*****BLOODY SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
Anne Rice’s Legacy
The late Anne Rice (1941-2021) upended the traditional vampire novel by telling the story from the bloodsucker’s perspective in her groundbreaking 1976 novel, “Interview with the Vampire.” The book was a sensation; breaking new ground in gothic horror and erotic fiction, with its pansexual creatures of the night serving as beautiful, youthful avatars for those readers who lived (or sought to live) outside of the narrow social/sexual parameters of that time.
Rice’s book would spawn many sequels and offshoots in what would eventually become the “Vampire Chronicles” series, which featured the characters of Lestat de Lioncourt, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Armand, Queen Akasha, Marius de Romanus, Daniel Molloy, the Talamasca agency, and so many others. Rice created an entire universe ‘of gods and monsters.’ Of the 15 or so books in the Vampire Chronicles, only two have been adapted into films so far (“Interview with the Vampire” “Queen of the Damned”), with critically mixed results. But Rice’s vampires changed the genre forever, and led to a later wave of sympathetic, brooding bloodsuckers, as seen in TV’s “Buffy”/”Angel,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood.” Rice’s influence in modern gothic/erotic horror is undeniable and considerable.
Note: The 2002 movie version of Rice’s “Queen of the Damned” (1988) also served as an abridged adaptation of “The Vampire Lestat” (1985).
“Interview with the Vampire” (1994)
The 1994 movie of “Interview with the Vampire” follows the book’s story of vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) relating his bicentennial life story to journalist Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) in a San Francisco hotel room over a long evening. In the tale, Louis recounts how Lestat de Lioncourt made him a vampire in 1791 New Orleans, rescuing him from suicidal despair by offering a new existence as an immortal creature of the night. Their codependent relationship was tumultuous, as Louis proved to be a reluctant pupil. That relationship was complicated by Lestat’s conversion of young orphan, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), who had none of Louis’s qualms regarding murder. Over the following decades, Claudia and Louis tire of Lestat’s dominance, and attempt to kill him, before fleeing to Europe. In France, Claudia is soon executed by a bizarre troupe of fellow vampires for the crime of killing one of their own. A heartbroken Louis returns to the States, where he finds a decrepit Lestat, still weakened, and unable to cope with the 20th century. A newly empowered Louis then leaves his former mentor. The movie’s ending abruptly departs from the book’s, with a comical encounter between Molloy and Lestat.
I’ve already extensively reviewed 1994’s film version of “Interview With The Vampire” in this column. In brief, the Neil Jordan-directed film of Anne Rice’s own screenplay was a commercial hit; delivering a more-or-less faithful adaptation of Rice’s book, despite some truncation. There was also some controversy surrounding the casting, particularly the central role of Lestat. Conceived by Rice as a tall, blond, aristocratic Frenchman-turned-vampire, American action movie star Tom Cruise was cast in the role, which led to some Rice fans boycotting the film. Even the author herself publicly denounced the choice. A preview screening of the movie compelled Rice to retract her earlier denouncement. For myself, I’ve grown to appreciate Cruise’s turn as Lestat; yes, he is miscast, but he gives the role his all. Cruise also brings a certain star power to the role that counterbalances Brad Pitt’s interminable melancholy. The movie is also aided by gorgeous production values, costumes, and a lush, gothic score by Elliot Goldenthal (complete with choir and harpsichord).
In my earlier review, I wrote “In attempting to adapt Anne Rice’s rich, layered novel into a profitable, A-list Hollywood blockbuster, this movie is quite possibly as good as it will ever get.” And as far as crowd-pleasing adaptations of Rice’s works go, I stand by that opinion.
“Interview…” Redux (2022)
AMC has now unveiled a new TV series based on “Interview with the Vampire”, the first in a string of new series set in Rice’s supernatural universe (“The Mayfair Witches” arrives in January). While not exactly a faithful adaptation of Rice’s book, producer/creator Rolin Jones (“Friday Night Lights,” “Boardwalk Empire”) has reimagined the source novel with a 21st century vibe, and some very different, yet equally valid choices.
The new series begins with bitter, sixty-something journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) in treatment for cancer, before being invited to Dubai by a vampire named Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), whom he interviewed in San Francisco, back in 1973. Louis wishes to amend his earlier, angrier account, which was met with great public skepticism when published. After arriving at Louis’s luxurious palatial home in Dubai, Daniel meets an eerily protective manservant, Rashid, before he reluctantly agrees to a second interview with Louis, setting the stage for him to retell his story. Dismissing his own 1973 account as a ‘fiction’ (I see what you did there, Rolin Jones…), Louis now spins a somewhat different take on those events. We then see Louis’s new origin story unfold; as a black, closeted gay man in early 20th century New Orleans, struggling for respectability as the proprietor of a high-end brothel/casino…
Note: Changing the race of Louis is an interesting new choice that yields unexpected depth, with Louis’ codependent relationship with Lestat serving as a possible metaphor for white slavers’ abusive hold over Black people in post-Civil War America.
Following the devastating suicide of his brother Paul, Louis goes all in on an offer of bloodsucking immortality, courtesy of tall, blond, handsome French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid). The two are soon involved in a dangerous liaison that alienates Louis from his large family, and other mortal ties. Their relationship began in a time when interracial romances were largely taboo, let alone openly gay ones. With the aristocratic Lestat’s encouragement, a shrewd Louis makes a few deals with the local gentry; thus, affording the two lovers some well-financed privacy and status. While Lestat uses their fragile immunity to prey on locals, reluctant vampire Louis refuses to kill humans for his supper—feasting on the blood of animals, instead. Louis and Lestat attempt to have an open relationship, which only deepens the divide between them.
Note: The new series is much more frank in depicting the gay relationship between Louis and pansexual Lestat, with no more need for coded language, or the quick cutaways from kisses that we saw in the 1994 movie. This is more in keeping with Rice’s LGBTQ-friendly novels. Despite their repressed 20th century setting, the relationship between Louis and Lestat is no longer coy or ambiguous.
That relationship is further strained when Louis heroically rescues an orphaned teenager named Claudia (Bailey Bass) from a massive fire (a danger even to a vampire, like himself). Lestat decides to turn the dying girl, and she awakens as a vampire with a teenager’s appetites and emotional turmoil. Lestat quickly regrets their decision to have a ‘daughter’, as she comes to loathe Lestat as well. Realizing she will never fully bloom into adulthood, the forever-14 year old Claudia goes on a rebellious campaign against her maker, exploiting Louis’ growing resentment with Lestat’s infidelity. Able to safely communicate telepathically with each other, Claudia and Louis plot to kill Lestat after a debauched Mardi Gras celebration where the vampires enjoy a final, open orgy of local blood. Leaving Lestat for dead in a trash heap, the two plan a new life for themselves, free of Lestat’s powerful control.
Note: The ultimate ‘coming out’ party…
The season ends with the revelation that present-day Louis’s associate “Rashid” is actually the 400-year old vampire Armand, who is able to bear sunlight, and is re-introduced by Louis to Daniel as “the love of my life.”
Note: The first loosely-adapted season of seven episodes ends roughly at the midway point of the book.
There are dozens of side characters in AMC’s new adaptation, but when you pare it down to the essentials, it’s still the story of a dysfunctional family; with parents Louis and Lestat, along with their daughter, Claudia. That family’s story is still being chronicled by the interviewer, Daniel Molloy. Louis’s assistant Rashid, who is actually the 400-year old vampire Armand, also promises to be a significant part of this family’s story when the series returns…
Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson)
Jacob Anderson plays the central character of Louis de Pointe du Lac, the generational inheritor of a plantation who’s parlayed his wealth into gambling and prostitution along the seedier parts of New Orleans, circa 1910 (Episode 1: “In Throes of Increasing Wonder…”). Struggling as both Black and gay, Louis keeps much of his true self private from his business associates and family, which is led my matriarch, Florence (Rae Dawn Chong). This is a radical departure from the book/movie’s version of Louis, who is a late 18th century plantation master himself, owning many slaves. Making Louis a Black man casts him in a more sympathetic light than his being slave owner might engender in a 21st century TV series. Changing the character’s background also gives his relationship with Lestat a sinister element of ‘white slaver’ dominance, as Lestat manipulates Louis through telepathy and mind games.
While the 1994 movie’s version of Louis was driven to deep melancholy by the loss of his wife and unborn child, the TV series goes back to the original source of Louis’s anguish; the death of his brother, Paul (Steven Norfleet). Clearly the 1994 movie’s dead wife and child were created to ‘butch up’ the character for mass audience consumption (1994 was pre-“Ellen” and pre-“Will & Grace”). However, the AMC series is freer to embrace Rice’s earlier LGBTQ characters as originally conceived. There no longer has to be a dead wife to drive Louis into despair; the death of his brother is enough to affect this more sensitive portrayal of the character. The exact cause of Paul’s suicide is never revealed, though he intimated earlier that he strongly disapproved of his older brother’s ‘lifestyle.’ This disapproval by his beloved brother is arguably the impetus of Louis’s guilt and later grief.
Note: If any reader experiences suicidal thoughts or other expressions of serious self-harm, please call the new Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 988.
Another element of the story greatly expanded upon in the roomier TV series is what happens to Louis’s family; particularly his sister, Grace (Kalyne Coleman). Grace soon notices bizarre things about her estranged brother, such as wearing sunglasses indoors to hide his now bright green eyes. Matriarch Florence believes her son is lost to a white devil—as embodied in the dashing, mercurial Frenchman with whom her son is cohabitating. Episode 2 (“…After the Phantoms of Your Former Self”) sees Louis looking after his baby nephew while overcome with bloodlust, leaving the audience (and interviewer Daniel Molloy) desperate to learn if he drank the infant’s blood. In Episode 4 (“…The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood with All a Child’s Demanding”) Louis becomes a father himself, when he and Lestat take in the freshly orphaned Claudia (Bailey Bass), before turning the teenage girl into a vampire herself.
The series also touches on domestic violence (Episodes 5 & 6; “A Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart”/”Like Angels Put in Hell by God”), as Louis is severely beaten, before Lestat flies him high into the night sky and drops him. A broken Louis falls to Earth like a meteor. We then see Louis’s agonizingly slow recovery, as Claudia nurses her ‘father’ back to health. We also see Lestat make numerous attempts to apologize, which are refused for many months, before Louis unwisely relents, and takes him back. Louis and Claudia ultimately take their revenge on the abusive Lestat following a Mardi Gras ball in Episode 7 (“The Thing Lay Still”). Their conspiracy to murder their maker is another major plot point from the book that should have critical consequences in the next season.
Note: If any reader has ever been battered by a spouse, family member, or loved one, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 800-799-7233. Help is available.
Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid)
Actor Sam Reid plays the devil in the story; the suave, blond Frenchman vampire, Lestat de Lioncourt, a former French nobleman who was turned by the vampire Magnus in the 18th century. Of all the reimagined characters in the AMC TV series adaptation, Reid’s Lestat is the closest to the book’s vision of the character; not merely in appearance, but in manner, as well. While Tom Cruise and even Stuart Townsend (“Queen of the Damned”) certainly gave the role their all, neither were as born to play this part as Sam Reid; it’s as though he walked right out of the pages of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The voice, the hair, the height, and even the French accent, which Reid perfected with coaching (as he revealed during last summer’s Comic Con San Diego panel).
Note: When I first heard the actor speak at San Diego Comic Con last summer (see: bottom of column), I just knew he was perfect for the role; an impression cemented as clips were then played from the series.
Given the changes made to the characters of Louis and Claudia, Lestat’s role is no longer just a seductive vampire; he’s taken on a sinister hint of white slaver, as well. Lestat keeps many of his powers a secret from Louis, in the eventual hopes that he can use them to further dominate his lover in arguments, or even in physical altercations (“A Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart”/”Like Angels Put in Hell by God”). Lestat’s ability to fly is not a surprise to earlier incarnations of Louis, as Lestat took Louis soaring into the night air during their first encounter in Rice’s book (and the 1994 film). That it’s revealed as a twist in the TV series makes it a way for Lestat to further manipulate those in his power. In that way, the evil Lestat himself now indirectly assumes the role of slave master that plantation owner Louis had in the book and 1994 movie.
Unlike the needier Lestat of the 1994 film, the TV version cheats on his lover Louis with a blues singer named Antoinette (Maura Grace Athari), whom Lestat swears he will stop seeing—and doesn’t. In fact, Lestat converts Antoinette into a vampire, as well; using her to spy on Louis and Claudia, as they conspired to kill him (“The Thing Lay Still”). Lestat uses Antoinette as he would use any resource. Antoinette’s musical talent may have intrigued Lestat, but ultimately she was simply a tool to be used, as needed. Lestat is the ultimate manipulator; this is something made clearer in the TV version. Following his being left for dead in the trash heap during the final episode (a departure from the book/film’s swamp), it’s obvious that the series hasn’t killed off its favorite devil–especially since Louis chose to leave him where he could live off rodents, and other vermin.
Note: As mentioned at San Diego Comic Con 2022, producer Rolin Jones is hoping to create an extended TV universe of Anne Rice’s books, with Rice’s “The Mayfair Witches” airing on AMC/AMC+ in January, as well as other future books in her Vampire Chronicles’ series. I would love to see Sam Reid as the rockstar version of his character in an adaptation of 1985’s “The Vampire Lestat,” which was partly adapted into 2002’s “Queen of the Damned” movie. “Queen of the Damned” was a deeply flawed film, but it had a kick-ass soundtrack, and an amazing titular performance by the late Aaliyah (1979-2001). With Lestat’s future as a rock god, it makes sense that he has an affinity for music, especially jazz and blues (rock’s ancestors).
Claudia (Bailey Bass)
Claudia (Bailey Bass) is changed quite a bit from Anne Rice’s original concept of the character. Originally created as an avatar for Rice’s own daughter, who died just shy of her 6th birthday in 1972, Claudia was to be a child forever frozen in time—aging only in spirit, not body. The 1994 movie cast then 11 year-old Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, aging her up only a few years, since no five or six year-old child actor could’ve been called upon to do the things Claudia is forced to do in the film. The TV series goes even safer by making Claudia a 14 year-old teenager, and casting then 18-year old Bailey Bass in the role. Claudia’s lineage is also changed, so that she better reflects her adoptive parents. This means she faces the same sorts of systematized racism that Louis now encounters, making it an element of added hardship through which they bond. Claudia and Louis’s mutual telepathy is something else uniquely shared between them.
Note: In real life, actors Bailey Bass Jacob Anderson also share the same birthday; June 18th. Bass is also appearing in James Cameron’s upcoming “Avatar” sequel, “The Way of Water” (2022).
Scaling up Claudia’s age also opens new avenues of creative experimentation for the TV series as well. Claudia, trapped in perpetual adolescence, also has a young woman’s sexual desire, which drives her to seek a mortal boyfriend with mortal Charlie (Xavier Mills), as seen in Episode 4 (“…The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood with All a Child’s Demanding”). She seduces Charlie by lying about her age—both in years and appearance. During a particularly heated makeout session in Charlie’s car, Claudia loses control, and accidentally kills the young man. The body is then brought home, where it is burned in the family’s convenient incinerator—which they use to dispose of their many anonymous victims. While many other victims of theirs have been disposed of this way, Claudia is heartbroken over this one. Lestat callously dismisses Claudia’s pain over Charlie’s death as whimpering foolishness.
In frustration over Lestat’s cold-heartedness, Claudia runs away from home (Episode 5: “A Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart”), where she is bullied by college kids before being rescued by a motorcycle-riding vampire named Bruce (Damon Daunno). At first, Bruce seems to be Claudia’s knight in shining leather, until he does something so unspeakable to her that it’s ripped from the pages of her diary to prevent Daniel Molloy from chronicling it, as he peruses the various archive materials arranged for him to study by Louis’ ‘assistant’, Rashid (Assad Zaman). Whatever happened to Claudia that night remains a mystery. Claudia’s experience in the ‘real world’ leaves her so shaken that she runs home to her vampire parents—a preferable situation to what she encountered during her years away.
Note: Not to dismiss the performance of Bailey Bass, who has a beaming smile and great personal charm, but the character, as reimagined for the series, lacks the unearthly eeriness of young Kirsten Dunst’s almost doll-like manner from the 1994 film. This is a criticism of the character as reimagined for this series, not a reflection on Bass’s considerable acting talent.
Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian)
Perhaps the character who’s undergone the most radical transformation is that of the journalist Daniel Molloy, who’s played by longtime character actor Eric Bogosian (“Talk Radio”). The character in Rice’s original book was a young man only referred to as “the boy.” He wasn’t given a full name until later in the book series. In the TV series’ reimagined mythology, we infer that Daniel’s 1973 interview with Louis was the basis for the original book, making this TV series a quasi-sequel, with the cancer-stricken older man flying to Dubai to get the real story.
While the new version of Daniel can hardly be referred to as ‘the boy’, we do see him undergoing chemotherapy in Episode 6 (“Like Angels Put in Hell by God”), and dreaming of his younger self (Luke Brandon Field) meeting an afro-wearing Louis at a San Francisco gay bar (“Mary’s”) in 1973. In the dream, Daniel also sees the impossibly familiar face of Rashid, Louis’s present-day assistant in Dubai (more on that in a minute). With Louis wishing to set the record straight this time, Daniel is allowed full access to Louis’s archives, including Claudia’s diary (save a few carefully discarded pages) and even an old phonograph of Lestat singing.
Note: Bogosian adds a healthy dose of cynicism, challenging Louis on many points, especially when his new story contradicts his prior account. In that way, the new Daniel serves as an avatar for older Anne Rice fans who are reluctant to embrace this new reimagining. It’s up to present-day Louis to convince Daniel (and reluctant Anne Rice fans) of his new account’s validity—a clever way for this series to have its cake and eat it, too. Some of the dialogue from the 1973 flashback sequence is straight from Rice’s novel, as well (“I have an accent?”).
Rashid/Armand (Assad Zaman)
As stated earlier, Season 1 ends with the revelation that Louis’s personal assistant Rashid (Assad Zaman) is actually the 400-year old vampire, Armand, as seen in both the original book, and many others in the Vampire Chronicles series, including “The Vampire Armand” (1998). If the series continues to incorporate the essential beats of Rice’s stories into its new lore, then Armand will be very important in the next batch of episodes. Armand’s theater troupe of vampires in Paris are the very same vampires who later execute Claudia, and send a grieving Louis back to the United States…if that timeline from the book (and 1994 movie) is followed, of course. Creator/producer Rolin Jones may surprise us yet again.
Note: Armand was born in 15th century Eastern Europe, under the name Andrei, and was mentored by the ancient vampire Marius (who sired Lestat in 2002’s movie of “Queen of the Damned”), where he adopted the name Amadeo. That Armand now becomes the love of Louis’s life in the present day is new, since Armand originally ended up as journalist Daniel’s lover in the Vampire Chronicles books. Armand also converts a dying Daniel into vampirism in “The Vampire Lestat.” Assuming none of that is written in stone anymore, Armand’s future in the TV series’ new mythology remains a mystery for the time being. We’ll see…
Summing It Up
This much-altered adaptation retains many essential beats of Rice’s story; with its first season ending roughly midway through the book, following the attempted murder of Lestat. There are a lot of added subplots involving Louis’ family, local politicians, and greedy businessmen, as well as Lestat’s affair with a female blues singer he keeps on the side, but the essentials of Rice’s story are still there–albeit in a more crowded milieu. Like most streaming series these days, there is a lot of unnecessary padding in the season’s midsection, along with many new and occasionally unnecessary characters. All of this extraneous material sometimes left me sometimes missing the brevity of the 1994 feature film. That said, the thicker midsection does give the new interpretation greater breathing room.
While there are major liberties taken with the specifics of the book, its core story of a dysfunctional vampire family survives as well. There are also numerous allusions to future Vampire Chronicles books (“those who must be kept”) that, at times, reminded me of the Marvel cinematic universe (which also departed from its comic book roots; with equally intriguing, creative liberties taken, as well). Advancing the story ahead to 20th century New Orleans was certainly a bold choice. It also prevents the series from feeling too much like a repeat of the 1994 movie. That said, the series’ well-appointed early 20th century sets sometimes look a little flat, and even artificial at times, lacking the almost “Barry Lyndon”-like textures of the earlier movie. It’s a real shame they couldn’t shoot this series on 35mm film…
On the plus side, the changing of races (and ages) with some characters adds a new dimension and fresh perspective—arguably the best reasons for a remake. Reimagining Louis as a black vampire struggling with systemic racism and homophobia in the 20th century is interesting enough, but Jacob Anderson’s interpretation is also sharper, angrier, and better-defined than the more melancholy Brad Pitt version. Anderson’s cohort, Sam Reid, also makes for an absolutely perfect Lestat; he looks, sounds and feels like he leaped right from the pages of Rice’s novel. Bailey Bass’ older Claudia is also very well-played, though she lacks Kirsten Dunst’s disturbingly doll-like visage. Eric Bogosian’s Daniel is very…well, Eric Bogosian. He delivers as advertised.
If you’re looking for a rote-faithful adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel? This is not it, and I suspect that will never happen. Time only goes forward, not backward. However, with a unique spin on the material, strong performances, and the creative freedom to properly tell its own version of this story, AMC’s “Interview with the Vampire” offers something of value to fans with an open mind toward different approaches.
To quote Claudia, “I want more.”
“Fangs for the Memories”; San Diego Comic Con 2022
This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend San Diego Comic Con 2022, and one of the events I was determined to see was the Ballroom 20 panel for AMC’s “Interview with the Vampire.” At that time, I’d deliberately avoided information on the new adaptation, though I’d heard (almost unavoidably) that several of the roles were being more inclusively cast (always a plus, in my book). After carefully moving up as close to the stage as I could in the huge venue (15th row), the panel began. In attendance were stars Sam Reid, Jacob Anderson, Bailey Bass, Eric Bogosian, producer Rolin Jones, and production designer Mara LePere-Schloop.
The cast and production team dropped some juicy spoilers; the nature of Louis and Lestat’s relationship would be much less coy than the 1994 film, and Louis’ new race would play a part in the story, as well. Producer/creator Rolin Jones also said that Eric Bogosian would be playing an older version of Daniel Molloy, and that they were advancing Louis’ origin story to the early 20th century. They screened a few minutes of footage, including a scene from the first episode, where Lestat begins exerting telepathic influence over a not-yet-turned Louis. While I enjoyed Anne Rice’s early Vampire Chronicles books (I’ve only read the first five or so), and would’ve loved to have seen them faithfully adapted for the screen someday, I was definitely curious.
All in all, it was an enjoyable panel. Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson were compelling personalities, and Bailey Bass’ sunny disposition could light up the auditorium. The series’ new approach to the material was intriguing, even if it meant my old dream of an expanded, faithful TV miniseries of the book was officially put to rest. However, this new version takes nothing away from any prior book or medium … it only offers a fresh spin.
Where To Watch
“Interview with the Vampire” is available to stream on AMC+ and on cable via AMC network. AMC+ subscribers will get new episodes a week early. The 1994 movie is available to stream on PrimeVideo, Roku, AppleTV and for rental/purchase on YouTube (prices vary); it is also available for purchase on physical media from Warner Home Video via Amazon.com and other retailers (prices vary). The first season of 7 episodes have already aired, with a second season coming next year in late 2023 or early 2024.