It has been nearly half a century since Interview with the Vampire was released and made its mark on popular culture. Written by the late Anne Rice, the book became the first of The Vampire Chronicles, which is a 12-story series. Interview itself was adapted into a feature film starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in 1994, while a loose adaptation of Queen of the Damned was released in 2002.
Now TV viewers can revisit “Interview with the Vampire” in a new series on Sunday nights on AMC. Beloved characters like Louis, Lestat and Claudia are back – albeit with some updates to their stories.
“We have these books that literally got a million plays in everyone’s head, and then there’s this movie that took that to another generation of people,” said executive producer and writer Rolin Jones, who admitted a ” “Feel the push and pull, how to be in awe, and how to make sure you don’t get bored to the people who already know these stories well.”
Jones and production designer Mara LePere-Schloop spoke to CNN about reimagining “Interview with the Vampire” for television and keeping the adaptation supernatural, sensual, and lush, in keeping with the source material.
Bringing Interview with the Vampire to TV involved building a “universe,” said Jones, who kept the other “Vampire Chronicles” in mind as he planned everything from character details to the big picture. (Lestat, played by Sam Reid, saw some “rewriting” in the later books, Jones notes – beginning with a more elaborate backstory in the second novel, 1985’s “The Vampire Lestat”.)
The title interview takes place in the present; The 1994 film, whose screenplay was written by Rice, also placed the interview in the then modern era. Like the novel, the new “Interview with the Vampire” revolves around Louis, who recounts how he became a vampire with Daniel Molloy, a character first introduced to readers as an unnamed young reporter.
This Daniel, played by Eric Bogosian, is an older veteran journalist, but he’s essentially “the same guy,” Jones said. The show alludes to an earlier interview between Daniel and Louis from the ’70s – a throwback to the novel.
Louis, played by Jacob Anderson, has some new origins. In previous iterations, he was the owner of a plantation near New Orleans in the late 1600s when he met Lestat. Still prone to periods of melancholy, guilt, and self-loathing, the new Louis is a black brothel owner in early 20th-century New Orleans as his story begins.
The changes made were partly a result of a desire to focus on a “time period that was as aesthetically exciting as the 18th century without delving into a plantation story that nobody really wanted to hear now,” Jones said. He noted that the character’s lineage still stems from “plantation money” and that his original occupation doesn’t particularly come up in the novels as a point of “self-reflection.”
Another significant character update involves Claudia – only 5 years old when she was made into a vampire in the novel, although in the film she was portrayed by an 11-year-old Kirsten Dunst. AMC’s adaptation further ages Claudia by turning 14 at the time of her transformation. That doesn’t make them any better prepared for the onset of internal turmoil.
As an actor, Bailey Bass said in a featurette Shared on the show’s Twitter account, this Claudia “has to deal with the emotions of being a 19-year-old, then a 30-year-old, then a 40-year-old while still stuck in that 14-year-old young body.”
The decision to allow Claudia to age was made in part because of concerns about filming certain scenes, particularly those with more “adult” connotations. Child labor laws were another factor.
“If I’m going to do Claudia on this show, I need as many shooting hours as possible with the actor who’s playing it,” Jones said. “And if I put someone under 18 in it, I would have limited hours.”
For LePere-Schloop, who read Rice’s novels as a teenager and credits them with drawing her to New Orleans, her home for two decades, the changes in the television series don’t conflict with the author’s work. After Rice died, her fortune was donated to an archive at Tulane University in New Orleans, said LePere-Schloop, who met with the archivist during filming.
“Some things that she discovered were that Anne was writing short stories and other interpretations of the ‘Chronicles’ where Louis was a woman, or other fluid things happening,” she said. “Even in Anne’s own writing there is a history of playing with time, place and person.”
The series was filmed in New Orleans, once Rice’s longtime home and an integral part of Interview with the Vampire. A lot of research was required to immerse the viewer in the updated environment.
“We are speaking now of a time in New Orleans that was much talked about but not very well documented in pictures or captured on film and television, and that is the Storyville (the red-light borough) time,” said LePere-Schloop. “Culturally, it had such an impact on the city.”
As a New Orleans resident, she knew, “When a place is done wrong, it’s heard around town.” So she drew on a variety of resources, including the expertise of local historian Richard Campanella.
“He worked with us to capture things that he knew from oral history and anecdotes that he documented over time of elements of Storyville,” said LePere-Schloop.
The production included the very real history of New Orleans and key locations in the city, in addition to building new sets – like that for Storyville – to immerse viewers in this version of Louis and Lestat’s world.
“Anne used the city as a research and reference point,” said LePere-Schloop. “We were fortunate to be able to shoot in the house where Anne Lestat’s townhouse wrote for the novels. Her inspiration for this house is a living museum and we were allowed to use it as an outside house.”
Designing the interior of the home, albeit on a stage, was also great fun, she said, noting that the original inspiration source has “really incredible design details” like a skylight (which was worked into the script) and crown molding.
Various design aesthetics were used to show the passage of time while leaving the vampires unchanged. The sets also served as a reflection of the characters, from the art Lestat brought to New Orleans from Europe to the depressed state the vampire home falls into when things go wrong.
“It’s as much an emotional landscape as it is physical,” Jones said.
LePere-Schloop wanted to avoid depicting a clichéd New Orleans on screen – and she also wanted to avoid vampire clichés, choosing against painting everything “brothel red” or putting gothic arches everywhere. But despite all the historical detail the team has taken on behind the scenes, there are touches (including added saturation during the final coloring process, Jones said) that feel less natural.
While dreaming up the palette for the show, LePere-Schloop turned to a book from her childhood – “The Rainbow Goblins” – which featured “beautiful, oversaturated” illustrations and helped her land on a more dynamic background. The world Louis and Lestat occupy is “sexier” and “vibrant,” she said, compared to early depictions of vampires in the film, which tended to be low-key and “crumbly.”
Even with some changes to the original storylines, the Interview with the Vampire team didn’t ignore the source material — re-reading it and “seeing what was in the crevices and cracks” helped them make the show, Jones said.
There are subtle references to characters from later novels and even a brief salute to Rice’s Mayfair witches (also the subject of an upcoming AMC series). Characters that did not appear in the film appear here. And — perhaps most importantly for die-hard fans — Lestat and Louis are lovers, in a move that takes the famous subtext of Rice’s previous vampire novels and turns it into plain text.
What “Interview with the Vampire” hinted at in the ’70s was progressive for its time, Jones said, adding that “in the later books it’s like there was this great romance that was never really written, but we all kind of agree it happened.”
While Jones didn’t sugarcoat some of the more toxic “dishes-toss” aspects of the vampires’ relationship, he saw tremendous opportunity in how he could portray them in an updated adaptation.
Between Rice’s writings and the 1994 film, which has its fans and critics alike, Jones acknowledged that the series’ leads “had great spirits behind them.” But he commended Anderson – who, he pointed out, is in almost every scene – and Reid for their persistence and the range of their performances.
As for viewers?
“I want them to be surprised. For those who know it really well and love it, I want them to stick with it for seven (episodes) and if they’re still mad, that’s cool,” Jones said. “But hopefully I’ve done something exciting and exciting for them.”