Whether it’s on the runway or on the big screen, Tom Ford knows what he’s looking for.
So when casting his new film Nocturnal Animals, the acclaimed fashion designer-turned-director already had the perfect actress in mind to play its complicated lead. “Amy [Adams] was the very first person I cast,” Ford, 55, says during an appearance on The Jess Cagle Interview.
“She was absolutely who I wanted for that role from the very beginning because I wanted the character of Susan to be sympathetic,” he tells PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly‘s editorial director.
Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Ford’s thriller tells the story of a woman (played by Adams) who confronts the demons of her past while reading a dark novel written by her ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). As she gets deeper into its story, she wonders whether the tale actually might be a revenge fantasy that alludes to their painful real-life breakup.
One of the reasons he cast Adams, Ford explains, was to ensure that her flawed character would appear likable to moviegoers. “There is something in Amy’s eyes, in Amy’s face, you can’t not fall in love with Amy,” he says. “When you look in her eyes she’s able to project a soulfulness that makes you care about her.”
For more from Tom Ford, watch the full episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, available now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the PEN app on Apple TV, Roku Players, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, iOS and Android devices.
As for Gyllenhaal, Ford says he was attracted to the actor’s range. “I needed someone who could be believable as someone young and idealistic and fresh.” But later in the film, Gyllenhaal’s character becomes a “man who’s literally had everything taken away from him, who is completely destroyed,” Ford explains.
Nocturnal Animals opens in limited release Nov. 18, and nationwide Dec. 9.