Interview with the Vampire review: A century of subtext comes out of the coffin
The late Anne Rice published Interview with the Vampire in 1976. Dubai had no skyscrapers then, so it's notable that AMC's new adaptation (debuting Oct. 2) gives Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) his own high-rise in the Emirates. It's 2022 and immortal Louis is airport-hangar-rich, with a personal squad of executive-assistant hotbodies offering him their necks for dinner. Louis remembers another world. In 1910, he was a mortal businessman in New Orleans, running clubs and women to support his family's aristocratic lifestyle. Then he meets Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid), a hot hunk of Francais with shiny eyes and orgasmic fangs. "You could be a lot of things in New Orleans," Louis narrates. "But an openly gay Negro man was not one of them." By the time he tells us that, though, we've seen one threesome become a twosome, no girls allowed.
Brad Pitt played Louis in 1994's big-screen Interview opposite an unusually rapacious Tom Cruise as Lestat. That wonderful lusty movie is either feverishly gay or obliviously hetero, depending how you interpret Cruise's intentions whenever he moans "Lewwww-eeee." The allure of Rice's luscious vamp-verse depended on teasing erotic ambiguity, with undead antiheroes who literally defied society's rules on killing while figuratively defying boring ol' male-female monogamy. The TV series turns homoerotic subtext into gay rom-com horror, which makes the central relationship, well, an actual relationship. Lestat opens his coffin to a newly-bloodsucking Louis and says, no joke: "You can be on top." The evolution mostly works. Interview blends swoony Southern Gothic with cadaverous relationship farce, though it struggles when it shifts its gaze from the intriguing main characters.
Diverse recasting and explicit de-closeting would be a lot of thrilling twists for any reboot. Interview also adds a new layer to its present-day bookends. Veteran journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) earned his bad attitude over a long career of bold (and drug-addled) reportage. Now he's an old man with health problems, but almost 50 years ago, Daniel was a young reporter who got Louis' story on tape. That first conversation in '70s San Francisco was apparently dishonest, less a confession than "a fever dream told to an idiot." Now, a lifetime later, Louis flies Daniel to his Middle East hideout with the promise of candor and a book deal. Creator Rolin Jones is getting meta here, I think; Rice wrote her novel in San Francisco half a century ago. So there's a legacy-sequel quality to this "do-over," a sense that all parties need to re-examine their lore.
Anderson makes a distinctive new Louis. The actor simmered as Gray Worm in Game of Thrones, and now he gets to play whatever the opposite of an Unsullied is. Young Louis is a torn soul: a Black man in white-dominated America, a gay man in a straight world, a pimp from an upstanding household. The de Pointe du Lacs would make a good non-supernatural drama on their own: proselytizing brother (Steven Norfleet), stern mother (Rae Dawn Chong), kind sister (Kalyne Coleman) who seeks to marry (gracious!) a Baptist. Lestat's arrival is a welcome disruption. Reid plays the 150-year-old as a refined hedonist, less a creature of the night than a Eurotrash Ken Doll. But his offer to turn Louis into an eternal leech is sweetly sincere. "All these roles you conform to," Lestat complains, "And none of them are your true nature!"
Is Lestat teaching Louis to live his truth? Or are we witnessing a predatory seduction, a (very) old man brainwashing a lost young soul? Interview knows it's juggling a lot of metaphors, and Daniel often exists to thinkpiece plot points in real time. (He wonders what queer theorists will say about Louis accepting homosexuality right when he starts slaying.) But the show has a light, even daffy touch. "No, you don't bite the blood, you suck it," Lestat explains to his pupil-lover, sounding almost embarrassed. Reid and Anderson have real chemistry, and the speed of Interview's years lets them play several phases of troubled love. In the five episodes I've seen, they move from transgressive flirtation to domestic tranquility. Then things get complicated. Anderson keeps Louis grounded in his lost humanity, alive to the racist brutalities of the white brutes he has to impress. Whereas Reid gives his lothario a bored aplomb that hides a deeper cruelty, and an even deeper, desperate yearning.
Interview eventually introduces a child vampire, Claudia (Bailey Bass), as a daughter for our two murder-husbands. Kirsten Dunst's mere youthful presence in the movie was shocking, whereas Bass' Claudia is a teenager who can almost pass for a college student. Holy hell, though, imagine being a forever teen! Bass energizes the melodrama with a Steel Magnolias accent ("Ahm so hungry ah think ahm gonna dah!") and supercharged hormonal craving. Her arrival ups the body count and boils over tension between Lestat's nasty disinterest and Louis' shaky morality. The adaptation also adds underlying threats, teasing a vaster contemporary vampire mystery that somehow involves COVID-19. (All hail Rice, building mythology-verses decades before that idea went mainstream.)
Bogosian gives good gruff bemusement, but the interview itself is often Interview's least compelling subplot; its sterile setting feels undernourished next to the raucous yesteryear N'awlins. This season has seven episodes, a frankly baffling number that awkwardly pulls the story between its vampire family and the necessities of world-building. Louis' ambitions as a club owner are frequently addressed, then forgotten. Supporting characters who should feel crucial — like Louis' confused sister Grace — don't make enough of an impression. I wonder if the show is already bored of the humans, if this debut season is just a prologue to AMC's next spin-off showcase. (Will Chris Hardwick host Interview with Interview with the Vampire?) Franchises can be vampiric, really, these never-ending stories feasting upon young talents for the greater glory of inhuman corporations. At least Interview drains new blood from an old stone. Grade: B
AMC brings the undead gothic horror story back to life in this seven-episode TV series based on Anne Rice's 1976 hit novel.