Warning: This article may contain mild spoilers for ‘Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire’ .
Nowadays, virtually every broadcaster seems all too eager to get its hands on the golden goose of intellectual property for its next hit remake, spinoff, and everything in between. With a successful film feature, a canned sequel and long-lasting impact on the gothic genre to its name, to say Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” books could be that golden goose would be an understatement.
Enter AMC’s “Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire” (2022), an eight-episode adaptation of the iconic 1976 book. The story centres the life of vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac as told to the journalist Molloy, including his life as a human, his relation to vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, and their raising of a young vampire named Claudia. Early on, the show prompted high expectations, boasting a stellar cast and crew: “Game of Thrones” Jacob Anderson would helm the cast as the story’s noble protagonist Louis with Sam Reid taking on the role of wildcard Lestat. The show’s creator is the seasoned writer and showrunner Rolin Jones (Boardwalk Empire, Perry Mason), with Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) donning the mantle of producer. Rice herself even helped craft the show and was a producer before passing away in 2021.
With the risk of sounding unmistakably biased, there is an extensive list of aspects that the show excels at. Initially set in 1910 New Orleans, the costuming and production design transport the viewer across the growth of the jazz age and its thriving debaucherous district. The script, though sometimes prone to slowing down by overindulging in snippets of Louis and Lestat’s domestic life and insights into Louis’ strange modern living circumstances in present-day Dubai, is still a feast. One moment, viewers are presented with touching respite, only to have it ripped away and skillfully (though still heartbreakingly) replaced by action, tragedy, shock and horror that spare no one in the story. But when the show shines, it does so thanks to its cast. Every performance is brilliant, with Anderson perfectly balancing Louis’ inner turmoil and benevolent heart, and Reid masterfully tapping into Lestat’s cruelty as guided by the phantoms of his loneliness. Bailey Bass as Claudia and Bogosian’s Daniel are tour-de-force performers who each bring out the unapologetic cynicism, wit, and unhinged tenacity of their characters in their own ways. Each performance is as moving and electrifying as the next.
In a feat that makes the show easily stand out among its contemporaries, the show’s approach to the topics of sexuality and race make it an absolute reckoning. In the 1994 film adaptation, Louis (played by Brad Pitt) was a grieving white plantation owner who accepted to become a vampire after the loss of his wife and child. In the 2022 series, Louis is a Black man, the owner of a successful non-segregated brothel and whose wealth and that of his family comes from, as he puts it, “plantations of sugar and the blood of men who looked like [his] great grandfather but did not have his standing.” Throughout the show, Louis’ circle – politicians, other business owners and his own business partners, all white men – unabashedly discriminate him, underpay him, condescendingly “compliment” his intelligence for a man of his complexity, and call him slurs. Unwilling to let his business take the fall for his reactions, Louis endures backhanded compliments and pejoratives, yet is never keen on forgetting the transgressions.
Where their dynamic in Rice’s novel was underpinned by homoerotic subtext, Louis and Lestat are explicitly showcased as a couple in the show. The two men’s romance blossoms only in part due to the enigmatic mechanics of vampirism, but because they are in love. Amidst an ocean of queerbaiting media that has notoriously shied away from such explicit affirmation, the show’s depictions objectively feel like a triumph, and their queer romance is not watered down in favor of being made palatable for conservative audiences. They exchange sensual glances, yes, but they also hold hands and lie in a coffin together; they kiss and dance and have sex. The heights of their romance all unfold before the viewers’ eyes – brazenly, unapologetically, and beautifully, even if only for a moment.
It is at this crux that the race and sexuality of the two leads that the show packs its most exceptional and powerful (though perhaps underrated) punch. While he had managed to keep up appearances prior to meeting Lestat, Louis is secretly a gay man. As said by Anderson himself, his process of navigating his new “life” as a vampire brings him closer to his humanity – humanity which is cemented in his queerness and blackness, and the experience of which is lost on Lestat. “You could be a lot of things in New Orleans, but an openly gay n-gg-r man was not one of ’em,” Louis says to Molloy. It becomes incredibly significant then that when Louis kills begrudgingly, he sees his victims as mere collateral damage to further his survival but when he kills deliberately, he targets and hunts down the men who had plagued his life with racist attacks. Louis is still reeling from decades of systemic racial abuse, and views vampirism (aka the Dark Gift) as a weapon to strike down on his and his people’s oppressors. Lestat himself seems initially on board with the idea – why else would he turn Louis into a vampire so that he could “be all the beautiful things” that he was and “be them without apology”? But as the show progresses, it becomes clear how Lestat’s status as a white man blinds him to the racialized order and controls that still affect Louis. Lestat, who has internalized the Dark Gift as means to extinguish the emotional toll of years’ worth of abandonment, fails to understand the significance that hunting his oppressors holds for Louis.
Louis has no issue calling into question the racialized power dynamic furthered by Lestat’s problematic colourblindness when it sparks confrontation between them during a scene: as he himself puts it, Louis is coloured, Lestat is white; he is Creole, Lestat is French; Louis is queer, and Lestat is… well, Lestat. There is no clear conclusion in sight, other than Louis branding it a “complicated situation.” At its most reductive and simplified, the dynamic between the two men is indeed that: a “complicated situation.” Yet at its most accurate, it is the source of an uneven racialized power dynamic. It becomes a source from which Lestat can derive authority and freedom, and weaponize against Louis. Lestat sees vampirism as a category to add into a different type of hierarchy that grants vampires power over humans, and naturally Louis – whose experiences have been shaped by othering enough as it were – refuses to share in the belief. Indeed, Lestat may be sympathetic to Louis being unable to present his sexuality as a queer man himself, but he lacks oversight about the rest of his identity, every bit of which Louis is incredibly aware of. Inherent to this iteration of the story is the idea that Louis’ race has always been sexualized, and his sexuality racialized. His experiences with them cannot be separated.
In my view, few mainstream films and shows made in present-day dare grapple with such intersecting complexities, and even fewer succeed if they do. “Interview with the Vampire” happens to be one of them. While it may only now be gaining traction and making rounds in the collective awareness, its openly complicated contributions to the gothic romance genre are paramount. Though it weaves a story around the romance of two vampires, the storytelling at its core transcends any surface-value explorations of the tropes about vampirism. It is a love story, a tragedy, a warning. With awe-inspiring performances and breathtaking production value, it will appeal even to those seeking a baseline captivating plot, but it will prove a richer storytelling degustation to those willing to be surprised by painstakingly critical and problematised retellings of the 1976 gothic classic.