Not since amiable Tom Hanks was picked to play abrasive, career-driven Sherman McCoy in The Bonfire of the Vanities has the casting of a major movie role raised so many eyebrows. News that all-American Tom Cruise is expected to play the aristocratic vampire Lestat in the film version of Interview With the Vampire has fans of the 1976 Anne Rice novel turning pale with horror.
True, Cruise is once again Hollywood’s No. 1 actor, thanks to the blockbuster performances of A Few Good Men and The Firm, but he is an unusual choice to play the darkly complicated Lestat. Producer Julia Phillips (You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again), who developed Vampire until she parted company with current producer David Geffen, says, ”I like Cruise, but he’s got this thin, reedy voice.” Says Sue Quiroz, former president of the Anne Rice Fan Club, ”My idea was somebody younger and unknown who better fit the description of the character in the book.” Rice herself would not comment. Even staffers at Warner Bros., which will distribute the movie, were surprised by Cruise’s interest in the role. ”Everyone was blown away,” says one employee. ”He wasn’t even on the list.”
Apparently Cruise was approached by Geffen through Creative Artists Agency head Michael Ovitz after leading contender Daniel Day-Lewis declined the part. According to a Geffen insider, the producer was ”delirious” when Cruise expressed interest, but both Geffen and director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) did everything short of asking Cruise to read for the role — an unheard-of request for a star of Cruise’s magnitude. Jordan thoroughly grilled Cruise on his approach to the part, as well as his opinion of the script and of the other characters (played by Brad Pitt, Miranda Richardson, River Phoenix, and Antonio Banderas). Only after Jordan was satisfied did the real negotiations get under way. According to a source close to the talks, Cruise has all but dotted the i‘s and crossed the t‘s on a $15 million contract (plus points). ”David was more than willing to say no if Jordan was unhappy with Tom,” says a Hollywood executive.
What attracted Cruise to the role was the strong script, says a well-known producer. In Jordan’s 111-page screenplay, Lestat is clearly the driving force, and by page 9 his teeth are lodged firmly into Louis’ (Pitt’s) neck. (Won’t that be worth the price of admission?) The script is also said to be less florid and more reserved than Rice’s story, though the homoerotic aspects of her tale remain.
The casting of Cruise will bring to a close one of the most protracted book-into-film projects in Hollywood history. Paramount bought the film rights to Vampire in 1976, and the project has bounced from movie to television miniseries to Broadway musical and back again. The list of actors considered for the role (see sidebar) reads like a fever chart of who was once hot. The project finally moved off the back burner earlier this year, when Geffen hired Jordan to direct Vampire (the mogul also owns the rights to Rice’s sequel The Vampire Lestat).
Filming is scheduled to start in the fall and will take place in New Orleans and San Francisco. According to a colleague of Geffen’s, ”I’ve never seen David more excited.” He should be. With Cruise on board, the long-troubled Vampire is anything but a project of the damned. ”Even if he isn’t some people’s ideal for the role,” says the colleague, ”the studio will more than make up for what they paid on opening weekend.”
At least one competing studio chief is paying Warner Bros. the highest compliment: ”It was an ‘event’ movie before Cruise was signed,” he says. ”Now it’s more of an event. I only wish we had it.” — Additional reporting by Nisid Hajari, Bronwen Hruska, and Jeffrey Wells