Anne Rice famously disliked fanfiction. In the early 2000s, the iconic author posted a message on her website banning all fanfic, writing, "I do not allow fanfiction. the characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fanfiction with my characters." There were even claims around that time that legal counsel for Rice reached out to websites and writers of fanfic with cease-and-desist notices and even fanfiction.net, at one point, removed the entire category for fiction based on Rice's books from their site upon the author's request, much to the dismay of fans who enjoyed both reading and writing reimaginings of her stories and characters. Now, on October 2nd, AMC will debut a new television series based on Rice's Interview With the Vampire and, while it may seem a little strange to talk about Rice's decades-long disdain for fanfiction and an officially sanctioned adaptation of her work at the same time, the reality is this: AMC's Interview With the Vampire is itself an extremely queer live-action fanfic, but one with great promise that honors the themes of the original work.
Before jumping into the review itself, one has to address a major point: fans of Rice's novel coming into the AMC series thinking that they are getting an adaptation of the book may come away disappointed. As teasers and trailers have suggested, this series maintains only the barest of resemblances to the novel. We have the characters who share the names of those in the book and who happen to be vampires, and the story centrally takes place in New Orleans, but nearly every other detail of the story has been radically altered. The timeline is different, the ages of key characters — specifically "child vampire" Claudia and "boy reporter" Daniel Molloy — are wildly different, the very backstories and histories of other characters are also entirely different, namely for Louis. The series is, in nearly every sense of the word, a "what if?" version of Interview – and are in many ways original creations.
If Rice fans can manage to get past that and set aside the expectation of a true adaptation, what remains is an engaging and surprisingly human story, one that has potential though not one without some challenges. Louis, a century-plus-year-old vampire played by Jacob Anderson, tells his life's story to an aging journalist, Daniel Molloy (played by Eric Bogosian). The story, done in an interview format, is presented as a second attempt of sorts — the series alludes to the idea that the real-world novel, in this telling, was a first interview decades ago making this new one a sequel of sorts. While the interview takes place in the present, Louis' story takes place in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Orleans where we see him grappling not only with being a Black man trying to support his family during that time, but also as a closeted gay man working in the city's less savory businesses. It's as part of that struggle that Louis encounters the dashing and mysterious Lestat (Sam Reid), who turns out to be a vampire who simultaneously empowers Louis to be his true self and also becomes his abuser, in a sense, when he turns him into a vampire.
The thing that jumps out with the series, outside of its sumptuous and extraordinarily beautiful sets, is that the series' story, while a far, far cry from the book, is both interesting and does have a huge advantage over previous adaptations. Because Rice's Vampire Chronicles is now a complete series, something it was not when the best-known adaptation of the material (the 1994 film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt) was made, there is much more material to draw from in terms of characterization. In the case of Reid's Lestat, this works out brilliantly. Reid brings to life a Lestat that feels like he walked off the pages of Rice's novels and feels fully formed and like a whole person, even through Louis' rather one-sided and biased recollections. His performance is intoxicating, even though you know Lestat is very much the "villain" of Louis' story. Simply put, Reid is the perfect Lestat. The fresh approach to characterization also works, though to a lesser degree, for Louis, who comes off as a bit more complex and a touch less frustrating than he does in Rice's novel. Unfortunately, by compressing the timeline between Louis' vampire turn and his tell-all interview to just over a century down from several centuries in the book, almost none of that character development feels organic and earned. Anderson does a fine job of playing a very tortured human Louis and a fine job of playing a more emotionless and aloof vampire Louis who struggles with his own story, but the two performances feel extremely disconnected – a flaw of the show's storytelling choices, not the acting. Anderson brings a hauntedness to modern Louis that doesn't necessarily appear in Rice's novel and it's lovely.
There are, however, a few misses with the series' choices that are similarly complex. Leaning into Louis' queerness as a primary source of his suffering — in the book, it's the death of his hyper-religious but beloved brother that is the source of Louis' torment — allows the series to definitively deliver on the novel's enduring queer undertones, but at times overcomplicates and undermines them by wrapping them in a predator/prey dynamic. While there is no denying the chemistry between Reid and Anderson as these two men, it's also undeniable that their relationship is toxic and, at times feels heightened in that respect for drama. There's also the matter of the two characters whose ages have been tinkered with. Claudia is aged up (and necessarily so) in this adaptation and while Bailey Bass delivers what might be the best performance in the series, the writing still, at times, infantilizes her as though the character wasn't aged up at all. As for Daniel Molloy, the character is essentially an original creation who bears no resemblance to his novel counterpart and, while Bogosian is a fantastic actor (and as an older Daniel struggling with his own life issues, is a perfect casting choice), his work here feels a bit flat at times, though there is certainly room for expansion as the series and story progresses, something clear in the five (out of seven) episodes made available for review.
Yet, even with the odd changes to story that don't quite hit, Interview is intoxicating. Visually, this is a very elevated production full of beautiful details and rich imagery. There's an eroticism to the series that goes well beyond its presented queerness and the "sexy vampire" of it all and, while there is a good bit of violence and a lot of blood – this is a vampire tale, after all – it's never gratuitous. Instead, there's this rapid pulse of danger and intrigue that pushes the viewer to let go of their misgivings about all of the aforementioned issues and just give in to the lure of these flawed characters, this city, this darkness. It's enough to keep viewers, even the most skeptical, hooked and may well send those unfamiliar with Rice's gothic horror running straight to bookshops for more. It's a complex series in nearly every possible sense and as such, the series as a great deal of promise and potential. You get the sense that this is a story that wants you to come along for the ride for the long haul and is creating a space for you to settle in to do just that.
Yes, Rice hated fanfiction and AMC's Interview With the Vampire is very much a live-action version of that, something that is certain to draw the ire of many die-hard fans of her work. But the series is not without seductive charm. Between great visual details and some truly outstanding performances, the series offers a unique interpretation of the larger themes of Rice's stories and, while it doesn't quite get everything right in the first few episodes, there's room to grow and it's worth growing with it. This series won't be for everyone, but it certainly has bite.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire premieres on AMC on October 2nd.0comments