My most recent interview with Tara Moss appears in the current ‘special’ issue (Dec. ’09) of Two Wheels as the ‘What I’ve Learned’ regular feature. We discuss, amongst other things, lead character Makedde Vanderwall’s choice of ‘ride’ and the extent of ‘research' Tara does (being set on fire, being suffocated to unconsciousness…) in the name of her writing. It’s gonna make you want to head out and buy a copy of Tara’s newest best-seller, Siren.
The opportunity to conduct another interview with Tara Moss is one I’ll happily pursue. This time around, it was for the ‘In Da House’ column for FilmInk, in which celebs are asked about their film consumption on DVD and video.
Our conversation happened to take place during this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Tara, now based in Melbourne, was happy to report that she was thus an even busier model-turned-novelist than she was before; in addition to watching an average of four or more films a week, she was now seeing up to three stand-up shows a day. I hadn’t realised that along with horror, comedy has been her other life-long love.
Somewhere in the middle of all this comedy and cinema, Tara also had to make time for Makedde Vanderwall, the heroine forever haunted by serial killers in Moss’s novels. This was what she was trying to do when I contacted her for the interview.
“I’m in my running pants, sitting at my desk as we speak,” Tara told me over the phone. I had to fight the temptation to stop and contemplate whether she meant sleek tracky dacks or little shorts, since either fantasy would distract me from the interview, which, at the time, was distracting Tara from her writing. But the writing was the logical place to start. The transcript is much longer than what I could fit in the final ‘In Da House’ column, appearing any minute now in the June issue of FilmInk.
Demetrius Romeo: Tara, will there ever be a film based on any of your novels, and if there is, who would play Makedde Vanderwall?
TARA MOSS: There has been a lot of speculation over the years about who would be a good actress to play Makedde. There’s a whole section of my website where people have been writing in. I think Angelina Jolie is at the top of the polls at the moment just because she’s a beautiful woman and one that chooses very strong, independent and interesting roles. But she obviously did a serial killer thriller not too long ago so I don’t know if I’d be lucky enough to have her in the film of one of my novels. But one can only dream, I suppose.
It’s kind of a funny thing for novel writers because we, for the most part, write novels to be novels; we don’t write novels to be movies. It’s great that they can be translated and put into a different medium, but it’s not necessarily the most comforting thought, and I’m one of the writers out there who can honestly say I get really uneasy thinking about my books being made into films. I know it would be a great honour and it would be a really interesting experience, but it would also be a harrowing one because I like to control my little world within the books, and you lose that control when you hand over the rights.
Demetrius Romeo: When I read your novels, I can’t help but see you in the lead role.
TARA MOSS: If I could act, that would be great, but I have an aversion to acting. I’m really, really comfortable being myself and I’ve found that any time I’ve felt not quite right doing something, it’s usually because I’m having to speak someone else’s words for some reason.
Demetrius Romeo: Are you saying you don’t identify with your lead character?
TARA MOSS: I identify with her, but I’m not her. I think of her kind of as a sister. I do have a wonderful sister named Jacquie, but my fictional sister Makedde is someone I understand, and also someone who occasionally does things that I wouldn’t do myself. I think it’s important to have that separation between reality and fiction. Otherwise it would be very limiting from a writing perspective. Imagine every time you go to a keyboard thinking ‘what would I do?’ rather than ‘what would make for an interesting plot?’ I think it’s dangerous territory when you identify too closely to that character. With Makedde I did borrow a lot of autobiographical stuff; that’s clear. But I don’t think I’ve ever viewed her as me per se, rather as a character who I’d want to know, a character that I can understand intimately, which I think is a different thing.
Demetrius Romeo: Your husband Mark Pennell is a producer; doesn’t being married to a producer make getting a film made somewhat easier?
TARA MOSS: No, not really. In fact, if anything, it’s made me more wary of the film business than ever before just because I see the struggles he goes through with it. Mark is an Australian film producer and we know how the Australian film industry is at the moment. He’s worked on some international projects and he’s certainly working on some pretty incredible stuff at the moment, but again: danger zone! I already know my personality well enough to know that it would be difficult to let go of my books and let them become movies. I think it would be doubly difficult if the person making them is my own husband. Let me put it this way: I have a happy marriage at the moment and I don’t want that ever to change.
Demetrius Romeo: You’ve said that you see four movies a week, on average.
TARA MOSS: Yeah, I do. Sometimes more than that.
Demetrius Romeo: Is that in the cinema, on DVD or on cable?
TARA MOSS: It’s a combination of DVDs and going to the cinema. I don’t watch television much at all. I pretty much use the TV for DVD rental. I love going through DVD shops and finding the most obscure foreign films or art house films or b-grade films and finding something delightful and surprising in them, and I see probably about 80 percent of what comes out in theatres, so I’m frequently at movie theatres checking things out. I just love film. I think it’s a wonderful story-telling medium. Obviously, I prefer books. I don’t read all the time; I read a lot of the time. And when I’m not reading, I’m probably watching a movie somewhere.
Demetrius Romeo: Are there any cinematic genres that don’t interest you?
TARA MOSS: I suppose particularly sappy, romantic films don’t interest me a lot. I have a lot of fun watching something like Notting Hill, something that’s like a romantic comedy but is a little more clever; that’s great. This is going to sound really awful, but if people aren’t gonna die and there’s no conflict, I’m not very interested in watching. I know it’s a terrible thing to say!
Demetrius Romeo: You’ve expressed these sentiments before, when talking about your novels: you’re interested in characters taking control of the darkness, and have been since you were a kid reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.
TARA MOSS: I found Edward Gorey’s kind of delightfully morbid, black humour really fascinating at that age, and I think I still enjoy that. The types of books I sometimes like, like the types of movies I sometimes like, deal with really dark issues, sometimes with humour, and I think that’s the best way to deal with things we don’t understand or are afraid of.
Demetrius Romeo: You said that you like even b-grade films…
Demetrius Romeo: Give me an example of a so-bad-it’s-good treasure you’ve come across recently.
TARA MOSS: Recently I watched pretty much every zombie flick every made. I went on a zombie frenzy. I started having dreams that I was being chased by zombies, I was so immersed in them. I was watching three zombie films a day. Some of them were fantastic, but I can’t even remember the name of half of them because there were so many. But I watched all of the Night of the Living Dead series. Of course, Shaun of the Dead is fantastic fun, but that is recognized as being quite a brilliant comedy. But I think a lot of the ones that are panned as being ‘b-grade’ films are actually brilliant comedies in and of themselves. I find them quite amusing.
Demetrius Romeo: If you watch so many films, do you have time to go back and watch all the special features when you rent a DVD?
TARA MOSS: I often do look at a lot of the extras. For instance, I recently rented Anchor Man which I thought was hysterical, because I love Will Ferrell. I was on the floor laughing at all the outtakes and things like that. Sometimes I do quite enjoy the extras. But I don’t tend to listen to the directors’ commentaries because I don’t want to over-analyse stuff. Unless I’m aware that there’s a particular story behind some of the scenes, I won’t seek out the commentary as much as the documentary aspects of the extras. The documentary is more interesting to me than watching the film again with commentary over the top.
The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Graduate, which is one of my favourite films, was a wonderful edition that came out and had interviews with everyone now and their views on the movie at the time. To me that’s a bit more interesting, that documentary style. I like it because they gave some behind-the-scenes information about some really classic scenes. The one at the end when they’re in the church, and Katharine Ross is getting married to her man, Dustin Hoffman’s standing above where the ceremony is taking place, and he’s tapping on the glass – because he had his arms extended, it was thought to be somehow related to Christianity. Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman are saying, ‘well, actually, it was because they told us that if I tapped in the middle of the glass, it would break’. So since 1967 they’ve been analysing the Christian references at the end of The Graduate – which I think is just a classic! Those sorts of stories are the ones I like to hear because I do think there’s too much analysis of creative work, whether it be books or film. We stop enjoying things for what they are in order to search for ‘hidden meanings’ in things that sometimes don’t even have meanings.
Demetrius Romeo: Are there particular directors that you like?
TARA MOSS: I’m a big Tim Burton fan. I like his kooky sense of humour. I like David Lynch and Burton and these directors who create completely different worlds out of their own imagination. I love Quentin Tarantino. I also love the stuff that people pan: I loved the Lara Croft movies. I love a lot of films that people think are quite superficial. I like films for different reasons, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing Angelina Jolie swinging on a rope with a gun strapped to her leg, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing a subtle film like Sideways that’s a bit more gentle and a bit deeper and has some great comedic moments in it.
Demetrius Romeo: Are you much of a collector when it comes to films? Do you have to own them, or are you just happy to see them?
TARA MOSS: I have to own stuff. I have to own a lot of films.
Demetrius Romeo: What sort of stuff makes the Tara Moss collection?
TARA MOSS: The Graduate – 25th Anniversary Edition. I love Wes Anderson, so The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favourites. I love Bound with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, which I think is one of the most fabulous thrillers. A very sexy thriller!
A fabulous cheesy movie I recommend is called Ninja Killer. This is like a 70s Hong Kong action flick. If you’re used to b-grade movies, this is c-grade and it’s classic. The hair-dos, the outfits and the bad dubbing – it’s beautiful. It’s called Ninja Killer but there are no real ninja in it; it’s got a lot of people trying to pretend that they’re Bruce Lee, breaking up drug rings, with sideburns that could stop a truck.
Kill Bill Volume 1 – I don’t watch the whole thing over and over again, but I love the scenes in Japan, where Uma Thurman’s kicking butt! And I also love her short motorcycle scene in the yellow leather motorcycle suit so much that I went and had a red one made for myself. I have a red Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle and she’s riding a yellow Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle, so I thought it was very fitting. I also have films like Mystic River and The Thomas Crown Affair original, which is one of my favourite movies of all time – mostly because Steve McQueen is just a god! He’s such a ‘man’s man’ leading man. I love that really masculine leading man that we don’t see enough of these days. I also love The Getaway, even though there’s a lot of interaction between his character and that character of Ali MacGraw’s that’s now completely unacceptable. Thankfully. Feminism has come a bit further. Other than that, it’s a brilliant film, and very of it’s time. Blade Runner. Impossible to beat. It’s my favourite sci-fi genre movie.
Demetrius Romeo: Can the man’s man exist in a world where his woman isn’t so passive?
TARA MOSS: Absolutely. The man’s man can totally exist in today’s world now that women have power as well. I love powerful women. In fact, I like powerful women so much that I’m obsessed with actresses who starred in sometimes cheesy ‘powerful women’ roles. I love this current swing into female superheroes. I collect female action figures that all have a great deal of artillery and kick ass. But it doesn’t stop me from liking quite masculine characters. If a guy’s going to be a leading man, I don’t think he should spend more time looking in the mirror than I would. That should be the cut-off point right there.
Demetrius Romeo: Do you still have videos?
TARA MOSS: I do have some videos, but I don’t watch them very much, to be honest. I have The Shining, which is one of my favourite horror films, I only have on video so I’m planning on upgrading to a DVD version that hopefully has some very cool extras. The version I’ve got is a video, but it also has the documentary by Kubrick’s wife, about the making of the film, so it’s actually quite a good video. But it is a video; I’m sure they’ve got to be some updates since then. Kubrick was so before his time in terms of seeing a book like The Shining, seeing Steven King’s work, and seeing the primal way it taps into our sort of childhood fears, and treating that genre with respect. It’s one of those things I complain about often: just because something’s a horror story or a crime story or a serial killer story doesn’t mean you can’t treat it with respect and make it a really amazing piece of work, whether it be a book or a movie. I think there’s a lot of brilliance to be found in those genres, rather than just dismissing the genre because there are a lot of bad examples of it. There are a lot of brilliant examples of it, too. The Shining is one of those.
Demetrius Romeo: Do you think you’ll have a film script in you at some stage?
TARA MOSS: Not until I mature a bit more to be honest. Being a control freak, I’m very wary of the screenwriting process because it’s collaborative and the more I find out about the film business, the more I really don’t want to be in that position where I’m being told what to write and where the money matters so much that you have to make those compromises. Jeffery Deaver said something brilliant. He was asked how much he had to do with the making of the films of his books, such The Bone Collector. He said, “I have a lot to do with them; I cash the cheque”. I thought he was very wise: he’s a great writer, that’s what he does well; he was saving himself the frustration of actually trying to work with a whole load of people creating a film version of what he’s already done brilliantly as a book. Until I can separate myself a little bit more from my books, it would be a lot of frustration, and not the kind of frustration that pays off in the end. As we know, with the movie industry you can’t count on something being made or being successful or any of that. It’s a very difficult industry, and so, for the moment, I’m happy to stick to my writing.
I’m gonna use the wedding of model and author Tara Moss, which took place March 20 2004, as an excuse to post an interview I did with her some years ago.
When I was ‘the sole dedicated comedy journalist in Australia’ – a description coined and used by comedians rather than one I devised and applied to myself – I was frequently called upon to promote Theatresports. In case you don’t know, Theatresports is essentially a series of games designed to keep actors’ improvisation muscles supple, and, ideally, should be a means to an end. However, for most Theatresports practitioners, it is an end unto itself, a kind of cult practiced by zealous fundamentalists. Every few months there is a new season with a few variations to make it different enough from the last season so as (they imagine) to be interesting to the innocent by-stander. However, by far the most exciting night for the not-so-devout is the annual ‘Celebrity Theatresports’ match, often involving genuinely famous-ish people who have never played Theatresport before, as well as people who used to play long before they were famous (and, more often than not, who can’t quite understand how they could have gotten roped into it again).
Having been asked to write a story to promote the Celebrity Theatresports match taking place May 12 2001, I cast my eye over the press release and made a simple demand: I’d write yet another story on Theatresports only on the condition that I choose the ‘celebrity’ to base the story around, and that it be Tara Moss.
I figured that I get to occupy the same rarefied atmosphere as curvaceous blonde models so infrequently that actually getting to talk to one was ample reward – particularly when writing for the sheer love it, rather than for money. (The article was for one of those free and thus exploitative ‘street’ publications that don’t pay contributors.) The publicist of this particular Theatresports event promised to check with Moss as to her availability. And within no time at all, Tara sent me an e-mail.
At the time I had a full-time publications job that, in addition to whatever other perks it offered, subsidised the writing I used to do for said free and exploitative ‘street’ publications. Thus, things like doing interviews, handing them in on time and so on were usually postponed so as to prevent them encroaching upon the day job. However, Tara Moss's e-mail informed me that she’d only be available for half an hour in two hours’ time because she had to spend the rest of her week finishing the final draft of her next novel. Clearly, there was no further discussion to enter into except “thank you; I’ll be the Allen Guinsburg-alike with the big beard and glasses”.
“Who is Allen Guinsburg?” Tara wanted to know in her next e-mail, seconds later. I so hope I wasn’t arrogant and condescending when I replied something like “Jewish beat poet who wrote Howl.” Yet, in hindsight, I can’t imagine that I behaved any different to the way Sam Seaborn behaves in that Season Two episode of The West Wing – the one in which the gorgeous blonde Republican, Ainsley Hayes, whom everyone has already dismissed on the strength of her looks and her job, proceeds to kick Sam’s butt all over the place on national television. In other words, typical ‘pride before the fall’ behaviour. “Oh, you mean Alan Ginsberg,” Tara’s next e-mail informed me. Despite the fact that Tara Moss is originally of Canadian extraction (and nowadays a naturalised Aussie!) whenever I remember that e-mail, I hear it in Ainsley Hayes’s ‘Valley Girl’ accent. I continue to remind myself, quite aptly, never, ever to judge a book by its cover.
In the couple of hours I had before the interview, I checked out Tara Moss’s homepage. A good thing, too. In addition to a photo gallery, it offered as samples of her work a couple of short stories – Psycho Magnet and Know Your ABCs – which meant that, in addition to going in somewhat less than utterly arrogant, I could go in somewhat less than utterly ignorant. Despite – or rather, irrespective of – being exceptionally beautiful, Tara Moss is a great writer. I’m happy to say I learnt some valuable lessons about myself, my prejudices and my fears, through the process of meeting and interviewing her. For the sake of balance, and because this article tends to draw accusations of ‘going in soft’, I will only add, three years later, as Tara Moss prepares to launch her books in various non English-speaking countries around the world, that she isn’t as talented a Theatresports player as she is a writer, model, MC, ambassador etc. And yet she approached it, as she does all her activities, with great gusto.
This story first appeared in Revolver in May 2001.
Facing the Fear
“I’m not afraid to make an ass of myself,” declares the rather gorgeous Tara Moss. “I’ve already moved beyond that idea of wanting to be perfect in front of people. It means nothing to me.”
The erstwhile model turned author, public speaker, light entertainment personality, MC, journalist and, most recently, celebrity Theatresports player, would have a hard time appearing as anything other than perfect before most people. That is perhaps why, when she first dared span the cross-cultural divide from catwalk to – well, virtually every other facet of the media – there was the danger of her being lumped in the same category as every soapie star who thinks it is high time to release a CD. What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it? (See below for the answer.)
“Nobody believed I could write,” Tara admits. “They had no reason to because no-one had ever read my work.” That changed after Tara won first prize in the 1998 ‘Scarlet Stiletto Young Writer’s Competition’ with the story Psycho Magnet. Having loved “doing this thing called writing,” Tara explains that she was excited that “suddenly somebody else was acknowledging I might be good at it.” At the time, Moss was already three-quarters of the way through a novel. “I was writing it in my spare time, for me,” she says, “and no-one knew about it.” Before long five publishing houses were engaged in the bidding war that led to the 1999 publication of Fetish. It became a best seller. “This is dream-world stuff,” Tara confesses. “It just blew me out of the water.”
No surprises really, though. Prior to her modeling career, Tara was a prolific schoolgirl author. In addition to ‘novelettes’ written at age ten, Tara used to amuse classmates with horror stories inspired by Stephen King novels. Apparently, her friends looked forward to reading of their own “grizzly demise”. “They would suggest things,” Moss fondly recalls: “‘Run me over with the demonic car…’” This “childhood morbidity” still informs Moss’s writing; both Fetish and its soon-to-be-published sequel Split are serial killer whodunits that, as it happens, revolve around a supermodel psycho magnet. “It’s in our nature to want to get freaked out, to want to get scared by something,” Tara reasons. “I like to provide that through a novel.”
Moss did a staggering amount of research for Fetish: visiting the FBI Academy, reading case studies, interviewing police officers, and even befriending the world’s foremost forensic psychologist. “There are endless stories about what goes on,” she says. “Some of it is very disturbing, but some of it makes for compelling stories. I try to filter that into what I’m doing, both as a cautionary tale, and as an entertaining read.”
Moss also writes articles, having earned a Diploma in Journalism and joined various Writers’ Associations. “I find life fascinating,” she says, “and as a journalist you can go out and research life and write about it.” Tara’s other great love is public speaking, the “direct opposite” to writing. Working to a live audience, she says, is much more exhilarating than working to a moving camera. That she initially found the audience terrifying is precisely the reason why Tara pursued that vocation. “I wanted to conquer the fear,” she says.
Conquering fear is a constant theme in Moss’s work and she traces it back to her childhood. One of the books Tara loved as a child is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. “The important part about that book,” she explains, “is that the child befriended the monsters and then it was okay. First they were growling and scary, and the next thing you know he’s riding them around and having a great time.” Tara’s books are about “befriending darkness” and controlling it. “By putting it in my book, I control the ending. I give it a logic and I bring resolution.” For Tara it is important to “embrace the fear: Embrace it and learn to love it because then you become truly free.”
It is an interesting paradox that a person who has spent much of her life under bright lights and intense scrutiny should seek out darkness and fear in order to conquer it and hence be free. That she does so by writing stories and novels that, thus far, have featured main characters sharing her physical attributes and interests is an observation over which some other armchair (forensic) psychologist may ruminate. More important now is Moss’s involvement with Theatresports, for which she has undergone training both here and in Canada (place of origin of both Tara Moss and Theatresports). Thus far Tara has only performed in front of fellow students. However, her love of live audiences and her need to conquer fear has her primed for stage debut.
Having spent ten years being perceived “one-dimensionally on a page,” always having to be perfect to the point where any perceived blemish must be airbrushed out, Theatresports offers Tara the perfect antidote. “You’re out there, you’re naked, you’ve got nothing to go on,” she explains. “You’re just going ‘mold me, shape me, let’s have fun, tell me what we’re doing and I’ll get going.’ It’s fun and it’s freeing.” Although she takes life seriously, Tara’s approaches herself with a different attitude. “You’re just one little person on this planet for some brief little time, so just go out and enjoy it and have some fun.”
Postscript: The answer to ‘What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it (release CDs, become authors, etc)?’ is irrelevant. A better question is ‘What makes you think you can’t?’ It’s easy. If you don’t believe me see for yourself when the likes of Tara Moss, Rove McManus, Peter Berner, Steve Bastoni, Adam Spencer, Wil Anderson and Julia Zemiro, to name but several, partake in Celebrity Theatresports at the Enmore Theatre, Saturday 12th May.