Saturday, December 31, 2016

Five Characters We Loved in the Book and Onscreen in 2016


My favorite movie man of the year is actually Ryan Gosling in this year’s La La Land but that’s not based on a book soooo, with great reluctance I have to nix him. Next year, Ryan. Next year!

While in my opinion there are no absolute Noahs from The Notebook in this year’s crop of fictional characters—and sadly, no Mr. Darcy’s either—we do have a few swoon-worthy types that stepped off the page and onto our screens, making good on our fictive imaginations.

Characters We Love




James Norton was the absolute physical embodiment of Tolstoy’s aloof and arrogant Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in the A&E adaptation of War and Peace.



This waltz with Lily James as Natasha literally took many a woman's breath away. It took mine, anyway. Check out the waltz from the War and Peace in depth here. For all the new James Norton fans out there, watch him in Happy Valley, Grantchester and the upcoming series, McMafia.



The count wasn’t everyone’s favorite War &Peace character. Paul Dano as the silly, sweet—and ultimately winning—Pierre won his fair share of hearts. While I felt sorry for him, he never inflamed my passion or won my heart and the actor wasn’t as big and gentle bear-like as I imagined Pierre should be. Should I count him in or count him out? 


 2

While I loved Jojo Moye’s book Me Before You, I was not a fan of the movie starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. Whose fault was that? Certainly not Claflin who played Will Traynor to a T. (Yes, Emilia Clarke, I blame you and your eyebrows with a life of their own!) Sam Claflin who I’d only seen as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games was more than sexy—even while confined to a sitting position—and he has a smashing smile, but man can he rage using nothing but the intensity of his eyes. I’m obviously not the only one who thinks he’s dishy. Claflin is set to star opposite Rachel Weisz in the remake of My Cousin Rachel, due out July 14, 2017.


Poldark fans might not have read the books by Winston Graham—a dozen in all—or seen the original series from the 1970’s but we love the period bodice ripper with Aidan Turner as the bodice ripping Ross Poldark. The Masterpiece series began with Poldark returning home to England after the American Revolutionary War to find his fiance Elizabeth already married to his cousin, Francis. The war between Poldark and his own feelings for Elizabeth even while married to Demelza keeps things taut. As do the breeches on the men, and the low cut gowns on the women! That’s period romance for you. Turner fans can find him in last year’s adaptation of And then There Were None and at some point, fingers crossed, in the screen adaptation of Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. 




The critics weren’t kind to The Light Between Oceans  starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander but I loved the book and the film. I felt for Tom Sherbourne, the lighthouse keeper in M.L. Stedman’s novel conflicted by his love for his wife and his own moral code and found Fassbender’s portrayal of the character on screen deeply moving. Fassbender and Vikander fell in love during the filming of the movie and that chemistry is all over the page. If you’re a fan of Nordic crime novels, Fassbender is playing Harry Hole opposite Rebecca Ferguson in The Snowman based on the book by Jo Nesbo. The movie comes out October 13th, 2017. Another one to add to the Must See Movies Based on Books 2017!


Tom Hiddlesbum. That’s what they started calling Tom Hiddleston after seeing the sex scene between his character Jonathan Pine and Elizabeth Debicki’s gangster girlfriend in The Night Manager. In real life, Hiddleston himself is a highly educated man and brilliant actor but we also like the way he looks in a suit. We totally understand why there was so much chatter about The Night Manager being an audition to play the next James Bond.

Who’d I miss? Educate me!

My friend Irene, a librarian in the UK has an addition. It took me awhile to figure out who Ian Donnelly is. Do you know?



Thursday, December 29, 2016

Murder on the Orient Express: It looks like it's time for a remake!


That’s the spirit! Kenneth Branagh—who really ticked me off for not following through with his plans to adapt The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—is in talks to direct a remake of Murder on the Orient Express! While it's difficult for me to see anyone but David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Alfred Molina played the detective in another television adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic whodunnit, and Albert Finney was nominated for his portrayal of Poirot in the 1974 version.



In the upcoming iteration, Branagh himself plays Poirot with a cast that includes Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Michael Pena, Lucy Boynton, Penelope Cruz, Tom Bateman and Leslie Odom Jr. The film comes out November 22 and will be a welcome change from a year that looks to be saturated with films based on comic books!



But for today's #ThrowbackThursday film, let's go way back to 1974 when Albert Finney starred as the famous Belgian detective in a star-studded movie version directed by the late, great Sydney Lumet. 

Nominated for six Academy Awards, Murder on the Orient Express earned Ingrid Bergman her third—and final—Oscar for her performance in the supporting category, of Greta, the Swedish nurse. 





In addition to Bergman and Albert Finney, the cast included Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Martin Balsam, Anthony Perkins, Richard Widmark, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts and Michael York. See? Star-studded, even if you millennials don't know all the names, take it from an oldster, these were some of the biggest actors working in the 1960's and 1970's. 






Along with the costume design, the score and cinematography, the script by Paul Dehn—who gave us Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and several Planet of the Apes sequels—was also nominated, but didn't win. It was the last screenplay Dehn would write; he died just two years later, in 1976. 

The last of the six nominations? That went to Albert Finney. The five time Oscar nominee never, ever won the coveted golden boy from the Academy which goes to show you once again that awards, well, yeah, they're nice, but sometimes they just don't mean shit. 

1974? That was a pretty big year. Finney was a great actor but he didn't really stand a chance. He was up against Dustin Hoffman for Lenny Bruce, Jack Nicholson for Chinatown, Al Pacino for The Godfather and Art Carney for Harry & Tonto. Nope, not a chance. Who won? Art Carney for Harry & Tonto. Hmmm. I can just imagine Nicholson and Pacino sitting in the audience, smiling through their teeth ... 'It's an honor just to be nominated...' 

Here's the trailer. Unfortunately, the movie isn't available to stream anywhere that I can see, and I don't own a copy of the DVD. I hate to get all judgmental based on a trailer, tantamount to judging a book by its cover, and the movie itself may have been great in its day—besides the Oscar nominations, there are plenty of great reviews and a high Rotten Tomatoes score—but to my eyes in 2015, and it may be heresy to say this about a Lumet film, it looks like an old television movie. I'd say a remake is in order. 




How about you? Talk to me.

Originally published 6/18/2015

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wonder starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson & Jacob Tremblay comes to the screen on April 4th

The book, Wonder, caused quite a stir when it came out in 2011. R.J. Palacio's debut novel about a boy with a severe facial deformity is ostensibly a childrens’s book but it’s one of those stories with its’ message of kindness that leaves us old folks crying too. 



The movie stars Jacob Tremblay as Auggie—he is the brilliant young actor who played the imprisoned boy in Room— with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his loving parents. The cast includes Mandy Patinkin as the principal of the middle school Auggie attends. Sheesh. As if middle school isn’t tough enough on kids. Author turned director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) helms from a script by Steven Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). Wonder is set to debut on screens in the USA and the UK on April 4th. 

The logline

A young boy born with a facial deformity is destined to fit in at a new school, and to make everyone understand he's just another ordinary kid, and that beauty isn't skin deep.




About the book

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?


In the author’s own words

Palacio shared his reason for writing the book on his website. Here’s hoping the film lives up to Palacio’s good intentions.

About five years ago I took my son's for ice cream, and while my older son went inside to buy us our milk shakes, my younger son and I waited on the bench outside. My younger son was only about 3 years old at the time, and he was in his stroller facing me while I sat on the bench. At a certain point I realized that sitting right next to me was a little girl with a severe craniofacial difference, her friend (or sister), and her mother. When my younger son looked up and saw her, he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year old would react when seeing something that scared him: he started to cry—pretty loudly, too. I hurriedly tried to push him away in the stroller, not for his sake but to avoid hurting the girl's feelings, and in my haste I caused my older son to spill the shakes, and, well, it was quite a scene—the opposite of what I had hoped for. But as I pushed my younger son’s stroller away I heard the little girls’ mom say, in as sweet and calm a voice as you can imagine: “Okay, guys, I think it’s time to go.” And that just got to me. 
    For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out. It occurred to me that they probably went through something like that dozens of times a day. Hundreds of times. What would that be like? What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is “don’t stare” even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper? All this stuff was flying through my head, and I realized that I was disappointed in myself because I had missed a good teaching moment for my kids. What I should have done, instead of trying to get my kids away and avoid the situation, was engage the girl and her mother in conversation. If my son cried, so be it: kids cry. But I should have set a better example for him, and shown him there was nothing to fear. Instead I panicked. I simply didn't have the wherewithall to know what to do in that situation.  
    Coincidentally, the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant came on the radio that night, as I was thinking about the ice cream incident, and something about the words to the song just got to me. I started writing Wonder that very night. 

If that bit didn’t leave you crying, I’m guessing the movie will leave you cold too. Since writing Wonder, Palacio has written several more Wonder-themed books, one of which Auggie & Me is being made into a movie too. 

I’ll be adding Wonder to this year’s list of 


No trailer yet, but here’s the book promo

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Liam Neeson Reads Chapter 1 of "A Monster Calls"


Originally slotted for 2016—A Monster Calls technically opened in various countries around the world last year and on December 23 in New York and L.A.—the film opens in the UK on January 1st and in the states on January 6th. Based on the book by Patrick Ness—Ness also wrote the screenplay— the movie stars newcomer Lewis MacDougall (Pan) as Conor, Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s grandmother, Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything, Rogue One) as Conor’s mother and Toby Kebbell (War Horse) as Conor’s father. Liam Neeson is the voice of the Monster. In one of the most interesting ways to publicize a film I’ve seen, Focus Features has released a ten minute video of Neeson reading the first chapter of the book. 

Enjoy!



I’ll be adding A Monster Calls to the list ...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Lost City of Z starring Charlie Hunnam & Robert Pattison: The First OFFICIAL Trailer is here.



This past September I posted the first trailer for The Lost City of Z .  Not long after that  the trailer was removed from YouTube. Now we have the real deal, the first official teaser trailer, created and released by Amazon Studios, so voila, happy holidays the first official trailer for The Lost City of Z is here. 


Based on the book by David Grann, the film is directed by James Gray and stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland.

The logline 

The true-life drama which centers on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.




The Lost City of Z opens April, 2017. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

5 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time. Period.




I publish this list of my five favorite Christmas movies every year. So far it hasn't changed. Did I miss your fave? Lay it on me.

One of my all-time Christmas classic favorites is Miracle on 34th Street. The version with Natalie Wood as the little girl of course, not any crummy remake done in the 70's or 80's or 90's.That film still brings tears to my eyes. 

The movie was based on the book by Valentine Davies and starred Maureen O'Hara and John Payne and Edmund Gwenn as Santa. Or more precisely, Kris Kringle. 

He was spectacular as Santa but don't take my word for it, he actually won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Father Christmas. That's what my own parents - being British - often called Santa when I was growing up. What I love about the movie is how it resolutely shoos cynicsm down the chimney. Watching the movie, long past our own believing-in-Santa days we ache for those simpler and innocent times. Innocent enough that a little girl is allowed to visit with a strange old man alone! We want to believe. We want to feel innocent and hopeful. We want to believe in the magic of the man from the North Pole. Watching that movie, we do. 
This vintage black & white promo trailer for the film will make you smile. Its almost as good as the movie.






I hadn't even heard of A Christmas Story when I met my husband, Mark, who introduced me to this funny funny film. My taste, as you can see, runs more to the sappy side. I might not even have cared for it much as a Christmas classic on first viewing but over the years it has become a must see in our house. 

Ralphie, and his gun, his friend's tongue sticking to the pole, his mother warning him "You'll shoot your eye out", the dogs eating the turkey, the sexy leg lamp, Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant, and of course, and the foul language all first appeared in two short story collections by Jean Shepherd. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash  first published in 1966 and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories published in 1971 are the works of the comic writer and radior personality who delved into his own midwestern childhood memories as a source of great humor. 


The stories that shaped the film have since been gathered into one collection called accurately enough, A Christmas Story.






Itbeen ages since I watched A Christmas Carol — especially the 1951 version of the Charles Dickens classic starring Alistair Sim; its the one I watched on television when I was growing up. I was the narrator of the play back in 7th grade in Niagara Falls, my first behind-the-scenes job. The drama teacher said I could sit on a stool at the side of the stage — where everyone from Princess Elizabeth School could see me as I read my part — or behind the curtain at the sound booth. I chose behind the curtain!  


There have been so many retellings of the classic tale, and I've been a fan of most of the many manifestations like Scrooged - based, however loosely, on the Charles Dickens classic. 
Like many classic films the poster used to promote the film was in color, but the movie is in black and white. 


Vintage black & white trailer for Scrooge AKA A Christmas Carol







Two more on my all-time fave movies for Christmas. It's A Wonderful Life; a movie so perfect and beautiful, I wish it were based on a novel so I could get to know all the characters even better! Well, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! I just found out the movie is based on a short story, The Greatest Gift by Howard Van Doren. The story didn't sell so Van Doren sent it out to a couple of hundred people as his annual Christmas Card which is how it finally found it's way to a studio! And no, just because the poster is in color, doesn't mean the movie is. Like Miracle on 34th Street, it's best to see this classic Christmas movie in its original black and white.


Check out the vintage trailer for It’s a Wonderful Life 


And what has become my family’s all time holiday favorite ...


Love Actually. Heart-searing and so romantic and funny, no it's not based on a book but who cares. To watch it is to love it over and over and over again.



No way the trailer captures the magic of the movie but ...





MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL
AND
TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!!!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Silence starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver: My take on the movie

My husband has been getting screeners all month, we’ve been enjoying some great films—Manchester by the Sea, LaLa Land, Loving, Hacksaw Ridge*, Lion—last night we watched Silence, the long awaited Martin Scorsese adaptation of Shusaku Endo's acclaimed 1966 novel of the same name. While I usually like to see movies in the theatre, especially if I’m sharing my thoughts here, I didn’t want to wait until its January 6th release date to give it a look.

What to say? It’s not a walk in the park. It’s a heavy, morose long look at Catholicism and the idea of renouncing ones faith. The story takes place in 17th century Japan after Christianity has been banned, priests expelled. Prior to the expulsion, Japanese Christian converts numbered in the hundreds of thousands. After the crackdown, the practice of Christianity was forbidden, its practice dangerous and yet some Catholic peasants held on to their beliefs, praying at night, in secret.  


Two young priests, Padre Rodrigues (Andrew Garfied) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) go on a mission to Japan to find their mentor, Father Ferrara (Liam Neeson) rumored to have renounced his faith and taken a Japanese name and living with a wife and children, his religion buried.



Most of the film is about the two young priests who risk their own lives to save him and his soul, and in doing so encounter remaining Japanese Christian peasants who must hide their religion or risk torture and death. Scorsese is relentless in pursuit of this theme—the idea of apostasy—and we see countless peasants who struggle with the idea of stepping on a small tablet engraved with Christ’s image. If they refuse to do this, it is proof they are Christians, and therefore they are imprisoned, tortured and put to death. If they tread on the tablet, it proves they are not Christian and they are set free.



Other methods used are tying the suspected Christian to a stake at the water’s edge and leaving him there until he gives up and renounces Christ or dies. Sometimes, to convince the Japanese peasants the overlords mean business, they are wrapped in grass mats and hung upside down with their heads in dark holes.Then there’s the ever-popular wrap them in grass mats and light them on fire.

All to prove one’s lack of faith in God. Crosses, religious carvings, any kind of Christian image is forbidden. These are scenes that recur time and again. And again.

Silence is Martin Scorsese’s passion project, one that has haunted him for over thirty years so I suppose you can’t begrudge him the two hour forty minute length but oof, that’s a lot of relentless darkness. 

There is much to admire. Garfield and Driver, who I’m most familiar with as contemporary actors, surprised me with their ability to dive so deeply into the roles of two Portuguese Jesuit priests. The actor who played Kichigiro, the former Christian and their guide (Yôsuke Kubozuka), the Japanese inquisitor Inoue (Issey Ogata) who provides almost comic relief and the translator (Tadanobu Asano) were all compelling, intriguing characters. But. Ultimately it is too dark, too weighty, and especially too redundant. We welcome movies that question big ideas, tackle weighty issues, but movies are not essays. Movies need to move.  

I hate to say I didn’t love what Scorsese would no doubt wish to be a masterpiece but I didn’t. For all the burning at the stake and tortured cries, I remained distant, horrified intellectually but not terribly moved.

I am aware the movie was released this month in order to qualify for the Academy Awards. Sadly, Silence, is not golden.
Let me know what you think. 



*If you want to see Andrew Garfield in a really stunning tour de force, check out Hacksaw Ridge. 


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Julia Roberts to Play Eleanor Flood in TV Adaptation of 'Today Will Be Different'


I just read Maria Semple’s latest novel Today Will Be Different because I enjoyed Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, so much. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Bernadette, neither the character or the crazed frenetic journey we go on, it was still a fun ride. 



Have you heard that like Where'd You Go, BernadetteToday Will Be Different will also adapted for the screen? The story is also set in Seattle with the familiar Galer Street School playing a pivotal part. The big surprise is that Julia Roberts will be playing the most important role—that of Eleanor Flood—and that the book is headed to television as a limited series, as opposed to the big screen. 

Here’s the skinny on the book
Named a Notable Book of 2016 by the Washington Post, a Must-Read Book of 2016 by PopSugar, one of EW's 20 Best Books of 2016, and one of Kirkus Reviews' "Best 100 Fiction Books of 2016" A brilliant novel from the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, forced to abandon her small ambitions and awake to a strange, new future. Eleanor knows she's a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won't swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother's company. It's also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he's on vacation. Just when it seems like things can't go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret. TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT is a hilarious, heart-filled story about reinvention, sisterhood, and how sometimes it takes facing up to our former selves to truly begin living.
Not sure when Today Will Be Different starts filming or when we can expect to see it on our big screens. Maria Semple is writing the screenplay. Probably a good time to remind you Semple got her start in television, writing for Mad About You in the 1990’s and more recently Arrested Development. The comedy, it seems, is in her genes.

Where’d You Go Bernadette is still listed as being in development but haven’t heard anything beyond the script has been written, Cate Blanchett is attached as Bernadette, with Richard Linklater set to direct. I wonder which of Maria Semple’s novels makes it to the screen first?

What do you think of Roberts as Eleanor?


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

First Look: Images from Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.


Yesterday we got our first look at the teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049. Today we've got the first images via Entertainment Weekly.Will I be posting every little thing I come across concerning Blade Runner 2049? Probably. 





Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. K's discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, with Mackenzie Davis, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista and Lennie James. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 opens 10/6/2017.

What the hell. Here’s the trailer again.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Blade Runner 2049 starring Ryan Gosling: The First Trailer


The first trailer for Blade Runner 2049 has landed. Deckard has gone MIA and LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) walking slowly through a smoky orange haze, is on the hunt. The air looks toxic but K shows no signs of having trouble breathing, Inside, he passes by a piano and strikes a key—for me a subtle reminder this is the same actor we just fell in love with as jazz pianist Sebastian in LaLa Land. Will we fall in love with him in Blade Runner 2049. Will fans of the original Blade Runner be satisified?



With Denis Villeneuve who gave us Prisoners, Sicario and this year’s stunning Arrival, in the director's chair, Gosling and Ford on screen along with Robin Wright and Jared Leto
I'm betting we will.  

Enjoy the trailer! Blade Runner 2019 comes out in October 2017.



Monday, December 19, 2016

Tom Ford talks about fashioning Nocturnal Animals

Having just read this really fascinating interview with Tom Ford, the director behind A Single Man and this year's Nocturnal Animals, I thought I'd share it with you in its totality. The interview comes from Deadline with Mike Fleming, Jr. asking the questions. If you haven't  seen Nocturnal Animals, I highly recommend it. It's a stylish and provocative thriller based on the book Tony & Susan by Austin Wright and informed by a mindful dose of the director's own background.
‘‘Your first film, A Single Man, sold after its Toronto premiere; the only major deal that year as the indie business cratered. Nocturnal Animals was a splashy sale on a script and a pitch in Cannes. What did you learn from A Single Man that informed how this one went down? 
That first time, I couldn’t get anyone to believe I could make a film. I was confident I could, so I financed it myself and intended to sell it, which I did. I also started out here intending to finance myself, but I thought I’d mitigate my exposure by selling foreign distribution rights. 
Working with Glen Basner, we printed up 200 scripts, circulated them, rented a ballroom, and I put together a little audio/visual presentation in Cannes. I pitched the film to this room, and then had individual appointments and we started off selling individual territories. 
Merrick Morton/Focus Features
I didn’t want an American studio. I knew I was going to shoot in Los Angeles. I knew I was going to work on the film in America. I’m not good with a lot of voices in my head. I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, but I’m better at creating if it can be somewhat more organic and pure. I get confused when I hear too many voices, and the reputation of Hollywood studios interfering, re-cutting, all these things, just turned me off. 
Focus Universal came to me during this process, when we had already started to take the highest bids but hadn’t signed anything. The budget at that time was $17 million—it would go higher—and we covered about $12 million. Then Focus Universal came to me and said, “We want the world.” I said, “No, thank you.” This went on for a few days, even after I’d left Cannes. And they finally just said, “Literally, write on a piece of paper what you want.” I won’t tell you what that was, but I did. I’m very lucky. They said yes to absolutely every single thing and they honored it, and they have been terrific. It has in a sense restored my faith in what it might be like to work with a Hollywood studio.
I still obviously had total final cut; they didn’t even see it until I handed over the deliverables. I was still able to work in a completely independent way. And the film also went over that $20 million budget a little bit. 

By $2.5 million?
A little bit more but not much, which I covered and hopefully, I’ll get back. But it was great to have a partner from the beginning in planning the distribution. Focus has been wonderful. The creative team at Focus, the marketing team, they’ve been terrific, and Donna Langley’s been incredibly supportive.
Peter Schlessel, who bought the project, said that the film you delivered was so close to the one you pitched, at close to the price, which he thought was remarkable for a director making his second feature.
It is my second film, but I’m 55 years old. I’m not a kid. I’ve been in business a long time and I know how to deliver. I run a big company and I wouldn’t make a promise that I didn’t think I could keep. So while it’s early in my film career, it’s not early in my career and I felt very confident I could say to people, “This is what it’s going to be, this is about how much it’s going to cost, this is when I’m going to deliver it to you.” And I did that. 
It sounds arrogant, but I guess when I think back to A Single Man, the thing that surprised me most was when people said, “Oh, I didn’t think you could do that.” Before, everyone said, “Oh, of course you can make a movie! It’s going to be great.” Afterwards, they said, “How did it feel? Because, you know everyone was laughing at you!” I was like, “Why were you laughing at me? I told you I could do it.” I’ve had failure collections but I pride myself in delivering what I say I am going to. I’m glad it worked this time.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Sure, you had a vision sketched out. What surprised you most while making the film?
You have to keep an open mind. You can write something, visualize it, map it out and go over the shot list with the DP. When you get there, you have to be willing to say, “OK, that’s not as interesting as I thought, but wow, this performance is great. Let’s shoot it.” An open mind keeps it fresh and helps it stay alive. 
I wasn’t surprised the performances were great, given the actors and the space they had to perform. Laura Linney was terrific. She came in and did that in one day. We’d done a little bit, beforehand. She emailed me and said, “All right, my character would live in Highland Park in Dallas because that’s the fanciest neighborhood. These four houses are in Highland Park. Which one would I live in and why?” I wrote her back and I told her, exactly. She sent me a tape of Lady Bird Johnson and said, “This is the accent I’m thinking, does this work for you?” I said yes, exactly. When she arrived on set, she was prepared. I had Karl Lagerfeld make her suit. But her performance? Stunning and more than I could have even hoped for. 
Aaron Taylor-Johnson was another. I was so impressed and to say surprised is probably not the right word. He’s a close personal friend. His wife and I have been friends for a long time. I was never expecting that of him. He was so inside that character. That scene in a lot of ways hinges on his performance. You have to be left questioning, what the f*ck is he going to do next, where is he going to go? Every take, he did something different. We would talk about it and didn’t let Jake know what he was going to do, which of course just threw Jake off and made the whole thing feel off balance. 
Laura’s scene took three hours. Everybody was like that; you don’t get a lot of rehearsals with big actors. Amy Adams, I had almost no time with. Michael Shannon too. Actors just aren’t available for two weeks to come in for rehearsals. It just doesn’t happen anymore. 

After terrifying everyone at the Toronto premiere, Aaron Taylor-Johnson gets onstage afterwards. A proper British gentleman. How did you know he could summon this visceral, primal, redneck psycho?
Did you see him in Kick-Ass? You would never know that guy was English. He’s so good with accents, and inhabiting characters. He’s different in every role he plays, to the point where he’s almost unrecognizable.
We were having dinner one night and he was telling a story. I don’t even remember what it was about but I was watching him. He didn’t realize this, but I was thinking, would Aaron be right for this? He started to tell some story, and he went off on something. It was like a glimmer of insanity and I thought oh, my God. You. Would. Be. Perfect. He was even better than I could have ever hoped. 
Amy and Jake I went after in a more traditional way. I knew I wanted Amy and she was the first person I attached and then after Cannes, I went after Jake.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features
Amy is cold perfection, and we first meet her in that scene with overweight naked older women. What message were you trying to convey there?
It’s a microcosm for one of the themes of the film. These are women who have let go of everything that our culture says that they should be, and they were so joyful. I loved these women. They were so comfortable with themselves, with their bodies, absolutely uninhibited. I had so much fun the day that we shot and I had so much fun editing these women. I found them so incredibly beautiful and then we cut to Amy who’s sitting there absolutely exactly like our culture tells us a beautiful woman should be. Successful, and dead inside. That’s one of the themes of the film.

Not surprising you would be asked to explain…
I think a lot of people might think, OK, well, it’s really strange. Tom Ford’s in the fashion business. He uses all these thin models on a runway and this is how he opens a film. Our eye is led, but as a fashion designer, I learned a long time ago that anytime I find something arresting—even if I find it, at first, maybe not attractive, but arresting—I need to stop and look at it. Because usually there is some sort of incredible beauty in it, and culturally, our eye has been led to sort of look and say, “Oh, that’s beautiful but that’s not.” But yet, you start to really look at these women and at the happiness and joy in their faces, and they’re incredibly beautiful.
Were you surprised that some wondered if that scene was done at the expense of these women?
That would be the audience making that judgment because all I’m doing is putting these women on screen. If the audience judges that, then that’s perhaps the responsibility of our culture which has told the audience, all of us, that this is what we should think about these women. But if you really look, there’s great beauty there, because they are who they are. 
Amy Adams’ Susan draws our sympathy at the beginning. She is in this superficial marriage to this guy who’s obviously cheating on her, and she is alone. But she becomes progressively harder to like as we learn more about her and her…
Really?

Merrick Morton/Focus Features
Well, yeah, when you observe her relationship with Edward and her withering criticism of his work, and then she tosses him and his unrealized potential aside for a shortcut to an upscale life. Describe what went into drawing that character. The scenes with her mother told you a lot. 
Watch Amy’s face in the scene with her mom. She withers, very subtly, and she says he has a different kind of strength. Her mom says, “What kind of strength is that?” “Strength to believe in him and to believe in me.” The way Amy delivers that, it’s almost like she can barely believe in herself and she knows her mom’s about to shoot her down. But she says, “He has the strength to believe in me,” and she doesn’t believe in herself. She’s the one who doesn’t believe in herself, which is why she leaves Edward. She is a victim of her insecurity, of her upbringing, of her background, of that particular world, a culture that tells her she should be beautiful, have beautiful children, a beautiful house. That’s a woman’s responsibility, which is an antiquated way, which as she says, “My mother, she believes in an antiquated idea of what I should be or how I should be.” You know, we all make mistakes and she will go on to make the most major mistake, one that triggers much of the plot. 
You like her more than I did.
At one point, she says, “I can’t believe what I’ve done,” and we all make mistakes. We start out in life thinking maybe one way is the path we should follow. There’s a great line about how midlife is when you get to the top of a wall, when you’ve climbed a ladder and get to the top, only to find the ladder has been against the wrong wall. That’s what happened to her. She’s hit a moment where she has all these things that she believed she was supposed to have. And she’s empty inside because she threw away the important thing.
The novel provided the subplot, but how much of Susan was informed by people in your own life, or people you observed?
A lot of it is autobiographical. As Edward says, you know, nobody really writes about anyone but themselves. I believe that, that you write what you know. That level of materialism, the disregard for people in your life and spirituality, is something I’ve certainly battled. 10 years ago, I hit the point where Susan reached, and I moved past that.
Merrick Morton/Focus Features

What drew you out of it?
Well, I had a drinking problem and a drug problem, which I should probably quit mentioning because the press seems to make a bigger thing than it needs to be. You know in America, people like to talk about, “Oh you battled that.” Truthfully, work drew me out of it, along with whatever pulls you out of a mid-life crisis. A lot of psychology, finding a new voice in contemporary culture. We could go on for a long time about rediscovering, reconnecting with a certain sort of spirituality. 
I came to terms with materialism. We live in a material world. Velvet feels great. Cashmere feels great. Steak tastes great. Good wine, if I still drank, tastes great. We are material but you have to keep all of that in perspective because really, as your parents told you when you were a kid, the best things in life are free. There are connections with people, the sky, the earth. Susan has lost her way in that, so she is quite autobiographical.
Susan, and the character of George in A Single Man, were both autobiographical to a certain extent. George was me grafted on to Christopher Isherwood and then Colin Firth grafted on to me and Christopher Isherwood. All of us are quite similar. In the movie, on the day he’s planning on killing himself, he puts on a suit, shines his shoes. He’s holding himself together, like a crustacean, and so is Susan. She’s built this hard shell because inside, she’s…
Empty?
Empty or tortured or damaged, vulnerable, and she’s trying to hold herself together through perfectionism. If the outer world is perfect, maybe she’ll be OK. And that, I definitely can relate to.
When Christopher Nolan directed Inception, he color-coded each of the dream sequences to help viewers navigate the complicated narrative. You tell stories on parallel tracks. Explain what you did visually to distinguish them.
I did do the same with the grading. However, I wanted it to hold together as a complete film. And while there are three stories, it’s really one story. But I’ll talk first about the grading and then we’ll come back. 
Susan’s world is cold, so it’s desaturated. It’s in blue tones. When there is color, it’s sharp and garish. The inner story, which is meant to be visceral, is gritty and a little bit oversaturated. Everything is rich in that way. The color tone in the flashbacks are warm, because when we remember things we tend to romanticize them, even if it’s a fight or if it’s a love scene, so there in Susan’s head, they are warm.
That was the period of her life that was warm, in contrast to the period of her life which is now so cold and gray. Which is why it’s not a sunny, happy Los Angeles. It’s a gray, foggy… You don’t live in L.A., but it does get like that; the gray, foggy L.A. and that weather looks terrible because that city is not built for fog and rain. It’s built for sun and it all looks like it’s made of cardboard and going to fall down. Whereas London looks great in the rain because it was built for it.
Tom Ford / Merrick Morton/Focus Features
I also wanted particular colors to be emphasized throughout all these stories, particularly the color red. Red is passion, red is blood, red is anger, red is vivid. It can mean a lot of things, but the story is really all one story because they fuel each other. For Edward’s anger, when we see him through the windshield wiper, we then cut to the inner-novel where Tony explodes and says, “I should have stopped it,” because that is what drove him to write that scene. And what he’s saying in that scene is, “I should have stopped the moment my family was stolen from me.” Which was that moment in the car, and seeing her with him… they start to fuel each other. 
There are a few instances like that, and they start to spin into the same story. They had to also link in a certain way and by the time we get to the end, her world is quite colored again and vivid. Her dress is green. The restaurant is warm because she’s alive again. She’s been awakened and so the color pallets sort of merge. 
Most book adaptations are faithful to the source material. Using the characters from the Austin Wright novel Tony And Susan, you ended up with something more original and metaphorical. How long did it take for you to find the handle on the story you wanted to tell?
It took me a couple of years. I optioned the book because it spoke to me. The central theme of finding people in your life that you love and not letting them go or throwing them away is what spoke to me. Our culture, everyone throws everything away. We throw stuff away. 
I also loved the device of being able to communicate through a piece of art; in this case Tony’s novel. Tony And Susan is an inner-monologue, just like A Single Man. We just hear this woman thinking. She doesn’t do anything but sit in her house and read while her children are playing Monopoly. Nothing happens, so I knew it would be very hard to film. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it into a film. But I knew I loved it, I knew it spoke to me, so I knew I had to option it.
Luckily, it came out in the UK in 2011 and wasn’t released here until 2012. So it was on no one’s radar and I was able to get the option for it. I had a couple of false starts, thought about it, worked on it a little, thought about it. Once I finally figured it out, it took me six weeks. Then I sent it to Amy Adams and she said yes. 
What was the “eureka” moment where you cracked the code?
It was in elevating Susan’s position in life and grafting my own ideals of pain and pleasure onto her character. In the story, she leaves the writer Edward for a medical student. She leaves for reasons of security. Edward’s character becomes an insurance salesman, and has three children, and their lives are more or less the same sort of suburban life, and the end is quite lukewarm. They don’t set up a place to meet. She reads his book, critiques it, puts it aside to make dinner for her family. So the themes are there but not in a way that could make them cinematic that an audience would watch. I had to exaggerate everything so that it would be clear. The hard thing was to figure out how to exaggerate the themes. So I made it a melodrama and made everyone archetypes, and made that inner story a fairytale so it’s a work of fiction being seen through her eyes.
 Merrick Morton/Focus Features
That is why both Edward and Tony are played by the same actor, and Tony’s wife in the novel seems so much like her?
She’s casting Edward because she knows nobody ever writes about anyone but themselves. She sees that red sofa and realizes, “Oh, that’s the red sofa I used to lie on when I was always criticizing his work.” She walks into her entry hall and she sees that photograph she has by a great artist called Richard Misrach, with the two guys standing in the field of grass. I re-created that exact field of grass for Edward’s death scene. All the things in her life, his life, they all mesh. I’m rambling. 
For those who saw the movie and are unsure of the clues, you are laying them out pretty good here.
When Susan leaves Tony, it’s in front of a car body shop and there’s a green GTO. That’s burned in his mind. So when he writes that book, Ray [Taylor-Johnson] drives a green GTO because that is burned into Tony’s mind. There are links between all those stories. 
Once I figured out how to take these people and make them archetypes—to turn it into almost an operatic, melodramatic noir film where everything is heightened—that was the thing that made it work. Things were beautiful but very subtle in the book and I’m not sure they would’ve played as powerfully if it had remained that subtle on the screen. 

Michael Shannon’s dying lawman is right out of an Elmore Leonard or Cormac McCarthy novel, with a bit of Clint Eastwood.
I can’t recall if it was John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock or another director—maybe not Hitchcock because he didn’t have great respect for actors—who said a director’s job is 70 percent casting. Cast brilliant actors who you suspect are right for the role, then figure out their process and help them to their best performance. They want to shine on that screen, so then you’ve got to give them space to let them do that.
One thing I do, all the time, and especially with Amy in this part and certainly with Colin in A Single Man, is I don’t tell them that I’m going to not cut. I just keep the camera rolling and keep the crew quiet, and the actors kind of go, “F*ck, he’s not cutting. Sh*t.”
What do you get from extending the scene?
With a good actor, you end up getting authenticity. They’re forced to go into themselves. Amy especially, I’d just keep rolling until the film runs out. Colin’s crying scene. I just didn’t stop. So he had to keep going into himself, and finally, he just lost it.
That was memorable. It made us understand the weight of his loss.
Merrick Morton/Focus Features

When they think they’ve given their performance… I give them plenty of space and I think you have to trust them. You can’t get inside their bodies and make them do things. I’m also very calm. I’m not one of these directors who scream and yell and torture actors. I think I’m good with actors because I think I respect them
Firth seems a consummate pro, a good thing to have on a director’s first film. What did you learn from him?
That actors are your safety net and you must always only work with great actors. Even if the script is flawed, or your editing is flawed, you’ll get great performances. Work with great actors. 
Jake Gyllenhaal is a very masculine actor, who was totally emasculated on that Texas roadway in Nocturnal Animals…
And he struggled physically with his own personality not to jump in and be more physical. 
How do you help him check those instincts? That was a very difficult scene to sit through, a father’s worst nightmare. Trying to decide if these rednecks are harmless, or deadly. Do I make my stand right now, or endure their taunts until they go away? He makes all the wrong decisions and has to live with the aftermath.
And there are three of them and one of you, and two women, and do they have a gun? They’ve got crowbars. What’s going to happen? All I had to do was keeping reminding Jake who his character was. Purposefully, the character in the novel is meant to seem weak because in the outer world, that’s what Susan’s mother called Edward. But guess what? That’s the last thing Aaron says to him, “You’re too weak.” And that is what gets Tony to pull the trigger.
He does appear weak to us, but he was an honest guy who was blindsided. He’s on that roadside going, “Are they going to help us or not? F*ck, what do I do?” He has a blackout moment, which Edward also had too. He loved Susan, his soulmate. It never even occurs to him that she’s going to have an affair and leave him, let alone abort their child. So in the inner novel, the character has to seem weak and be blindsided, and then beat himself up about it, break down and finally pull himself together enough to blow that guy away when he calls him weak. 
It was hard for Jake, and it was very physical. Those guys really were grabbing, and you know Jake’s natural instinct would be to punch him. We had a running machine put in for Jake, and I’ll tell you, he did a lot of running while we shot those scenes, trying to get some of that physicality out.

Merrick Morton/Focus Features
It is not a picture postcard of Texas, the state where you grew up. Were there some memories that informed why you set it there?
The original story’s set in the Northeast, in pre-cell phone 1993. Now you would lock your car doors, call for help and we wouldn’t have a movie. It’s a bit of a fairytale, but I had to find a setting where there was a void; absolute emptiness. 
Having grown up in Texas until I was 11, I know that part of the world and what it feels and smells and sounds like. I don’t necessarily know those people, although I’ve seen them. I grew up in a nice middle-class family in Austin, Texas, which was very different than that.
My grandmother was closer to Susan’s mother; I remember my grandmother saying to my little sister, “If you don’t date poor boys, you won’t fall in love with poor boys, and if you don’t fall in love with a poor boy, you won’t marry a poor boy.” She thought that was an appropriate thing to say to a young girl.
Once I’d figured out to put Susan in this world, I wanted the gritty contrast of that other world, and so Susan and Jake are also both from Texas. I gave them that link, which doesn’t exist in the book. It just fits together though it’s hard to explain the writing process. 
Success in one creative business doesn’t always transfer to another. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly was an incredible film and you could see Julian Schnabel’s painting influences there. How helpful were your skill sets in creating and launching fashion lines in forging such a confident vision onscreen?
I had a point of view. You have to have that if you’re a painter, a sculptor or a fashion designer. And you have to have something to say and a point of view if you’re a filmmaker. I think I’m a good storyteller who for years told stories through fashion. Each collection tells a story, and has a lot more work behind it than maybe people understand or give us credit for. 

A mythology?
Well, even more than that. You know fashion designers are probably some of the greatest experts on film that you can imagine because every time we start to design a collection, that is an inspiration. I have built entire collections around Fassbinder’s Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant. We know film backwards and forwards, and images and sets and clothes and costumes and people and characters, and so we’re storytellers in that sense.
Merrick Morton/Focus Features 
But the real thing is that when you’re a creative director like I am, and you have a large company with hopefully, a point of view and something to say, you have to hire great people and know how to work with them. They have to be talented and you have to know how to inspire them and lead them and give them the space to create their very best. That’s exactly the same as making a film, where you’re pushing and leading gently towards your ultimate vision. The skill set is very much the same. 
I’ve also worked with Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel. I know how to frame. I know how to light, I’ve been doing that for years. Even technically, I understand a lot about that aspect as well. 
Ridley Scott once told me he can read a script and visually frame out every shot, while he’s doing it. His brain is just wired that way. His challenge became learning good storytelling because that was not his strong suit. You have the advantage of being a writer, as well. Where did that come from?
I have no idea. I always loved to write, as a kid, and in high school I won awards. But that doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be a screenwriter. I think I might have a hard time making a film I didn’t write because it’s so much part of the process of thinking about what I want to say, as the totality of the film. 
It’d be interesting to see if I could make a film from someone else’s script. I would have to rewrite it probably.
You went seven years between films, the way you do it. Weren’t there good scripts handed to you?
Lots. But I don’t like not being in control. So if it’s controlled by somebody else—if I don’t own the underlying material—I don’t even want to read the script. It doesn’t matter how enticing, who’s attached. I don’t want it. I can’t do it, so I have to develop it and find the right thing.
Merrick Morton/Focus Features
I’ve written two original screenplays. One’s terrible, one I might make next, we’ll see. It is extremely politically incorrect satire. In today’s world, I’m not sure satire means anything because what’s going on in our world is already satirical. 
The shocking election results have prompted speculation that this kind of hangover drove those ’70s films with themes of counterculture and paranoia. Maybe there is a place for what you’re talking about?
Without getting too much into politics. I wanted Hillary to win, I voted for Hillary, but there are enormous amount of people in our country who feel absolutely disenfranchised, left behind, who don’t have jobs, and feel that no one is speaking for them. From a Democrat side, I learned a lot and we have to address this. These people need jobs and hope. There’s always something to learn from everything. I know that I’m not necessarily addressing the point that you brought up but anyway. As for what’s next, I need some space. Promoting a film is exhausting. I finished editing, we went right to Venice two weeks later, and it’s been like that ever since. 

What was most gratifying about the reception and top prize in Venice?
Oh it meant so much to me, because I lived in Italy. I still have offices there and manufacture all my clothes in Italy. I have so many Italians that I work with. I was there, of course, with Colin for A Single Man when he won Best Actor. This prize meant an enormous amount to me, and I literally flew all the way back from New York to pick it up, and then went to Toronto. It really touched me.
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