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All Hail Assad Zaman, Interview With the Vampire's Stealth Power Player

Only Zaman could keep up with Jacob Anderson in Season 2 of the AMC drama.
  • Assad Zaman in Interview With the Vampire (Photo: Larry Horricks/AMC)
    Assad Zaman in Interview With the Vampire (Photo: Larry Horricks/AMC)

    Season 2 of the critically acclaimed series Interview With the Vampire is not without its more explosive, imminently meme-worthy moments, such as the forever teen queen vampire Claudia (Delainey Hayles) telling her father-brother-rather hapless companion Louis (Jacob Anderson) that love makes him stupid; the numerous incarnations of “Dreamstat,” aka Louis’ guilty conscience conjuring of Lestat (Sam Reid), the lover he grieves, though he believes he killed him; or the rightfully ballyhooed barnburner of a fifth episode. Yet one of the more potent, telling moments in the entire show — a moment that will usher in tragedy — comes as a silent look in a crowded theater. 

    In Episode 3, titled “No Pain,” the vampire Armand (Assad Zaman), recounts the history of the coven he’s led for a stultifyingly long time, how it transformed from a group of primitive cultists into the sophisticated Théâtre des Vampires — which is the story of how Armand came to know, and be bewitched by, the relatively young vampire Lestat. Naturally, Armand would be drawn to the new vamp on the scene: carefree and charming, ruled by his delicious, devilish whims and free of superstition or responsibility, whereas Armand has been burdened by the coven leadership, alone. Never allowed to live for himself, even as a vampire. 

    As Armand watches Lestat perform onstage, the camera tightens on Zaman’s face, which slowly begins to bloom open with longing, like a long-dormant bud of an elegant carnivorous plant that can only unfurl under the right, highly temperamental conditions. His expression shifts symphonically from amused to intrigued, before getting stark with hunger. The vulnerability in his eyes is exquisite and excruciating, conveying the stirring of an ancient god encountering the one being for whom he would gladly unburden himself of his power.

    Though Interview With the Vampire doesn’t shy away from queer sex (the pilot episode featured Lestat and Louis levitating as they get down), this display of queer longing — the absolute devastation of wanting someone yet wanting to be like them — still feels arresting. Armand’s longing will find a temporary respite in Lestat, who soon bores of him; this rejection curdles longing into humiliation and rage, further hardening Armand into the maître of the coven, operating with an arctic self-control that simultaneously contains and fertilizes his neediness. His need to be assured that he is worthy of being chosen, to not be alone and left longing, will compel him into the act of treachery — selling out Louis, Claudia, and their fledgling Madeline (Roxane Duran) to the coven — that turns the tale into a tragedy. 

    For almost all of Season 1, Zaman held a background presence while Armand posed as Louis’ assistant, Rashid, only revealing himself in the finale. Entering the new season, especially after a nearly two-year delay, Armand was a cipher, most notable for his impressive power as a 500-year-old vampire. In the hands of a lesser actor, Armand might have been reduced to a calculating badass. As embodied by Zaman, his relationship to power — the security and burden of it, the sensual rush of putting it down — gives this season a thematic heft that aligns with its broader themes of memory and control.

    Crafting a performance that can infuse Armand’s choice with emotional validity is no easy task, yet one that Zaman has seamlessly achieved. After all, we’ve already seen him literally freeze all the coven members in place, at once, taking control of their bodies or time itself, or both — why should he break a sweat (if vampires can even sweat) over the mutiny of vampires he can control like dolls? Perhaps because Armand is exhausted. Zaman infuses Armand’s gesture of stilling the coven with a clipped precision that makes the movement feel rote. Like shooing a naughty dog with a rolled-up newspaper. 

     Zaman is adept at conveying eons of exhaustion in his posture, especially in the scenes where Armand is directing plays: His slim, languid build is as taut as a garrote.  Even in Armand’s seething resentment of Claudia, there is a rawness, a potency that suggests the maitre hasn’t been this heated in a long time. His line reading of “You’re a manipulator, Claudia de Lioncourt,” feels like a pressure valve starting to release, stopped just short of fully exploding. 
    Still, Zaman shades layers of pathos into Armand’s malaise. Just a few beats later, when he sits across from Madeline, the woman he’s been asked to turn, he asks her what she’ll do when Claudia, her companion, will inevitably throw herself into the fire. His voice feels firm with challenge, though he allows a fine note of tenderness into it; his posture eases slightly, as he takes her apple and sets it down gently on the table behind him, takes a seat beside her, his gestures convey weariness, and a sense of muted camaraderie for another deeply lonely soul. The broody quietude of the scene calls back to Zaman’s work in Episode 4, when he tells Louis the sad tale of his own making. 

    As the two men tour the museum, Louis walking and Armand casually floating (even then, there’s a confidence in Zaman’s posture, as if it’s as easy as a stroll), Armand leads him to the painting “The Adoration of the Shepherds with a Donor.” Explaining how he came to be the beautiful boy in the corner, holding himself with prayerful reverence, Armand starts off in a distant tone, as if simply reciting the facts will protect him from their truth — that he was enslaved, violated, and groomed before he was turned. Zaman treats the monologue as a piece of music, building up steadily to an emotional crescendo, his voice like a thrum of violas, like it would barely contain tears if he was still capable of them. At the end, he’s been abandoned, again, when the vampire who groomed him in a way that felt like love, who he lived to serve until he died and was reborn, is destroyed. 

    Zaman is so searingly vulnerable that he commands the screen, even with the presence of potentially distracting Dreamstat. It’s the same naked desire to share himself, to be seen and known by a lover that animated his lust-sick, desperately needful stare at Lestat on that stage all those years ago. But when Armand’s vulnerability is met with nonchalance or outright scorn, he’s quick to resort to the full extent of his vampiric powers. 

    One of the most widely circulated clips of Episode 5 is the fight between Armand and Louis, ” However, the most chilling moment  is arguably when Armand confronts the boy reporter Daniel Malloy (Luke Brandon Field) who has so captivated Louis’ attention. 
    The steeliness of his rage at being called “boring” by Louis conveys a whole history of that word deployed against him. As Armand sits in front of the terrified, sniveling Malloy, Zaman wisely avoids the temptation to do hammy-villain mode. His heartsickness has transformed him into a far more dangerous creature: A man terrified of losing his lover. 

    He assembles his face into a near blankness that can’t quite conceal its sorrow or anger.  tAsks the boy what, exactly, makes him so fascinating in a tone that feels cruelly rhetorical and yet open, just slightly, for an answer. For some knowledge that will help him become what he needs to be to hold Louis’ attention. 

    One of the central conceits of this season is that we can’t entirely trust the versions of each character we get — for the most part, they appear either through the memories of other people or their own attempts to reframe history.  Paris Armand and San Francisco Armand are no exception. Armand’s rage cuts clear across the ages, and Zaman makes the motivation for it so clear and consistent that it feels wholly authentic. He’s conjuring literal centuries’ worth of resentment and grief by masterfully calibrating the subtleties in every word and gesture. 

    Ironically, Zaman has gone on record saying that he initially auditioned only for the part of “Rashid,” finding the prospect of portraying Armand to be intimidating. We can thank the casting team for their act of subterfuge, as no other actor could have brought the same depth to the character and made a blood-drenched meal of the script as he does. His performance should be a star-making turn. It’s rare to elevate the quality of a show already as fine as Interview With the Vampire, but Zaman has proven himself to be the true breakout of the season. 

    New episodes of Interview With the Vampire drop Sundays at 3:01 A.M. ET on AMC+ and 9:00 P.M. ET on AMC linear. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    When she's not watching TV, Laura Bogart is writing books or tweeting at @LDBogart.

    TOPICS: Interview with the Vampire, AMC, AMC+, Assad Zaman, Jacob Anderson