As every network jockeys to own the shiniest piece of IP possible to attract distracted viewers, the best thing to say about any adaptation is that it honors the source material while also evolving it, believably and purposefully, to fit a new medium. AMC aims to do exactly that with “Interview With the Vampire,” the first installment of what it’s calling “The Immortal Universe,” having bought the rights to many of Anne Rice’s most iconic works. With both the books and evocative 1994 film to contend with, creator Rolin Jones (“Perry Mason”) took on an admittedly enormous challenge. How do you stay faithful to what makes Rice’s novels so popular while bringing something to the screen that the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and a tiny Kirsten Dunst didn’t?
The new series tackles this crucial question head-on in its very first scene. Set 50 years after the events of the film, interviewer Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian, lately of “Succession”) has moved on from his youthful, drug-fueled San Francisco days to become a thoroughly jaded veteran reporter who could never quite crack the story of vampiric love and barbarism that the reclusive Louis de Pointe du Lac once tried to give him. Now, amid a pandemic that’s ripped apart the world’s sense of social order, Louis (Jacob Anderson) reaches back out in hopes that he and Molloy, older and ostensibly wiser, can find more truth and reconciliation in his story than they did the first time around.
On paper, this setup suggests the show is directly related to the books and film. In reality, AMC’s “Interview With the Vampire” deliberately reframes Louis’ story from that of a restless plantation owner to one of an ambitious, closeted Black man who sees a whole new world of possibility in the undead life Lestat (Sam Reid) offers. Given more time to tell this story in episodic installments, and with the captivating Anderson embodying Louis through his every wavering mood, the show forges a powerful story of identity that will be both familiar to any Rice fan and feel much different than versions that came before. (What a shame that Rice, who died late last year, won’t be able to see this evolution of her world, which so clearly respects the one she created to make it possible.)
Louis’ sterile present-day life in a Dubai skyscraper — and his flatter affect, smoothed out of any Southern drawl — clashes harshly with the flashbacks he describes, which take us back to his life as a ruthless businessman in New Orleans. As much as he loves his sister (Kalyne Coleman), brother (Steven Norfleet), and mother (Rae Dawn Chong), Louis is tortured by the dueling conflicts of his dreams and his reality, in which his white investors will never see him as equal to them, and his homosexuality has no place out of the shadows. What Lestat promises, as embodied with suitable grandiosity by Reid, is a world in which neither his Blackness nor his queerness pose a bodily threat. In recasting Louis’ character in this way, AMC’s “Interview With the Vampire” becomes newly rich with storytelling possibilities — and, contrary to the film’s reliance on homoerotic subtext, a willingness to make Louis and Lestat’s operatic relationship more explicitly romantic. Once Louis’ vampire “daughter” Claudia (a perfectly bratty Bailey Bass) joins the household, her Blackness also bonds her to Louis — and keeps Lestat at a distance — in the same way Rice’s original story foretold, but with an extra layer of meaning.
As directed in the initial episodes by Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones,” “The Many Saints of Newark”), and with Mara Lepere-Schloop’s intricate production design and Carol Cutshall’s meticulous costume design, there’s a confidence to this “Interview With the Vampire” that makes it worth the while even when it’s straining itself to hit all the biggest Gothic notes. Some later sequences, laden thick with melodrama, aim for the stars but land more thuddingly on the cobblestones. Far more often, though, the show’s commitment to its history in which it’s rooted, not to mention Anderon’s deft performance in a uniquely demanding role, justify its coming back from the dead.
“Interview With the Vampire” premieres on AMC and AMC+ Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. ET.