Interview with the Vampire, AMC's sumptuous TV adaptation of Anne Rice's 1976 novel, wastes no time establishing that Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) is gay. He says as much not long into the series' first episode, explaining to Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian), the journalist he's recounting his life to, "The latencies within me — well, I beat those back with a lie I told myself about myself: that I was a red-blooded son of the South, seeking ass before absolution." Look no further than the last major Interview with the Vampire adaptation, the 1994 classic starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, in which queer subtext was just that (subtext), to understand why this is worth mentioning.
The homoeroticism of the film is the stuff of legend, but it almost didn't happen the way it did: Louis was nearly played by a woman (specifically, Cher), as Rice believed no studio would produce a movie driven by male intimacy. When it eventually did get made, it was with some caveats: Louis' (Pitt) backstory was changed to involve a dead wife and baby, and his relationship with Lestat (Cruise), the vampire who turned him, was never explicitly acknowledged for what it was. But here we are in 2022, a banner year for gay subtext becoming textual, and AMC's Interview with the Vampire, premiering Oct. 2, stands as a monument to Rice's work that fits into our present. It's overwrought, maximalist camp, bolstered by wholly committed performances from Anderson, Bogosian, Sam Reid, and the rest of the ensemble. It's the crazy, sexy, queer adaptation Rice's crazy, sexy, queer story always deserved.
This Interview with the Vampire, developed by Boardwalk Empire producer Rolin Jones, is still framed around that titular interview between Louis and Molloy, picking up 49 years after the one that ends Rice's novel and Neil Jordan's film. Molloy, now a washed-up former addict, hasn't kept in contact with Louis, the centuries-old vampire whose power he was desperate to harness in his youth. But Louis, now a ruminative eccentric who speaks with elegant, verbose flair, has kept tabs on him. Apparently humbled by the passage of time and looking to correct the record on things he wasn't prepared to speak about during their last meeting, Louis invites Molloy to conduct a do-over at his sprawling Dubai penthouse. Molloy is skeptical and world-weary, but he can't resist the temptation of an unfinished story, which Louis is happy to tell him, beginning in 20th century New Orleans.
The series makes two baseline choices that reshape its structure, the first being the directness with which it addresses queerness. The second is the reimagining of Louis, originally written by Rice as a white plantation owner. Here, he's played by Anderson, a Black actor, and he earns his opulent lifestyle as the proprietor of a brothel. He prowls confidently through the streets in bespoke suits, one of the few Black people in town who has (somewhat) earned the respect of white businessmen. Rewriting a character whose whole deal is based in racism to be Black is a risky move that the series approaches with care and thoughtfulness. It sometimes loses faith in its ability to communicate subtly by succumbing to lines of on-the-nose dialogue ("You could be a lot of things in New Orleans, but an openly gay Negro man was not one of them"), but overall, this new element gives the series a certain richness. Over and over, Louis realizes that becoming an immortal, supernatural being doesn't change the fact that, on the outside, he's still a Black man living in America.
It adds depth to Louis, a live wire always at risk of shooting sparks. The unwieldy feelings under Louis' surface are, in part, what attract Sam Reid's Lestat. When they meet, Lestat is already head over heels and barely makes a secret of it; Louis is cautious, but powerlessly drawn to Lestat. You can tell that the series knows it's found something special in Anderson and Reid's crackling chemistry, and it's at its best when Louis, in all of his increasing dourness, and Lestat, a boisterous hedonist perturbed by his partner's rejection of the vampiric lifestyle, are at their most toxic. By the time Lestat transforms Louis, solidifying them as companions for the rest of eternity, they've already slept together, fallen out, and engaged in light blood play. They're teenagers in love; they're an old married couple on the brink of divorce. The show confirms their relationship in no uncertain terms — "He was my mentor, my lover, and my maker," Louis explains to Molloy — and there's a kooky fearlessness in the writing of their dynamic. Neither is tortured by his queerness, which is also refreshing; they're mostly just tortured by each other. Should they break up for good? Probably, but what's the rush when they literally have forever?
It helps that both leads are outstanding. Anderson has a big job, tasked with pulling off a double act of finding the through line between the distressed Louis of the past and the stoic Louis of the present. (The through line is, of course, his losing battle of trying to hold on to some aspect of his human life.) He's as magnificent as the unreliable narrator as he is as the romantic lead as he is as the "fledgling" vampire struggling to adapt. As Lestat, Reid is hypnotic, imbuing him with a mix of joie de vivre, sociopathic charm, and bare affection for Louis. Around Louis, the unflappable Lestat goes weak in the knees. Together, Anderson and Reid create an enthralling rhythm, embracing the absurdity while finding a legitimate emotional core.
A point of contention between them stems from Louis' resentment over Lestat's inability to understand his experience with racism, which cleverly weaves into Lestat's exasperation with Louis' rejection of their nature (Louis, racked with guilt, prefers to drink the blood of animals). One of Louis' earliest kills comes after he realizes he's become complacent in allowing the white businessmen he previously saw as equals to treat him as an other, which infuriates Lestat: He wants Louis to feed off humans, but he wants them to be unimportant humans. They argue viciously and make up because they can't bear to sleep angry (in their adjacent his-and-his coffins — a wonderful touch), rinse, repeat. The late addition of the child vampire Claudia (a fantastic, drawling Bailey Bass) makes for a great shake-up of both the series and their relationship — she's supposed to calm the chaos, but she happily stokes the flame. (Claudia's backstory has been tweaked in a way that really works here, and the series made the wise choice to age her up into a forever teen.) Anderson and Reid are inspired casting choices, and it's a testament to their combined skill that the whole package works as well as it does.
Vampires as symbols for the ostracized is nothing new, but the series is made fresh by blending Rice's melancholy musings on humanity with new observations about race. As serious as those observations are, it finds space for dry humor ("OK. Did you eat the baby?" is the kind of line you can expect to hear spoken on this show) without losing its stakes. It's also often a visually striking endeavor (Louis' transformation, which happens, of all places, in a church, is an immediate highlight), which almost make you forget that its version of 1910 New Orleans looks a whole lot like a soundstage.
In the five episodes provided to critics for review (there are seven in total), the series successfully breathes new life (get it?) into an old story, shifting gracefully out of the film's shadow and showing willingness to go there in ways many adaptations are often too beholden to the original text to do. Interview with the Vampire is exactly what it needs to be, in all of its bloody, ridiculous, gay glory.
Premieres: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10/9c on AMC and AMC+
Who's in it: Jacob Anderson, Sam Reid, Eric Bogosian, Bailey Bass
Who's behind it: Rolin Jones (Perry Mason, Friday Night Lights), Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul)
For fans of: Interview with the Vampire (1994), gay vampires, toxic romance, Anne Rice's twisted mind
How many episodes we watched: 5 out of 7