Marie Claire chats to Colin Firth about A Single Man, his Oscar hopes and what it's like to work with Tom Ford
Colin Firth’s new film, A Single Man, has caused a real stir in Hollywood. Directed by former Gucci designer Tom Ford, it charts the journey of a gay English professor struggling to come to terms with the death of his lover.
Marie Claire caught up with the man himself – who was looking incredibly dapper in a Tom Ford suit – to talk about the new film, his Oscar hopes, and why he might just have to think about Mama Mia 2.
You’re wearing Tom Ford today, do you have a wardrobe full of his clothes?
No, not full. I think given the cost of them – even for him – I don’t think anyone would have a full wardrobe of Tom Ford.
In the film, the main character George is always dressed immaculately. Have any of his habits rubbed off on you?
I don’t think so. I did think there was something wonderful about it, but with George the way he dresses is a sign of desperation. I kind of wish I could open this drawer and see all those shirts – everything immaculately starched and pressed – but I just couldn’t keep it up.
Do you think that’s what Tom Ford’s home is like?
I know what Tom Ford’s home is like! It’s everything you would imagine really. Very elegant and uncomplicated.
We best know Tom Ford a fashion icon – what was he like as a director?
One of the great gifts that Tom has, is that he creates the illusion that you have all the time in the world. This film was shot in 21 days, so there’s no reason why we should feel a sense of space at all, really, it should have been hasty and fraught and panic stricken. He’s a micromanager of things, but he doesn’t mess around editorialising and changing camera positions. He’s just saying, ‘I want what you can give me.’
Was he very hands on?
Tom was not an interfering director. He didn’t say, ‘I don’t like that do it again,’ I don’t think ever. He would say, ‘That was great,’ if he liked it. And if he didn’t like it, he would say, ‘That was great,’ and you’d think, ‘OK, we need to do this again.’ He was so patient in letting everything take its course. In one shot I was sitting in a chair with the camera in front of me, and I take a phone call. But once I put the phone down and Tom didn’t say cut, and I stayed there until the magazine ran out. I went into the other room and Tom just said, ‘Could you do that again,’ and we did that three times. He created a lot of space to work with.
As this is Tom’s first film, he had to fund it himself. Were you worried about how it would turn out?
It definitely had its doubters. Some of the people advising me were very keen for me not to do it, in fact adamant that I shouldn’t do it, that it was a very dangerous thing to take on. Everyone would notice this film, and if it was a catastrophe it would be a very, very noticeable one.
But people actually took the project very seriously
I think the prevailing feeling was that people were taking the project very seriously. Tom’s not the only first-time director I’ve worked with – I’ve probably worked with a hundred. Some of them were brilliant, some of them were competent, and some of them were terrible, but Tom had enough going for him not to be treated as a complete novice. There were a handful of sceptics who were concerned it was going to be a fashion designer’s vanity project. You know, you’ll have big parties at the festivals and everyone’s going to show up, and it’ll just be one big embarrassment. But I phoned the people who represent me in the States, and they said it was being taken very seriously. And then there was the material, which was testament to that too.
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In the film you played the role of George, a gay English professor.
Did you draw any inspiration from anyone you’ve known or family members? Just because you were playing a man of that generation, nothing to do with the fact that he’s gay. You know, I thought of my dad a little bit, who’s not gay, and he’s not of that generation actually. And not because my dad’s suicidal or depressed of grief stricken or any of that. George just has a sort of thoughtful dignity that my father has, and it didn’t really occur to me until some months afterwards that that might have resonated really. It wasn’t a thought, basing it on him.
It’s set in the 60s – do you think the idea of the gay couple it depicts is very modern?
No I don’t think it’s that modern. Quite frankly I think there was a very alive living and breathing bohemia certainly in LA in that time. Isherwood [the author] writes in an extremely modern way about being gay. He doesn’t really write about being gay in fact. That’s what’s so modern about it. He didn’t make a point of it, he just allowed his characters to have male lovers in a way which almost seemed mainstream. This was at a time when it must have been very, very difficult.
The film’s had such great reception at the festivals. With Oscar nominations around the corner, how do you feel about other potential awards?
Well it’s very difficult to ask a question about how you feel about any of those things. I don’t think I’m ever really sure how I feel about things until I feel disappointed. The festival in Venice was in some ways the best moment, because there were no expectations and there was no buzz about anything. We just went to a festival, which – it’s Venice, there’s got to be something special about it, and my wife’s Italian, so it was a great moment in lots of ways – and, we showed it for the first time and we got lots of warmth. I remember thinking, ‘It can’t feel better than this really.’
And just finally, Pierce Brosnan’s mentioned the idea of Mama Mia 2. What are your feelings about that? Would you be willing to sign on if they said yes?
He mentioned it did he? He’s going to need the work! [Joking]. I don’t know, I’ve heard such conflicting things about it. I don’t want to spend my life in sequels and franchises and things like that. But I’d certainly get back with that group of people in a second.
A Single Man is released on 12 February.