The Outfit director Graham Moore says the idea of never leaving the Chicago tailor shop run by the Mark Rylance character, Leonard, started out as “a lark.”
“Let’s just try doing a draft or so where we never leave the shop and see what happens,” he recalls telling his co-writer, Jonathan McClain.
Moore often uses such “odd experiments, to see what they’ll shake loose,” he says, adding, “most of them are terrible. But sometimes they’re interesting.”
In this instance, the writing duo found that confining the location of the 1950s crime drama was helpful to understanding Rylance’s Leonard — “because he never leaves the shop,” Moore says.
Leonard is “a hermit who’s locked himself away in this space, just trying to make these beautiful clothes,” he continues. “He’s hoping to shut the door and pretend that the violence, the nastiness, the horrors of the outside world aren’t there. … And what he’s going to find out over the course of the story is that that doesn’t work. The violence of the outside world is going to come knocking on your door one day.”
Most of the film takes place over one long night, after a Leonard answers a buzz at the front door. A few of his mobster clients are in peril.
Moore has written historical novels like The Last Days of Night, which tracks the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. He also won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for 2014’s The Imitation Game, which is based on the true story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing.
He sticks to adapting or reimagining true events because “in large part, I’m simply not that creative,” he says.
His approach has its benefits.
“I feel like I have this huge leg up in that someone has already done the first draft for me. I can just read about what actually happened and go, OK, that’s an interesting first draft,” he says.
Although The Outfit is entirely fictional, the idea originated when Moore and McClain learned that the first electronic bug ever planted by the FBI was inside a tailor shop in Chicago in 1956.
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“There was this real moment in the ’50s, where bugging technology was very new. The FBI was going very hard against the big mobs and criminal organizations. One of the best ways to get at these top gangsters was to get at them through the people who made their clothes — that seemed so unique and instantly fascinating to us.”
In one fun moment in The Outfit, ambitious mobster Francis (Johnny Flynn) explains to Leonard just what a “bug” is.
“It’s funny to think now, that we’re so used to constantly being recorded. Every bit of video or audio — everything we ever say and do is recorded. But in the ’50s, that idea was shocking, the idea that you could surreptitiously record someone’s conversation, and that that could go to the police. No one had ever done that before,” Moore says.
The Outfit, co-written and directed by Graham Moore, opens in theaters tomorrow, from Focus Features.
Main image: Zoey Deutch and Mark Rylance in The Outfit, from Graham Moore. Photos courtesy of Focus Features.