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Tom Ford: A Single Man's other man
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Tom Ford: A Single Man's other man

The fashionista-turned-filmmaker dishes on his directorial debut, the loss he endured to make it and why it's more than a Gay movie

by Chris Azzopardi - Special to the SGN

All you know about Tom Ford isn't it. The style-savvy man we're familiar with through the fashion-world lens - as Gucci's former creative director for 10 years - is more than that debonair hunk-and-a-half. Much of Ford's unknown facets are in his directorial debut, A Single Man - award bait starring Colin Firth as George, a suicidal Gay man suffering from his longtime partner's death.

Ford spoke with us about reactions to his first film, what the movie says about him personally and why - as a Gay man - he'd have no problem taking a whiff of a woman.

Chris

Azzopardi: The film has picked up numerous award nods and lots of Oscar momentum. You're floating on Cloud 9 now, aren't you?

Tom Ford: I'm on Cloud 9 because everyone has responded really almost unanimously positively. That's a great feeling, when you know that you've created something that speaks to a lot of people.

Azzopardi: Is this attention giving you a push to pursue film further?

Ford: Well, I'm so stubborn that I was going to do more no matter what. [Laughs.] I never intended to make just one film; I always intended that this one would be my first. So even had I really failed, I would be doing it again. I can't wait to get started on the next one.

Azzopardi: Despite the universal, humanistic quality of the film, it still felt pretty Gay, though you don't like to call it that, right?

Ford: I hate categorizing things. I wanted to depict a Gay relationship in a very matter-of-fact way, and that was one of the things that always drew me to Christopher Isherwood's writing, because when he wrote this book in 1964, it was a landmark piece of Gay literature. It was so matter-of-fact. There was no issue. I've lived with the same man for 23 years, and much of the film is taken from my own life. I will have someone still say to me, "your lifestyle." And I say, "My lifestyle? What is that?" I live with somebody I love. We make dinner at home together. We lie around and read books and watch television and walk our dogs and go on vacation and argue occasionally - that's a lifestyle? That's what I meant. That's what I wanted to depict - just a very straightforward love story.

Azzopardi: While making the film, did you think about how you would react if you were in George's shoes?

Ford: I was in George's shoes, but it wasn't over the loss of a lover. It was really the loss of a career, and I had made a major shift and left something that I had been doing for 15 years. All of a sudden, I had no identity and I had no voice in contemporary culture, and it fell at a time when I had what is really a very classic midlife crisis. I was lucky enough to have everything early in life, including a great relationship and everything the material world can offer - a successful career, lots of money, a great life, friends - and yet I couldn't find a certain kind of happiness. When I left Gucci, it just really pushed me into a kind of tailspin because I had no way to express myself, and I was really grieving that. That was my relationship to the book.

Azzopardi: So reading Christopher's book later on in life influenced you differently than when you first read it?

Ford: Oh yeah. Reading it when I was young, I was living in L.A. and I was single and I fell in love with George. I loved him as a character, and it was so perfectly written I really imagined I might just run into him somewhere. And I did run into him in his real-life form as Christopher Isherwood. When I reread the book three and a half years ago, I was relating to what George was going through and to his somewhat suicidal thoughts, because he couldn't figure out why he's living, what's the point to life, what is this all about, why do we struggle every day. I could certainly relate to a man who came to a point where he could not see his future and he questioned the meaning of life.

Azzopardi: Did you have the idea of turning it into a film the first time you read it?

Ford: Oh no. Not at all. At that time I was an actor and I worked quite a lot in television commercials, but that was about all I did. Most of the time I went to nightclubs and did all the things that people when they're 20 years old usually do. [Laughs.] So, no, I wasn't thinking at all about making film. It was really maybe about 12 years ago that I started to really become serious about making a film, and then when I left Gucci almost six years ago, I opened my production company and decided this was the time to do it.

Azzopardi: How did being a fashion maven - and having that aesthetic eye - assist in the direction of the film, especially the art direction?

Ford: I'm used to framing an image through still photography. But what helped the most was the way I'm used to working, which is with a large group of people, making very quick decisions and creating an environment where everybody feels they can give you - and wants to give you - their absolute best, and then in leading and guiding all of these people in achieving your ultimate vision or point of view. And that is exactly the same in film as it is in fashion. And my age helped me. A lot of first-time directors are in their 20s and I'm - I hate to say it [Laughs.] - nearing 50. I've been around. I've got a certain amount of experience, and if someone threw a tantrum, which nobody did, I would've known how to handle it.

Azzopardi: One of the morals of this movie is to cherish the little things in life. For you, what are those?

Ford: A lot of them are in the film. When I was writing the scene with the hustler in the parking lot, my little smooth fox terrier, which is in the movie, was curled up on my lap. One of the greatest pleasures of my entire life is my dogs, and I've always had dogs going back to when I was a little kid. I really thought about the things in life that I'm going to miss [when I die], that I'm going to want to take with me. And they're never material things. You're not going to wish that you worked more. You're not going to die thinking about a car you had in 1970-whatever. You're going to think about the connections that you had with other people. The moment in life where you felt truly connected to someone.

Azzopardi: A lot of people didn't foresee you taking this path and making a film. What are some of your other hidden talents? Besides making a convincing straight man on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Ford: [Laughs.] I wasn't trying to be a straight man on the cover of Vanity Fair. If you're a Gay man, why can't you sniff the back of a beautiful girl? I'm completely Gay, but I have a lot of women friends who, sometimes, I want to touch because they're beautiful and they smell great and I love them.

I don't think most people knew that I'm extremely romantic, and I'm extremely emotional and insecure and shy. I kind of always pose in the same way. I don't let a lot of people very far into my life. I've always kind of presented a surface veneer, which works for fashion.

A lot of people maybe thought that's all there was to me. I have a very good friend that I've had for about 20 years, and he said he's always thought of me as a beautiful lacquered box from the '20s with a platinum handle, but he had no idea there was anything inside the box. [Laughs.]

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