“Beautiful to look at and dripping with atmosphere…”
– Scott Nash via Rotten Tomatoes
Even if you have no idea who Anne Rice is, even if you have never read a page out of the Vampire Chronicles, you still know about Interview with the Vampire. You will have been there when it was released, you will have heard about it when mentioning Twilight (in not-so-subtle admonitions of “whatever, you’ve obviously never watched Interview with the Vampire”), people will have instructed you on its depth, its gore, and its romance. And you will have been told that it was simultaneously the most romantic and brutal vampire film ever released. That people were appalled by its content, despite being titillated into whispering about it and lavishing affection upon its A-list cast.
“Most of all I longed for death. I know that now. I invited it, a release from the pain of living. My invitation was open to anyone. Sailors, thieves, whores and slaves… but it was a vampire that accepted.”
– Brad Pitt as Louis de Pointe du Lac, Interview with the Vampire
In 1994, Neil Jordan finally released his on-screen rendition of Interview with the Vampire, a full eighteen years after the first publication of the novel. Aside from sporting an all-star cast, which included names such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas, Interview with the Vampire had what few films based on novels ever do, a screenplay by the author herself, and her seal of approval. The movie followed smoothly from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, which initially lifted the demonic character of The Count into a romantic role, in which he played a lothario, rather than a demonic overlord. And in a way, Interview did much the same.
As far as films are concerned, this one has to be considered as one of the most exquisite adaptations from any novel. The studio went above and beyond in creating a unique set and filtered environment which lowered the mood and tone of the film to such a degree that the audience was drawn in from the opening credits. Even the score seemed to loop around the viewer, tying them in with this dark and riveting world where vampires are possible, but where their existence is one of misery, strife and, ultimately, suffering.
Sadly, no movie can ever outshine a novel. Those of us that read the torturous pages of Interview with the Vampire first, will easily be able to pick out a myriad of problems – discrepancies even. All simply and astutely explained away, but a source of agony for the die-hard fan, nonetheless.
“…For all its visionary brilliance, the movie version of Interview never lets us close enough to see ourselves in Louis. We’re dazzled but unmoved.”
– Peter Travers via Rotten Tomatoes
In films, telling any tale from a single perspective character’s POV is difficult. And it is plain for the viewer to ascertain when watching this particular adaptation, that the film was intended for an audience that already had contact with the subsequent novels in the series. This became fairly obvious in the character of Lestat.
Tom Cruise performed the role on a level so far beyond acting that it felt as though he had learnt some secret about Lestat we could never have understood if we had only read Interview with the Vampire. He portrayed Lestat in a manner which brought to light the character’s loneliness, his own pain, and his affections. In the novel, at least until the last few pages, these are things which did not become blatantly clear to the reader. As I have said in previous articles, Louis blinded us when we read the novel, he skewed our opinions with his own prejudices, and we loved him for it. But as we do not feel as close to him as we should, in the film, our vision is not altered as if we view the world through his eyes.
Rather we extend our panoramic view to see into the hearts of other characters. Facial expressions, moments alone, these things allow us an insight into outside influences we would not usually have understood.
The most adequate example I can offer, the moment in the movie which still stands vividly at the forefront of my mind, is the scene when Louis runs from the rooms he and Lestat inhabit when they first reach New Orleans. There is a single shot of Lestat standing alone at the window, watching him leave with a ponderous, sad expression on his face. This is the Lestat I recognise from later novels, not from the first in the series.
“Interview with the Vampire promises a constantly surprising vampire story, and it keeps that promise.”
– Janet Maslin via Rotten Tomatoes
I have few issues with the plot of this film. I think the novel’s story was eloquently transcribed to screen, and for that reason, I adore it. Perhaps I could simply say that, firstly, I loved Louis’ background originally – his history with his brother, the question of faith. I felt it unnecessary to alter that situation. Although, that being said, the loss of a romantic interest and a child is far more relative. An audience would rather not be faced with deep, moral questions and philosophical standpoints this soon into a film. Something to which it can relate may have been called for here.
Secondly, I thought that cutting Lestat’s involvement with the Theatre des Vampires was an ice-pick in the heart of the tale. The image of Lestat clutching Claudia’s little, yellow dress still burns bright in my mind. I would have liked the inclusion of that scene. However, a caveat may have been needed to paint Lestat as less villainous, and also to shorten an already very long film.
“A satisfying and gloomy romantic vampire story, well directed and with elegant lines written by Anne Rice, evoking a sensual gothic atmosphere that makes us want to know more about those dark creatures. Still, the film suffers from some miscasting – except Dunst, who is pretty good.”
– Carlos Magalhães via Rotten Tomatoes
Sigh. I fear treading on toes here.
Primarily – and most importantly – the characters of Louis and Lestat were portrayed immaculately by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise:
Pitt has the right facial features for Louis. He succeeded in ridding his expression of its hint of gaiety which he achieves in other films such as Fight Club, and manages to express a pained, put-upon Louis who wants nothing more than to die, but is too afraid to rid the world of himself.
Cruise did the research. And as I have said, he astounded the audience. He gave a performance which no one had been expecting from him when he was originally cast in the role, not even Rice. He understood Lestat (though there may have been one or two interviews with him later where it seemed he just tripped onto the correct answer) in a way that few other actors would have been able to achieve. And for that he deserves immense credit.
Kirsten Dunst did a superb job, though I feel she was too old for the role. But here is the inherent problem – casting a six-year-old would have been both impossible and, quite possibly, unethical. Dunst still receives acclaim for her role today, and she damn well deserves it. She was an excellent addition to the cast.
Antonio Banderas is engaging. Any audience can verify this. He has a smouldering glance and a beautiful face. But he was just not suited to the role of Armand. Aside from the fact that his ethnicity is off, as is his age (by a good few decades), and his hair colour (a small point, but still one that has aggravated true Rice fans for years)… He was too ‘cunning’ for the role he was cast in. Yes, Armand is cunning, but he never seems it to others. It is only ever after the fact that any character begins to understand they have been manipulated by him.
Christian Slater could not have been cast better. He achieved the cocksure jaunty expression of a guy who is certain he is far more sane than his interviewee at the movie’s start, and then followed it with well-timed jitters and an awe-filled expression which grew ever-more manic as the film progressed. To this day I still picture him as Daniel.
All of the above having been said, none of this detracts from the quality or the enduring nature of the film. This is a point which can, legitimately, be argued, but Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire is still the best vampire film available to viewers, as well as the one film which portrays the novel it was based around with as much reverence and respect as any author could hope for.
“It’s about seduction, and either you succumb to its inky entrapments or you resist. When its mojo was working, I was happy to be had.”
– David Ansen via Rotten Tomatoes
I could not agree more.