There might be no name as ubiquitously linked to contemporary vampire fiction as the late Anne Rice — although you might be surprised to learn that the critical response to her 1976 debut novel, Interview with the Vampire, was initially mixed. Reactions varied between those who praised Rice’s rich, sensual style and other equally vocal detractors of the vampire tale, but Interview was only the beginning of what would become 12 sequel novels, collectively referred to as The Vampire Chronicles, as well as a spinoff series. In 1994, Interview with the Vampire was turned into a film starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise and directed by Neil Jordan. Rice adapted the screenplay of her own work, but at the time, the author reportedly debated over several creative choices — she notoriously objected to Cruise’s casting as Lestat, and Louis was almost rewritten to be a female character as a way to circumvent the book’s homoerotic leanings.
Although the remainder of The Vampire Chronicles proved less successful in the adaptation process — 2002’s Queen of the Damned was both a critical and box office flop — the franchise has proven to have staying power, with AMC acquiring the rights to adapt many of Rice’s works in 2020. With their upcoming Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, from creator/showrunner/executive producer Rolin Jones, the network has breathed new life into these characters without shying away from any of the original story’s truest elements, while incorporating mindful changes to the source material that only make the end product on-screen thrilling, sexy, and more multifaceted.
The story of Interview with the Vampire, built around the conceit of the titular vampire relaying his lengthy and complex existence to a naive reporter, wouldn’t be nearly as absorbing without an excellent performance to ground its telling — and it is through the eyes of Jacob Anderson’s Louis de Pointe du Lac that we are brought into a world of opportunity, violence, loss, and eternity. A return to this story includes the revelation that the series is also set nearly 50 years after the book’s publication. Although Louis’ first interview with the aging Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) ended on a rather negative note for both of them, the vampire is reaching out again to let the reporter be the one to tell his story in the wake of many changes to their current circumstances — including a lot more in the vein of technology. There are advancements that have been made to enable Louis to remain awake during the daytime without hiding from the sun, but the vampire is still secluded in a fortress of his own making, one he invites both Molloy (and us by extension) into.
This ancient version of Louis, more calculated and restrained with only the occasional outburst of heightened emotion, is juxtaposed against the younger, human Louis, hot-headed and impassioned, as well as the newly-turned Louis, who spurns all natural vampiric instincts. Through a narrative spanning two different timelines, Anderson pulls off the impressive work of playing the same character at all the varying stages of both his life and unlife. By comparison, Bogosian’s Molloy is no longer the credulous, probing journalist he once was; facing down the prospect of his own mortality due to a recent Parkinson’s diagnosis has made him a more cynical presence, one more inclined to challenge Louis’ recollections rather than accept any answer given at face value — which leads to a delightful tête-à-tête between the two actors that plays throughout the entire season.
When we initially meet the mortal Louis via his future self’s anecdote, the show brings the past forward to 1900s New Orleans, where he is no longer a plantation owner as in the book but a man of alternative means through his holdings in a saloon in the city’s red-light district of Storyville. Even the financial success he’s accumulated, though, can only be accompanied by so much respect from the white men he sits around the poker table with. Louis’ most frequent struggles lie both in desiring esteem as a Black man in his line of business and wrestling with the deeper, innermost secret of his queerness — an aspect that is explicitly and repeatedly referenced rather than merely alluded to with purple prose. There are parts to himself that Louis is either constantly masking or hiding altogether, at least until the mysterious, rakish Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid) arrives in town.
From the moment that their characters collide on-screen, Anderson and Reid’s chemistry is electric in every exchange; Lestat senses exactly what Louis is inwardly longing for, while Louis initially fights to resist the other man’s magnetic pull at every turn. Their connection sparks a cat-and-mouse game with a discernible inevitability, and while it’s evident where this will end up — and what Louis will ultimately consent to in terms of Lestat’s “dark gift” — there’s no ambiguity when it comes to the depiction of their relationship as an erotic and romantic one, albeit filled with its own complexities and complications.
As Lestat, Reid is every bit the mercurial presence you want him to be — and his performance transcends even the eccentricity first established by Cruise in the ’90s adaptation. It’s half of what makes the series so compelling but also contributes to some of its tautest scenes. Reid’s Lestat is just as likely to extend a devastatingly poetic word to his beloved as he is to suddenly fly into a terrifying rage, and it’s never apparent which mood he’ll be found in each time the story picks up with him in a new episode. One scene in particular, which devolves into the two vampires’ most violent clash yet, is filmed in such a manner to lend it the disturbing energy of a domestic dispute between partners; furniture is destroyed, walls are reduced to rubble, and at the end of it all, you have the unsettling feeling that Lestat’s words will be enough to smooth over any harm that’s been done, no matter how vicious. But Reid’s presence is so enthralling that it becomes entirely believable, maybe understandable, why Louis can’t bring himself to definitively cut ties with his sire, even while Lestat’s manipulative behavior travels to new depths.
In many ways, the addition of Claudia is obviously intended to be a Band-Aid on the fang wounds of Louis and Lestat’s destructive nucleus, and Bailey Bass’ child vampire emerges at just the right time in the series’ first season to shake up the established relationship between the two. Here, her background has also been lightly adjusted for the show, but in an approach that links her even more closely to Louis than in the book — and does a further job of illustrating that Louis’ plea for Lestat to turn her is primarily an effort to atone for his own transgressions. It’s also a plot divergence that, while minor overall, significantly explains why Louis is so protective of her, but those even slightly familiar with the story will recognize that this form of helicopter vampire parenting only backfires as Claudia chafes under the restraints of eternal pre-pubescence. Bass has a significant amount of heavy lifting to do in the portrayal of a character who initially considers the world with wide-eyed naivety before her perception evolves, leading to dark explorations of sex and violence that are just as heartbreaking as they are stomach-turning.