We all want to live forever — that is until we spend time with those who do. The night world of the undead is not a happy place, especially if, like the elegant Louis de Pointe du Lac in “Interview with the Vampire,” you still have a conscience and even the barest of emotional ties to humans. Immortality is a lonely, indifferent existence from which you will never escape, an existence crowded with the death and destruction of everyone except you and your kind.
The excellent, transfixing new series adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 vampire classic, which premieres Sunday on AMC and AMC+, fully captures that particular breed of despair known as “the dark gift.” Created by writer-producer Rollin Jones, of “Friday Night Lights” and HBO’s “Perry Mason,” the show alters specifics of the novel’s story line in ways that wind up working spectacularly well, and that will surprise fans of the book, even while they may frustrate purists. I couldn’t get enough of the five episodes AMC made available for review (there are seven in all), relieved that Rice’s complex, sensual creatures have survived the transition to series TV intact, and delighted by the superb acting and rich production design.
In this version, the titular interview takes place 49 years after the interview that frames the novel. The interviewer, reporter Daniel Molloy, is now older and wiser (he’s played with grizzled cynicism by Eric Bogosian), and he has come to Louis’s massive, high-tech apartment in Dubai to listen to his story once again. Louis, now 100+ years old, has had more time to think about his life, and he wants a do-over interview in order to be more frank and circumspect. As Louis speaks to Daniel, occasionally feeding on one of his houseboys between vignettes, and occasionally challenged by Daniel’s judgmental comments, we see his life play out, beginning just before we meet the vampire who will make him, the dazzling Lestat de Lioncourt.
Louis’s story has been moved from the late-18th century of the novel to the visually sumptuous 1910 New Orleans on the verge of the Jazz Age. He’s now a Black man running a brothel in the red-light district, instead of the novel’s white plantation owner, which naturally makes him more sympathetic. He’s more layered, too, as a man whose financial success has made him a threat to the city’s racist politicians — men who’ll later find themselves glamorized, to use the lingo of “True Blood,” by Louis and Lestat. Before he becomes a vampire, Louis is already living a life on the fringes, excluded from social acceptance, coping with same-sex attractions, and judged by his family for his work (even while they enjoy the money it brings). Becoming a supernatural figure laden with secret hungers and doomed to nighttime almost serves as an ideal metaphor for his human situation.
On the show, Louis’s overt desire for men, and the lusty relationship between Louis and Lestat — who is more fluid in his attractions — make the novel’s queer subtext (like that in “Brideshead Revisited”) more explicit. Louis and his handsome French libertine are quite clearly a couple, and they become parents of sorts once Lestat turns the young Claudia (Bailey Bass) into a vampire. The men are quite clearly in love — see them literally rise into midair while embracing — although their resentments do emerge, as they will when you have forever. Louis still blames Lestat for making him a vampire, and Lestat is bored by their domesticity and threatened by the bond between Louis and Claudia, who can hear each other’s thoughts when Lestat cannot. Aristocratic and amoral, Lestat also tires of Louis’s torment, watching Louis with contempt as he feeds off animals to avoid killing humans.
As Louis, Jacob Anderson, best known for his turn as Grey Worm in “Game of Thrones,” is remarkable. He gives us young Louis’s remorse and sorrow, particularly as he watches his beloved family recede from his life, but never too much. And he gives us the older, more resigned Louis, who takes in Daniel’s brash assessments of him patiently. Sam Reid is just right as Lestat, with his intense charm, endless hedonism, intermittent boredom, and sadistic streak. He and Anderson have plenty of chemistry, both as a team who balance each other out and as a couple who tear each other apart. Bass is increasingly moving as the tragic Claudia, as she begins to realize she’ll always be a child.
Just as Louis wants to be more upfront in retelling his story to Daniel, AMC’s “Interview with the Vampire,” with its inclusions of race and intersectionality, wants to meet this moment. But at its core, it’s still very much the same saga, with all the seduction, romance, and regret you’d hope for. If this is what the next phase of Rice adaptations is going to look like, I’m for it.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Starring: Jacob Anderson, Sam Reid, Bailey Bass, Eric Bogosian
On: AMC and AMC+. Premieres Sunday on AMC+, Sunday at 10:06 p.m. on AMC
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.