It’s been nearly half a century since “Interview with the Vampire” was released, leaving its mark on popular culture. Written by the late Anne Rice, the book was the first of the “Vampire Chronicles,” which includes 12 follow-up novels. “The Interview” itself was adapted into a 1994 feature film starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, while a loose “Queen of the Damned” adaptation hit theaters in 2002.
Now, TV audiences can revisit “Interview with the Vampire” in a new series on AMC on Sunday nights. Beloved characters like Louis, Lestat and Claudia are back – albeit with some updates to their stories.
“We have these books that have literally been played in everyone’s head a million times, and then there’s this movie that has instilled that in another generation of people,” said executive producer and writer Rolin Jones, who acknowledged feeling a “push and pull of how to be reverent and how to make sure you don’t bore the people who already know these stories pretty well.”
Jones and production designer Mara LePere-Schloop spoke with CNN about recreating “Interview with the Vampire” for television and keeping the adaptation supernatural, sensual and lavish in keeping with the source material.
Bringing “Interview with the Vampire” to television involved building a “universe,” said Jones, who kept the other “Vampire Chronicles” in mind as he planned everything from character details to the bigger picture. (Lestat, played by Sam Reid, saw some “rewriting” in the later books, Jones noted — starting with a more fleshed-out backstory in the second novel, 1985’s “The Vampire Lestat.”)
The titular interview takes place today; the 1994 film, its screenplay written by Rice, also placed the interview in then-modern times. Like the novel, the new “Interview with the Vampire” centers on Louis, who shares how he became a vampire with Daniel Molloy, a character first introduced to readers as an unnamed young reporter.
This Daniel, portrayed by Eric Bogosian, is an older, seasoned 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 callback 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 1700s, which is when he met Lestat. The new Louis, still prone to periods of melancholy, guilt and self-loathing, is a black brothel owner in early 20th century New Orleans when his story begins.
The changes made were partly the result of wanting to focus on a “time period that was as exciting aesthetically as the 18th century was without digging into a plantation story that nobody really wanted to hear now,” Jones said. He noted that the character’s lineage can still be traced back to “plantation money” and that his original occupation did not particularly come up as a point of “self-reflection” in the novels.
Another significant character update involves Claudia – only 5 years old when she was made a vampire in the novel, although she was portrayed by an 11-year-old Kirsten Dunst in the film. AMC’s adaptation further ages Claudia by making her 14 at the time of her transformation. This does not make her more prepared for the internal turmoil that sets in.
As actor Bailey Bass said in a featurette shared on the show’s Twitter account, this Claudia has to “deal with the emotions of a 19-year-old, then a 30-year-old, then a 40-year-old while still stuck in this 14-year-old young body.”
The decision to age Claudia was made in part due to concerns about filming certain scenes, particularly those with more “adult” connotations. Child labor laws were another factor.
“If I wanted to do Claudia in this show, I need as many hours of footage with the actor playing her as possible,” Jones said. “And if I put someone younger than 18 in there, I would have limited hours.”
For LePere-Schloop, who read Rice’s novels as a teenager and credits them in part with drawing her to New Orleans, her home for two decades, the changes in the TV series are not unlike the author’s work. After Rice died, her assets were donated to an archive at Tulane University in New Orleans, said LePere-Schloop, who met with the archivist while the series was being filmed.
“Some of the things she discovered was that Anne was writing short stories and other interpretations of ‘Chronicles’ where Louis was a woman or other fluid things happen,” she said. “Even in Anne’s own writing there is a story of a kind of play 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.” Immersing the viewer in the updated setting required a good amount of research.
“We are now talking about a period in New Orleans that has been talked about a lot, but has not been very well documented in pictures or captured in film and television, and that is the period of Storyville (the red-light district), said LePere-Schloop. “Culturally, it’s had such a big impact on the city.”
As a resident of New Orleans, she knew that “when a place is done wrong, you hear it in the city.” So she relied on various resources, including the expertise of local historian Richard Campanella.
“He worked with us to capture things that he knew from oral histories and anecdotal stories that he had documented over time of elements from Storyville,” LePere-Schloop said.
The production incorporated the very real history of New Orleans, as well as important locations in the city, in addition to building new sets – like the one for Storyville – to bring viewers into this version of Louis and Lestat’s world.
“Anne used the city as research and reference,” LePere-Schloop said. “We were lucky enough to be able to film in the actual house that Anne wrote Lestat’s terraced house to be in the novels. Her inspiration for that house is a living museum, and we got to use that as the exterior of the house.”
Creating the inside of the house, albeit on a stage, was also a lot of fun, she said, noting that the original inspiration has “really incredible design details” like a skylight (which was worked into the script) and crown molding.
Different design aesthetics were used to show the passage of time while the vampires remain unchanged. The sets also served as a reflection of the characters, from the art Lestat brings over to New Orleans from Europe to the depressed state the vampire home falls into when things go awry.
“It’s an emotional landscape as much as a physical one,” Jones said.
LePere-Schloop wanted to avoid portraying a New Orleans cliché on screen – and similarly she wanted to avoid vampire clichés, opting out of painting everything “bordello red” or putting gothic arches everywhere. But for all the historical detail adopted by the behind-the-scenes team, there are touches (including added saturation during the final color process, Jones said) that feel less natural.
While thinking about 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 backdrop. The world Louis and Lestat occupy is “sexy” and “vibrant,” she said, compared to early depictions of vampires in movies, which tended to be understated and “crumbly.”
Even with some changes to the original storylines, the “Interview with the Vampire” team didn’t ignore the source material — rereading and “seeing what was in the cracks and crevices” helped them craft the show, Jones said.
There are subtle references to characters from later novels and even a quick shout out to Rice’s Mayfair witches (also the subject of an upcoming AMC series). Characters who did not appear in the film appear here. And—perhaps the most important detail for diehard fans—Lestat and Louis are dating, in a move that takes the famous subtext of Rice’s previous vampire novels and simply turns it into text.
What “Interview with the Vampire” suggested 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 everyone agrees. it happened.”
While Jones didn’t sugarcoat some of the more toxic “dish-throwing” aspects of the vampires’ relationship, he saw huge potential in how he could portray it in an updated adaptation.
Between Rice’s writing and the 1994 film, which has fans and critics alike, Jones acknowledged that the show’s lead “had big ghosts behind him.” But he praised Anderson – who he pointed out is in almost every scene – and Reid for their stamina as well as the range of their performances.
As for the 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 angry, that’s cool, ” Jones said. “But hopefully I did something exciting and exciting for them.”