YOUNG BLOOD – by Rachel Abramowitz
It’s got sleek star and eerie erotica, but ‘Interview with the Vampire’ confounded its creator, laid siege to its producer and bummed out Brad Pitt.
It was magic hour at Oak Valley near the Louisiana Bayou, and the brain trust of Interview with the Vampire stood scanning the horizon. Around them, the famed plantation showed vetiges of vampirization: faux mildew covered the outside of the Greek Revival mansion, while ersatz ivy camouflaged its whitewashed fence. Next
to it, preparing to film, were Neil Jordan, the Irish writer-director, with his Caesar-on-a-bad-day haircut and habitual frown; his ponytailed producer, Stephen Woolley; and Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, who’d already lit the set with Chinese lanterns. Waiting nearby was Brad Pitt, in full vampire
regalia, the veins in his face popping out and glinstering. The humidity was so intense that every fifteen minutes or so, a makeup person would run a hairdryer over Pitt’s every hot spot.
The man they were waiting for was the ribbon on the Interview package put together by billionaire David Geffen, who came on the scene after years of misbegotten development in which Anne Rice’s book had been variously turned into a miniseries with Richard Chamberlain, an Elton John musical, and a transvestite saga. It was Geffen who seduced Jordan, then hot off The Crying Game, into taking the job, even though the director had been thoroughly thrashed in two previous Hollywood outings. It was Gffen who anoited rising star Pitt, latin hunk Antonio Banderas, teencake heartthrob Christian Slater, It was also Geffen who spent several months on an attempt to lure Daniel Day Lewis–and, when that failed, went on to his next choice, who was only the biggest star of his generation.
That last move would detonate the formidable anger of Anne Rice and thousands of her devoted readers. Their Lestat–blond, androgenous, the dauphin of decadence, an outcast antihero–was to be portrayed by a cap-toothed Yankee-Doodle whose only memorable moment of onscreen sensuality had come more than a decade ago.
As dusk approached, a whir was heard in the distance.
Down from the sky descended a lone chopper, and out jumped a figure, kept off the set until this moment so the production would not have to pay him for a twelve-hour-plus day. His jet black locks would soon turn golden and curly, his green eyes a laser blue. His familair grin would bear fangs. It was Tom Cruise.
‘I hated doing this movie. Hated it,’ says Pitt more than six months later at Musso & Frank, a seedy-fashionable joint on Hollywood Boulevard. ‘Loved watching it. Completely. Hated doing it. (My
characted) is depressed from the beginning to the end. Five and half months of that is too much.’
As befitted the year’s most anticipated movie, Interview with the Vampir was one of Hollywood’s favorite non-Katzenbergian topics at summer’s end. Stories raced through town based on sketchy reports of early test-screenings, alternatively claiming Interview to be brilliant and problematic. Concerns about excessive violence had already prompted Geffen and Jordan to excise one scene and to reshoot an ending, ostensibly more faithful to the book, that would allow for a sequel with reportedly high-scoring Christian Slater on board. Then there were the Tom Cruise-and-Brad Pitt tales. Ddid Cruise insist on being as tall as Pitt? (Perhaps.) Did they race in go-carts against each other in England? (Yes; Cruise always won.) Was Pitt concerned by scuttlebutt that he and Cruise hated each other? (Yes, very.) Well, then–what was their
relationship? (It gets complicated.)
Rice’s work focuses on sexual licentiousness and a kind of Catholic guilt. Sprawling, gothic, as overripe as a Rubens, Interview tells an 18th-century story of Louis Pointe du Lac, a New Orleans plantation owner, who is turned into a vampire by the evil Lestat de Lioncourt, who yearns for company and a nice place to live. Thereafter, a guilt-ridden Louis bemoans his fate with ex-istential vigor. (Rice had read a lot of Sartre and Camus.) To assuage Louis’s loneliness, the Machiavellian Lestat transfortms one of Louis’s victims, Claudia, a beautiful five-year-old child, into a vampire.
‘I loved her so completely; she was so much the companion of my waking hour, the only companion that I had, other than death,’ says Louis of little Claudia. In real life, Claudia was a nickname for Michele Rice, Anne Rice’s vibrant, blond daughter, who had once piled her hair on top of her head, and spoken in a smoky voice like Claudia Cardinale. She was three years old when she developed Leukemia, and five when she died, in 1972.
At first, Rice soaked her material despair in a steady stream of siz-packs. Then she unleashed her rage on paper, into what eventually became Interview with the Vampire. Michele was reincarnated as Claudia, the raging woman locked in a child’s body. ‘Louis was me,’ says Rice. ‘That dark, brooding, melancholy person ripped from Catholic faith and tormented with guilt–that was me. I’d love to be Lestat: the wishful me, the active, the dream, the other one. Louis was the more true, autobiographical portrait of the conflicted and lost and orphaned person. That’s what the book is about. It’s about being orphaned.’
Rice describes the vampire’s killing as a kind of ultimate orgasm. ‘Everything becomes charged with this lost eroticism,’ explains Jordan, who seems to to specialize in exactly this kind of movie: poetic meditations on futile love, on pent-up sexual frustration that explodes into rage. ‘Because they’re vampires, everything becomes sexual but they don’t actually have sex. You can make a movie about sex but never have to show it.’
The director who won an Oscar last year for the screenplay for The Crying Game now must bring home a $50 million-and-counting movie, the kind of behemoth that goes from the 18th century to the present day with hundreds of costumes and special effects. ‘I’ve been in the dark for a year. It does affect me,’ Jordan says. ‘I’m stuck in that room–people screaming weeping and gnashing their teeth. You do enter a strange place in your mind.’
And on the set, where a kind of siege mentality seemed to take hold. Security personnel stood guard throughout, though a tabloid TV show did manage to breach the set’s perimeter. For security reasons on one location, a covered passageway connected Cruise’s trailer to the set, so no visitors could catch a glimpse of him. Not that they could look if they wanted to: Extras reportedly had to sign statements swearing not to peer at Cruise, and everyone had to sign forms promising to keep the secrets of Interview with the Vampire from even their nearest and dearest.
The simplest questions lead to a kind of panic-button response. Consider the cast of Cruise’s shoes, period boots that added a few inches to his five-foot-nine physique, making him closer in size to his five-foot-eleven costar. ‘You’re not going to get me to talk about that,’ says costume designer Sandy Powell, who wasn’t allowed to keep any of her sketches from the production. Wooley says Cruise’s height was solely a function of the historical costume, though the word during postproduction was that it was preferable for Cruise to be the taller of the two stars. ‘It’s something people want to make a big deal out of,’ says Pitt. ‘He wanted his character to be more physically dominant. It does make sense.. and then it doesn’t.’ So there.
Pitt compares himself a day workes who slaves away and then gets ‘obliterated’ on the weekend ‘to forget about the week that passed and not to think about the week to come. I mean the end of the movie–when I was consumed in thought of the movie–and I wandered into the bathroom and I looked down.. and I’m whizzing in the trash can! The toilet’s clear on the other end of the room! I mean that’s screwy. That’s ‘Oh man, I gotta get out of here.”
As he sits in the office, David Geffen is almost shouting: ‘Homoerotic? If you’re sitting next to my secretary, someone might watch that and think that’s homoerotic. Right? If I’m sitting here talking to Brad Pitt, someone over there might find that homoerotic. Homoerotic is in the eyes of the beholder. In the books there are no homosexual characters, because vampires don’t have sex. I don’t think people could seriously imagine that people who don’t have sex could be pedophiles.’
For almost tenty years studio executives had been scared off by what they saw as Interview’s homophobic and pedophilic echoes. But Geffen–one of the few openly gay moguls in America–doesn’t frighten easily. He is donating all his profits from the film to charity, and for only the second time in his filmmaking career,
Geffen is taking a ‘produced by’ credit. Interview, he stresses, ‘is not a Hollywood movie. It’s not a studio-made movie. I made my movie.’
Geffen’s insistence on that point would throw a shadow over the production when he crossed swords with the author. Rice, who had originally sold Interview’s movie right to Paramount for $150,000 back in 1976, refused to extend the option years later when that studio threatened to turn Interview into a TV miniseries
(in which Louis would be a millionaire with his own blood bank); the rights were eventually obtained by Warner’s, where Geffen has his deal. By then the project was in disarray. The last treatment had turned Louis into a woman and focused on Rice’s second and third books in her Vampire Chronicles. Geffen honed in on the first book, and asked Rice to take yet another stab at the script. ‘We sent it to every director who was appropriate, from Steven Spielberg to Ridley Scott,’ he says. ‘And nobody was interested.’ To compound Geffen’s problem, his option on Vampire was running out.
Then he saw The Crying Game. Neil Jordan’s succes d’estime caused Geffen to grab the phone. ‘Actually, I called him up more because of his writing ability,’ Geffen recalls. ‘When I mentioned Neil Jordan to Anne Rice, she was thrilled. She said, ‘I would do anything if he would direct it.” Geffen thought Rice said she would extent the option–at no charge–if he could get Jordan. (Rice recalls otherwise.)
Several weeks later, Jordan signed on. Then, Geffen says, Rice demanded $1 million to extend the option. ‘I had expected one set of circumstances, and was met with another, but I don’t hold any grudges about that,’ says Geffen. All the same, ‘that was the beginning of problems between Anne Rice and me.’
The film’s casting would exacerbate the conflict. ‘I was very involved with the casting of the movie,’ says Geffen. ‘I think I’m pretty good at casting, frankly.’ Geffen had in fact chosen Pitt before Jordan came on board, on the day after seeing him in A River Runs Through It. With Rice’s blessing, he offered Lestat to Daniel Day-Lewis. But Day-Lewis refused to read any scripts while he was filming In The Name Of The Father. Geffen waited for several months, calling the actor’s agents, Gene Parseghian, on an almost daily basis, until Day-Lewis finally declined.
Rice had ideas of her own. She had been obsessed with Blade Runner when it was released–and then that Ridley Scott was the perfect director and Rutger Hauer the perfect Lestat. Come 1993, she sent Geffen more suggestions, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich among them. Jordan thought her nominations were too old: ‘This story has the about young men. Lestat was turned into a vampire at the age of twenty. He can’t be a 45-year-old man.’
Other names were bandied about–William Baldwin, Ralph Fiennes, Mel Gibson. Jordan went on to meet with a number of actor, going so far as to screen-test the virtually unknown Rufus Sewell, of the BBC’s Middlemarch. Recalls casting director Juliet Taylor, ‘When the idea of Tom Cruise came out of a discussion that Neil, Stephen Wooley, and I had, David Geffen really loved it.’
‘We decided to approach him,’ recalls Jordan, who talks as if he could have pulled out of the decision at any moment, although the very sending of a script to a star of Cruise’s magnitude usually consitutes an offer. ‘He’s got this cold fury; if we could get that into the role, it could be quite chilling. What the book does is make evil familair, somehow you understand (Lestat’s) point of view. If Tom played the role, you would absolutely get that sense of identification with his character.’
No one had consulted Rice, who went ballistic. ‘Cruise is no more my vampire than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler,’ she told the Los Angeles Times. ‘He should do himself and everyone else a service and withdraw.’ Geffen says that he tried to call Rice but could no longer get on the line, only her attorney. Cruise, for his part, told the press his feelings had been hurt.
The author proceeded to barnstorm the nation, promoting her book Lasher and slagging off on the world’s cutest actor. She sent one final shot over the bow in a May diatribe to People. ‘What fools you are!’ she wrote. ‘.. I didn’t want somebody ‘less-clean-cut’ to play the vampire Lestat. I wanted a great actor of appropriate voice and height who would carry the part–Malkovich, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons. It’s a different league. Do any of you actually read? When you’re talking Lestat, you’re talking Captain Ahab, Custer, Peter the Great.. Do you really believe because Cruise is around unshaven and camping it up at Harvard (where he was given the Hasty Pudding award) that this behavior guarantees the succes of this film?’
In September, just two days before what would have been the 28th birthday of Michele Rice, Anne Rice announces that she has seen the movie on videotape. ‘I wanted to put my hands over my face for fear of something awful and it began to unfold,’ she says. ‘They got it! I was swept away. Neil kept the heart and soul of the book. The high point was to see Cruise in the blond hair speaking with the voice of Mestat: He makes you forget the boyish image of his past films. He is that mysterious and immortal character. I found it an uncomprimising movie: I was kind of sick before it came, and I’m cured.’
Tom Cruise has perhaps the most vigorous greeing in show business. He leans in close–crossing that personal-space barrier until he seems to be only inches away–and then flashes the blinding, megawatt Top Gun smile. It’s an unexpected spot of warmth, perhaps because the last time Cruise appeared in the pages of Premiere, it was in an article detailing the coercive and cultlike practices of his religion, scientology.
Cruise is strangely more beautiful in real life; the screen seems to regularize his features. he lost eighteen pounds to play Lestat, but has since regained give, not tat anyone except the star could tell. he’s now wearing a carefully cultivated three-day beard.
‘Lestat feels that being a vampire is the greatest adventure of his life–one of the greatest thing one can attain or be,’ he says. ‘He belives that giving Louis this power is a gift. If you want to look at it from Lestat’s viewpoint, he’s betrayed by Louis. Because he wants that hunting partner. Anything Louis does veering from Lestat’s intentions..’ He pauses dramatically. ‘It’s upsetting.’
‘Tom had this incredibly direct instinct all the time for that character,’ says Jordan. ‘He’d say Hitler didn’t think he was a monster. Stalin didn’t think he was a monster. Lestat doesn’t think he’s a monster.’
Today, Cruise seems annoyed by that analysis, offering instead one that stems from domestic violence: ‘Sometimes a parent beats a child (and) in some warped way, that parent is actually loving the child.’
Jordan gave the actor Baudelaire’s description of a dandy, and a complicated piece of Haydn to learn to play on the harpsichord. Cruise studied language tapes to make his speech more formal and videotapes of animals to try to appropriate their predatory nature. Despite his diligence, he intitally balked at taking Lestat’s signature: the famed golden locks. ‘He was afraid it would look too ridiculous,’ recalls makeup supervisor Michele Burke. ‘We said he had to be blonde. Finally we did the whole makeup test on him. He says to me, ‘If Nicole (Kidman, his wife) buys it, that’s going to be it.’ The minute she saw him, I could hear this shriek in the corridor.’ Cruise ended up bleaching his eyebrows and the hair on his temples, arms, and chest an ash blond.
‘I had to find the Lestat in me, really’ he says. ‘I’m not the kind of actor you have to call Lestat. (But) when you’re stirrng up that kind of emotion 24 hours a day.. I have a hard time just closing my trailr door. You can’t ever, ever really relax.’
‘Before the cameras would start rolling, Tom would be getting into it,’ recalls Slater, who plays the interviewer, Daniel Malloy, ‘and he’d say things to me like ‘I’m going to rip your throat out, you
filthy…’ He was helpful that way.’
When asked if he’s playing a more sexual part than ever before, the megastar grows uncomfortable: ‘Well, you’ll see, and you’ll see how you’re going to feel.’ After more prodding he finally says, ‘It’s vampires biting people. Its not tough to play.’ He then looks down and answers a question that hasn’t been asked. When Cruise was first announced, the rumors flew that he had been requested that all homoerotic strains be washed away from the script, that he had refused to do any vampire kisses above the shoulder. ‘That was no concern of mine.. It wasn’t a problem. I mean, you’re playing a character. When you get into a character and you start playing, you just do it. People will think it’s erotic. They won’t think it’s erotic. Who knows?’ But does he think it’s erotic? ‘I think it has a sexiness about it,’ he says measuredly. Then with exasperation: ‘It’s vampire-erotic to me. I’ve always been fascinated by vampires. Is the movie scary? I don’t know. Maybe it is to some people. Is it erotic? Well, maybe some people will find it erotic.’
After this, Cruise essentially shuts down. ‘You’re going to have to see for yourself’ becomes his standard answer to questions, until he finally gets frustrated: ‘It doesn’t matter what I think about a movie.’ A publicist comes in to call time. Cruise sits for a second, before saying with controlled politeness: ‘Do you have everything you need?’
You know, the first time Tom met Neil, he didn’t know what to make of him,’ says Geffen, ‘and I said to him, ‘You’re accustomed to dealing with guys like Sydney Pollack and Barry Levinson. They could all be agents at CAA. Not Neil. He’s a very soft-spoken, quiet kind of guy, and that’s sometimes harded to relate to.”
While he was signing on, Jordan learned of all the missteps the project had taken. ‘I think all these efforts went wrong because they wanted to treat the vampirism or exchange of blood as a metaphor–for drug taking, for sexuality, for AIDS,’ says the director. ‘In fact it’s not a metaphor of anything. It’s a story about people who are vampires. I wanted to bring to moral question to the foreground. The whole question of evil: What happens when someone denies themselves access to the light?’
The last time Jordan worked in Hollywood, he found himself helming back-to-back disasters. On High Spirits, a putative farce, the American producers ended up locking the director out of the editing room. Jordan next took a stab at a $20 million David Mamet comedy, We’re no Angels, with Sean Penn and Robert De Niro. ‘As I understand, it was sort of a trial,’ says his friend Stephen Rae, who plays the French vampire Santiago. ‘Rather tahn directing them, he was negotiating with them.’
‘I shouldn’t have done comedy. What was I thinking?’ says Jordan. who then returned to Ireland to make The Mircale and The Crying Game. On Interview, says Rae, ‘he seemed totally comfortable. I didn’t see any pressure getting to him, except for fatigue.’
Jordan seems to relish the opportunity to beat Hollywood at its own game. ‘You look at these large-budgeted movies: They should be able to speak to you as a human being in an important way, and mostly they don’t,’ he says. ‘I think very often they don’t because guys like me avoid them. I feel if you make movies, it’s your job to engage with the system–to make a big popular movie that has some depth to it.’
‘I always wanted to be a vampire, actually,’ says twelve-year-old Kirsten Dunst, her golden hair hanging down her back. ‘Before this movie, I dreamed about being a vampire. I pictured me with fangs.’
It certainly seems true that Dunst’s casting had a ring of destiny. She first heard about the part when she was shopping in Beverly Hills with her mother, after two strangers in business suits stopped them. ‘They asked me if I was an actor,’ she recalls. ‘They told us that I should try out for Interview with the Vampire.’
‘She had this angelic face and this emotional power behind it,’ says Juliet Taylor. ‘When she speaks, she seems to be a woman, then she recedes back into being a little girl.’
‘She ran that set in that little mind of hers,’ giggles Pitt.
Jordan had been keen to find a professional for the part of Claudia. ‘I didn’t want to cast somebody who’d never acted before, because I thought the part was so grave that a kid may never recover. I’ve got two daughters myself,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want the responsibility of putting a kid into an institution.’ Dunst, who had parts in Greedy and Oedipus Wrecks, was the first girl the production had even bothered to videotape.
More than 5,000 other children auditioned, most of whom simply couldn’t handle the dynamics of the part. ‘Like, they don’t know how to flirt,’ says former Taylor associate Joanna Colbert, who found Dunst. ‘Kirsten could call on it. Like ‘Okay, I got my sexy thing going now.”
The final screen test came down to Dunst, another eleven-year-old from Seattle, and a five-year-old from North Carolina. Cruise didn’t read with the girls, but he came to the auditions. ‘Kirsten and Rom looked so good together,’ says Colbert. ‘You just didn’t know who was in what role. Is she the one seducing him or is he seducing her?’
‘The only scene she hated doing was kissing Brad,’ chuckles Jordan. ‘Everything else she absolutely loved, but the idea of kissing boys was yuck, horrible.’
Interview began with 40 days of night shoots near the bayous of Louisiana. Geffen insisted that the first couple of days–close-ups–be thrown out, in part because the vampire makeup was too heavy. (The production eventually had to re-create the bayous on a soundstage in England; Jordan and company also shot at the Paris Opera and on the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Two weeks after filming started, River Phoenix, who was slated to play the interviewer, died of a drug
overdose. ‘My initital instinct was, How are they going to get aboybody to replace him?’ says Christian Slater, who was immediatly tapped by Geffen, although Leonardo DiCaprio (brilliant but too young) and Stephen Dorff also read for the part. ‘I felt really uncomfortable about taking the role,’ says Slater. ‘The only thing I could think of was to donate the money to (River’s favorite) charities.
‘I tried to throw a little bit of humor in there,’ he continues, ‘because from my point of view, if I was interviewing someone and they told me they were a vampire, I’d think they were insane. Neil did kind of get upset at me once. He said, ‘You’re working on the film for a week and you’re changing all the dialogue!’
‘I said, ‘That’s right.”