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In ‘Interview with the Vampire,’ Jacob Anderson is a complicated monster

By Helena Andrews-Dyer Washington Post

Are vampires scary? Seductive? Soothing? All three and then some? AMC’s television adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” seems to think so. And the series has found the perfect instrument to play the jazzlike contradictions of a demon in search of redemption in its star, Jacob Anderson.

“There’s something about vampires as these creatures in the shadows,” said Anderson, who fans will instantly recognize as the strong and mostly silent eunuch Grey Worm from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” In “Interview,” the 32-year-old British actor (and musician) plays the reluctant bloodsucker, Louis de Pointe du Lac, made famous on-screen by Brad Pitt in the 1994 movie. In this version, Louis is a closeted gay Black man running a brothel in early 20th century New Orleans. He is a man of the night even before he meets his maker and lover, the ancient French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (played by Australian actor Sam Reid). The couple later add forever-14-year-old Claudia (Bailey Bass) to their dysfunctional family.

The show, which had its first season finale on Nov. 13, is humid. Sex, love, race and power steam up every scene as Louis attempts to define himself through the fogginess all those intersections create. For his part, Anderson, who had only a “passing knowledge” of vampires before sinking his teeth into one of the biggest roles in the Rice Literary Universe, has created a Louis who feels more human than monster.

(This q-and-a has been edited for length.)

You’ve described vampires as the monsters you were always looking for. Why?

The fact that they only exist at night resonated with something about my teenage years. I couldn’t put this language to it at the time, but basically I was depressed. I could only exist in this dark head space. I was most alive at night. Then during the day, I couldn’t handle it. The cold light of the day was too much for me. Maybe if I’d had more than a passing knowledge of vampires, the allegory could have could have been helpful to me – if not helpful, just comforting.

Vampires are the ultimate outsiders.

Anne Rice’s vampires are so despairing. They’re proper searchers. They’re really looking for why they exist and what it means. Those were the central questions I had as a teenager. I was in a weird place.

That brings me to this next question of validation and how this adaptation centers on the inner lives of characters of color in a way that the fantasy genre has too often resisted. But in “Interview,” including Black characters makes perfect sense. It’s New Orleans.

It’s color conscious versus colorblindness.

Explain what that means for the people in the cheap seats.

Race in the show says something about how the characters interact with the world that they exist in. It’s relevant to the decisions they make. Whereas colorblind casting in a fantasy context, for me, that is more about being able to see yourself at least visually represented. So you don’t ever look at yourself and go “I look wrong.” Growing up, I loved fantasy and sci-fi and animation. I watched “Wendell & Wild” the other day. And I was like, just seeing this would have changed so much for me in terms of my self-esteem and how I looked at myself.

How does the new adaptation of “Interview” handle race differently?

Louis’s race changes the trajectory slightly of that character, and whilst we’ve kept a lot of the main story beats of that character, those things mean something slightly different when you put a Black man in the center of it. It says something new about power and what power can buy you. Can you buy your way out of the social and racial dynamic of this country? Can you really escape racism by being a monster?

Let’s talk love. Louis and Lestat’s romance and the power dynamic between them gets distorted through the lens of race as well. As a white man (and a centuries-old vampire), Lestat can never fully understand his Black lover’s existence. It’s one of the first fractures between them.

That’s something that comes up a lot in interracial relationships. There’s the fantasy of a post-racial world that we don’t exist in yet. I can’t speak entirely for white people generally, but it’s hard to understand because if you love somebody, you’re not different. You are in love with each other, so how could there be any difference (between the two of you)? But from the other side, it’s, “I need you to understand that there are things that are going to be different for me.” And if you deny that experience, then I just feel crazy, right? I feel like I’m imagining things. Lestat is definitely not willing (to engage in that conversation). He can’t quite go there because to him everything is everything and everything is nothing.

Code-switching serves as a storytelling device throughout the series. Louis is the main narrator, but his voice, his cadence, switches up so much. How did you approach the different Louises: the brothel owner, the legit businessman, the centenarian?

That was probably the earliest conscious choice I had to make about the character because code-switching is so much a part of who (Louis) is. When you first meet him back in 1910, he speaks in a different way to the women that he works with, and then to his family, and then to the White businessmen. He has all these different hats. It had to be notable. A lot of it comes down to his level of comfort. I say that because I probably do the same. When I feel more comfortable, I’m more likely to speak in a more relaxed way, whereas if I was feeling on the back foot or I’m against the ropes, then I fall into this sort of ultrapolite, almost scared sort of thing. That’s part of what drives Louis to switch in that way.

How we choose to speak is like an indicator of who we want to be or how we want to be seen.

He’s a social climber. I love Louis and want him to be loved obviously, but there is a snobbery in it and an internal lack of acceptance. With the modern-day accent, it may appear as if he’s not speaking in his natural way, but actually I think he is. He’s landed upon this voice that is all of the things he’s ever been. When somebody lives for that long, it brings into question: What does a Black person sound like? What does a White person sound like? It’s difficult to define those things because you get to a certain point where your influences change and the world surrounding you changes, and that changes your voice.

Speaking of voices, you’re also an R&B singer. Or wait, would you describe your music that way?

To be honest, I just say it’s pop because I think of pop as being nontribal. It’s not committing to one genre. I’m quite genre agnostic. I like things to sound how they feel – at least how they feel to me. I write quite a lot of sad songs.

No spoilers, but the finale gave us more than a few shockers. Where is the show going to go in Season 2?

I can’t say where it’s going to go. I can say where I think it’s going to go. I’m really interested in what happens to Louis and Claudia’s relationship. These are siblings that also have this sort of father-daughter dynamic who are going to now travel together alone with all of this stuff under the bridge. The water is going to lap up over the bridge.

There’s also this prescient thread throughout the show about truth in storytelling and unreliable narrators.

Daniel, (the reporter, played by Eric Bogosian, who is the titular interviewer of the series), has cracked into something about Louis in the present day. I’m really eager to explore what the ramifications of that are. Once one very important thing has been proved to be slightly unreliable, how do you continue an interview from there? How do you fact-check? How do you corroborate?

All right, something I need to fact-check. You’ve called out producer Pharrell Williams as a dream guest star on the show. Is that because the perpetually youthful 49-year-old is a vampire?

Yes. Yeah. It’s got to be Pharrell, right? Pharrell or Paul Rudd.

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