An ancient tale lives again: the TV gods decided to regurgitate another franchise, this time with the late Anne Rice’s gothic fantasy saga, Interview With The Vampire, taking another whirl on AMC. Hollywood cannot resist a formerly profitable endeavor, and more often than not, these revivals aren’t worth their weight in blood. Yet occasionally, the practice works, and I’m pleased to report that this vampy revamp is well worth the outing. I use that last word literally, so hang tight for elaboration, but this show is not only a horror tale befitting October but also a dramedy. It’s a pulpy but not (as much as the original) campy ride, and it’s an extremely bloody relationship soap-opera that’s fully watchable. Amazingly, the show soars further than the film. Let’s talk this out.
Back in 1994, the Interview With The Vampire movie gave us a very different Tom Cruise character than we’d ever seen. The role was a leap from his string of golden-boy blockbusters like Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Cocktail, and so on. To put it mildly, Cruise as the Vampire Lestat de Lioncourt seemed like an unlikely casting decision, one that even upset Anne Rice. And it’s easy to see why given that the generally straight-laced Tom (well before he was leaping off buildings and mountains and perching atop speeding trains) didn’t sound believable as wild Lestat. His antagonist was a merciless creature who sucked the life out of humans and gave Louis de Pointe (Brad Pitt) little choice but to vamp out in a pairing that felt maybe homoerotic and closeted.
Even in a film that felt frustratingly muted, Tom did give one of his most interesting performances. He seduced New Orleans and threw fiery tantrums and then, after he was seemingly defeated, he swooped back into view, invigorating himself with a drink of blood and whining about Louis’ “whining.” He ended the movie by firing up Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sympathy of the Devil” cover and roaring off into the distance while Christian Slater’s hapless journalist languished in the passenger seat. It was fun. (This even inspired me to pick up The Vampire Chronicles books, which took me as far as horrible The Tale of the Body Thief, the only time I’ve literally thrown a book across the room.)
For all of the movie’s enjoyability, however, there was a major problem: this was still a Tom Cruise juggernaut, which lost much meaning on the big screen. The story got shortchanged (oddly, in a script by Rice) and emphasized star power with Brad Pitt (in the midst of his heartthrob phase). And yes, the performances were fine — Pitt portrayed Louis with wild-eyed abandon as the story’s so-called moral center (very awkward, since he owned slaves). Kirsten Dunst chilled as the unruly young Claudia who met a tragic end while attempting to acquire a mother. Yet the show makes it very apparent that the movie kept things comparatively subtle, not only with the new male-lead vamps (Jacob Anderson as Louis and Sam Reid as Lestat) but also with Claudia (now played by Bailey Bass). She gets fleshed out beyond brattiness here, and the show explicitly makes Lestat and Louis an actual romantic couple, and a randy one at that. Louis’ story gets updated to being a Black business owner who’s wrestling with the difficulties of being a Black business owner (albeit of an illicit business) in 1910 and beyond. All of this, and especially the out-in-the-open queerness, adds more layers.
The show has the luxury of time to do all this, and to give Lestat and Louis’ relationship many phases, and it paces itself well (I’ve watched the 5 episodes released for critics out of the 7 that will make up the first season). Mind you, they are not a dream couple. They have significant issues, but the vampire duo takes on a full-on romance, one that will thrill fans, and Anderson gets to do so much more here as he did as Grey Worm in Game of Thrones, whereas Reid confidently parades around as the mesmerizing Lestat. Oh, and about Claudia: her diary becomes a secondary narrative framing device.
Granted the first framing device remains the journalist who’s hearing Louis’ story. Here, he’s portrayed by Eric Bogosian as a much more world-weary version of the Slater character. In 2022, this isn’t his first rodeo with Louis, who wants to update the situation in Dubai. Yes, you read that correctly. Louis now lives in the endlessly sunny Dubai and is probably richer than Jeff Bezos while living in a high-rise (that’s not unlike one that Tom Cruise scaled for the Mission: Impossible franchise) that somehow keeps him safe from the scorching rays. It’s one of the least likely places to find a vampire, and it’s a place of effective contrast between the present and those rollicking NOLA years.
Mr. Journalist has a full-on personality and life outside of interviewing vampires, and he’s kind-of had enough of Louis’ sh*t, but not quite enough to not be curious about what a vampire’s doing in a world that’s even more messed up than it was a century ago. So, we get a whole modern spin with much of the story still taking place in early 1900s New Orleans. And boy, Louis has some marginalized community sh*t to deal with (being undead actually doesn’t solve the societal pressures involved with being Black and queer) through the decades. These diverse angles don’t get too heavy but do help to ground the fantasy while it still soars.
Speaking of those great heights: ironically, a sky-high scene takes characters to rock bottom; the real flying takes place on the ground. That includes a scene where Louis begins to fall for Lestat, who has frozen time during a scene that will be talked about by fans for its beauty and splendor and hypnotic qualities. These supernatural detours provide a respite from horror, when the ugly parts of vampire life loom large in blood-spattered conquests. We’ve also got telepathic conversations, which lead to tweaked family dynamics, and of course, the story’s as decadent as one can imagine.
And thank god for debauchery when it comes to the undead. These are pretty vampires, but this ain’t Twilight. Lestat and Louis climb into coffins together, and there’s no secret about what they’re doing. This sexual spin on the story also extends to Claudia, who’s older in this show but eternally of her late teens. This presents its own troubles, for which her fathers are ill-equipped to help her. Claudia’s quest for love takes her in a different direction than it did in the movie, and her stumbles are heartbreaking as she narrates her family’s adventures. It’s both a blast and a gut punch to see her character expanded in a way that shows how she’s as tragic than the Dunst character and how Lestat, as marvelous as he can outwardly be, is essentially a terror to all.
This project’s one of a few (including The Lives Of The Mayfair Witches) Anne Rice adaptations that will soon hit AMC, and ultimately, bringing Lestat and Louis back is an effort that more than justifies its existence. The series is a once much more complex and frivolous than the cinematic predecessor, and it’s thrilling to watch all of the soap operatics and the spectacle with new shades of relevance. It’s worth noting that Rice, who passed away last December, is listed as an executive producer here, so she must have enjoyed Anderson’s presence more than the Tom Cruise casting. And again, Tom did alright! Yet things work out much better with the show, which is a more enthralling (and sensual) sight to witness.
AMC’s ‘Interview With The Vampire’ premieres on Sunday, October 2 at 10:00pm EST.