THE ANNE RICE CHRONICLE - an unpublished 1992 interview

Egad.  It's almost twenty years.  

I was working at a local radio station, long since closed down, and running a film review show there.  Once in a blue moon I might be fortunate enough to hook a celebrity to be interviewed on my show.  Of course, my idea of 'celebrity' was not necessarily my listeners' ... Which might have contributed to the station shutting down.  Anyway ...

In 1992, Anne Rice was in the country promoting The Tale of the Body Thief, and I was able to talk my way into interviewing her for my show, given the undying popularity of the vampire genre.  

She was very pleasant and indulged my stupid questions with consumate professionalism.  I played the interview on air, and that was that.

Then, about a year later, when she was releasing Lasher (a non-vampire book), I transcribed the interview, wrote it up as a feature article and hocked it around a few magazines, but no one wanted to buy it, even with the anticipation of the upcoming Interview with a Vampire movie.  This was a different time, before the interwebs, when pre-release hype was a relatively rare thing.
So I buried it on a floppy disc and forgot about it.  Over the years since, the popularity of the vampire has transformed: Along came Joss Whedon and Buffy, Charlaine Harris and Sookie then last, and certainly least, Stephanie Meyers and Bella.  As a consequence, vampires have never been sexier.

So, a propos of nothing in particular, I dug my old article up for you to sink your teeth into.

Here 'tis, exactly as written up at the time, warts and all - my previously unpublished 1992 interview with Anne Rice:

            Some fans of Anne Rice’s Lestat books may be terribly disappointed to learn that their favourite author, chronicler of the undead, queen of the damned, doesn’t actually believe in Vampires:

            “I believe in ghosts, I think there’s a lot of evidence for ghosts; but vampires, no; they’re just creations of our imagination, a mythic, literary creation.  Having said that, when I write about them they’re absolutely real to me.  I’m part of their world, I’m one of them;  they’re really all there is for me at that point.  In fact, I believe in them so much when I’m writing that I sometimes think Lestat or Louis could come walking into the room at any time.  Particularly Lestat, he’s my real favourite and I feel his presence all the time!”

            This is an unusual confession for a horror writer, most would rather keep a healthy distance between themselves and their creations, but then Rice is an unusual example of the type.  In a field where female writers are still as much a  conspicuous minority as female horror fans, she has transcended the shackles of stalk-and-slash contrivance and drawn together a cross-over fan-base of both sexes   by feeding so much of herself into her work.  An autobiography would be redundant, as everything has already been written down.

            Firstly there is the religion - old fashioned Catholicism in the sticky heat of New Orleans, with all the mysticism and ritual that implies.  This played a significant part in her upbringing, and it hangs like a shroud over the novels, not in an orthodox, moralising sense, but in an air of mystery, of guilt, in the sure and certain knowledge that something is going on which we can’t fully comprehend.  Then there is her background - a devout though alcoholic mother who died when Anne was a child, her marriage to Stan Rice, a painter and poet whose verses occasionally appear as frontispieces in her books, then the final deciding factor - the untimely death of her daughter.  This had a devastating effect on both parents, leading to years of depression.  Anne even inherited her mother’s  alcoholism.  In synopsis this all sounds rather like the plot of a not-terribly-good melodrama, but it happened, and the Anne Rice, the novelist who sells a book on average every thirty seconds,  is the woman who grew out of this tragedy.

            What drew her out of the cold emptiness of Haight-Ashbury after the Summer of Love had faded into memory, and helped her come to terms with the loss, was the writing of the first novel.  A dense and heartfelt text, it deals with mutability in such a personal way that reading it almost makes one feel like a voyeur into her life - especially regarding the Claudia character, a little girl whom Lestat takes, Vampirises and therefore consigns to un-dead eternity as a cute six year-old.

            Back in 1976 this was eerie and radical writing, made all the more so by the personal connotations for Rice herself, but, eighteen years and several copyists later, it has turned into something of a cliché:

            “They turn up in the movies now with amazing regularity - little girls with large eyes looming towards the camera ...”

            In subsequent volumes the emphasis of the series has changed slightly to allow Lestat to become the enduring character, far more-so than any of his converts; but the point of the project hasn’t changed for Rice, it is still to explore the hypothetical potential of being a Vampire.

            “I wanted to go into that enigmatic figure and have him tell me what it was like to be a vampire.  When I was a child, I read a vampire story that I loved; Richard Matheson’s A Dress of White Silk.  It is also written in the first person, from the point of view of a vampire child, a little girl.  I never forgot that story.”

Dracula - described by Stoker as having: " ... lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking ... " So, Bela Lugosi, then.  Ahem.

            So, what about Dracula?

            “I didn’t actually read Dracula until much later, after I’d written Interview.  I had gotten it out of the library when I was a child and read the beginning, but it so frightened and upset me that I took it back.  The Count had hauled a baby in a bag up for his three concubines to drink the blood of, and it was just too much for me, so I took it back and didn’t make the connection that that actually was Dracula until years later.  So, after Interview had been out a while, I decided I’d better tackle the damn thing ... and there was Jonathan Harker, and there were the three concubines with that baby in the bag, and I thought ‘Oh God, I remember this ...  I have to admit I never did finish the whole book.”

            Almost one hundred years on from Dracula, the interest seems as keen as ever, last year brought us Coppola’s adaptation, next year will bring us the already notorious film version of Interview, and meanwhile a veritable bandwagon of books, other films and comics is constantly gaining momentum.

            “What keeps the genre alive is the fact that the vampire is such a powerful metaphor for the outsider.  He’s such a great heroic character, he’s a wonderful character to deal with, he’s the supernatural monster who can talk to you, he can seduce you with words as well as gestures; and whom you can seduce and reason with.  Y’know, he’s Mephistopheles, and that’s always interesting in literature.  The Vampire is the charmer, the aristocrat of the supernatural pantheon.”

            Which rather brings up the subject of sympathies; the seductive power of a lover with fangs is obvious in Freudian terms, and the more secular attraction of eternal life is something we have all dallied with, but the Lestat books show the life of the undead in such unflinching detail, yet without apparent judgement, that one has to wonder if Ms Rice’s sympathies are with the killer or the victim.  When asked about this she politely lifts the question onto a higher level, explaining that the morals being investigated are far too complex to be dealt with simply through sympathy.

            “I think the dilemma of the books, for me, is the dilemma that exists for the characters - how to live with being bad.  Lestat says at one point ‘I refuse to be bad at being bad, if I’m gonna be bad I’m gonna be good at it!’  And I go over and over that in these books, how do you live when you have a conscience and you know you have to kill to live?  How do you deal with that?  But the reason that is so powerful, so meaningful, is that it’s a metaphor for many things we do in life, for the ruthless decisions we make, that have to do with our preservation of ourselves on every level.

            “Turn on the news today and just watch what’s happening all over the world; you can see how ruthless we all are being just by staying where we are and doing what we’re doing instead of rushing out to help all the people who are sick and suffering and starving and need comfort and shelter.  It’s a powerful, powerful thing, talking about the evil of the vampire, because it’s a metaphor for that human evil, the outcast part of all of us, the predator in all of us, and of the sufferer in all of us.  And for the person who perseveres stylistically and gracefully despite feeling very, very guilty about things.”  Then, with a wry smile:  “It can’t miss.”

            In fact she is convinced that, far from being outdated in this technological age, that vein of superstition which can be found just beneath the skin of most of us is more significant than ever before:

            “Oh this is just the beginning!  For the whole treatment of the supernatural in fiction, it’s just the beginning.  I think there was a foolish perception, for a while, that the Victorians had done everything there was to do, that they’d taken the supernatural novel as far as it could go, and that we would never be able to top them; but we’re learning now that that’s not true at all.  There are all kinds of things that can be done with supernatural fiction, and we’re likely to have hundreds more years of vampire novels and ghost stories and so forth. It’s a very exciting time to be writing!  We’re already seeing more of an investment, spiritually and financially, in horror fiction, it’ll get much more respect now I think.”

            Having recently signed a book deal reported to be worth $17 million, you would expect her to know of whence she speaks.  Fantasy films are rarely if ever off our screens these days (look at this summer’s slew of comic-book adaptations), and Gothicism is rising out of the night-clubs to become a major (if transitory) part of society again.  Are these black-clad, white faced people the only ones who expose themselves to the rich supernatural tapestry of an Anne Rice novel?  Of course not, nor are they the only ones who will queue in the rain this winter to see Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of Frankenstein and eagerly await the eventual arrival of Interview With The Vampire, scripted and directed by Neil Jordan and, far more controversially, starring well-known dental hygiene advert Tom Cruise.

Ironically, Tom Cruise probably will live forever ...
            Rice’s opinion of Cruise’s casting is more than a matter of record, it has already become legend.  Signing sessions in America for the latest novel, Lasher (being a sequel to The Witching Hour and therefore not a Vampire book) have become the settings for public demonstrations by incensed Riceans determined to show solidarity by chanting ‘No Tom Cruise, No Tom Cruise.’  Not much grey area there really, but one cannot help wondering what this demonstrates, apart from the rock-star status Anne Rice enjoys in her native country.

            My opinion is mixed:

          Firstly, and most significantly, I think it shows how deeply involved she is with her work.  Her complaint against the film version has not been the usual one concerning its faithfulness to the source material; in fact, in the years since the film rights were first bought, she has contributed various draft scripts herself, including one which changed the sex of Louis (Interview’s narrator, or interviewee if you will) to female with, apparently, Cher in mind for the rôle.  In a different draft, where Louis was male again, she worked quite hard at reducing the homoerotic content by giving Louis a wife and family.  Despite persistent rumour, this is not something which Jordan is guilty of, in fact the writer and director of The Crying Game has, by all accounts, stuck quite closely to the book. 

            Rice’s complaint must then be against Cruise as an individual.  I doubt that it will be anything as petty as disdain for him as a person but rather because, when she writes with Lestat in the room with her, watching her, he doesn’t look like Tom Cruise, he looks like Daniel Day-Lewis, or John Malkovich.  He isn’t clean and wholesome like Cruise, he has a dark side, a ragged edge of bitter experience and pain.  If this is her concern - a conviction that he simply can’t pull it off, then she should maybe take solace from the fact that, in the days before he was the biggest box-office draw of his age (his contemporaries, in terms of the fees they can demand and grosses they can expect to earn, such as Eastwood, Nicholson and Ford are getting on for twice his age) he showed flashes of exemplary acting ability and could, if sufficiently motivated, do so again.  Who would have believed that Michael Keaton could play Bruce Wayne convincingly and seriously, before it happened?  Who could have predicted that Tom Hanks would win an Oscar in a serious rôle on the evidence of, say, Big?  Surprises do happen occasionally in Hollywood, this may well be one.

            But what if Rice’s misgivings are far deeper than that?  What if she can’t bear to have her personal imaginings, her dream-world visualised in an inappropriate form?  Will it ruin the dream, will it spoil her imaginary world?

            Of the many things Anne Rice is, there is very little evidence to suggest that she is naïve, that she hasn’t considered this eventuality, over the years.  So we come to my second possible explanation of her very public reaction, one that, in some ways, contradicts the first:  Publicity. 

            It has long been held that there is no such thing as bad publicity (take the recent success of The Crow and Cool Runnings, both of which found longevity at the cinema partly through the interest generated by their being respectively Brandon Lee and John Candy’s last performances).  If this is so, then an advance whispering campaign about a film is very, very good news for the box-office.  Audience recognition leads to audience anticipation which leads in turn to big-bucks over the opening weekend.

            A word to the right person at the right time, once blown out of proportion either by accident or design, can produce a very satisfying publicity campaign without a penny being spent.  Open a tabloid newspaper and you can see this process under way any day of the week.  But whether this media coverage is deliberate or not, and whether it has the blessing of Rice herself or of Warner Bros. (who are producing the movie) or neither of them, is a moot point.  The inevitable result of it will be increased interest in the movie, and an increased profile for Anne Rice and her books. 

At the time, Rice told the LA Times: "(Cruise) is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler."  However, after seeing the film, she told Variety: "The charm, the humor and the invincible innocence which I cherish in my beloved hero Lestat are all alive in Tom Cruise's courageous performance".  So that's alright, then.
            Which makes one wonder how late-comers will take to her works.  I asked her how deliberate it was that the books were connected and yet didn’t follow a precise sequence like direct sequels: 

            “Oh, it was always an important part of the concept of The Vampire Chronicles that they should each be independent from the others, that each would be a complete book; and I’m confident that they can be pulled off the shelf that way, in any order.”

            When asked if there will be more volumes in what is, to be fair, a series as potentially endless as its protagonists, she thought for a moment and then affirmed that there will be one more.

            “Just one?”

            “Well, that’s all I see at this point, but that’s all I ever see: the next book ... they take possession of me, you see, and they have to do that one at a time.”  This is partly through the passionate way she writes, and partly through expediency, after-all, millionaire novelists are a rare and popular breed:  “I have to block out various months when I will do nothing except write.  But it really is a bit of a struggle now; I mean, if I accepted all the invitations to speak or to appear and sign, I would have to retire as a writer and just do that.  Writing is almost like eating ice-cream these days, to just be alone with the computer and be able to write is a dream. 

            “But, when I do write, I start every day, no matter how I feel ... and if nothing comes after about an hour and a half, then I give up.  Usually, though, I love to work right through, if I wasn’t interrupted I’d probably go on for twelve hours a day.  Once I get going, I guess the only thing that’ll stop me writing is downright physical illness, if I have a terrible headache then I’ll quit because, if I don’t, everyone in the novel will get a headache!”

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