A vigorous and intriguing adaptation of “Interview with the Vampire”

To be a vampire is to be free. That’s the irresistible promise made to Louis de Pointe du Lac, a black business owner and closeted gay man living in the Jim Crow South, in “Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire,” on AMC. A vigorously unfaithful adaptation of Rice’s 1976 novel of the same name, the historical fantasy drama is the first television series based on the author’s work. (AMC plans to develop several more, including “Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches,” slated for release in January.) “Interview” marks an auspicious start for this IP venture; by taking lavish and clever liberties with the source text, the series may well exceed Rice’s vision in resonance and complexity.

In the novel, which begins in the 18th century, Louis is a white planter from Louisiana transformed into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt, a manipulative opportunist to whom the “novice” nevertheless feels an attraction that he cannot explain. The series, set in a brilliantly recreated New Orleans in the 1910s and in the midst of the present pandemic, makes the mysterious and hypnotic relationship between Louis and Lestat overtly bizarre. (Director Neil Jordan’s shoddy 1994 film adaptation, which starred Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as Louis and Lestat, respectively, has been accused of whitewashing the story of its homoerotic subtext. Its biggest sin, perhaps, is its near-incoherent plot — ironically, thanks to Rice’s script.) The series’ reimagined Louis (Jacob Anderson) is an urban relentless, surrounded by possibility but smothered at every turn. Lestat (Sam Reid), a relatively enlightened French émigré, fumes at Louis’ social condition: “This primitive country has cleaned you up! In a faint of infatuation and white savior, he turns Louis into a vampire, believing this will strengthen his mate. But the Frenchman takes a long time to understand what his lover understands intuitively: even immortality does not replace race.

In its most compelling moments, “Interview” explores the powers a dark vampire may or may not wield in a segregated America. Louis can butcher a man for making a racist comment, but he can’t topple an old boys’ club with the means and connections to systematically bankrupt black entrepreneurs like himself. This overwhelming reality drives a wedge between him and Lestat, who assumes he has given Louis the ultimate gift: a way to remove himself from racism and homophobia by ridding himself of society altogether. But, after Louis joins the undead, he only clings more tightly to the shreds of his humanity. (“You’re chasing the ghosts of your old self,” Lestat rumbles, in the series’ gracefully rounded dialogue.) Of course, Louis wants to stay close to his mother (Rae Dawn Chong) and sister (Kalyne Coleman). Either his partner doesn’t understand what it’s like to be black, or he’s too detached from earthly concerns to care. Blood and fangs aside, “Interview” would be compulsively watchable if it were just a study of a toxic interracial relationship.

At its proudly overripe heart, the series is a gothic domestic soap opera—life themes laced with Southern adornments. The early, somewhat unevenly paced episodes are largely devoted to the curdling of Louis and Lestat’s romance, an ecstatic honeymoon followed by a drip of erosive disappointment. It’s not always fun to see, but who can’t understand? The mid-season introduction of Claudia (Bailey Bass), a fourteen-year-old teenager whom Louis and Lestat kill, resurrect, and adopt as their daughter, tilts the series into dark comedy. When Claudia temporarily takes command of the voiceover narration, the insatiable baby vamp happily positions herself as a buzzy horror movie villain, luring a cop to her death wearing a sailor blouse with ribbons in her hair. . Claudia can be an irritating mopey, and the confusion she experiences between her sexual appetites and her bloodlust leads to dire predictable consequences. But it is also she who, observing her fathers with the eyes of a pitiless adolescent, finally alerts Louis to the slow-boiling pot that his “marriage” has become.

Today’s scenes take us to Dubai, where Louis tells his story to a reporter. It’s easy to imagine this Louis – or any version of him – spending much of the 20th century looking for someone who could hear doom in his transcontinental adventures. Rice’s reporter was primarily a function of the novel’s framing device: a “boy” too inexperienced to understand Louis’ many regrets. (The character was played by Christian Slater in the film, in what was arguably the production’s most egregious casting failure. Somehow, the idol with the devilish smile and the Mephistophelian eyebrows ends up playing a harmless crackpot instead of a seductive villain.) Here the reporter is Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian), a surly, once-eminent reporter whom Louis met half a century ago in San Francisco. (Their last meeting didn’t go well; Daniel’s attempts to interview Louis resulted in puncture wounds to the writer’s neck.) The reshoots take place at Louis’ home: a penthouse apartment that admits limited sunlight during the day. Louis hasn’t killed in decades. And he’s intent on exposing the existence of vampires, a mission that’s sure to get him killed by members of his kind.

It’s a credit to the scripts that the tense conversations between reporter and subject are as engaging as the scenes of Louis’ transformation from mortal to (self-hating) monster. Daniel, who has Parkinson’s disease, bristles at Louis’ youth and health. But “Interview” belongs to a melancholy new era of vampire entertainment that has finally caught up with Rice’s most poignant insight: that the isolation intrinsic to a life apart from society and time makes vampiredom, for all its miracles , rather pitiful. In FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” the bloodsuckers are latter-day Norma Desmonds: has-beans so prominent and so out of touch with the modern world that they would have perished long ago but for the interventions of their own. nobody. familiar erasure. And in Showtime’s garish, unsubtle remake of “Let the Right One In,” a father’s all-consuming devotion to his vampire child sucks his life — and still guarantees nothing beyond his immediate survival.

Vampirism causes an identity crisis in Louis, who goes from being trapped in the closet to being trapped in Lestat’s coffin. In today’s direct-to-reader media landscape, in which the mediation offered by journalism is often circumvented, Louis’s desire for a writer to recount his experiences initially seems like an obligatory throwback. But you quickly get the impression that Louis needs someone to talk to – or, really, just a therapist – to help him make sense of his life, especially the choice of passion that ultimately got him. stripped of any freedom he had in the first place. . His plight is a wonderfully broad metaphor, especially for members of marginalized groups, for whom liberation is often a more difficult undertaking.

It’s the second time Anderson, who rose to prominence playing Daenerys Targaryen’s eunuch General Gray Worm in ‘Game of Thrones’, has portrayed romance suppressed by dark principles. Watching it on screen, this time with the benefit of actual characterization, feels like seeing a star rising in real time. “Interview” goes through many moods – tragic, erotic, comic, melodramatic – and Anderson, as Louis, inspires unwavering confidence throughout the series, especially in serio-camp scenes like the one in which he explodes when recalling an encounter with his sister’s baby: “I almost ate my nephew, Lestat! Anderson manages to make Louis’ ever-heavier guilt engaging, rather than an endurance test. But even the actor’s wounded charisma can’t make up for the show’s most glaring flaw: the sense of intimacy we lose when the action of this decades-spanning saga constantly shifts to “the important stuff.” “, instead of offering a sense of the everyday life of its characters. “Interview” strives to be the burgundy velvet lounge chair from the TV shows: a nifty and inviting kitsch object that could awaken our senses if we let ourselves get lost in it. It’s just that we would like to bask a little longer. ♦

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