Forty years ago, Anne Rice’s debut novel, Interview with the Vampire, brought vampirism out of the shadows and into the light. Her initial foray into the world of blood-imbibing immortals was partially inspired by the tragic death of her daughter Michelle, who died at age of 5 of leukemia. The character of Claudia, a 5-year-old vampire with an insatiable thirst for life-giving blood, was a tribute to her lost little girl.
It took Rice five weeks to pen Interview following her daughter’s passing, and the story, aching with longing and romance, resonated with readers in a big way. It became the first in a bestselling series of tomes dubbed The Vampire Chronicles, and, were it not for her revival of the genre, there would probably be no True Blood, Twilight, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Now, Rice has just released the twelfth book in her Vampire Chronicles series. Titled Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, it follows her beloved bloodsucking protagonist Lestat into uncharted waters—the lost city of Atlantis—and introduces a few major changes to her vampire mythology.
Rice, now 75, also recently made headlines when she announced that she’d reacquired the film and TV rights to her celebrated books, and is plotting a Vampire Chronicles TV series that she’s modeling after Game of Thrones. She tells me she’s writing a bible for the first two seasons, but that she’ll leave it open-ended from there.
“We’ve had such a golden age of fantasy in the last few years, if you think of the Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings films, and Game of Thrones,” she says. “It’s a pantheon of creative talent.”
The Daily Beast spoke to Rice, who is delightfully candid in conversation, about her new book, “Vampire Facials,” and much more.
What’s the origin story of your vampire obsession?
I saw a film called Dracula’s Daughter when I was a little girl. It was a 1934 film, and it was already out for a while. I fell in love with the idea of this little girl, this countess, who was a painter and caught in the tragic dilemma of having to take life in order to survive. I never forgot that film. That was always my impression of what vampires were: earthlings with heightened sensibility and a doomed appreciation of life.
What about Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Many cultural critics have read it as an anti-Semitic text, with Dracula serving as a metaphor for the Jews—“contaminating” WASP bloodlines and manipulating the banks of London.I wasn’t really much of a fan of Dracula at all. I hadn’t read the book. I didn’t read Dracula itself until I was an adult, and after I’d wrote Interview With the Vampire. I had heard of that critical take on it—that it reflected a fear of immigrants pouring into England at the time. But that had no influence on my novels whatsoever. I was interested in a vampire as a person of preternatural senses, and who was locked into a tragic dilemma that was similar to our own.
Have there been any contemporary vampire films or TV shows you’ve found particularly impressive?
Well, I enjoyed watching True Blood on HBO a lot. I thought it was fun! I thought my vampires would’ve thought it was fun, too. I think Twilight was a great success, obviously. It made kids really happy. It wasn’t for me, and not the type of thing I’d normally read, but I was fascinated by what Stephenie Meyer was able to pull off. She domesticated the romance of the vampire, by making the vampire the boy next to you in biology class. The idea of vampires going to high school forever seems like hell to me.
I didn’t read the books, but I saw the Twilight films as pushing abstinence-only messaging.
I don’t recall having any sophisticated thoughts about it. I went to the movies, but didn’t really have interest in the books. I dipped into the books a bit, but never had any sophisticated analysis of it. But I’m not surprised by that kind of criticism. It sounds valid, it sounds interesting. But what I saw upfront was just the romance—that a vampire would fall in love with you, protect you from everyone else, and become your archangel, and how that would appeal to a young reader.
A lot of readers will be surprised by how your new book, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, posits that vampires descended from aliens. I’d always been interested in where the vampires came from, and early on in the books I’d hinted that the origin of the vampires had to do with a spirit, Amel, that mutated and entered into an ancient Egyptian queen to whom all other vampires descended, and who all other vampires were connected. Who was that spirit? Did he have a history? Was he a ghost? Really, that’s what led me here. I wanted to explore Amel’s history. Did he have a history of anything beyond what we could even imagine? Atlantis opened the possibility to all that. I’d had quite a bit of material written for a novel called Born for Atlantis that involved quite a few of these characters, too.
Was Realms of Atlantis inspired by the climate-change threat at all?Oh, yeah. I do a lot of reading about catastrophes in earth history and how they changed the climate, and whether there was a cataclysm 12,000 years ago that destroyed civilizations that don’t exist today. That directly relates to climate change. The books of Graham Hancock inspired me. He’s gone diving in the Middle East and the Mediterranean and found ruins of vast, complicated civilizations that were lost, and of course he’s traced through legends to see if we can read legends or myths through dream analysis, and he sees evidence that there was an ancient culture that gave birth to other cultures.
It’s been a very long, very trying year—and much of the credit for that goes to Donald Trump, who is exhausting. What are your thoughts on the election of Trump?
I followed the election very closely and it seemed that this election was the first that was really impacted by the internet, and the way that social media and the internet changed our culture. We were caught unaware of that. We were unprepared to hear and see things that we’d never seen before. I hope we learn from this, and develop a greater resistance to fake news stories and conspiracy theories. That’s what tends to happen in our culture—we have to be a little more clever and canny about what we accept, and I think we will do that. I think we will learn from all this. But right now, it’s a bit discouraging and confusing what’s happened. Most of the people I talk to are numb, frightened and confused.
Eric Trump sort of resembles an ’80s movie vampire.[Laughs] I really don’t associate the Trumps with vampires. I can’t come up with anything there!
What, in your opinion, separates Lestat from other iconic vampires?
I think Lestat’s always been my rebel-hero. He’s an explorer; he wants to know what the meaning of life is. He doesn’t accept anybody’s authority. I see the whole Vampire Chronicles as the story of Lestat’s explorations. At the same time, I think he’s a very romantic hero and an 18th-century man of reason who’s very understanding of today’s world, and has a great understanding of today’s world. He’s really my hero. I’m in love with him. He’s my alter ego. I would love to see the world and explore it the way he does.I’ve always viewed vampire texts as commentaries on xenophobia, or fear of the “other,” as well as Christianity. We’re living in a world that invites us to scapegoat everybody. I’ve been interested in the meaning of existence and original sin. What they really mean is they can’t explain the motives of people who hurt them. They use words like “evil” or “sin” to describe people who threaten them. We have to stop that. I’m not sure we should use the word “sin” anymore. We should replace it with “fallibility.” The other way we can achieve peace is recognizing other people’s fallibility. Whatever they’re doing, there’s a logic to it, and we have to understand that logic. That does not mean that all acts are equal. There is good, and there is bad. But we can’t keep using mythical words for what other people do while not acknowledging our conflicts and our intentions. That’s all over my novels. Lestat and Louis refuse to accept how they are defined by the culture, that because they are vampires they are abominations.
Were any of your works inspired by the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s? When I think of blood, the first things that spring to mind are AIDS and vampirism.
I was writing about vampires before the AIDS crisis. People told me Interview With the Vampire was a gay allegory, and I was very honored by that. [Rice’s son, Christopher, is openly gay.] 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. In my books, I’ve always created bonds of love that have transcended gender. But I’ve never associated AIDS with vampires, myself.I’ve always been very much a champion of gay rights, and art produced by gay people—whether it 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. 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.Have you heard of the “Vampire Facial?” It’s this new procedure that’s caught on among the rich and famous—including Kim Kardashian—and involves injecting plasma from your own blood into your face. It’s said to stimulate collagen and elastin fibers, making your skin smoother and clearer. Oh my gosh! Very interesting. I do have a good friend who is a plastic surgeon, and he sometimes gives me medical advice on the novels. I’ll have to ask him about that, because I’ve never heard of it. But heck, if it makes somebody feel good, and makes them feel young, I’m all for it. I think there is a lot of pressure on people to feel and look young. We’re not used to seeing faces that have not had plastic surgery, and it can be a shock to confront a venerable British actor who has never had a facelift—especially a female British actor who’s never had a facelift. We wonder, why hasn’t she had work done to keep up?
What are your thoughts on the societal pressure people—particularly women—face to, as you said, “feel and look young?”It’s a problem. Adulthood is filled with such problems. There’s pressure on us to dress right, to be slender and not be fat, to drive the right car, to work out and stay fit; there’s pressure on us all our lives today in America. That’s part of being a participant in an affluent society. Yes, there’s going to be pressure to get surgery and look very young. My attitude toward it is it’s fun—it’s fun to have that option—but yes, it would be nice to live in an ideal world where we saw people for who they are, and it didn’t matter if people looked old or tired or how they were. If you went to the 19th century, people were dressed in corsets and frock coats and ties, so we invent these strange societal requirements in every century.
You’ve regained the rights to The Vampire Chronicles, and have said you’d like to develop it as a Game of Thrones-style TV series. Why now? Well, the rights came back. We were with Imagine Entertainment and Universal Studios and they did not renew their option, so we were very blessed that the rights came back to us. We liked working with them, but it did not work out. And we want to do television. As I mentioned, I’m more than ever convinced that TV is where we belong—not the movies, where they are today. We’ve seen a golden age of television in the last 12 years. To me, it started with The Tudors—a show with very high production values, and Deadwood, a fabulously transgressive show. Game of Thrones is the premier fantasy series, I think, that represents full commitment on the part of the producers to the books, and to having full sensuality onscreen. That’s what we want to do with The Vampire Chronicles—we want to give it that full-dress costume treatment. Begin in the 18th century with Lestat in Paris as he gets made a vampire, and follow his story. To me, that’s a great story to tell. And again, I want to do it without any constraints—just the way they did it with Game of Thrones. I want it to be a full costume drama, and full commitment. I think that’s what makes these different landmark television series work. The Crown absolutely blew me away. I marathoned the whole thing before I went on this tour. There were no compromises, and full commitment and full belief that if this story was well-told, it would grip people.