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Interview with the Vampire: In Throes of Increasing Wonder...

Bold and gorgeous, this adaptation is not what I expected.

When they announced a television adaptation of The Vampire Chronicles a few years back, with a deep collaboration from Anne Rice herself, I was pretty excited. The Vampire Chronicles have been adapted twice, once in the 90's with the fabulous movie Interview with the Vampire (1994), and the follow up which was not very good and was not really an adaptation of the third novel Queen of the Damned. Unfortunately the project seemed to languish in development hell for a long time. Following Rice’s death last year, things were not looking great for the prospects of a well crafted and epic adaptation of her tale of Lestat de Lioncourt.

Then there were the casting announcements. Jacob Anderson was going to be Louis and the backlash was about what you would expect. I was skeptical too, because Louis in the novels is a slave-owning plantation owner in the deep south about fifteen or so years after the Revolution. While not essential to the character in some respects, it does kind of establish a very specific type of person... okay, not to mince words here, he was very, very white.

Jacob Anderson is a great actor, and from just that angle alone he was a lovely choice for Louis. Anderson portrayed silent suffering perfectly during his time on Game of Thrones, a great fit for Louis. But how could they get past the hurdle of a black man in a position of wealth and power in that time period?

Well, they did it by first changing the time period from 1791 to 1910. Secondly, they shifted him from a rich white plantation owner to a brothel owner in New Orleans. On the surface this is a radical shift, changing the aesthetics of the story and destroying at least 100 years of Louis’s life. Except we don’t really get a lot of that history in the books. Louis’ time after the events of the first novel are somewhat vague or left undetailed.

So perhaps the setting change wasn’t a big deal. If there is no need to chronicle the intervening years then maybe they are irrelevant. Okay, looking past the casting and the setting change, we would effectively reset continuity and erase any possible connection to the original work. Not ideal for the first adaptation since 1994’s Interview with the Vampire, but understandable given how adaptations tend to go.

Except they didn’t do that. In this version of the story, Louis told a tale to the interviewer back in the 1970’s. Not a fully accurate one it seems, which does make sense given that Louis is a famously unreliable narrator. Now he has brought the original interviewer back nearly 50 years later to set the record straight, and I did not fully anticipate what we ended up getting.

This version of the story is both incredibly accurate to the source material and in some ways wildly different. It is a lavish production, with incredible attention paid to details and costuming. The setting somehow drips gothic horror, despite being relatively modern. The claustrophobic rooms with ornate wallpaper and gas lighting create a specific mood. The music and camera work reinforce the aesthetics and craft a world that is clearly intentional and well thought out.

So then it falls to the actors. Anderson does better than I expected as Louis, and carries this first episode as the emotional lead. He is appropriately creepy as the Vampire in question telling the story, and mostly sympathetic and complex as a human living the last days of his mortal life. Haunted and hunted, we get to meet Louis’ family and walk in his shoes as he deals with what is expected of him. Paul, Louis’s brother, played by Steven G. Norfleet is another standout in a tragic role that mirrors the plot in the original novel more closely than the movie adaptation.

Louis is also a slightly different character in a couple of wonderful ways. Instead of sex and sexuality being subtext, here it is text. Louis in the present is an out and proud gay man, without any hesitation fixing that detail on the record. In the past he is closeted and terrified of his sexuality as a gay man living in that time period, where coming out could literally mean a death sentence, especially for a man of color in the deep south.

Sam Reid is even more of a surprise as a French-accented Lestat (as he should be, I might add). He feels almost lifted from the page, and is both incredibly magnetic and captivating and more than a little terrifying. His obsession with Louis is almost immediate and you can see the chemistry on screen crackle as they fall into each other's orbits. They circle each other in this wonderful dance focused on the question at the heart of their conflict in this first episode.

Lestat speaks to Louis using telepathy, he flies and moves so fast that he practically stops time, and he is brutal and violent in ways that speak to his past. He has a deep hatred for the church, and you get the clear impression that it has to do with his family, his father in particular. He casually mentions a musician in his past, and his mother, both of which should appear in future episodes if this series delves into the later books. But ultimately this episode is about their initial connection and the start of their love affair. Ending with Louis being turned into a vampire.

Bits:

Louis’ sister mentioned the Mayfair Witches off hand during the dinner scene. Not only was this a nice easter-egg for Rice fans, it is also foreshadowing another series in development which will be a part of this 'Immortal Universe' that AMC is building.

The producers have mentioned that the previous movie Interview with the Vampire starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise could be considered canon from a certain point of view, since this story essentially overwrites that original interview with Daniel.

Daniel in the novels was turned by Lestat at some point in the past, so this is somewhat counter to canon in that regard.

If this episode is a good example of the series to follow, it could become one of the best vampire adaptations ever made.

4 out of 4 less than faithful adaptation changes that turned out wonderfully.

Samantha M. Quinn spends most of her time in front of a computer typing away at one thing or another; when she has free time, she enjoys pretty much anything science fiction or fantasy-related.

3 comments:

  1. I was definitely entertained. It's an exceptional production and both Louis and Lestat are terrific -- great casting. I wasn't sure how I felt about the changes they made to Daniel, to the time period, to Louis, but it could work.

    Terrific review, Samantha.

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  2. I've been so excited for this show and Mayfair Witches ever since I heard they were being made. In the 90s, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and The Witching Hour cemented my transition from kid to teen. I was obsessed! I read the novels over and over again throughout high school, and I used to write "I love Lestat" all over my binder and notebooks. The Vampire Lestat was my favorite of the books, although Tale of the Body Thief was a close second. (I've always had a thing for body-swap stories.) I once stood in line at a Barnes and Noble in NYC for hours because Anne Rice was signing copies of The Vampire Armand and would let you jump to the front of the line if you participated in a blood drive that was happening in the Fiction section. Like I said, obsessed.

    I was so curious about how this show would adapt Interview and was skeptical about the changes, but the biggest compliment I can give is that it *feels* like Anne Rice's universe. Jacob Anderson feels like Louis, and - based on this first episode - Sam Reid has already created the best screen adaptation of Lestat out of all the actors to take on the role. I adore the fact that the sexual subtext is now blatant and crystal clear. I'm also a fan of the fact that Louis and Daniel are re-doing their initial interview. I was so curious about why they chose to cast an older actor in that role and was truly pleased with the choice once I saw the episode.

    The show is gorgeous, true to the tone of the books, and creatively adapted in ways that I approve of wholeheartedly. I can't wait to see how it progresses!!

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  3. I've been avoiding watching dark stuff for a while now but I might just make an exception for this. So many of my friends seem enraptured by it. I have no experience with the source material, I haven't read the books or seen the Cruise/Pitt/Dunst movie (I feel like I've seen a bit of it but I definitely have not seen the whole thing). Really digging that they dropped the subtext and made it explicitly gay. I actually don't remember the furor over Anderson's casting. There's always furor over something or else; it all tends to blend together, doesn't it? But I've heard good things about the performances. Not in love with the idea of paying for another streaming service. Oh well I guess.

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