When it comes to a movie adaptation of a book, the source material can be an incredibly valuable resource for an actor. After all, a 400-500-page novel has a lot more real estate for deeper characterization and exploration than a 120-page screenplay, and it can help explain certain decisions that may appear unclear on the surface to a performer. This, however, wasn't a part of Jake Gyllenhaal's experience making Nocturnal Animals, as the star was actually told by writer/director Tom Ford to stay away from Austin Wright's 1993 novel, Tony and Susan, and instead simply focus on the filmmaker's script.
After having seen Nocturnal Animals earlier this month, I brought up the subject of the source material when I sat down with Jake Gyllenhaal at the film's Los Angeles press day. Given the specificity of vision on display from Tom Ford in the movie, and the particular changes made from author Austin Wright's work, I asked the filmmaker how he was able to use the novel as a resource. His answer? He didn't! He explained,
It was forbidden to go read the book. He said very specifically that he didn't want me to read the book. And, you know, I'm always looking for whatever I can, clues, wherever I can -- particularly if there's source material it's great. Sometimes, actually, it can be more confusing, and it's better to search out in the real world and to make it your own, and to not bring any preconceived idea from something else. Books are abstract. But he did not want us to read -- or he didn't want me to read the book.
Watching the film and understanding Jake Gyllenhaal's character, one can kind of comprehend why Tom Ford would want complete creative control of the actor's understanding of the role. Nocturnal Animals is far from a straight-forward narrative, as Gyllenhaal plays two roles in the movie: one a scorned author who sees his relationship come to a crushing end, and the second a fictional representation of the author in a book that functions as a metaphor for the aforementioned relationship. One could make the argument that this kind of complexity ultimately demands a clear vision, thus the desire for Gyllenhaal to only focus on the screenplay and not the novel.
You can watch Jake Gyllenhaal talk about working with Tom Ford and the decision to not read Nocturnal Animal's source material in the video below:__
Nocturnal Animals is in limited release starting this Friday, November 18th, but if it's playing at a movie theater near you, it's one that you should hunt down. In the meantime, stay tuned for more from our interviews with the film's stars!