Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire is an enduring tale of eternal love, the woes of immortality, and being frozen in grief. It’s also the story of Lestat de Lioncourt, the worst person of all time and also an eternal object of fascination and adoration.
When I say Lestat is the worst person of all time, I am not exaggerating. He menaces characters as much as he charms them, especially the ones he proclaims his love for. In fact, you’re probably worse off as someone Lestat loves than one he hates: In AMC’s Interview, Lestat is so obsessed with his love Louis, he stalks him, emotionally manipulates him, and murders anyone that gets close to him, and that’s before Lestat makes him a vampire.
AMC’s adaptation of Rice’s classic novel makes several radical changes to Rice’s text. Rather than being a plantation story taking place in the 1800s between the plantation owner Louis de Pointe du Lac and Lestat de Lioncourt, the story is pushed forward in time to the early 1900s. Instead of being a plantation owner, Louis is a Black man living in New Orleans as a barely tolerated brothel owner, already balancing his life between two worlds before he meets Lestat. For the large part, fans of the series have embraced these changes because the characters still feel so true to what Rice wrote. In particular, fans have taken to Sam Reid’s portrayal of Lestat, who plays the character with a recognizable, infuriating charm and a barely suppressed capacity for violence.
It isn’t that the fandom excuses or rationalizes this behavior away. To love Lestat is to know that he will disappoint you. Recently, the fandom for the Interview With the Vampire television show found itself at a crossroads over Lestat’s actions in the series. Could you love a character that lies like he’s breathing, doesn’t care if he hurts people, and frequently deliberately causes harm to the people he cares about? For decades, the answer to that question, at least in regard to Lestat, has been yes.
In the novels, which after the first book are told from Lestat’s point of view, he does things so terrible that describing them out of context feels like a joke. When Lestat briefly gains a human body, he immediately sexually assaults a woman. As a young vampire, he turns his mother and makes out with her. All throughout Interview, which is told from Louis’ perspective, he does things specifically to piss Louis off. At one point, Lestat wants to kill someone that Louis declared off limits, but this person has also been challenged to a duel to the death. Louis tackles Lestat in the mud of a Louisiana swamp while his victim wins the duel, and then in the split second that Louis relaxes his grip Lestat wriggles free and murders the poor mortal. His pettiness and theatricality are as delightful as they are horrifying. As Lestat’s father dies, Louis asks that Lestat not play the piano, so Lestat resorts to banging on pots and pans.
Lestat is just a kind of character that people become obsessed with. Anne Rice clearly did, and she was the one who made him up. He’s a blorbo from my shows — a fictional character one could talk endlessly about as if they are a real person, even if they are both fake and have, in their fiction, committed war crimes.
Lestat isn’t the only or most significant morally deficient blorbo, but for many other blorbos he might as well be the blueprint.
Fans of House of the Dragon have also grappled with one the show’s characters growing up into an evil blorbo. Aemond Targaryen, once he lost an eye and grew out his hair, became a certified heartthrob among some House of the Dragon fans, but more than his looks, it’s the fact that he’s evil and crazy. Vriska, from the webcomic Homestuck, felt like she was designed in a lab to be infuriating, with the active and vocal fandom arguing about her actions for months at a time. Even the more definitively evil Kilgrave from Jessica Jones had a fandom that liked him, if not despite then because of his evilness. Like Lestat, these characters have a theatrical nature and an almost admirable ability to hold a grudge, and also an ability to commit acts of violence that they just barely try to hide. What makes these characters fascinating is how, even after you’ve seen what they’re capable of, you still want to have them around.
When Lestat finally emerges in the present day in the previous movie adaptation of Interview With the Vampire, he calls Louis a big whiner. You can’t help but laugh, because after two hours of Louis you may be eager for a change of pace. It feels like a trick — even after watching everything that Lestat has put Louis through, you have to admit when he’s making points. It’s not just that Lestat says the things we all long to say but don’t, due to polite society. As fans of Rice’s novels know, the appeal of Lestat is that he was wounded by the world in mundane ways like so many of us are, and in response he’s decided to take revenge on everything, everywhere, with every second of his remaining time on Earth. Lestat is so wrapped up in his own pain — his wounds festering into selfishness — that it gives him a kind of clarity one could mistake for empathy. He doesn’t like or trust other people, but he understands them, or at least understands how to act so that they give him what he wants. Watching him is a lesson in really understanding what it means to put yourself ahead of everything else. He’s the answer to the question, “Aren’t you tired of being nice? Don’t you just want to go apeshit?”
Not everyone holds pain as deep as Lestat’s pain, but many of us in the world have, like Lestat, been abused, abandoned, treated cruelly, and watched loved ones die. It would be a mercy if these experiences gave us some great insight into human nature. But the tragedy of Lestat is that despite all his powers, his ability to read and manipulate people is not a dark gift given to him by the world’s ills. It’s merely self-protective, and it doesn’t even work very well.
Reid’s performance as Lestat in AMC’s Interview captures both his dangerous lack of inhibition and basic immaturity. So often when I watch Interview I marvel at the expressiveness of Sam Reid’s face; his eyes plead for love even as he kills people or insults his little chosen family. Each emotional wound as Louis and Lestat fight with each other shows on his face, not just through his sadness but through his anger. He is still just a child lashing out at people, expecting them to leave him and deciding to give them a reason. After Louis catches Lestat cheating, they agree to an open relationship. Louis has the audacity to actually hook up with someone, which Lestat learns about by spying on him and watching them. Lestat confronts Louis about his dalliance. Although Lestat is completely in the wrong, it’s hard not to be a little moved when he cries out, near tears, “I heard your hearts dancing!” Despite this wound being completely self-inflicted, the pain is real.
In this most recent Interview adaptation, what comes to the surface most readily is how alike Louis and Lestat are, despite themselves. They are both two people frozen in a moment of grief, unable, due to their vampire nature, to change or move on. Watching Lestat repeatedly ruin his own life reminds me of the way I behaved as a teenager, full of anger at the world and pointing that anger at everyone I met. If I was trapped in that moment forever like an insect in a drop of amber I don’t know that I’d be different than Lestat, trying desperately to keep people from leaving me even if I had to kill them to do it.