This Interview with the Vampire review contains no spoilers.
Late Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice was never completely onboard with the 1994 film adaptation of her book: Interview with the Vampire, which starred Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Taking issue with casting and other certain liberties, Rice ultimately endorsed it, but denounced its 2002 sequel, Queen of the Damned, with Aaliyah in the title role. Rice and her son Christopher have been involved with AMC’s Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire through its own tortured journey to series adaptation, so it seems any changes to the source material come with tacit pre-approval.
The stakes are high for AMC, about to come off its Walking Dead era (though in true zombie fashion, spinoffs will continue on), and concluding the sagas of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The network is entering its Anne Rice Era, turning her pages into its own next chapter, and already at work on adapting her The Lives of the Mayfair Witches book series. Most Vampire Chronicles fans want to see the novels presented accurately and epically, which is a mixed bag in Interview with the Vampire. Many others want it to fail outright. Not this reviewer, especially after seeing the first four episodes.
There are differences. Timelines shift, ages change, and ethnicities reflect a diverse world -and a new political undercurrent than the original 1976 novel. Starring Jacob Anderson as Louis de Pointe du Lac, Sam Reid as Lestat de Lioncourt, and Bailey Bass as Claudia, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is not the same story as Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Writer/creator Rolin Jones updated it to a modern vampire tale, and possibly should have rethought which of Rice’s characters to bring to the small screen. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an extremely well-crafted, nuanced, and rehearsed vampire story. It is one of the best vampire series TV has had to offer, even if it is not quite what it promised.
This schism is itself addressed in the third episode. Contradictions abound, and when Eric Bogosian’s now-aged interviewer Daniel Molloy clobbers the vampiric interviewee about revisionist history, the fangs come out and the tapes get burned. In the first part of the novel, Louis hates Lestat. In the series, Daniel plays a portion of the original 1973 tapes where Louis calls himself Lestat’s “complete superior,” and concludes he had been “sadly cheated in having him for a teacher.”
By taking the issue on, the show redeems its mixed message. It also does it with a sense of humor sadly missing from the films, and underplayed in the books. Louis and Lestat may be deadly serious and seriously deadly, but their true talents lie in lethal assessments, snide asides, and wry takedowns.
Who would have thought Anderson, who frowned on trivial things like jokes when he played Grey Worm on Game of Thrones, could hurl straight lines with such comic accuracy? The repartee between Louis and all characters is a highlight, from the bitter banter with the jaded Daniel to the indulgent insolence reserved for the troubled teen Claudia. Lestat may get the better lines, and Reid excels in underplaying his caustic wit, but he thinks of himself as the more dangerous creature. He’s not, it’s Louis.
Anderson’s Louis is in a state of flux in many ways. Not only is there new blood pumping in his veins, but revolutionary thoughts in his psyche. In life, Louis has a good reputation as a man who runs a house of ill-repute. His undead street cred is a bit more complicated. Louis is a virtual vampire vegetarian, feeding on animals, as if stray cats don’t have families to grieve for them.
As a badass living brothel owner in New Orleans’ red-light district of Storyville, Louis maintained as brutal a hold as was necessary to ensure his business thrived. As a Black man in the south, regardless of his success, he’d been eating Jim Crow laws so long he barely noticed the bitter taste of the strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. But once he tastes blood, he bites the hand that feeds him. Anderson’s Grey Worm urged slaves to “kill the masters” on Game of Thrones. His newly turned vampire gets to savor that kill.
In the book, Louis is a white slave-owner with a sugar plantation, something his father ran to the ground before the events of the series. Slavery mildly flavors Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, where Lestat also feeds off slaves, but the aftertaste lingers. Race plays a far larger role in the series, at least in the beginning, while Louis still has ties to the human community he leaves behind in the book.
The series remains faithful to the atmosphere and the devil-may-care blasphemy of Rice’s books. Louis is making confession when taken by Lestat in the opening episode. Dead priests lay scattered in the pews. In the series, the de Point du Lacs are a holy family, very spiritual, loving of God, hateful of sin, bloody with Christ. Louis’ own mother, played by Rae Dawn Chong, calls her evolving son “the devil.” His sister Grace (Kalyne Coleman), runs out of patience, but is forced to leave her door open.
While the viewers know Louis will ultimately out-“live” his family, there are some surprisingly premature burials, or burnings. Louis and Lestat keep an incinerator for body disposal because wakes were designed by people who live in colder climates than New Orleans.
One of the fires can’t be contained, which leads to the introduction of Claudia. In his conversation with Den of Geek, Jones called this character Rice’s “greatest creation.” The author wrote the character after the death of her six-year-old daughter, who succumbed to acute granulocytic leukemia in 1970. In the book, Claudia has fair skin, long curly hair and blue eyes. She is mourning over her mother when Louis finds her in the year 1794. Rice’s literary version of Claudia is a child-vampire, eternally five years old in body, but with a quickly developing mind and desires.
Kirsten Dunst was eleven years old when she played Claudia in the film. Bailey Bass plays her as a 14-year-old. “It was very important for us to shoot in New Orleans, where child labor laws say your actor can only work so many hours,” Jones told Den of Geek. “We decided to make her trapped in all the chemical excitements of puberty.” Claudia is not quite of the Twilight teen scene, angsty for self-discovery, but she does keep a diary.
“Rolin Jones has made some changes that I think deepen and do some very intriguing things with the basic story,” Alan Taylor, who sets the tone directing the first episode, told Den of Geek. Other episodic directors include Levan Akin and Keith Powell.
Surrounding the proceedings, the settings are beautifully rendered, whether we see the opulence of the vampire lifestyle, the ecclesiastical hue of a church, or the grit and mud of the backstreets. All of which come to life when splattered with the red vino on tap. The framings are exquisite, and the tapestry of shooting styles merge into a unified landscape, from the bayous to Dubai. The score is so exciting, Louis is moved to do a soft-shoe. Another highlight is seeing the classically-trained musician Lestat boogie-woogie his way through a jazz set.
One of the ways the series best succeeds is in telling a love story. Lestat is not the same neglectful narcissist with the cruel streak presented in the 1976 book, and the series’ 1973 tape collection which tries to keep the series honest. Reid’s Lestat is a different cruel narcissist, but Louis gives back as good as he gets, growing defiant, angry, and romantically jealous. This is a trait shared by both lead characters, and as they sneak into one coffin while Claudia pretends to rest, it is not the dysfunctional couple of the first novel. For reanimated corpses, they get pretty hot.
Anne Rice purists will have their gripes, all of which are justified, but Interview with the Vampire does the spirit of the source material justice. This is the more nuanced or rehearsed version of the story, as Louis and Daniel debate. The series takes on social, economic, and political issues which may or may not have bearing on vampires, but add layers to the characters, who will grow into themselves. Or die, again, trying. The adaptation is changed, but still sucks you in.
Interview with the Vampire premieres Oct. 2 on AMC and AMC+.