Even longtime fans of Interview With the Vampire should be delighted by the freshness of AMC’s television adaptation. Created by Rolin Jones (Perry Mason, Friday Night Lights), the series takes bold strides to update both the original book and the 1994 film, expanding familiar characters and themes to include a vivid exploration of toxic first love and the survival of Black queer men at the turn of the century in the American South. The result is enthralling, and the show is an instant winner.
The most obviously changed character is Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson). No longer a white plantation owner, he is now a queer Black man trying to escape the many oppressions that hound him in 19th-century New Orleans. By casting Louis as Black — and later Claudia (Bailey Bass), the vampire child that Louis essentially adopts — Jones makes the strong choice to mine the depths of the Black American experience under Jim Crow. There's a particularly fantastic scene where Louis catches himself in a moment of automation, paying deference to a man who gleefully calls him a "clever negro." Delighted by Louis's intelligence as if it were a parlor trick, he put his hands on Louis in a condescending manner, and Louis suddenly becomes aware of and ashamed by how he has assimilated into his surroundings. It's a powerful awakening that sends him into a devastating tailspin as he realizes he cannot single-handedly turn the tide of racism as it engulfs his community.
Soon enough, he loses himself in Lestat (Sam Reid), a vampire whose whiteness, wealth, and power offer him the freedom that Louis's skin, the era, and his family will not allow him to possess. This includes sexual freedom, because in another major update, the coded queer glances that were in the 1994 film have now transformed into a full-fledged gay relationship between Lestat and Louis.
It’s gloriously rendered. The show captures both the thrill of falling for a savior-teacher-maker- lover and the reality of being kept under someone's thumb. It knows how feelings that make the heart race — fear, anger, lust — are easily confused for romance. But we know this is not a romance at all: It's a seduction that quickly becomes life-threatening both for Louis and for Claudia. Louis stays for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because he is safer with Lestat than with his family. His mother calls him the devil and blames him for a family tragedy. His sister encourages him to allow his mother's abuse and excuse it as grief.
And so Louis straddles a line between affluence and state-sanctioned segregation. Still, with Lestat’s money and whiteness, much of the world opens up to him, even though he must masquerade as the help in certain spaces.
Anderson, who played the stoic Grey Worm in Game of Thrones, captures all this complexity in a career-defining performance. Reid, meanwhile, terrifies and delights as the cocksure Lestat. He performs with all the charm of an anglerfish, his dazzling smile luring Louis in before he consumes him and takes him from everything he’s ever known.
Yet for all their heat, the series doesn’t begin with the lovers. Instead, it starts with a Master Class-style advertisement that’s so convincing viewers may think they’re watching the wrong show. Then the camera reveals who’s watching: a journalist named Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian), a recovering addict with Parkinson’s disease. In the mid-1970s, while on a bender, Molloy interviewed a man who claimed to be a vampire. Now, he’s been invited to a penthouse in the United Arab Emirates to pick up where he left off.
This interview, which is intercut with the scenes in New Orleans, becomes a sparring match, often forcing Louis to reimagine the events of his life. Did it rain, or was it dry that day? Was he in love with Lestat, or was he the victim of a mass murderer?
Here is another transformation from the original: This reporter isn’t afraid of Louis, nor is he particularly captivated by his tale. He prods at every hole, omission, and transgression in the narrative, and it’s wonderful to watch Louis battle with a character who wants something so different than Lestat. It’s yet another way the series keeps its grip on us.
Anne Rice’s Interview WIth the Vampire premieres October 2 on AMC and AMC+.
Joelle Monique is an award-winning pop culture critic, executive producer, and host. As a writer, she is best known for her recaps and reviews at The AV Club, The Hollywood Reporter, Heat Vision, The Wrap, Playboy, and Polygon. Follow her on Twitter @joellemonique.