AMC set its sights on a new franchise when it acquired the rights to Anne Rice’s two most influential series, The Vampire Chronicles and The Mayfair Witches. With 18 interconnected books between them, filled with luscious prose and heaps of characters to explore, the right adaptation could bring success for years to come. At San Diego Comic-Con, we got a first look at how Interview with the Vampire is poised to achieve that goal.
As a teenager I preferred my books long, wordy and filled with longing. Enter Interview with the Vampire. I honestly don’t remember how old I was when I read it the first time, but it was probably around the time The Vampire Lestat came out, which would have made me thirteenish. I read a lot as a teen, but in some ways I can trace how I like to FEEL when I read a book back to the experience of reading Interview with the Vampire for the first time. There is something in the quality of Rice’s prose that envelopes you and when combined with the heightened emotion and depth of feeling her characters bring, I was helpless to resist.
I cannot say I’ve read everything she’s published, but I did read pretty much everything published before 2005 — yes, even the ones published under pseudonyms. The last thing I remember reading was Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. By that time, I was a little disillusioned with Rice due to her fairly public clashes with fandom over fanfiction. I wasn’t even reading or writing fanfiction at the time, but, as a fan who definitely was devoted enough to have been doing both, it left me feeling a bit rejected, in spite of my lack of participation in that side of fandom. I was a new mom in the early 2000s so I found many of my intense interests took a backseat to the intense job of parenting. By the time I came out of the other side of that with more free time and brain space, my fanatical devotion to Rice had waned enough that, at this point, I haven’t read or reread her work in nearly 20 years.
In 1994, when the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt version of Interview with the Vampire premiered, I was still neck deep in my Anne Rice phase. I was also, maybe, a little bit of a snobbish book purist. I’m not sure I could have been pleased by an adaptation at that point in my life. Still, did I see it? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Mostly.
A few years ago, pre-pandemic, I went out of town to visit a friend for the express purpose of spending a weekend consuming vampire related movies and tv, so of course, Interview with the Vampire was on the list. I enjoyed it much more now. It was fun and wild, and Tom Cruise really put his whole self into it in a way that has to be admired. But in terms of making me feel the way the books made me feel? No — and that’s fine! As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that not every adaptation has to be every thing to every person!
My first reaction to learning about this new AMC adaptation was to more or less ignore it, because the end result felt very far away and I didn’t want to waste time stewing about it when there was no information to be had. I had put it far enough out of my mind that I was actually surprised by it again when I discovered there would be a panel for Interview with the Vampire at SDCC — like, “They did it? They really did it, did it? For real? Like filmed it and everything?” I don’t know why, but for some reason I had really convinced myself it would never actually happen.
The revelation that there would be a panel at the first in-person San Diego Comic-Con since COVID, which I just so happened to be attending, sent me into research mode, and I was surprised to discover how little there was to be found. I discovered a few of the major changes they were making — for example, aging Claudia up and changing Louis’ background, but there was no real context behind any of the changes, which left me curious about the changes, with no way to find out more before AMC brought the show to San Diego in July.
I have a surprisingly recent experience with having a long-time favorite book adapted into a TV show. When I began covering Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time, I realized that I had grown past the need to have a 1:1 translation from book to screen. For one thing, I know more about how TV shows get made than I ever have in my life — far more than I would have expected when reading the books. My first thought when I hear about a change isn’t “Why would they destroy what I love in this way!” but rather, “Why does this change work better for this adaptation?”
Related: ‘The Wheel of Time’ and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Adaptation
The answer can still be, of course, it doesn’t, but if you have a good team involved, who love the source material, the reason for a change is rarely, “Just because, lol.” Some things that work in books do not work in television and some things that might have worked in television won’t work if you’re looking for a multi-season arc, or some things just might be too expensive to film! What I have come to look for when judging an adaptation is how I FEEL when I’m watching it. Does the adaptation remind me of the thoughts and feelings I had reading the book? I don’t need Louis to live on a plantation in order to feel his deep longing and ambivalence for the life he’s living or the life he’s going to live. I need to know the creative team understands a character more than I need to see a scene play out exactly how it did in the book — although that’s fun too!
Looking at all the news I could find about Interview with the Vampire pre-SDCC, the most I can say about my feelings was that I wasn’t NOT interested. There was nothing off-putting about the information that was available, but there also wasn’t anything that was an immediate hook. Going into the panel I would have described myself as cautiously optimistic with a splash of skepticism I was mostly using to keep the possibility of feeling too disappointed at bay.
Reader, I was about to get my world rocked.
The Interview with the Vampire panel opened with moderator Damian Holbrook admitting he was an Anne Rice fan, and that he had seen the first two episodes. It wasn’t specifically what he said, because of course he’s moderating the panel, so he’s going to be positive and excited about it, but he had a fanboy vibe that I cannot quantify. The almost giddy way he spoke about having seen the first two episodes was my first clue that AMC might be onto something. Before introducing the panelists, Holbrook led with the Interview with the Vampire premiere date — October 2 at 10pm — and the official trailer premiere.
After the trailer, my mental state was somewhere between surprised pikachu face and the Leonardo DiCaprio “You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention” meme. My first impression was just how gorgeous it is. They’ve brought to life this very specific time and place in New Orleans, which, although different from the book, is evocative and immersive. My second was there was an undeniable chemistry between Louis and Lestat. Louis narrates most of the trailer, and as he says, “I was being hunted,” we get a shot of Lestat watching him walk by that positively radiated a hungry longing. There’s another shot where they’re at the theater and Lestat tentatively caresses Louis’ pinky with his pinky while gazing adoringly at him. Cat. Nip. For me personally.
Finally, Louis laments to a priest that he has “laid down with the devil,” and given that gentle finger caress and the absolutely unhinged desire radiating off of Lestat every time he looks at Louis, it didn’t feel metaphorical. All of this is overlaid with the song “Dear God” by Lawless and Sydney Wayser which had a lush, haunting quality and which I suspect will now feature heavily in my Spotify wrap up this year. Basically, AMC gave me my hook.
After the trailer, Holbrook introduced the panel — executive producer Mark Johnson, writer/showrunner Rolin Jones, Jacob Anderson (Louis), Sam Reid (Lestat), Bailey Bass (Claudia), Eric Bogosian (Daniel Molloy) and production designer Mara LePere Schloop. The first question off the bat, Damian asked Mark Johnson to describe the concept and Johnson responded by saying that “like all good adventures, like all good love stories,” it was impossible to describe.
The emphasis on ‘love story’ sunk that hook in deeper. Believe it or not, at this point I still wasn’t 100% sure that we were seeing the queer subtext from the novel taking the spotlight as undeniable text. In spite of the evidence from my eyes and ears, I was sitting there waiting for someone to say something that would take all the wind out of my queer sails. But then Johnson went on to say specifically, “It is so many things. It is a bold story, a love story between the vampire Lestat and Louis… It’s about a pair of vampires falling into the kind of love that dooms them and can’t sustain itself.” Again — Surprised Pikachu. How many times can I be surprised by receiving the same information with a slightly different sentence structure? More than twice, that’s for sure!
When Rolin Jones was asked for his take on what this version is he described it as the story of Louis’ life from 1910 to 1940 and, “a deep, toxic, Fiona Apple album version of a relationship with the vampire Lestat and his child/daughter/sister Claudia.” Jones was quick to credit AMC for taking risks with Interview: “AMC went all in. They spent a lot of money on a show that has some pretty transgressive things right in the front of it.” This comment prompted an interesting personal nugget from Holbrook, “I’m just gonna say it, so when I first read that book, there was some stuff in it where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I understand it, but it makes me feel good.’ You guys take the queer subtext and make it [text]. You aren’t playing around… these two are lovers,” to which Jones responded, “Yeah, you know, what’s really radical about that? I think nothing. It is an aggressive, beautiful love story. That’s all you need to know.”
At this point, I was conceptually all the way in. The idea that they were taking this theme from the book and really hammering it home rather than pussyfooting around it in some kind of ‘almost, but not quite way,’ was the best indication I had at this point that the show had the potential to inspire the kind of emotional connection I had to the book. Would it all be put together in a way that would make it work? I wasn’t quite sure yet, but I certainly wanted to believe.
I suppose the only way I’ll be able to answer the question for sure is to wait until October to watch the show, but the fact that I’m hardwired to respond to emotional connections with people, means that after listening to each person involved with Interview with the Vampire discuss their own emotional connection to Rice’s work, I am having a hard time holding on to that objectivity.
Jacob Anderson, who plays Louis, was the first to talk about his experience with Rice’s work and it was a very moving part of the panel. Anderson had watched the movie as a teenager, but when he found out about the project he had a “weird feeling” in his stomach that motivated him to read the first two books. “And in reading Anne Rice’s words,” he said, “I just… the prevailing feeling for me was that I wished that somebody had handed me these books when I was 15. I feel like I would have felt much less lonely. I would have felt much more understood. And it kind of just completely washed over me and I was so excited to be a part this world and to tell this vampire’s story. I felt very deeply connected to the reading sometimes in ways that aren’t always easy for me to articulate outwardly.”
Sam Reid, on the other hand, has always been a “huge fan” of the books and felt an “extraordinary weight of pressure to have this opportunity to portray this character who you have such a deep connection to and love for and so [I] got to return back to these books and just dive into them.” He described the script and experience of preparing and filming as “the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,” adding, while gesturing to Anderson, “and then of course, this guy,” which I think was around the time I tweeted out a picture predicting their chemistry. Reid and Anderson both have a very sweet, calm manner and they projected warmth and trust in each other as they answered questions back and forth.
I am feeling this chemistry is going to be off the charts. pic.twitter.com/IFsc86uzpO
— Subjectify Media (@subjectifymedia) July 23, 2022
Bailey Bass, being the youngest of the cast, was born after even the 1994 movie, so she had the most research to do to catch up. “I was so excited when I got the role. It’s truly a dream role […] I read the book, of course, I have all my annotations and notes. […] Claudia is a big big character. She feels so much […] I got to play 14, then 17, then 20, 25 all the way up to 30 and because it’s a show we got to really take our time and see who Claudia is at those stages.”
Bass spoke about Claudia with passion and love, even going so far as defending Claudia when Holbrook described Claudia as, ‘bad.’ “Well, bad is a strong word, because she doesn’t think she’s bad, you know. She feels what she feels, and if she’s hungry she will eat, and if she wants to say something she will say something, and that’s the awesome thing about Claudia and I think that’s why people connect with her so much.”
It was hard to resist the lure of three beautiful people telling you how much they love and respect some of your favorite fictional characters, even though I know it is an actor’s job to convince you that their latest project is the best thing they’ve ever done. But what about the creatives working on show? Could they convince me of their dedication to making the best version of Interview with the Vampire?
Mara LePere Schloop, who is responsible for the beautifully recreated New Orleans Storyville set, said of the novels: “I read the novels when I was a young child, probably too young, and I think it wasn’t until an interview actually about this show that I realized how deeply imbedded the worldbuilding that Anne did in the books was ingrained in me. I had a kind of crisis of understanding where I was like, “Oh my god, that’s why I live in New Orleans now, it’s because i read these books when I was like 11 years old.” I mean… could we be in better hands there? Bogosian said of LePere Schloop’s work: “Mara’s work can not be over-praised. The physical world that she put us all in is why we believe this show.”
By this point, I had been completely disarmed by each panelist describing their relationship to Rice’s work and I’d been thoroughly charmed by Rolin Jones’ dedication to telling this as a love story with “great reverence and wild abandon,” as well as the fact that he held Anne Rice’s novels up to Wuthering Heights in terms of great literature, so what was left to push me over the edge and get me conceptually, emotionally and intellectually on board for this adaptation?
At the very end of the panel, Holbrook introduced a short clip from the first episode. As anticipated by the in-person chemistry between Anderson and Reid, the scene between Louis and Lestat, where Louis seems to think they are verbally sparring for a woman’s affection but Lestat clearly only has eyes for his long-term goal of seducing Louis with some combination of negging and lavish praise, is electrifying. If nothing else is going to carry this show, Anderson and Reid’s heat should do the trick, but based on everything I’ve seen so far, they have all the pieces around them needed to take this adaptation all the way to something truly great. My only complaint after the panel ended was the misery of waiting until October to watch it.