About The Production
Boldly exploring the psychological and emotional sea changes of men and women
living - or trying to live -their own truths, Nocturnal Animals is the second
film from writer/director Tom Ford, following the acclaimed and award winning A
Single Man (2009).
Nocturnal Animals follows one woman caught between her past and her present,
while she consumes and is consumed by a story in the here and now. For the
filmmaker, in adapting Austin Wright's 1993 book Tony and Susan into a film, he
found himself once again concentrating with equal intensity on both the written
word and the moving image.
Ford comments, "Writing is one of the parts of filmmaking that I love the most.
In the screenplay phase the process is entirely singular, and as the film at
that point exists only in my mind it is in its most perfect form. When I write,
I begin by collecting images that relate to the characters and their worlds. I
look for images of interiors, locations, actual people who inhabit the different
worlds of the characters that I am creating. I then start to write and often
actually write into the screenplay the details that I have come across when
doing photo research. The worlds our characters inhabit in Nocturnal Animals are
two worlds that I am incredibly familiar with. Growing up in Texas and New
Mexico, the part of the story that takes place in West Texas was easy for me to
write, and the somewhat rarified world that Susan inhabits in Los Angeles is far
too familiar to me as well.
"I visualize every sound and image and often write in an almost shot-by-shot
fashion. By the time that we actually get to filming, I have usually worked out
most of the details of what I want to capture. The beauty of working with a
strong production team and strong actors, however, is that more often than not
spontaneous things happen while shooting that I could not have imagined and
these can make the end product all the more rich and nuanced. It is important to
keep an open mind when filming and to try to look at things with a fresh eye.
While often they will be different than what I had imagined when I sat at my
desk writing, more often than not the surprise of the actual moment and
performance adds a great deal to the complexity and layers of the film."
In seeking to tell this tale that is not only a story-within-a-story but also an
exploration of human desire, ambition and indulgence, Ford realized that he
would be exercising both his directing and screenwriting skills to an even
greater degree than with his first film. While A Single Man transpired in 1962
with flashbacks to the years prior, it was largely one man's world; by contrast,
Nocturnal Animals bridges three characters' odysseys while also closing off
avenues of contact among them.
In adapting Tony and Susan into the screenplay for Nocturnal Animals, the
contemporary lifestyle scenes drew him to visualize extremes for how isolated
and lost the lead character of Susan Morrow truly is. He notes, "Style is not
the ultimate goal for me when I make a film. Style without substance is hollow
and empty. I do however pay great attention to style as it relates to the
characters and the story. Sets and costumes can inform not only the audience but
can help the actors inhabit the role fully. Consistency of tone is important to
me, and the way that images are captured stylistically works with both the score
and the sound design to create a cohesive world. I am of the mind that a picture
does indeed speak a thousand words and that film is truly a visual medium. I
think that a movie should play silently, and that words and language should be
used only when necessary to move the narrative along.
"That having been said, I am told that I write very long scenes. It's something
that never occurred to me but that I think comes from my desire to form
connections between the characters. In life I love nothing more than great
conversation and so I suspect that without thinking I tend to create scenes with
a good deal of dialogue interspersed with scenes where the audience is simply
watching someone do something telling without speaking."
The adaptation process took some time. Ultimately, his final screenplay diverges
from the book. Ford explains, "The book Tony and Susan is beautifully written.
It is a great story. The concept of a moral allegory told through a piece of
fiction - the book within the book - I thought was fresh and original. I loved
it the moment I read it and felt that it would make a great film. It was however
not the easiest book to adapt and it took me quite a while to decide how to
approach it. A book and a film are vastly different things and a literal
interpretation of a book often does not work on the screen. For me it is
important to take the themes of a book that speak to me and then to exaggerate
and explore them on screen. In that way, Nocturnal Animals is true to the book
even though some of the story elements are original and the setting is actually
completely different from that of the book.
"Tony and Susan is to a great extent an inner monologue that is taking place in
Susan's head. I had to create scenes in her life to convey the feelings that she
expresses in the book in her mind, but do so visually in order that we would
understand what she was feeling without resorting to what would have essentially
been a voiceover throughout the entire film. Also, the basic theme of Edward's
novel is a bit vague in the book and I felt that it needed to be exaggerated in
order to be clear on screen."
He adds, "On a more practical note, the setting of the book has been relocated,
in part because the book was written in the early '90s, before the use of cell
phones was widespread. The method of the crime that the book centers on could
not occur in today's world of cell phones and online communication if I had not
relocated the story to a place in which there might not be cell phone service. I
chose to locate the story in West Texas -the original story takes place in the
Northeast - as there are still places there where one could imagine that there
would be no cell service. It is also a part of the world that I know well, and I
subscribe to the old adage: write about what you know.
"In the book Tony and Susan, the character of Edward Sheffield comments that 'no
one ever really writes about anything but themselves,' and I chose to keep this
in the film as I believe completely in this statement. We all see things through
the filter that is our being. When Edward writes his fictional novel Nocturnal
Animals, it is literally made up of details and emotions from his past with
Susan. Most of these were of my invention, but I wanted to emphasize that Edward
was writing a personal story that was clearly about his life with Susan and an
explanation to her of what he felt that she did to him. For example, in one of
the flashbacks we see Susan reading one of Edward's short stories and she is
bored by it and he is devastated. In that scene she is lying on a red sofa. This
clearly is imprinted in Edward's mind, as when he chooses to kill the character
who represents Susan in the novel he places her body on a red velvet sofa. The
killer in the novel drives a green Pontiac GTO from the '70s, and this same car
appears in a flashback scene when Susan leaves Edward. Details from their lives
together are scattered throughout Edward's fictional story and have clearly
cemented themselves in Edward's consciousness. In the same manner, many things
from my own life have worked their way into the screenplay for the film."
Ford confides, "One of the themes of the film that hit home personally for me
was the exploration of masculinity in our culture. Our hero(s) Tony and Edward
do not possess the stereotypical traits of masculinity that our culture often
expects yet in the end they both triumph. As a boy growing up in Texas, I was
anything but what was considered classically masculine, and I suffered for it. I
empathize with the characters of Tony and Edward, and their perseverance speaks
The forward momentum of the narrative - the story-within-the story- is a literal
page-turner. In retrospect it seems to have been destined to be replicated in an
immersive moviegoing experience. What drives the movie is the characters'
respective needs for closure. Some have put into motion their efforts before we
even meet them; others grasp at it seemingly out of sudden necessity.
Conveying the full impact of three main characters' epiphanies and decisive
actions was something that Ford under took in A Single Man. With Nocturnal
Animals, the call for por traying the three main characters went out for two
lead actors who had established both a rapport with moviegoers as well as a
proven performance ability to access a spectrum of emotions.
Ford was drawn to Academy Award nominee Amy Adams "because of her spectacular
ability to telegraph emotion without dialogue but with just her face and soulful
eyes. Amy is truly a great actress. There is something in her eyes that feels
raw, and truthful. I wanted the character of Susan to be sympathetic. It would
be very easy to hate Susan because, as she says in the film, she 'has
everything' and yet she is unhappy. She has chosen a path in life that is
opposite to her true nature. She is in a sense a victim of her upbringing and of
what is often expected of women in our culture.
"For much of the film the character of Susan is reading and reacting silently to
what she has read. This is where Amy's incredible ability as an actress stands
out for me. She is so honest in her performance and was able to access Susan's
pain in a way that makes us empathize with, rather than hate, Susan. Her
portrayal of Susan is subtle and nuanced, and was in many ways the most
difficult role in the film as she could not rely on grand gestures or even
language to convey the pain that the character feels."
As evidenced in her portrayals in such films as The Master and American Hustle,
Adams' facility with steering her characters into shades of gray while still
retaining audience identification meant that " the character of Susan could
possess many layers of complex feelings while on the surface seeming to remain
calm and composed," says Ford.
Adams muses, "I'm a certain age so something that I can identify with is being
at a certain point in your life where you become very reflective and you start
evaluating choices and thinking about what your choices will be moving forward.
I understood that aspect of Susan, as well as her feeling burnt out with
artifice. She can never really let go of the conflict between the person she
wanted to be and the person she chose to be.
"I felt I had the opportunity to experiment with this character. On the set, Tom
would allow the camera to sit, and roll, for a long time. Sometimes you can get
self-conscious, but then you have to work through that and struggle to find your
way to something wonderful. So often, directors will call 'cut' when they see an
actor struggle, but Tom knew it would get us to deeply emotional moments."
Although they had not acted opposite each other prior, Ford felt that another
Academy Award nominee, Jake Gyllenhaal, would match up well with Adams. He
observes, "On a practical note, it was hard to find two established and strong
actors who could be believable playing characters in both their 20s and early
40s. Jake and Amy have that ability, and their subtle changes in mannerisms and
speech patterns between their young selves and their more mature selves were
masterful. They both managed to carry this off beautifully."
The filmmaker was equally confident that Gyllenhaal could put himself out there
for the wrenching scenes in the story-within-the-story. Ford states, "I was
drawn to Jake for the part of Edward/Tony because I admire the risks that Jake
takes in his performances. This was a tough and emotionally demanding role. I
felt that Jake would do a brilliant job and I was certainly not let down."
Gyllenhaal, upon initially reading Ford's screenplay, found himself "profoundly
moved, and shook, by it. The script communicated, in a lot of ways, what it
feels like to have a broken heart. It's also about how we want to be perceived
and how we present ourselves to other people - so then, who are we really, what
is someone's real truth? I feel that Tom is at war with the idea of aesthetic
over honesty, and that filmmaking is a medium in which he can express this.
"I found Tom giving me a tremendous amount of space and quiet - which I need, to
be vulnerable in front of the camera. He's extraordinarily detail-oriented."
The crucial supporting roles of Lt. Bobby Andes and Ray Marcus, who would seem
to represent different extremes of the law, were filled by, respectively,
Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon and British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Both actors were sought by Ford because of their versatility, a quality which
has allowed each to disappear into characters from different eras and
nationalities - so much so that filmgoers might not be able to remember where
they have seen these actors before.
As Ford explains it, that quality was vital "to get at these men in full; the
characters may only exist in the manuscript that Susan is reading, but the
portrayals had to capture her imagination and rivet the audience's attention."
Shannon remarks, "I loved the idea of playing a character in a novel, and I do
feel that Tony and Bobby are two aspects of their author, Edward. Bobby is a
classic, iconic character; there's a long history of characters like him that I
may have referenced - some of his traits would come out of the subconscious. He
is hardwired to pursue justice; dealing for years with nefarious people, he has
seen a lot of lives adversely affected, so he wants to help Tony find the
strength to confront the men who committed these crimes."
Gyllenhaal reports, "Working with Michael is a joy. His interpretation of Bobby
was fascinating to watch, as the situation Bobby and Tony are in is deeply
serious - but Michael would still bring a wry quality to a lot of the scenes,
which was really refreshing."
Shannon smiles, "People hear 'a Tom Ford movie' and may think everyone will be
walking around in tuxedoes. Bobby really doesn't think about having 'a look.'
Basically he just has cigarettes and a gun.
"Jake is a fearless actor, someone who always wants to go for another take -
which I like because I'm kind of the same way. Aaron would show up in-character,
he would come into the make-up trailer in the morning just on edge, unable to
sit still; he harnessed a feral energy to play Ray."
Taylor-Johnson reflects, "I read the script and thought, 'I don't know how I'm
going to be able to do this.' There was no angle for me to relate to this
character. Then I met with Tom and listened to how he wanted to see Ray
on-screen, and I put all my trust in him to go do this challenge. I started
watching documentaries and reading about serial killers in American history. I'd
never done a Texan accent before, and our dialect coach Michael Buster helped me
get a resonance away from the twang of what people think a Texan accent is.
"It was a grueling shoot, and sometimes we would tap into something
uncontrollable. Tom was in his element on-set. He had thought through every
detail - a character's hair, footwear, fingernails - yet he would make sure that
it was the performances driving the scenes."
Rounding out the cast is a host of accomplished performers. While some of these
actors were only on-set for a day or two, Ford appreciated the opportunity to
work with them to hone their cameos into sharp relief. He reveals, "I was
incredibly lucky to have such a strong supporting cast. I think that Armie
Hammer did a brilliant job and captured the character of Hutton Morrow
Both Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen
portrayed the very modern couple of Alessia and Carlos exactly as I had imagined
them when I was writing. In relatively short scenes, they manage to convey to us
exactly who these two people are and to create an intimacy with Amy's character
Susan that was key in helping us understand the context of Susan's world and her
"Laura Linney's performance was in my opinion brilliant, and watching Amy and
Laura play the scene in the restaurant together was incredible. Isla Fisher
delivered a striking dramatic performance that I think will surprise audiences,
as we more often than not see her in comedic roles and she is actually a very
strong dramatic actress. Karl Glusman as Lou delivered a nuanced and creepy
performance. His own character and personality could not be farther from the
role, which for me is often the mark of a strong actor. Ellie Bamber is not only
a great young beauty but a strong actress in the making, and portrayed India
with a sense of reality that I found gripping. Her innocence makes the crime all
the more visceral. Rob Aramayo is also a young actor who I think gives a
terrific performance, in the role of Turk."
Costume designer Arianne Phillips remembers, "At one point, I said to Tom, 'I'd
like to discuss the background extras for this particular scene.' He said,
'Well, they're actually foreground because every single person we see on-camera
has to be paid attention to in the same way we would an actor speaking a line.'"
With his screenplay having situated the characters in ver y specific locales
both constrained and unbound by their private struggles, location scouting took
on additional impor tance. The milieus had to enhance, and sometimes comment on,
the characters' life choices. The Texas sequences were filmed in and around
Mojave, California. Los Angeles locales included Bel Air, Holmby Hills, Malibu,
Pasadena, and Beverly Hills; the poignant wintry New York street scenes for
Susan and Edward in the past were recreated convincingly, and surprisingly, on
In the contemporary Los Angeles sequences, interiors define much of Susan's
world. Ford worked with production designer Shane Valentino to develop these.
Valentino, who vividly explored divergent life-and-work spaces in Beginners and
Straight Outta Compton, was tapped by Ford to take on these and other challenges
because the two share similar cultural and visual references. Ford notes, "The
way that Shane and I connected is quite funny I think. I had a list of
production designers from several agencies and I was going down the list looking
online at their web pages. I came across a page that featured several of my
advertising images and even a photograph that I had taken myself. I noticed that
the type on the page was almost identical to the type that I use in my
advertising for the TOM FORD brand and I immediately thought, 'Who is this guy?
I need to meet him.'
"I picked up the phone and called Shane, and set up an appointment to see him in
my L.A. office. We instantly connected and were able to speak in almost
shorthand as we literally shared all of the same references. I felt as though he
was an old friend and could not believe that somehow our paths had not crossed
sooner in our lives. He did an incredible job on the film and I look forward to
working with him again soon."
Dynamically capturing all of the physical and psychological twists and turns is
Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. No stranger to movies
both epic and personal, the director of photography mapped out shots with Ford,
who felt that McGarvey would sense when to go big or go more intimate for a
shot. Ford comments, "Seamus is obviously incredibly talented. His eye is
refined and quick. I have admired his work for years, and I think that he is
truly one of the greatest cinematographers working today. We have mutual friends
but had never met, and we sat down in my office in London and talked for several
hours in such an easy manner that I knew that we had to work together.
McGarvey recounts, "Tom and I enjoy the same type of photography, and the same
type of films. His vision of the film was clear from that first meeting we had.
From an early stage, we talked about the photographic templates or signatures of
each of the three sections of the movie. He's a very precise director, which is
great for me because I can really focus on each frame.
"We saw Susan's world as having a symmetry and rectitude, with the camera moving
in an unsettling observational way. For Tony's story, we wanted it much more
visceral and grainy - we shot the whole movie on celluloid, on film, so we could
push the granularity of those images and give that section real teeth. The 1997
section has another hue; it's halcyon days of romance and there is a nostalgia
there, with softer colors."
Ford shares that "in addition to being a great talent, Seamus is so calm and
kind on set, and so respectful of everyone, that he instantly won over the
entire crew and gained the trust of all of the performers. I feel honored to
have had him as the cinematographer on Nocturnal Animals."
Taylor-Johnson notes, "This was my fourth film with Seamus; I always follow him
around! He's a delightful man and a beautiful human being, and you know you're
in good hands with him. The dynamic between Tom and Seamus has led to something
highly cinematic here."
Other key members of the crew followed up on their work together with Ford on A
Single Man: costume designer Arianne Phillips, composer Abel Korzeniowski, and
editor Joan Sobel all cleared their schedules to reunite for Nocturnal Animals.
Ford states, "The film is about taking great care to hold on to the people
around you whom you trust, and I live by that rule. When you work with wonderful
and talented people that make it a joy to come to work every day, why
would you not want to work with them again and again? I hope to make many more
films with Joan, Arianne, and Abel, for each are brilliant at what they do and
all lovely people as well."
Of Phillips, who received a BAFTA Award nomination for A Single Man, Ford
reports that her "eye is flawless. I often find myself asking Arianne questions
on set about performance, shot angles, and many other things as she is not only
a talented costume designer - and to my mind one of the best - but she has great
judgment and taste. Her opinion is always invaluable to me."
Phillips comments, "A lot of directors can't speak the vernacular of clothing
and subtleties of fabric and what they mean. It's fantastic to be able to have
that conversation with a director who is interested; Tom understands that there
is a relationship between what we wear and our identity.
"We shared visual references with Shane Valentino. For Susan, the decision of
how to use color was something we talked about at length. In the more severe
scenes at her home, we worked a lot in silhouettes. There were so many rich
character cues about Susan that Tom had worked into the script, into the
Adams reveals, "I can safely say that I have never had a more beautiful wardrobe
in any film that I have done."
Korzeniowski was a Golden Globe Award nominee for A Single Man and was the
composer on all three seasons of the baroque television series Penny Dreadful.
Ford explains, "Abel and I share a love for lush, classic music scores in the
manner of Bernard Herrmann, and also share a love for the minimalist work of
Philip Glass. Our music tastes are perfectly aligned, and Abel creates bold and
dramatic works that capture and summon emotion like no other film composer
working today. The importance of music in film cannot be overlooked as it can
raise the tension or emotion of a scene in a way that can be transformative.
Abel is for me a genius composer."
Having acknowledged, on A Single Man, that his "biggest surprise was in the
editing process," Ford came to Nocturnal Animals with an idea of how to shape
the film with Sobel. He states, "Joan is my greatest collaborator and I
subscribe to the old adage that 'a film is made in the cutting room.' For seven
months we sat side by side in a dark room in my London offices editing the film.
Joan is a master.
"We share the same love of film and film references, and often diverged from the
editing process into conversations about films that we both loved and were
passionate about. Joan was instrumental in helping me bring Nocturnal Animals to
life on the screen, and I cannot wait to get back into a dark room for another
seven months with her on the next film."
The filmmaker is satisfied with the enveloping quality of Nocturnal Animals as
not only a compelling and suspenseful journey but also an inward-looking one.
His expectation is that the viewer will be "open to identifying with more than
one of the characters."
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