In the early 2000s, the Twilight books almost singlehandedly spearheaded the new subgenre of “paranormal romance” in YA lit, changing the popular perception of the blood-sucking creatures of the night forever. A far cry from Dracula, Carmilla, or John Polidori’s "The Vampyr," these supernatural beings of the new century sparkled, went to high school, dated mortals in broad daylight, and were filled with redemptive potential. No matter how creepily Edward Cullen or his offshoots behaved, they became prime fictional boyfriend material for teenagers.
But Anne Rice’s vampires weren’t so.
First published in 1976, The Interview With the Vampire announced the “vampire” as a melancholic figure, brooding eternally on existential questions. But if Louis Pointe du Lac sounded too much like an 18th century emo badly in need of therapy, the sequel The Vampire Lestat showcased the other end of the spectrum—Lestat de Lioncourt (who turned both Louis and the child Claudia into vampires) was charismatic, extravagant, and relatively unencumbered by the dictates of human morality.
No doubt, Anne Rice’s vampires were still blood-drinking predators, but they were fraught with a variant sort of conscience, fumbling through a Gothic hellscape, both literally and metaphorically. And through them, the author subtly weighed on matters relating to art, beauty, existence, ennui, morality, sexuality, and even homoerotic relationships.
The 1994 adaptation of the book by Neil Jordan did a fairly good job, especially since it was scripted by Rice herself, and supplemented by breathtaking performances from Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, and an 11-year-old Kirsten Dunst.
Almost a decade later, Michael Rymer released Queen of the Damned, which was a spectacular failure on every count. Other projects languished indefinitely in development purgatory, and pop culture became more and more obsessed with “humanizing” vampires (Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and so on), even casting them in a comedic light, such as Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows.
But the new Interview With the Vampire AMC series follows Rice’s original storyline even as it significantly departs from and improves upon the source material. Spread over seven lusciously well-crafted episodes, it adds nuance and relevance to some of the themes presented in the book, as well as uses the lens of vampirism to center discussions on race, queerness, and domestic violence.
For starters, Louis (played to grim perfection by Jacob Andersen) isn’t a plantation owner from the 1700s, but a gay Black man who owns a string of successful brothels in a New Orleans neighborhood in the early 1900s. Already under close scrutiny in racialized America, his blossoming friendship with the mysterious, outrageously rich French gentleman Lestat (a charming Sam Reid) estranges him further from his family.
Some time after his brother’s suicide, Louis succumbs to the Dark Gift bestowed by his white lover—but his vampiric rebirth gives him the agency that his mortal self never had. He can inflict violence and revenge the wrongs done to him by the racist community, even when it doesn’t bring him the satisfaction he had hoped for. His strict Christian upbringing and the vestiges of human morality further prevent him from feeding on mortals, and in a fit of remorse, he saves a young Black girl (Claudia, portrayed elegantly by Bailey Bass) from a fire, begging his maker to turn her into a vampire as well.
Thus, Claudia, Louis and Lestat form an embittered and dysfunctional trio, cohabiting a large house in New Orleans with extreme uneasiness—a set-up that allows the showrunners to explore issues of domestic abuse and violence in great detail. The interviewer, Daniel Molloy (a mature, world-weary Eric Bogosian), frequently interrupts modern-day Louis’ reminiscences to call out Lestat for the abuser that he truly is. But Louis defends his maker, displaying the textbook symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s a perfect illustration of how unending loneliness and the primal need for companionship (made more acute as Louis and Claudia are led to believe that they are the only ones of their kind, at least in America) warps one’s perceptions for the worse—by mistaking abuse for love and normalizing emotional violence in the household.
Moreover, their interactions with each other as well as the community at large also emphasizes how vampires do cruel things out of a desperation to hold onto their power—the same mechanisms by which systems like white supremacy and patriarchy perpetuate themselves.
Aware of his unique position (an oppressed Black man with the vampiric gift/curse), Louis struggles to repress his bloodthirsty nature. But he is unable to sever his emotional ties to Lestat as he has no other community to belong to—just as victims of domestic violence remain trapped in abusive situations as they frequently have nowhere else to go or no one to turn to (at one point, Claudia even calls Louis a “housewife”).
Lestat, on the other hand, revels in this domestic arrangement. Entitled, he uses his charisma to mask his insecurities—his extravagance is mere façade for his emptiness (see: his flamboyant costume for the Mardi Gras masquerade) but he will do anything to protect that illusion, no matter the price or the consequences. Even while being unfaithful, Lestat constantly demands loyalty from Louis by using the enchantment of romance to keep him isolated from everyone else, and therefore firmly within his grasp.
Of course, this is a power he can never exert on Claudia, who has been on Louis’ side from the start. She is easily one of the most interesting characters on the show, whose predicament raises several philosophical questions.
Turned into a vampire while she was still young, Claudia shares Lestat’s bloodlust and penchant for hunting mortals, but she is a woman trapped in the body of a child. While Louis and Lestat are free to pursue love and lust, Claudia’s vampiric nature and child’s anatomy prevent her from pursuing romantic partners or expressing her sexuality. In the throes of passion, she accidentally kills her first boyfriend. Instead of consoling her, Lestat burns the boyfriend's body in front of her to teach her a lesson.
In a very poignant moment, she cries out to them both, “Which one of you gonna fuck me?," further emphasizing how Claudia has attained immortality at the cost of her womanhood. It has also been at the cost of a powerful body that is fundamentally incompatible with her mind—perhaps a nod to all the subtle ways people experience dysphoria and dysmorphia. This places her in a position where she can see through Lestat’s lies and manipulations and how Louis is so hopelessly in his thrall, but this awareness and understanding cannot improve her own situation or satisfy her innate longing for connection.
Despite her closeness to Louis, Claudia will never be privy to the romantic understanding that the adult male vampires share and so, for a while, she goes off on her own journey of self-discovery. Her diaries (preserved by Louis and read aloud by the interviewer) reveal her curious years in college campuses, her encounter with a rogue vampire, and subsequent trauma. As a single woman, Claudia ultimately has the choice of eking out a solitary and disappointing existence, or compromising on her independence by going back to Louis and plotting Lestat’s death. It's not a surprise that she caves in and chooses the latter.
The Interview with the Vampire emphasizes how the threat of loneliness compels the characters (Louis and Claudia) to constantly make subpar choices—creating toxic situations that are characterized by unequal power dynamics. The few fight sequences in the show are elaborately choreographed not to pepper the narrative with mandatory action, but to remind viewers that Lestat is a monster, capable of inflicting great harm onto his loved ones when provoked. The dysfunctional domestic drama becomes a microcosm for the larger structural inequalities that constrain one’s agency and quality of life.
For the most part, the show leaves the viewer with very few complaints. The carnal scenes are explicitly over-the-top, which might detract some viewers who prefer subtext when it comes to depicting eroticism of any kind. Also, at times, the interviewer can be too on the nose in calling out the problematic elements in Louis’ emotional (and occasionally, unreliable) autobiography, instead of trusting the that the audience is probably intelligent enough to recognize abuse when they see it.
Of course, Daniel Molloy’s presence delves into murky ethics of journalistic storytelling and offers a neat framing device for the narrative as well as the lone voice of sanity on the series. But, at the same time, the show’s tendency to constantly filter every conversation through the prism of woke rhetoric can get quite tiring. After all, fictional characters (and people by extension) are complex, messy and mostly morally gray. Yes, this is a show about murderers who do all sorts of gruesome things—but these murderers are fictional, and the artifice of fiction allows a safe exploration of depravity by holding up a mirror to the darker side of human nature that cannot be always neatly pigeonholed into certain categories.
Overall, The Interview with the Vampire does what a competent adaptation is meant to do—engage with the source material in new and novel ways for the contemporary audience. Set in the modern day, the show signals early on that this is not the first time that Louis is doing such an interview. Perhaps it’s a subtle nod to the Neil Jordan movie that was set in San Francisco, but it also urges the audience to reconsider the original story in a fresh light. This is literalized in the character of Daniel himself—who is older, wiser and more mature now. Although he has a Parkinson’s diagnosis and knows his time on Earth is soon running out, he has no interest in turning into a vampire, and is able to dissect Louis’ story with detachment and a careful eye at spotting inconsistencies.
But this narrative strategy also relates to the industry’s current obsession with recycling nostalgia and relying on formulaic tropes to draw in old and new viewers on a steady diet of mediocre, mind-numbing storytelling that does nothing to question the status quo. As mentioned earlier, each of the creative changes to the original story (altering the time period, casting Louis as a Black vampire, and having Claudia be played by an adult) invites the audience to consider Rice’s tale and its adaptation with a keener political awareness even though it does succumb to the other industry trend of rigorous sequel-baiting. At only seven episodes, we are just halfway through the events of the first book; and like most recent series, the finale doesn’t aim for a self-contained ending or narrative closure. Instead, it sets up the sequel, not just to continue Louis’ autobiography but also further his story in a pandemic-ridden, present-day Dubai.
Evenly paced, immensely thoughtful ,and gloriously decadent, The Interview With the Vampire is a highly satisfying show that will appeal to longtime readers of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles as well as to new fans. Perhaps it’s greatest triumph is that, unlike a lot of YA media, it resurrects vampires as compelling and complex characters without romanticizing their innate predatory natures.
In this way it reinstates them to their Gothic roots, which also functions as an effective critique of other social structures and power hierarchies. Self-aware, meditative, and ambitious, this new series will definitely leave the viewers hungry for the next installment in Louis’ tragic tale.