving lights around you and everyone's resetting for another take and you're stood there with your pouch on, or whatever, kind of at work naked and it's kind of a lot of people's worst nightmare."
ON HOW PROP 8'S PASSAGE WAS ANNOUNCED DURING FILMING:
"Ironically, at the same time as we were filming Prop 8 was taking place in California so that kind of showed how far everyone thinks we've moved a long way since then but surprisingly not that far at the same time...Colin's character isn't battling with the fact that he's gay. It's a love story that would work with an opposite-sex couple as well. It's about love and loss and understanding and hope as well."
ON GEORGE'S SUICIDE SCENE:
"He just basically switched the camera on and I did the stuff with the gun and the sleeping bag. Some people think [George is] actually contemplating suicide in that moment—it's not, it's a rehearsal."
WHY THIS FILM'S DEATH SCENE IS HIS FAVORITE:
"It's all about a man's journey towards a death that he's sure of and then he dies really at the very moment that he falls in love with life."
ON RUMORS TOM FORD CALLED HIM FAT:
"I just ate less, I guess. [Tom Ford] and I haven't actually spoken about what version of that is true. The subtext was definitely the same. But if he said that I filtered it out—I didn't hear it. He tended to handle me with these sort of honeyed tones. You look great...if you want to get a trainer...to come to your house every day...I'll pay for it...' That means, 'You're fat.' So whether Tom remembers literally having said it or just having said it euphemistically it's the same. And I guess he did me a favor. One final push in the war against gravity in my late forties was probably quite helpful."
ON GEORGE'S SEXUALITY & A CONTRAST WITH HARVEY MILK:
"I think George Falconer is not particularly interested in the issues surrounding his sexuality. I know he does that lecture on fear, I think that because it's about the silent minority, it's just one of a whole list of things that he's taking issue with. I don't think George defines himself by his sexuality anymore than Christopher Isherwood did or anymore than Tom Ford does or anymore than I do. It's very interesting to me how if a character happens to be gay that it's all about the person being gay in so many people's minds. I mean, you know, you don't...use an example earlier...if I just randomly picked a character I played before, When Did You Last See Your Father, it's about a guy who's grieving for his dad. Nobody sat at the junket saying, 'Now, you played a heterosexual...you know...how does that affect...' You know, his sexuality is there, but it's not that important. I think that's true of George. He is struggling with a lot of things, but I don't think he's struggling with that. I think he's very, very secure in his sexuality and this is dealing with his feelings of love and isolation. It's not irrelevant. It's possible that being gay in 1962 might add to his isolation. He's not invited to the funeral. I think that people hear that and it's painful to think of that. That could be arguably something that would happen to someone who was in a relationship that was disapproved of by the family because they're not married or...I'm not trying to trivialize it. I just think Harvey Milk ends up turning his life into what I think was an incredibly important campaign for gay rights—I think it's the last thing in the world that George would do."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GEORGE & JIM'S ON-SCREEN RELATIONSHIP:
"Yeah, I think it is very important. I think the fact that it doesn't focus on the mechanics of sex is...very inclusive for everybody. I think that...yeah, I mean, I think that to be reminded that it's, that everybody has a right to that kind of love and it could be a relationship really between anybody of any sexual orientation—it's just love, familiarity."
ON THE FILM'S INVISIBILITY THEME:
"I think that George talks about minorities and being invisible, and I think that George's character, who was a gay man in this particular moment, you had to be invisible. It wasn't anything that you could necessarily let the world know. And so, um, it's a bit of a key word when Jim says to George early on, 'You're always saying we're invisible,' when he tries to kiss him and George is like, 'People may see us.' So invisibility is what that particular minority, and some minorities today still have to endure."
ON JON HAMM'S VOICE CAMEO:
"I'm not allowed to mention the person on the other end of the phone's name because I was sitting next to this person at a dinner party and know him and I said, 'You know, I'm looping something tomorrow and your voice is perfect—would you come in do it?' and his agent ripped me apart like you can't imagine...'Can't be credited!' So I don't know who that was on the phone."
ON HIS SERIOUSNESS ABOUT DIRECTING:
"Fashion and film are two totally different forms of expression for me. I love what I do as a fashion designer, but I've always thought of what I do as a commercial art—not my art. Some fashion designers are artists and they create things because they have to create them. I enjoy creating something that has to fit in a box and be worn and sold. That's one type of expression. This was the first and most, well, the only purely...I felt I had to make this movie and I've always thought I would be a good storyteller and that I have a lot more to say than what I could put, you know, in a fashion ad or on a runway. So it was very important for me to do this and I hope I'm lucky enough to be able to keep doing this every two or three years for the rest of my life. So it's something I'm really serious about."
ON RUPERT EVERETT'S ADVICE THAT ACTORS SHOULD STAY CLOSETED:
"I would love to hope that that's changing. You know, I don't know, I guess because I live in the rarefied world of New York/L.A./London, I don't actually ever think about gay/straight...you know, you ask me 10 words to describe myself, you know, 'Oh, yeah, I guess I'm gay.' You know? I don't know. So I don't think about that. I would love and hope that we could come to a moment in time where that wasn't, you know, defining. I don't know...I don't know...it's probably a hard question to ask. You'd have to ask actors who are struggling with this. I would like to think it's not true, but it probably is still true."
ON WHETHER HE'S SHOWN THE FILM TO GORE VIDAL, TO WHOM THE NOVEL WAS DEDICATED:
"I'm a huge fan of Gore Vidal's—I sat next to him at a dinner and he was so mean to me, and I realized, 'Well, Gore Vidal and I are just not gonna be friends.' I dedicated my movie to Richard Buckley, who I've lived with for the last 23 years."
ON OSCAR BUZZ:
"Live by the buzz, die by the buzzsaw."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SEEING A GAY RELATIONSHIP LIKE GEORGE & JIM'S:
"It's very important...I still to this day occasionally have a friend that will say something to me about my lifestyle. And I'm like, 'My lifestyle...I live together with somebody I love, we've been together 23 years, we make dinner, we have arguments, he has to walk the dog, we go on vacations...' So I don't know. I think that it was important to just depict that...you know, it's love—love is love for me."
ON THE UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GAY MEN & STRAIGHT WOMEN:
"What I really loved about the part, and I said this to Tom right away, is this relationship between a woman and gay man is one that I think all of us are pretty familiar with in real life and it's very rarely depicted in a film unless it's kind of like in a campy sort of way. You see the strength and the reality of this 25-year friendship."