Another Interview With the Vampire

Two bloodsucker properties get a seasonal reboot

It’s spooky season again, so none of us should be surprised that the vampires are once more upon us. This year, it’s not the sparkly day-walkers from the imagination of Stephanie Meyer, thank goodness, but rather a pair of TV reboots of properties that should be all too familiar to fans of the genre: Let the Right One In, on Showtime, and AMC’s Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.  Both, interestingly, are adaptations of adaptations, “Interview” of a bestselling book and a film adaptation, and “Right One” of a book and not one but two film versions, a brilliant Swedish version and a much less interesting American retread. After so many iterations on the same source material, we can’t help but wonder if, like the fresh victim of a ravenous bloodsucker, there’s any juice left in these properties worth feeding on.

Fortunately, neither of these adaptations come to us as staunchly rigid and literal versions of their respective source material, but rather reimaginings of their characters and exploits. Parallel universe versions of the same stories, if you will. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, firstly, is almost a spiritual sequel to the original novel. In this version, the journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian), now aging and cranky and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, receives an invitation to once again interview the vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) nearly fifty years after their first series of conversations. Those original tapes from the 70s didn’t amount to much, as Molloy was addled by active addiction at the time, and Louis figures he deserves another shot at the story. With his career dwindling and his health progressively failing, Molloy takes the bait, and heads to a posh skyscraper in Dubai to once again chronicle the life (and death) of this ageless vampire.

Lestat is more-stat

While the central cast of characters in this version remains faithful to the original, the timeline has shifted. Where before Louis was the scion of a wealthy plantation outside of New Orleans in 1791, here he’s depicted as running a variety of seedy businesses and rackets in the early 20th century red light district of the Crescent City known as Storyville. It’s a smart and creative move by the show’s writers and producers, and the New Orleans they depict is luxuriously beautiful, perhaps too much so, although romanticizing the time and place is certainly the point. As a New Orleanian, I found this to be a largely satisfying exploration of this period in the city’s history, one that’s rarely found its way to film and television, even if it does come across at times as unrealistically clean and shiny. The city would have accumulated two hundred years of grit and grime at this point, much of which you can still experience first hand today in the French Quarter and its environs.

Louis soon finds himself enamored by a strange newcomer to the city, a blindingly handsome Frenchman named Lestat de Lioncourt. With Lestat’s entrance, we soon find that this version of the story not only doesn’t shy away from Louis’s implicit love for Lestat, it becomes explicit rather quickly. In short order, Lestat seduces Louis, turns him into a vampire, and punches a police officer through the face. Bringing the gay subtext to the forefront is a decision this show makes boldly and, I feel, wisely. Making Louis a gay black man in the early 1900s deep American south shows us just how difficult his life was even before Lestat makes him a bloodthirsty creature of the night. And of course now that he’s an apex predator at the top of the food chain, there’s a definite thrill in seeing Louis turn the tables on his oppressors, though a brief one.

The story of his and Lestat’s dramatic relationship proves much more interesting, as does Louis’s arc as he learns how to kill effectively without being caught, while harboring deep internal conflict about becoming such a prodigious murderer. It was fascinating in the book, and  it was fascinating in Jordan’s film, and it’s no less fascinating here, although the series decides to spend more time on Louis’s deteriorating relationship with his family members instead of further exploring his tutelage as a new vampire, which doesn’t always work here. As you might imagine, the story of Louis and Lestat is always going to be more gripping than, say, the story of Louis and his mom. You don’t often if ever see a lot about the moms in vampire fiction, unless of course they’re vampires, too. I guess there’s a reason for that: regular family drama can never compete with vampire family drama. And, as in the novel, Louis and Lestat soon see their little vampire family grow by one with the introduction of Claudia.

Here’s where the series should really pick up narrative steam, and sadly it’s where it falls flat. In the book, Louis turns a plague-ridden five year-old Claudia into a vampire, while Jordan’s film depicts her at ten (Kirsten Dunst, in a memorable and star-making role). The angst and tragedy of an immortal child who will never mature remains one of the most captivating aspects of the story. But this time, they sadly miscast the role. While again they describe Claudia as pre-pubescent, the actress who portrays the character (Bailey Bass) is nineteen, and it shows, not only in her physical stature, but also in the way she “acts down” to a younger age, which comes off as creepy and discomfiting, and not in the way that vampires are supposed to be creepy and discomfiting.

It also doesn’t help that Bass’s attempt at a southern accent misses the mark entirely, sounding more like a Georgia belle than a black New Orleans city girl at the turn of the 20th century. Granted, that’s an extremely specific accent, and Jacob Anderson does an admirable job with it on his end, even if he does at one point mispronounce “Royal Street.” (He says “Royale,” as in “Royale with cheese.”) Bass, on the other hand, whiffs it hard here, and her hamfisted and inconsistent attempts to sound even vaguely southern nearly destroyed my every attempt to willingly suspend disbelief during her scenes. It’s a shame, really, since she’s such a compelling character both in the book and in Jordan’s adaptation.

Conversely, Sam Reid is magnificent as Lestat, absolutely inhabiting the character in a way we’ve yet to experience on screen. Tom Cruise was solid in the role, albeit shorter than how Rice describes the character in her novels, and also lacking Lestat’s French accent and continental affectations. Reid nails them, coming off in every way as sophisticated, arrogant, sexy, menacing, charming, rude, and wholly captivating as Lestat does in Rice’s vampire chronicles. He’s a deeply complex and conflicted character, and Reid’s portrayal hits it right in the jugular. It’s a high point in an otherwise uneven series.

On a whole, while the New Orleans scenes in the series often come off here as campy and melodramatic, the scenes with Bogosian and Anderson are a surprising series high point. You’d think that high vampire drama in the French Quarter could never rival two men having a conversation in a billionaire-chic minimalist penthouse, but that seems to be the case here. In the present, Anderson portrays Louis with eerie calmness and poise, which I suppose one develops after living as a vampire for a hundred years or so. The dialogue is strangely believable and affecting, even poignant, mostly due to Bogosian’s performance, which as always is top notch.

If you’re looking for less camp in your vamp and want a bit more subtlety and nuance, Let the Right One In fits that bill handsomely. This being the fourth incarnation of that story, I was admittedly wary about its prospects. Did we really need another go at the same material? Getting another version to stand out would surely be a challenge for the creative team here, and much to my surprise, they’ve done a remarkable job at refreshing the tale without losing the most captivating aspects of the original, even adding intriguing new characters and plot arcs that bode well for the series in the long run.

Let her in, again

For the unfamiliar, Let the Right One In is, at its core, the story of a child vampire and her growing friendship with a sensitive, bullied boy in her neighborhood. That much remains intact in this new adaptation, as does the dim lighting and brooding mood of the brilliant Swedish film. From there, the series becomes a full-on reimagining of the story. One of the big twists of the original film was that the vampire Eli’s “father” was in fact a boy she befriended years ago and, as he aged, took on the role as her caretaker and blood-gatherer. Here, however, young Ellie’s dad is her biological father (Demián Bichir), who we find desperately attempting not only to provide sanguine sustenance for his vampire child while staying one step ahead of the law, but also to discover how and why she became a bloodsucker in the first place. Ellie (Madison Taylor Baez) isn’t centuries old in this version, but a young girl and a young vampire, still possessed of all the yearning and uncertainty of her age.

Baez is excellent in the role, adroitly displaying both the vulnerability, intensity and menace of the original character with an ease we don’t often encounter on screen, especially with young actors. The same can be said for Ian Foreman, who plays the sensitive, sweet, nerdy Isaiah Cole, whose obsession with magic tricks leads even his mother Naomi (Anika Noni Rose) to fear the neighborhood bullies will eat him alive. She’s not wrong, either. The mean kids at school find easy pickings in Isaiah, who can offer little defense against their worsening violence. Thankfully, his new friend and neighbor, Ellie, happens to be a bloodthirsty creature of the night. They’re good friends to have, if you can find one. As in the Swedish version, there’s already a bit of justice porn in this series, and we’re only three episodes in. I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that this adaptation will give us something akin to the infamous swimming pool scene by the end of the season, and I’ll be standing by with my popcorn at the ready when it inevitably does.

While the friendship between Ellie and Isaiah grows, complications abound. In a spectacular convergence of bad luck and timing, Naomi just happens to be a NYPD homicide detective, which Mark quickly finds out can be a perilous next door neighbor to have when your daughter is a vampire and, oh yeah, you just happened to (SPOILER ALERT) feed her with the blood of her new bestie’s father, the detective’s ex-husband, whom you thought was just a scummy drug dealer nobody would miss. Upon realizing this, I was half expecting Mark to exclaim, “I’ve made a huge mistake.

The entrance of a next-door detective might be a too-pat plot device, but it also connects us to a subplot new to this series. There’s a new drug on the market that essentially turns people into vampires. Well, kinda, we don’t quite know exactly what it does yet, other than give unfortunate addicts superhuman strength, an aversion to light, and a thirst for human flesh, which results in some grisly horror scenes that ramp up the gore factor of the show to video game levels. Both Detective Cole and Mark find themselves on the hunt for the drug’s source, albeit for very different reasons.

Speaking of drugs, the new illicit substance connects us to a new set of characters, namely an ailing oopioid kingpin Arthur Logan (Zeljko Ivanek), who, like Mark, finds himself desperately seeking to cure his vampire son Peter (Jacob Buster). Unfortunately, Arthur is in the process of dying, so he reconnects with his prodigal chemist daughter Claire (Grace Gummer) to continue his research. Claire wants nothing to do with Arthur, whose drugs stole countless lives in the name of profit, but reluctantly agrees to resume his work when she finds out the horrifying truth about Peter, whom she thought long dead. Joining her efforts is Arthur’s former fixer/security chief  Matthew (Nick Stahl), whose primary duty, like Mark, is to keep the family vampire fed and off the authorities’ radar.

As the series progresses, we see how the plot threads start to knit together. It’s perhaps a little too convenient, in a city as huge as New York, how quickly the primary characters become entangled, but that’s a small price to pay in an otherwise great series. It’s remarkable how much Let the Right One In accomplishes in only the first few episodes without ever seeming like it’s trying too hard or artificially advancing the narrative. The writing and dialogue are largely excellent, as is the moody atmosphere and talented acting, and it seems like this show gets more right in just its pilot than Interview With the Vampire does in the better part of a season, without resorting to the type of histrionics endemic to vampire stories. It feels familiar, but also fresh, where Interview often comes off uneven and forced, albeit still fun.

Whichever flavor of vampire you prefer – child friendships and detective noir or homoerotic historical melodrama – these two new shows offer plenty of things to love (and a few to loathe) for ardent acolytes of the genre and casual viewers alike. That said, neither of them are quite as captivating and enjoyable as the family of Staten Island vamps on What We Do in the Shadows, but that bar is perhaps a little too high.

Even for a bat.

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Scott Gold

Scott Gold is the author of The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, a selection of which was excerpted in Best Food Writing 2008. His writing has appeared in numerous publications both in print and online, including Gourmet, Edible Brooklyn, Thrillist, Eater, Tasting Table, Time Out, and OffBeat, and he has served as a feature food writer and photographer for The New Orleans Advocate, restaurant critic and dining writer for Gambit, and resident “food pornographer” for the New Orleans arts and culture website In 2016, Gold served as the "national bacon critic" for Extra Crispy. His radio essays have also been featured on Louisiana Eats! with Poppy Tooker, and as a correspondent for WWNO’s All Things New Orleans.

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