Playing Mrs. Kingston

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I’m very pleased to introduce writer, television producer, film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral. Tony brings his extensive knowledge and love of Alfred Hitchcock’s work into play with his exciting new thriller novel, Playing Mrs. Kingston. Read along to discover more about this fascinating, versatile writer!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q: Tony, so many of today’s youth have no idea who Alfred Hitchcock was, or what he contributed to film. What would you like them to know about this iconic filmmaker and how his style is still being used today?

A: Alfred Hitchcock’s career spanned the history of cinema, beginning with silent films, to the invention of talkies with his film Blackmail (1929), through to the start of the modern horror slasher film with Psycho (1960). I would go as far as to say Hitchcock invented many aspects of film grammar. He was a great teacher, and inspired many other directors, producers and screenwriters. Today, filmmakers who are inspired by Hitchcock include Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Guillermo del Torro, and many more. I write about Hitchcock’s huge influence in my book Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass published by Michael Wiese Productions.

Q: As a great follower of Hitchcock, tell us how you’ve used his principles of suspense in this latest novel.

A: Hitchcock often outlined the difference between mystery and suspense. Mystery is an intellectual process like a whodunit. My novel Playing Mrs. Kingston is a murder mystery, but I made sure that it was much more than that and was full of suspense. Hitchcock said that suspense is an emotional process that makes the audience care about the characters and often cited the bomb under the table, which is about to go off. The audience knows about the bomb but the characters do not, and that’s where the suspense arises. I made sure that my readers rooted for the characters and that the story was full of suspenseful questions. Who killed Miles? Will Leiobesky expose Catriona? Will Mario go to jail?

Q: Everyone who has ever tried to accomplish something outside the norm has benefited from the support of a mentor(s), and although we know Hitchcock played a huge role in the direction you’ve taken with your books and movies, is there anyone else in your life who has significantly mentored you or contributed to your success? If so, who are they and why do you consider them instrumental to you and your work?

A: I would say F. Scott Fitzgerald is an enormously important writer in my work. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels. It is the perfect American novel, where the characters are in pursuit of the American dream, rather like my protagonists. Fitzgerald’s prose is so deceptively simple and elegant, and in the many party scenes in Playing Mrs. Kingston, I was inspired by Fitzgerald’s portrayal of rich and beautiful people full of money. I was also greatly influenced by Thomas Hardy as an impressionable teenager and love writing about irony and coincidence in the novel, such as characters being in the same place at the same time. Like when Catriona, her theatre boss Lowry, and the Inspector who is chasing her, are all at the Whitney Museum, and Catriona could be exposed at any time for not really being Mrs. Kingston.

Q: When writing a novel, what do you find is the most difficult area to tackle, the beginning, the middle, or the end, and why?

A: The middle, or the second act is the most challenging, because you have to sustain interest and motivate the reader to continue reading into the third act where the whole story moves towards and everything should start falling into place. The middle section can be very challenging for a writer, but it’s the heart of the novel, full of complications and problems for your characters. My background as a screenwriter helped me literally navigate the streets of New York when creating a road map for my characters through the second act.

Q: You wanted to write a novel that followed the Hitchcockian principles of suspense, but did you find implementing those principles more difficult than you expected, or did they come easily to you?

A: I would say it is harder because you’re creating suspense through language rather than visuals, so I relied on big set pieces when writing my scenes, often in everyday places where chaos could erupt at any moment. Hitchcock loved to set his characters in places like the Plaza Hotel or the United Nations Building, symbols of law and order, where the everyman is thrown into and murder literally takes place. So I set my novel in theatres, art galleries, museums, train stations, where extraordinary events happen in ordinary situations.

Q: You write Playing Mrs. Kingston from a female protagonist’s POV, as a male writer, can you share with us why, and were there any difficulties in sustaining this throughout the writing?

A: Again I was inspired by Hitchcock, who often rooted for the suffering heroine in his film. There’s a wide belief that he was misogynist, but he most definitely was not. He was deeply emphatic with feminine feeling. Some of his best films have strong female characters at the centre; consider Notorious, Vertigo, and Marnie. He loved women and identified with their plight in patriarchal society. Winston Graham, one of my favourite authors, wrote Marnie from a first person perspective. One female critic said it was the best book about a woman written by a man. I tried to follow this with Playing Mrs. Kingston, by identifying with Catriona as a role player who is determined to succeed in 1950s New York.

Q: You are clearly drawn to the dark underside of human psychology, as evidenced in your fascination with Hitchcock and your own novel, Playing Mrs. Kingston. Can you explain what draws you to that genre and why?

A: I have a zoology and psychology background, and I see things from the point of view of instinctual animal behaviour. All good writers are natural psychologists and question the why of human behaviour. Catriona is so driven toward her goals, I think she is motivated instinctually and doesn’t always make the best decisions in the long run, which is why she becomes embroiled in this extraordinary situation of pretending to be someone she is not.

Q: Do you ever get nervous about releasing a new project, or worry about reviews and critics? What do you do about it?

A: I don’t get too nervous. I’m a television producer and have been involved in the media all my working life. As long as I know that I’ve done the best job I can under the circumstances, then I am relatively satisfied.

Q: What are your thoughts on good and evil, and the complex human psyche?

A: Sometimes I’m very sad about human behaviour, and New York where I lived for several months, is full of lonely displaced people. I feel great empathy with minor characters in the book like Leiobesky, the Polish blackmailer, or even Singer, the Swiss bank manager. On the other hand, when I experience acts of random kindness from strangers, it affirms my belief that human beings can be wonderful. Ultimately, we are so precious and unique in the universe that we should really value each other more. We only have one life and should try to fulfill our potential to the maximum.

Q: Tony, you’ve done everything from film, to novel writing, to world travel, what inspires and drives you in each of these various directions?

A: The quest for new stories, sharing human experiences, empathy with my fellow human beings, and telling a good yarn, is what drives me.

Q: What surprising fact about yourself can you share with our readers that they couldn’t discover by reading your bio, books, or watching your films?

A: I’m very dichotomous. The great screenwriter, Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, once said that writing is a divorcement from life. I’ve sacrificed a large part of my life in the last few years in getting my books published. At the same time, like the characters in my novel, I love meeting people and going to parties and collecting stories to write about.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Another biography on Alfred Hitchcock, another novel about a girl who falls in love with a ghost, much more travel, and many great experiences.

 

Website: http://www.tonyleemoral.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TonyLeeMoral

Literary Agency website profile: http://www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com/authors/tony-lee-moral/

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s MovieMaking Master Class

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Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock may have left the building over 30 years ago but author Tony Lee Moral puts the legendary director/producer’s expertise at every reader’s fingertips in his new book, Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class. Moral’s admiration for his subject matter is no secret; this is, after all, the third book he has penned about the iconic Master of Suspense.

The amount of detailed research he has done is well evidenced and covers a career that spanned an enviable six decades. (Even though the book doesn’t come with a soundtrack, I’ve been unable to shake the TV show’s theme music out of my head ever since I finished reading it; during the late 50’s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the few shows I was allowed to stay up late and watch.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did the writing bug first bite you?

A: From a very early age, I’ve been writing ever since I started reading. I loved adventure stories as a child, particularly the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, such as The Three Investigators, and the Willard Price books. As a teenager, I wrote many short stories, and by the age of 16, had written my first novel (unpublished). Since then, I’ve written three non-fiction books and four novels. 

Q: How about the desire to become a producer/director?

A: Along with my interest in writing, I’ve always been interested in film, and first discovered Alfred Hitchcock at the age of 10 when I saw I Confess. I loved the moral dilemma faced by Montgomery Clift in the lead role and even at that age could recognize Hitchcock’s craftsmanship in storytelling. At college, I really immersed myself in Hitchcock’s Films. My first job after college was working for the BBC where I spent many years working myself up to being a Producer/Director. I’ve now been working in television for half my life and all my professional life.

Q: In addition to Hitchcock (obviously), who were some of the filmmakers that you would say had the most influence on the development of your own vision and style?

A: I would say Ingmar Bergman, Anthony Minghella, Yasujuri Ozu and Quentin Tarantino have been inspirational to me after Hitchcock. Some of my favourite films are Persona, The English Patient, Tokyo Story and Pulp Fiction.

Q: Inquiring minds want to know: What inspired you to write not just one but three books about Alfred Hitchcock?

A: Hitchcock’s films span the history of cinema, so for me, Hitchcock is cinema. After I wrote my first book on the making of Marnie, it seemed natural to follow it up with a book on the making of The Birds for the 50th anniversary this year. The Masterclass book came as an idea from MWP to encompass all of Hitchcock’s films and it’s very timely because the last year really has been the year of Hitchcock with all the biopics and Vertigo being voted number 1.

Q: What do you feel distinguishes Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class from other books on the market that have been written about him?

A: It’s like a manual or text book on how to make a movie in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, using his principles of suspense, mystery, counterpoint, contrast and putting the audience through it. It’s not a biography – though you learn a lot about Hitchcock the director along the way – and it’s not an academic book – but I think it’s insightful because it’s told through the voice of Hitchcock and his many collaborators, with some great anecdotes.

Q: What was your favorite chapter to write?

A: Interviewing the actors who worked with Hitchcock for Chapter 4, as I was able to interview screen legendaries such as Kim Novak, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint and Norman Lloyd. All wonderful and gracious human beings.

Q: Conversely, what was the most challenging section for you to pen?

A: I would say the first two chapters because it’s essential to hook and engage the reader so they want to keep on reading. I spent more time and effort on the opening chapters and rewrote them continually.

Q: Who were your favorite people to interview in the course of doing research?

A: I went to interview Norman Lloyd twice at his home in LA. He’s 98 years old, but very sharp and quick witted with an amazing memory. He truly is a classic and classy gentleman and as well as being an actor in Saboteur and Spellbound, he was a producer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series for 10 years.

Q: Hollywood has a propensity for cranking out prequels, sequels and remakes of successful films, and Hitchcock’s impressive body of work is no exception, In your opinion, what were the best and worst remakes of his most popular films? Which one has yet to be remade and who would comprise the dream cast to make it a success?

A: The worst remake was Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, because it’s foolhardy to replicate a classic even in the form of a homage, and the original cast is irreplaceable. I don’t think there is a best remake, but I’ll say Rear Window because of Christopher Reeves’ bravery to continue in film after his accident. I’d remake Strangers on a Train with Zachary Quinto and Henry Cavill in the lead roles.

Q: You’ve indicated that your appreciation of Hitchcock’s talent deepens every time you watch one of his films. What’s the latest thing you’ve discovered?

A: I recently interviewed the Assistant Director on Torn Curtain, one of Hitchcock’s lesser movies, who said that Hitchcock took great care to get realism in the reflection in the ship’s dining room window. I’ve never noticed that before which shows that even when working under less than full steam, Hitchcock paid attention to the smallest details.

Q: What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie?

A: I would say the definitive Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest because it has everything that you expect from his films, wit, polish, humour, panache, the wrongfully accused man, and Cary Grant’s star charisma and athleticism. My personal favourites are Vertigo and Marnie because of the psychology of the characters and what those films meant to Hitchcock.

Q: What’s your take on the way he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins?

A: I enjoyed Hitchcock the movie, I thought it was a humorous and affectionate portrayal and I didn’t feel that the movie was mean spirited. Obviously there were dramatic licenses taken by the film, and Hitchcock is an enormously complicated character to define, but Hopkins brought sympathy and comedy to the role.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with the late Master of Suspense, what question would you most like to ask him that could not have be answered by anyone who ever knew him?

A: I’m curious to why he was never able to repeat the success after Psycho. It seems that with that film’s monstrous success with the public and also financially, Hitchcock reached his creative peak and I’d like to know why he wasn’t able to top that.

Q: What’s your best advice to the next generation of screenwriters and filmmakers?

A: Know what the studios are looking for, watch a lot of films, develop your own voice, listen to people, work on distinctive dialogue. Nurture relationships as well as your talent. The best stories are out there and it’s all about finding them.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My fourth (and probably final) Hitchcock book on his reputation and how he is perceived over 30 years since his death. This is going to be very interesting and revealing and I’ve already gathered many interviews from people who haven’t spoken out before.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: My steps to a Hitchcock education are watch The 39 Steps, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

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Tony Lee Moral is a writer and award winning documentary film maker who has written three books on Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. He has produced and directed over a 100 hours of television for major broadcasters in the US and the UK, including behind the scenes documentaries on films and television.