Anne Rice’s legendary Interview with the Vampire is a queer-coded masterpiece
Following the death of acclaimed gothic horror novelist Anne Rice, we reflect on the legacy of the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.
When Interview with the Vampire was released in cinemas in 1994, audiences for the most part completely missed the glaring homoeroticism and queer subtext.
Looking back, it’s hard to see how anybody could watch Interview with the Vampire and not see a queer story. The film’s queer themes always remain implicit rather than explicit – but they’re still there, lurking in the background, informing the characters and the journeys they’re on.
For those not in the know, Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s 1976 novel of the same name, tells the story of a man called Louis (Brad Pitt) who is turned into a vampire by Lestat (Tom Cruise). Over the course of the film, the men become a couple of sorts – Lestat even turns a girl called Claudia (a young Kirsten Dunst) into a vampire, and they raise her as their own daughter.
As if that wasn’t queer enough, Interview with the Vampire also has plenty of scenes of very homoerotic bloodsucking. The vampires at the heart of the film need to feed to survive – but it’s clear that drinking blood is about so much more than just survival. It’s also a source of a deep, almost sexual pleasure.
Later in the film, Louis comes across a group of vampires in his efforts to understand more about his roots. That leads him to Armand (Antonio Banderas), which in turn leads to lots of longing, heavily charged glances and touches between the pair. At one point, Claudia tells him that Armand “wants you as you want him”.
Anne Rice thought she’d have to rewrite Interview with the Vampire to make it straighter
Interview with the Vampire never makes its queerness explicit – the relationship between Louis and Lestat is clouded by the decision to keep everything strictly implicit – but that was hardly surprising for the time. It was a big budget, major studio Hollywood blockbuster made in a time when queer characters were few and far between.
That’s why Interview with the Vampire was so important for LGBT+ audiences at the time – and it’s at least part of the reason why so many queer people today count it as a milestone on their journeys to exploration and self-acceptance. When you’re starved of meaningful representation, you fill in the gaps wherever you can. For so many queer people, watching Tom Cruise sucking Brad Pitt’s blood was the closest thing they could find that mirrored their own desires.
It’s worth noting that Anne Rice herself knew just how subversive the text’s implicit queerness was – and she worried its homoerotic leanings would stop Interview with the Vampire from ever making it to the big screen. The rights to her book were sold to Paramount Pictures in 1976, shortly before the novel was published. When she sat down to write the screenplay, Rice famously considered rewriting Louis as a woman, fearing that Hollywood’s ingrained homophobia would stop the film from being made.
At one point, the plan was to recreate the character as a woman so Cher could play Lestat’s lover, making the project more palatable to straight audiences.
But Rice’s fears were ultimately unfounded. In the end, Pitt was cast as Louis and the film went ahead with much of its homoeroticism intact – even if it had to be cloaked in subtext to keep straight audiences engaged.
Notably, Rice was more concerned with the decision to cast Tom Cruise as Lestat than anything else. She was horrified – and she had no qualms about expressing her dissatisfaction publicly. At various points, she championed French actor Alain Delon and later British actor Julian Sands for the role, but Cruise – easily a much bigger Hollywood name – ultimately won out.
Rice said the casting was “so bizarre”, adding that it was “impossible” for her to imagine Cruise as Lestat. She even suggested that Pitt and Cruise swap roles, believing Pitt would at the very least be better suited to the role. She remained unconvinced by the decision until she saw the completed film, at which point she reportedly called Cruise to tell him that she had gotten it wrong and heaped praise on his performance.
The film is widely loved by queer audiences to this day
Despite its homoerotic themes, Interview with the Vampire was an instant hit – even if critics were polarised. It raked in more than $200 million at the box office on a budget of $60 million. In the years since, it has rightly been hailed as a classic of the vampire genre.
As news broke on Saturday that Rice had passed away following a stroke, fans rushed to reflect on the author’s incredible legacy – and many were quick to point out just how significant Interview with the Vampire was for a generation of queer people.
Many have also been reminded just how powerful an ally Rice was to the queer community. Speaking to The Daily Beast in 2016, she said she was “honoured” when people told her that Interview with the Vampire reads as a gay allegory.
“I think I have a gay sensibility and I feel like I’m gay, because I’ve always transcended gender, and I’ve always seen love as transcending gender,” she said. “In my books, I’ve always created bonds of love that have transcended gender… I’ve always been very much a champion of gay rights, and art produced by gay people – whether was the early Frankenstein movies that had such a gay sensibility to them, or any art created by gay people. I’m highly sensitive to it. I have a gay sensibility.”
She added: “I get teased a lot by my gay friends because we have a rapport on things we find exciting or interesting. It’s very hard for me to remember that I have a gender, and that they’re treating me in a negative way because of that gender.”
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