"I'd been fascinated by the novel for a long time. I first read it in my twenties and it gave me the idea for this film. I've now been in a longtime relationship for 23 years [with journalist Richard Buckley]," says Ford, who is best known for his work at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. "I made some changes, but I've stayed pretty faithful to the book."
Not surprisingly, the film has already attracted attention for its visual flair. "I'm a designer, so I'm used to expressing myself with color. We began with a flat palette moving to a hyper-real look at the end to evoke a balance between his internal and external lives. So the shifts are both stylish and substantive."
As much as Ford focused on the film's look, he paid serious attention to his cast, notes Firth. "He set up a very strong controlled environment and then he let us go," says the actor, who has generated serious Oscar buzz for this performance. "He kept everything very simple. If he liked something you did, he left it alone. But he was in full charge all the time, so I knew by the way that Tom would sometimes say, 'That was great,' that we'd be shooting it again."
Was Firth at all self-conscious about the nudity required, especially in the film's opening underwater sequence? "I was only worried I might look fat," he says, "Tom handled that the same way he directed me. He said, 'You look great, pause, but if you want to have a trainer come to your home everyday, I'll pay for it!' So I made one final push in the war against gravity!" Firth adds with a grin.
A centerpiece of the film is George's relationship with Charley, his unhappy, alcoholic best friend, played by Moore. But this is not the kind of campy gay man-straight woman relationship made popular by Will and Grace. "It's a very deep and complex friendship," says Moore, whose own relationship with Ford goes back to 1998. "Tom made me a dress for the Academy Awards, when I was nominated for Boogie Nights. I just had my first child and I was still a little fat and I was all embarrassed, but he was so great. And then I didn't wear his dress, because my boobs were too big. And he said, 'it's just a dress.' So we became friends!"
Her participation in this film was both accidental and ordained. "I happened to walk by his table at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Ball, and I asked how he was coming along with the film I'd heard he was making," she remembers. "And then Tom said, 'Oh, I had you in mind when I wrote it and I want to send you a script.' So I read it and e-mailed him saying I'd love to do it, and he said, 'Is that all there is to it, really?'"