Anne Rice: Interview With the Author of Interview With the Vampire

Anne Rice re-condemns the casting of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat, and pretty much lets Hollywood have it in the shorts (though she loves movies, especially if they have Tom Berenger in them).

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To her fans, Anne Rice is more than a writer. She's the creator of a world. With her books Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned and The Tale of the Body Thief she has let them in on the timeless lives of some particularly horny and philosophical vampires. To show their support, Rice's readers buy her books by the millions, write her letters and notes, attend readings by the hordes, and show up at her annual New Orleans Halloween party dressed as vampires.

For almost 20 years, college dorms were abuzz with this question: Who will play the vampires Lestat and Louis when Hollywood finally makes the movie of Interview With the Vampire! The list has, at various times, included everyone from Anthony Hopkins and Cher to Christopher Walken and Daniel Day-Lewis. Recently, in a bit of casting that outdoes Tom Hanks's Sherman McCoy in The Bonfire of the Vanities, producer David Geffen and director Neil Jordan announced their choice: Lestat, that dreamy, otherworldly vampire, would be played by Tom Cruise. Suffice it to say, the fans went ballistic. So, in a way, did Anne Rice.

Over a Caesar salad at the St. Regis hotel in New York, Anne Rice talks about the casting of Interview With the Vampire, about what actors turn her on, and about how she thinks up all the stuff that turns her readers on.

MARTHA FRANKEL: So let me quote you: "You can't imagine how much I despise Hollywood producers and the studio system and many of the people there. I think they're awful, I can't warn writers enough to stay away from them. They will kill you."

ANNE RICE: [Laughter]

Q: Don't hold back, Anne. Tell us how you really feel.

A: Well, it's true, I've had a lot of different experiences in Hollywood, some I'm not really at liberty to talk about. I've been through a lot of bullshit and foolishness.

Q: Connected with Interview With the Vampire?

A: I've been involved with Interview With the Vampire for a long time. I've had a good relationship with [producer] David Geffen, although it's kind of iffy right now. When I was working on the script for Interview, I told him I wanted to do exactly what I wanted to do with it. And that's the way I wrote it. [Director] Neil Jordan has rewritten it, and they are putting his name on the credits, and I don't know if you know, but the WGA will only allow a director to share writing credit if he brings over 50% original material. I don't know if he's done that or not. Maybe he has.

Q: You haven't read the script?

A: No, I haven't. The last draft I did see was an in-progress draft that was extremely close to the book and my script. He actually put things back from the book that I had left out, so it's possible that he can get credit for that as original material. I really can't evaluate until they shoot it.

Q: Do you think Neil Jordan is a good choice for director?

A: Well, I concurred in the choice, and was actually very excited about it. I had always loved The Company of Wolves. I mentioned it in the Vampire novels as one of the movies they watched. And I thought The Crying Game was amazing. My first choice would have been Ridley Scott, but he turned David Geffen down. David Cronenberg was also somebody I wanted badly, and I understand he turned it down. When I was presented with the idea of Neil Jordan, I thought, he's got courage, he isn't scared by gender, he loves to play with transcending gender and gender illusions and tricks. He'll know how to work with those characters without being afraid of their homo-erotic quality. I still have faith in Neil Jordan. I just don't know. The Tom Cruise casting is so bizarre, it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work, and it's really almost impossible to imagine how Neil and David and Tom could have come up with it. I have one question: Does Tom Cruise have any idea of what he's getting into? I'm not sure he does. I'm not sure he's read any of the books other than the first one, and his comments on TV that he wanted to do something scary and he loved "creature features" as a kid, well, that didn't make me feel any better. I do think Tom Cruise is a fine actor. [But] you have to know what you can do and what you can't do.

Q: Let's talk about who would have made a good Lestat.

A: Well, Jeremy Irons would have been fabulous.

Q: Too old.

A: Oh, but he looked so good in Damage. When an actor's that great and he has a voice that's that great and a face that's that great... he could have done the role. He would have to have been made up to look younger, and he would have to have had wild blond hair, but he could have done it. All these characters are supposed to be immortal and they're supposed to be preternatural, so I'm not sure really young people can play them with the kind of depth that Jeremy Irons had in Damage and Dead Ringers.

Q: Who else?

A: I think John Malkovich could have done it. Peter Weller I thought could make an interesting Lestat. Alexander Godunov, who was in Witness. They needed an overpowering person like that, very blond, very tall, very athletic, very full. I think Brad Pitt would be a fabulous Lestat. I tried for a long time to tell them that they should just reverse these roles--have Brad Pitt [who is cast as Louis] play Lestat and have Tom Cruise play Louis. Of course, they don't listen to me.

Q: So it's not just a bad dream, huh? Tom Cruise is really going to play Lestat?

A: Oh, the choice is just so bizarre. Yes, he could do Louis, he could do that part, the brooding, dark, guilt-ridden, passive, reflective, reactive thing. But here's Brad Pitt, he did that wonderful thing with his hips in Thelma & Louise, remember that? I've watched that performance over and over again. And A River Runs Through It, you know, the grave, religious male romance about fly-fishing? This is a guy who could play Lestat.

Q: I think Christopher Walken would have made a good Lestat.

A: I think he could have done it, too. I think sometimes he plays parts a little cooler than I wish he would. But I thought he looked spectacular in Batman Returns. I was a big fan of that movie.

Q: So what about when they were talking about Cher and Anjelica Huston to be Lestat?

A: Oh, my editor, Vicki Wilson, really wanted Anjelica Huston to be Lestat. I wrote the script in which Cher was supposed to play Louis, not Lestat. Julia Phillips and I were developing that together, and the whole idea was that Louis would be a transvestite woman. At that time in history, you could own your own plantation and run things if you were a man, [but] you couldn't if you were a woman. It was the French law. So this was a woman who dressed like a man, and otherwise it was exactly the same as Interview With the Vampire.

Q: How'd you hook up with Julia Phillips?

A: Julia was trying to buy the rights to The Vampire Lestat, and Paramount still had Interview, and we hooked up. I called her and we started to talk about everything from there on, and we had a great friendship for a long time. Julia's very intense and I think her future as a writer is going to be spectacular. And I think she can do her novels and free herself from the whole Hollywood thing.

Q: So why do you keep selling your books to Hollywood? I mean, you don't need the money.

A: Well, Interview I sold in '76 to Paramount, and then when it reverted back, Julia had The Vampire Lestat, and the contract that now exists was done for Julia. You know, it was us together. She was very much in communication with me, and would listen and run her ideas by me and vice versa. It was then inherited by Geffen. I always knew, theoretically, Julia could be fired, but Julia was the one that kept getting it together, so I never thought that would happen. But then she wrote things about Geffen [in her book, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again] that he perceived to be unkind and he fired her.

Q: What strikes me as funny is that Hollywood thinks of itself as so naughty, but there are things in your books that will never be shown on-screen.

A: Right. Unless I don't know what Neil Jordan is going to wind up doing with Interview With the Vampire.

Q: You've written some soft-core pornography...

A: It's hard-core.

Q: What's the difference?

A: By hard-core, I mean it is absolutely uncompromising. It contains the most detailed sex scenes that I knew how to write. I would imagine that soft porn means kind of blurring of the genitalia and stuff, and my stuff doesn't do that.

Q: No, it certainly doesn't. Let me read from Exit to Eden, which is also being made into a movie:

"She 'd picked up something from the dresser. It looked at first glance like a pair of flesh-colored, leather-clad horns. I opened my eyes to see it clearly. It was a dildo in the form of two penises joined at the base with a single scrotum...

'Don't do that to me. . .' I said. 'Don't push me,' she said cruelly, her eyes narrowing, and her hand flew up and smacked my face. "

A: Yeah, there's that. [Laughs] I wanted to really take it to the max. I wanted to take that fantasy and put it in a playful setting where somebody could enjoy all of that and get away from the gruesome headlines and reality.

Q: Exit to Eden is such a bizarre fantasy...

A: Well, what can I say? It's about a couple that are both involved in this S&M sort of redemptive force, that you can work out your sadomasochistic desires in a safe setting. But when they meet they fall in love and discover that they're so in love that the S&M toys and rituals no longer seem appropriate.

Q: You wrote that book as Anne Rampling...

A: I named myself after Charlotte Rampling, the actress. I loved her in The Night Porter, I thought that was a really great movie. Bizarre. I didn't want to publish Exit as Anne Rice. I thought that would be too confusing to my readers. They'd dash out after the Vampire books, and it would really be almost false advertising, because it was such a deviation from my regular stuff.

Q: And as A.N. Roquelaure, you wrote a set of books that recreate the Sleeping Beauty myth, but through S&M. People get spanked so often in these books that it's best to read them standing up... I'm speechless.

A: You shouldn't be. Those books, they spoke to a lot of people. In all my books, all the sex is consensual. Everybody knows exactly what they're getting into.

Q: Now they're making Exit to Eden into a film...

A: Yeah, Garry Marshall is directing that.

Q: [Laughter]

A: Well, it's actually not so surprising if you think of Exit to Eden as a love story, if you think of the intimate quality in that love story. I think that's what he's gonna focus on. And Paul Mercurio, the guy who's in Strictly Ballroom, is going to play Elliot, and Dana Delany is opposite him. And then there is Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd as the second string comic couple, but I don't know about that.

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