Adapting a work of fiction leaves a creator with their work cut out for them. “The initial thing was to try to do the whole book,” “Interview with the Vampire” creator Rolin Jones told IndieWire via Zoom. Add in the rise of COVID and a lumber price increase for the set and instead of translating the entirety of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel, Jones was tasked with setting the entire first season in New Orleans (about half the novel).
“Very early on the suits called me up, and they’re like, ‘Do you think there’s enough story for a full season in New Orleans?’ I said, ‘Give me a day or two.’ Once we were there it was pretty clear where an easy cut for the book was,” Jones said.
“Anne’s book, what she’s so successful at [is] all that prose about interior life [that] is very difficult to turn into dramatic actors talking to each other,” he said. It’s in stark contrast to other adapted works Jones has worked on, like HBO’s “Perry Mason.” Then again, that series, Jones found, also gave him a challenge due to studio trust. “In that specific case there was one network who really trusted me with what I was doing and…let’s just say this, I went from the worst job I’ve ever had to the best job I ever had,” said Jones. “‘Perry Mason’ was a bit more open because we didn’t do the show. We looked at these books and the one thing we were surprised about was Perry Mason was a lawyer, but he’s also doing his detective work, too.”
Jones went on to talk about the fandom community that’s popped up after the conclusion of the first season, as well as plans for Season 2.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
IndieWire: Can you talk about formulating the finale?
Rolin Jones: [Episode] 7 is a popcorn episode, right? It’s a little bit of a potboiler and a thriller. Maybe it doesn’t have some of the quieter stuff we had in previous episodes, but it’s supposed to run like a freight train. It’s not as weird for me to write as it must have been for Jacob [Anderson] and Sam [Reid] to play it. Especially Sam who has to play all of these scenes with, if you go back, a certain knowledge of things that they are plotting. So he’s playing two, and three, and four things at a time in every single scene.
Is it easier to craft something like this, where you have a written text, versus something like your previous project “Perry Mason” where you’re working with an existing show?
Sometimes it’s great. You’re not building from a blank slate, or navel gazing from your life. There is this inherent structure. Anne’s book, what she’s so successful at [is] all that prose about interior life [that] is very difficult to turn into dramatic actors talking to each other. There’s a host of adaptation strengths and obstacles to turning that into a serialized television show.
Are you surprised by the fervid fandom that’s cropped up with the show, especially regarding the diversity of the cast?
Some of it comes from the mandate from the network. The network wants a big tent. Organically, [we had] come to decisions about who we were going to cast, or what I was going to write for Louis. But it wasn’t necessarily diversity or queerness. A real important part was if I knew the book really well how can you make that exciting for people [who are] just going to sit there and wait, paint by numbers, about “This is how they did that and this is how they did that.” That would be a dreadful, dreadful experience because that is going to lead to that graveyard of past terrible, tepid adaptations.
You’re never going to please everybody. I know a lot of people really love this book and what we did here, but there’s gonna be some people who just love the book [and] the book is there. If the horrible things that we did with it make them run screaming to reread it again, or buy another new copy of it for the Anne Rice estate then we’ve provided a service.
The response has been amazing. People are even putting clips of the show next to the 1994 film and deconstructing how the series does it better.
The competitive disadvantage [is] we get about six hours and 40 minutes to tell a story, half of their story, that they’re telling [it] in two hours and 20 minutes. What they have for velocity and good, jolly fun we have to do a different thing. There’s strengths and weaknesses to all that stuff. They’re [the network] like, “Here’s seven episodes, Fill them up and make sure that every minute counts.” That’s why you are trying to preserve as much Anne Rice prose and trying to fit it into dialogue, and that means you got to write the dialogue that has the same sort of action, and velocity, and beauty that she has, and find actors who can turn that language into everyday speech. This is what is coming out of their mouth naturally.
I’m really glad that people found each other, and they’re excited about it, and they’re communicating about it. There was so many really beautiful artists who worked on the show who took this one personally and felt it deeply. A lot of that has to do with a lot of the crew came from New Orleans, but some came from the backgrounds that some of our decisions [were] aimed at, and it meant a lot to them. So the fact that it landed with people has been really meaningful.
What do you think it is that keeps fans coming back to Anne Rice’s world?
That’s the test, right? Spider-Man comes back every six or seven years and that’s totally cool. This is [understood in] the American literary canon as this sort of pulpy genre and that’s a real reduction of it. There’s some phenomenal writing that had a tragic and human story behind it. It’s drenched in the pages of it. I’m working on Season 2 [and] when we got the writers together what we did for the first two days was read the second half of the book out loud to each other. We took two pages and passed the baton.
We were really struck — and it might change as I keep rewriting and rereading it — by Armand’s embankment speech towards the end. I don’t know if I had it in the top 20 passages and it really vaulted up. A 20-year-old, or a teen who has never read this book, there [are] probably wildly different ideas about who’s the person we should root for and that’s the hallmark of something that was dense, and heartfelt, and written in a real fever by the the author at the time. This book should be part of the American literary canon and that’s why I think it’s got life.
Can you say anything about Season 2?
I can say I’m here in London right now and I did a two day workshop with a particular theater company talking about a particular literary theatre company that is in Paris. That’s what I can say.
“Interview with the Vampire” is streaming now on AMC.