Lestat and Louis return in an excellent tv series that both honors and builds on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.
When I got to my first advanced writing course in college, our professor, a large woman with a positively terrifying intellect, asked us all to tell the rest of the class what our favorite book was. I, at barely 19, told a room full of adults that I loved the writings of Anne Rice more than anything. I’d read and reread The Vampire Chronicles many times since I was fifteen, and the Lives of the Mayfair Witches since I was twelve. To say these books had a significant impact on my adolescence and young adulthood is an understatement. In those pre-internet days, I’d satisfied my love of storytelling by filling entire notebooks with my Anne Riceaverse Fan Fiction. It’s what made me want to be a writer. So you can imagine how mortified I was when Professor Arl, barely holding back an eye roll, told me that, yes, Anne Rice was very popular with teenage girls but was—at best—escapist beach reading.
Devastating as this was, the moment marked my entering my thankfully short-lived “not like other girls” era. It wasn’t until another problematic vampire series—Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight—came along that I finally understood that some things are mocked for the simple fact that they are enjoyed predominantly by young women. And while I’m not out here out and proud for Twilight (too Mormon), Cullen fever did give me the chance to free myself from that way of thinking, and to return to a long-eschewed love: The Vampire Chronicles, which I hadn’t revisited in more than twenty years, since that afternoon class at the University of South Carolina. Unfortunately for me, I chose to come back to the series by reading Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, which is just as bonkers and opaque as the title sounds. Anne Rice went through some extreme changes in both her writing and subject matter over the years, transitioning into writing exclusively religious fiction before returning to her earlier series, and the latter books of The Vampire Chronicles reflect that patchwork of inspirations. From Blood Canticle on, each entry into the series is hampered by this half-realized potential.
When AMC+ announced their serial adaptation of the first (and most well-known) book, Interview with the Vampire, I didn’t have a lot of faith that it would be true to the spirit of the source material. Previous adaptations of Rice’s work ranged from the deliciously campy (Neil Jordan’s 1994 film) to horrendously unwatchable (2002’s Queen of the Damned, Garry Marshall’s bizarre Exit to Eden). But when the cast was announced and the first trailer released, I could see the love and affection for Rice’s vision that was being poured into the new series.
While it hasn’t been without plenty of (again, mostly racist and/or homophobic) criticism, it’s evident how much love and care has been poured into adapting–and updating–Rice’s original works. Adapting and modernizing is no small feat for a story so steeped in its time–both in setting and when it was written in 1974. Moving the timeline up to the early 20th century gave us not only the tantalizing aspect of a Mayfair crossover (the Mayfair witches are mentioned in the first episode) but also gets Interview’s protagonist Louis—played by Game of Thrones’ Jacob Anderson with more charisma and charm than poor sad Louis ever had on the page. Louis was ever the proverbial wet blanket of The Vampire Chronicles, especially when paired next to such dazzling hams as Lestat. But Anderson’s strange charisma brings Louis to full, vibrant (after)life through his story. And when paired with Aussie actor Sam Reid’s seductive joie de vivre, magic truly happens on screen.
The urgency of needing to fit, of needing to be seen, feels so powerfully human that it feels like a natural progression to begin this retelling in the 1910’s, during a time when America was young and having a few identity crises of its own.
Though the book does paint Louis and Lestat as lovers of a sort (Canonically, Rice’s vampires lose the ability to have physical sex after they’re reborn) there are small intimacies between them that over time become an unsolvable knot of desire, love, manipulation, and distrust. But here, showrunner Rolin Jones has taken the subtext and turned it into bold text. Sam Reid’s Lestat is open about the fact that he loves Louis, flawed and toxic as his love may be. Even before transforming him into a vampire, Lestat despairs of Louis never knowing himself–his truest self–after years of hiding underneath the frayed respectability of being a wealthy Creole. “What rage you must feel as you choke on your sorrow,” Lestat tearfully shouts. Because at its heart, Interview has always been a tale of identity, of the many ways we identify ourselves as we move in the world. Louis has many labels for himself–businessman, son, brother, Creole, reluctant vampire, lover, father, and teacher. The urgency of needing to fit, of needing to be seen, feels so powerfully human that it feels like a natural progression to begin this retelling in the 1910s, during a time when America was young and having a few identity crises of its own.
A lot of hay was made in certain (racist) circles about the casting of a Black man as Louis. This is nothing new, we saw it with the first glimpse of John Boyega’s Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens, or when Denis Villeneuve had the temerity to recast a secondary character as a Black woman. For those brave souls only out here to spread the truth, I have no regrets in informing you that Louis is canonically Creole. (Also, don’t be a fucking racist!) In the first of many progressions for him, Louis has taken his family’s failing sugarcane empire and transformed it into the business of sin. Now a Storyville pimp, Louis acknowledges the sins of the present and past, how his family’s wealth and privilege came from the enslaved misery of people who looked like him, who looked like his forefathers. Louis’ race, his status as both a wealthy man and a Black man, and most of all, his sexuality are all key components of what makes Interview so lush. As a young human and then again as a young vampire, Louis never feels comfortable in his skin. It’s not until we see a much older Louis in the year 2021 that he seems at peace with who—and what—he is.
And it isn’t just Louis who has become reconciled with himself. Reporter Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) isn’t just meeting the Vampire in a San Francisco gay club, we learn that that interview happened some thirty years ago when Daniel was an angry heroin addict at the beginning of a long and wildly varying career. Daniel is painted here with shades of Anthony Bourdain, an auteur who vacillates between spiky resentment and weary resignation. The show actually opens with a promo for Daniel in an ad from an off-brand Masterclass, where he’s teaching bloggers how to become real journalists, and hating every moment of it. Daniel is now older, wiser, and much lonelier, afraid of the new Covid-19 Pandemic and his own declining health. Louis’ invitation for Daniel to join him in Dubai feels like a life preserver that may or may not be tied to an anchor. Having them get this do-over as older and more experienced men who have reconciled with who they are adds a fascinating element of self-awareness to both interviewer and interviewee.
And then, of course, there is Lestat. Reid’s performance as Louis’ sire was always going to be the most important of the series. Tom Cruise left some
petite big shoes to fill after his over-the-top, brilliantly camp portrayal of Lestat in Jordan’s film adaptation. And Cruise is legitimately terrific in the role, capturing all of Lestat’s impishness and his restless boredom. All that was truly missing was the ocean of loneliness Lestat carried inside of him, and the dangerous amount of love he felt for Louis. Reid embodies all this and more. And though he’s both intensely sexual and tender with Louis, Lestat remains a monster, albeit one made, not born.
Make no mistake—Lestat, and his love for Louis, are manipulative, even toxic, but nevertheless, it is love that he feels for Louis. Love, desire, pain, frustration, all are here in this exquisite package. And Louis, for his part, admits that he too felt a kind of love for Lestat, describing himself as being under the older vampire’s spell. But is it real love he feels, or the freedom and acceptance he has been denied his entire life as a gay Black man? Jones and company seem content to let us puzzle that one out for ourselves, a much more satisfying prospect than having it all spelled out for us. Whatever the rest of the series has in store, these first two episodes are a feast for newcomers and long-time Anne Rice fans. Their raw sexuality, precarious social currency, and loving attention to detail are all enough to make this former teenage girl remember why she fell in love with this series in the first place.
Interview with the Vampire is now airing weekly on Sundays on AMC and streaming on AMC+.