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Interview: How Aaron Taylor-Johnson Became a Nocturnal Animal for His Latest Role

Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford’s second film, stars Amy Adams as Susan, a gallery owner who is sent a manuscript by her ex-husband Tony, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The book her ex written is dedicated to Susan. She reads about a man who takes his family on a road trip that swerves into a violent nightmare. As Susan turns the pages, she begins to feel paranoid that the eerily familiar story is somehow a veiled threat.

Let’s make it clear at the outset that Tom Ford’s success with A Single Man was not a one hit wonder. His second effort is a dark, daring, bold and dashingly beautiful film with many complex layers. Everything from the costumes to the cinematography and Abel Korzeniowski’s score combine in a bold, sensuous and beautiful film.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a terrifying villain in the film. I recently caught up with him for a quick chinwag. As Brits, we talk about where one can find a good curry in this California town and other British interests we share. But of course our main purpose was to talk about his latest role in Nocturnal Animals. Taylor-Johnson has played a Marvel superhero, he’s Kicked-Ass, he appeared in Godzilla and Anna Karenina. Nocturnal Animal’s provides probably his darkest role yet. He spent three months researching the dark serial killers and psychos of the world to transform into the redneck Ray Marcus.

Awards Daily: Your character in this film is quite memorable isn’t he?

Aaron Taylor-Johnson: He’s a creep isn’t he?

AD: He totally is. There are so many things I have to say about him. Where did you go for him because he’s not your everyday, average guy?

ATJ: Well we’ll put some of it on Tom (Ford) [laughs] as we collaborated really. It really did come from discussions from him. He had a real idea of what he wanted to see. He wanted someone elaborate and big, very charming, with sex appeal, and this undertone of unpredictability which is the feeling of where the fear comes from. You can’t get a hold of him and what he’s going to do next, and Tom was able to play with that throughout.

I spent three months researching and studying serial killers and psychopaths, Ted Bundy, The Jinx was out. Charles Manson. I didn’t sleep for three months straight and was a creature of the night.

Considering it was Nocturnal Animals, it was fitting really. It was pretty dark, I had a presence and aura that wasn’t very nice. I wasn’t very approachable. I was smoking, drinking, and I lost weight. I was toxic from the inside out and it was very disgusting. My wife was very pleased when he left.

AD: I was going to say, you play someone so dark and Tom yells cut. What next?

ATJ: Here’s the thing, making most films I would usually go home, but for this I stayed out in a motel in the Mojave Desert. I’d sleep through the day, and come out at night. I didn’t take that back with me. It was disturbing and not very pleasant at all. It was very intense.

AD: What other physical transformation did you have to go through because Tom is very detailed with his films?

ATJ: He is extremely detailed and he has a beautiful eye for that. It’s really nice to do that with a director. He has patience, a passion and I feel he cares more than most directors. There was a real back story. The fact that there was a toilet scene. It wasn’t in the script, and I think maybe he’s a plumber and he’s got this toilet outside that adds to his arrogance and cockiness and his ego. The green cowboy boots are something else. I used to call them my “Friday night going out boots.” He’s ready to go from bar to bar and drink.

A lot of these serial killers would keep a souvenir from their victims, I mentioned it to Tom, and we were on the same wavelength and I thought about wearing this plastic heart ring that you’d find in a kid’s magazine, but it was creepy as fuck. Tom said, to grow my nails out, the hair, and I slimmed out by losing 20 pounds in weight.

AD: You mentioned the toilet scene. What’s going through your head in that moment and when Tom says we’re going to do this scene?

ATJ: I just laughed, me completely naked on a toilet.

AD: Taking a shit none the less.

ATJ: He said, he had this great idea, your guy is a plumber with this toilet outside, and you’re taking this shit when they find you. I thought, cool. I was stark naked. He said, “I think you’re on the toilet, drinking a beer?” And I said, “Maybe I’m smoking a cigarette, so when they come along, I’m going to put it out between my bollocks or put it out in the toilet. Or spit.”

I didn’t think it all the way through because I went to wipe my ass. He said, “What are you doing? I don’t want to see that.” I told him, “Well, I’ve just taken a shit. I can’t not wipe my arse.” So we did it, it got kept in.

The funny thing is, a few takes in, this toilet has a few bundles of toilet paper in it, and I’ve lit this cigarette and I flick it between my legs, and I start feeling this burning smell and I felt the heat. I leaped off it, and almost set myself alight, and set a fire between my ass. There was no water in there obviously.

AD: You’re a Brit, how on earth did you play redneck so well?

ATJ: I’ve been to Austin, Texas. I spent time with a dialect coach. I was drilling it and staying with it. Acting for me is something where I want to build the voice, the look and the emotion. They all need time and preparation. I had put a few months in before.

AD: What did you think the first time you saw it on screen for the first time?

ATJ: It was beautifully shot. Seamus McGravey did a great job. It’s beautifully lit, it’s cinematic and artistic, and that comes down to Tom and Seamus and the contrast between Susan’s stark, sterile world compared to the elaborate dark thriller of the book. It’s incredible.

I was taken aback by some of the things I did. I thought, “Jesus Christ!” I looked at my wife and apologized.

Amy is mind-blowing and Jake is exceptional. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is with Laura Linney and Amy, and that scene popped out, and I thought, “Holy crap that’s a beautiful scene.”
The dialogue scenes with Amy and Laura, and Amy and Jake were just beautiful and natural.
Is there anything Tom can’t do?

AD: As it’s Halloween and you play a psycho, who are some of your favorite scary characters?

ATJ: DeNiro from Taxi Driver, and Jack Nicholson from The Shining.



Nocturnal Animals is released on November 23