A vampire tells a journalist that his kind cannot be harmed by crucifixes or wooden stakes, though they do sleep in coffins. Indeed, he confirms, they must drink the blood of the living. The thirst is a necessity.
Interview with the Vampire chronicles the 200-year afterlife of Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) as he narrates his story of death, love, and bloodlust to the inquisitive Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater). Louis recounts his dark past with Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise), the vampire who bit and transformed him and their daughter Claudia (Kirsten Dunst).
Interview contains more complex themes about human desires than initially meets the eye, and at the center of it all is Tom Cruise’s Lestat. He is the embodiment of a literal thirst trap, and a proud entry in a larger cinematic tradition of vampiric eroticism. Beyond filmic analysis, there is an additional metatextual layer of personal fascination with Cruise. These combined elements produce a film experience that is figuratively and literally thirsty.
What began as a self-indulgent tour through the filmography of Tom Cruise—which I affectionately deemed “The Cruise Cruise”—has become my obsession. Between his irresistible charm and my sense of completionism, it’s developed into a compulsive study of his entire career, and provided me a lens through which to examine the condition of Hollywood, masculinity, and the man himself.
With the likes of Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, and Mission Impossible, Cruise has strategically crafted an image for himself where one mention of his name evokes astonishing aerial stunts and suave charisma. At 56 years old, the A-lister has almost 56 credits to his name. The number fluctuates depending on the inclusion or exclusion of pieces like the making-of documentaries for Collateral, or his acceptance speech for the Scientology Freedom Medal of Valor. He endeavored to collaborate with all the great (albeit very male) directors of the time—Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, Ridley Scott, De Palma, and Kubrick. No matter how you quantify it, such a lengthy and celebrated body of work is a rarity. Cruise’s filmography is inseparable from the man himself, and he’s larger than life in every way.
To truly understand why Interview stands out, some contextualization of his filmography up is required. His rise from teenage hotshot to A-Lister was proof he could handle himself in broad range of roles. He ascended to stardom with Risky Business, earned an Oscar nomination for Born on the Fourth of July, and was just on the cusp of starring in the beloved Mission: Impossible franchise. The shadowy cloud of Scientology was only just beginning to gather. As if he were genetically engineered to be the perfect leading man, his mastery over drama and spectacle was nearly unmatched in the ‘90s.
Considering the tone of Cruise’s previous roles, there was little precedent for a career move like Interview with the Vampire, a period horror film adapted from Anne Rice’s novel. Rice herself initially disapproved of his casting in an interview with MovieLine, unconvinced he could pull off the character, but after seeing the film, she would later apologize for ever doubting his talent. Loving fans nationwide would be confronted by a complete transformation of their golden boy.
For an established individual almost synonymous with Big Hollywood, a period horror adaptation is a radical change of image. By portraying Lestat, Cruise subverted his own archetype of masculinity. In this role, there are no sharp military uniforms or fast cars to affirm his maleness. Previously clear-cut ideas of gender performance and sexuality are suddenly ambiguous.
The high-testosterone All American Boy ventured into costume, makeup, and hair and emerged unrecognizable. Eighteenth century beauty standards manifest as long hair and ruffled blouses. Cruise’s typical masculine charm is eclipsed by a flirtatious allure, and instead of playing opposite to a female romantic interest, he is the companion of Pitt’s Louis. Embodying such a feminine-coded character amidst the rampant homophobia of the ‘90s posed a risk to Cruise’s public image.
The role of Lestat also served as a significant break from Cruise’s signature masculine heroism: his first foray into horror is the role of the villain. His physicality is markedly changed to that of a predator. He is catlike, toying with bleeding victims before finally going for the jugular. He relishes in the unique opportunity to play at monstrosity, becoming giggly and vulgar as he waltzes with a plague-ridden corpse. He behaves as the extreme foil to a distraught Louis, tormenting him with the carnage of vampirism. Lestat’s penchant for sadism, a level of violence uncommon to mainstream Hollywood at the time, shocked moviegoers. The relative wholesomeness of Cruise’s past roles was momentarily forgotten. Lestat would gleefully eat Joel Goodson and Maverick alive.
As Interview is Louis’ oral account of his own life as a vampire, we first see Lestat de Lioncourt as the same charmingly seductive monster that he does. He’s a 10 from his first impression, literally sweeping Louis off of his feet and ravishing him midair. Then through the soft filter of bedroom curtains, Lestat’s decadence comes into focus. A former French aristocrat garbed in velvet and lace, an unbuttoned puffy shirt, and mane of blonde ringlets to top off the look. Even the ring used to pierce the veins of his prey is fashioned as an accessory. His look is not just camouflage enabling him to stalk among the well-to-do of New Orleans. It’s an aesthetic prerogative that he holds fast to as the centuries grind past. Being that exquisite, why ever change a thing?
Lestat’s thirst is as unabashed as his appearance. Coded as bisexual, his bloodlust is indiscriminate of gender. The only thing that matters is taste. However, having all the youth and beauty in New Orleans means nothing without someone to share it with. The relationship between Lestat and Louis plays out as unquestionably queer, beginning with the seductive offer to ease Louis’ mortal suffering. He gives himself over in an intimate exchange of blood, and is born into darkness as Lestat’s companion. The two develop an intense emotional co-dependency as they make their way in a world in which their only constant is each other.
They travel together, feast together, and when Lestat fears he will lose Louis to a lingering guilt, they transform and adopt the young Claudia to save their union. Establishing a Gothicized family unit, they settle into domesticity. Claudia and Lestat echo the wife and child Louis lost when he was mortal. And in her, Lestat finds a protégé equally cunning and sociopathic as himself.
But by creating Claudia, Lestat has violated an unspoken code of ethics, as vampires generally do not turn individuals so young. His warped parental relationship with her and the suggestive subtext of the transformation process carry horrific implications. Beneath his charm, he revels in being a manipulative and cruel beast. He has a ravenous impulse to kill, and sees people as nothing more than their flavors. Even his two loves find themselves “locked together in hatred” with the monster that made them as they are. As time wears on, the trio fall apart and Lestat is violently executed by Claudia and Louis for condemning them to everlasting suffering. But he refuses to stay dead, makes his return with all the rage of a scorned ex-lover devastated by betrayal. This time the bedroom curtains slowly part to reveal rotten flesh, stripped of his beauty.
Yet as horrific as Lestat can be, he provokes some sense of empathy in us. He offers Louis the choice to become a vampire, because he never got to make the decision for himself. He has an eternal devotion to Louis, and though he threatens to abandon him many times, he can never bring himself to do it. Their connection is the one thing keeping the ceaseless loneliness of vampirism at bay. At his core, he is a survivor, and we, too find ourselves caring about him. As Guns N’ Roses sing while the credits roll, one can’t help but feel some sympathy for the devil.
Interview’s characters also operate within the larger cultural obsession with vampires. Their lore has persisted for centuries throughout innumerable cultures, but the rise of cinema defined our fixation on them as the intersection of horror and eroticism. In Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess, Linda Williams writes about the relationship between “body genres,” wherein the sensational experience of viewing the violence and gore of horror is comparable to that of a pornographic scene or melodramatic lament. The decent public considers these systems of excess taboo for evoking extreme responses. Williams defines the subject as embodiment of excessive sensation, “the body ‘beside itself’ with sexual pleasure, fear or terror, or overpowering sadness.” A bite on the neck is fundamental to their process, as well as an exchange of bodily fluids. Vampires are seen as insatiable beings of desire, the hybrid of pain and pleasure.
Nosferatu, The Lost Boys, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula all understand this generic juncture, where the figure of the vampire is inherently erotically charged. Each film plays into the traditionally Gothic undercurrents of sexual deviancy and repressed urges. As with Interview, the creature’s kiss of death is the focal point. Stephen King clarifies in Danse Macabre, “Dracula sure isn’t a book about ‘normal’ sex; there’s no Missionary Position going on here. Count Dracula (and the weird sisters as well) are apparently dead from the waist down; they make love with their mouths alone.” This interest in oral stimulation is outside of conventional erotic conduct, and is, as such, ascribed to the villain of the story. By comparison, Harker is utterly vanilla.
Lestat adheres to this lore, seducing victims into exposed states and devouring them physically. In a moment of enthrallment, they welcome the sensual experience without realizing it will be their last. Death is a euphoric release. The danger of it all only makes Lestat more alluring. He’s the personification of an insatiable deadly attraction that has fascinated audiences throughout the history of storytelling. Creatures of his kind represent the intense exploration of sexuality available exclusively through genre film. Lestat is confirmation that vampires are quite literally horror’s most enduring thirst trap.
And whether it is Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, or the simple promise of provocative horror that draws us to Interview, the film manages to deliver unexpectedly existential themes. As it turns out, vampirism can also have some turnoffs. The concept of immortality itself loses its appeal, the effects more a curse than a gift. Yes, they remain young and beautiful forever, but that’s an awful long time when your nightly existence is contingent on sucking the lifeblood from humanity. It feels even longer when your fully developed mind is imprisoned in the body of a twelve-year-old. Claudia may be doll-like on the exterior, but she is filled with unhinged resentment for her condition. Louis learns that few vampires have the kind of stamina it takes to endure centuries. Eventually each of them discover that the fantasy of such supernatural power is a trap, and in actuality, eternity is hell.
Much of Interview’s narrative contemplates the loss of humanity that accompanies vampirism. Lestat feels nothing but pleasure for killing, whereas Louis feels all too much. The latter fights the urge to take life for his own self-preservation and masochistically clings to his sense of empathy. However, the corruption cannot be undone. He articulates to Molloy the sense of self- loathing and guilt after feeding on innocents. It’s a unique peek into the psychology of the children of the night; we’ve never seen Dracula feel remorse like this.
We understand by the conclusion of Interview with the Vampire that perhaps one of the greatest horrors imaginable is loneliness. Louis’ attempts to connect with other vampires who can fathom his existence repeatedly go up in flames. Claudia’s death makes him an empty stranger when he reunites with Lestat in modern day. The mortal Molloy fails to comprehend his cautionary tales, instead pleading for a taste of immortality. Louis is tragically doomed never to connect to another person, a fear that resonates with human audiences.
The film pays specific homage to F.W. Murnau, the director of both the original Nosferatu and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The expressionist visuals of both are referenced throughout the film, acknowledging its ancestry. It’s a somberly poetic take on the evolution of humanity.
Ultimately, Interview with the Vampire takes the classic monster we love most and reminds us why it remains so culturally relevant. It’s evocative from every angle, and charged with undeniably sexual subtext. And Interview utilizes the conventions of genre film to engage with a larger perspective of human nature thanks to a vampire’s inherent distance from the world of the living. The cultural tide washes over them, sociopolitical modernization nothing more than a minor disturbance. We see the progression of time and technology as they stalk darkened cities. The film also addresses its own place in the evolution of cinema as a part of history. Louis observes the innovations that return the colors of the living world to him.
Though it concludes with Lestat’s exposure to the modern world, we know he will maintain his flair for the dramatic, his lacy shirt, and most importantly, his insatiable thirst.