Warner Bros faced a race against time to make Interview With The Vampire 2 – and thus it took a bit of a gamble.
The 1990s were hardly alight with big studio films costing $70m to make, that also happened to be about vampires and come with an 18 certificate. Yet the first big screen outing for Anne Rice’s Lestat ticked all those boxes. 1994’s blockbuster Interview With The Vampire would be a controversial production, not least when Rice herself actively came out against the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role. Humble pie was duly eaten when she saw the resultant film, that Neil Jordan ultimately adapted (although didn’t get credit for) and directed.
The rights had bumbled around Hollywood for just shy of two decades by the time the film came out, and it was Warner Bros that ultimately picked up the screen permissions to make films out of Rice’s first three Vampire Chronicles titles, as well as her Mayfair Witches trilogy. It seemed, when Interview With The Vampire returned some $220m at the global box office (before becoming a video hit too) that a sequel was a forgone conclusion, and Jordan duly got to work on a follow-up. The plan was to adapt the book The Vampire Lestat at that stage, but the project quickly ran out of steam (Jordan would make Michael Collins with the studio instead).
Warner Bros still had the rights to Rice’s book though, although with an important caveat: the clock was ticking on them. The studio had to get a new film adaptation moving by the year 2000, else the rights would be returned to Rice. And Warner Bros, keen to generate another hit in the series, wasn’t keen on that.
By 1998, it knew it had to get cracking, and with precious little chance of luring Tom Cruise back to the lead role – he was making Eyes Wide Shut with Stanley Kubrick by this stage – it was back to the drawing board. The studio thus decided to skip over The Vampire Lestat novel altogether and jump to book three: Queen Of The Damned.
Furthermore, Warner Bros was keeping Anne Rice at arm’s length when it came to its decision, and thus she wasn’t privy to the significant changes that would be made to her text. She wasn’t best pleased about them either. She’d offered to write a screenplay herself for The Vampire Lestat for scale rate, but the studio wasn’t interested. Rice added that she felt the choice of doing Queen Of The Damned from scratch as the next film was “bizarre”.
Warner Bros ploughed on. It had until the end of 2000 to get physical production movie, and in came Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni in 1999 to pen the film’s screenplay. Furthermore, Michael Rymer was hired to direct, and the decision was made to shoot the film in Australia, to save on production costs.
Tom Cruise was still a possible to reprise the role of Lestat, but it’s unclear whether he wasn’t interested or the studio figured it was better off recasting (not least financially). Stuart Townsend would join the cast in the lead role in 2000 (Wes Bentley was high on the list too), and filming was able to begin just ahead of the required deadline. Warner Bros had managed to just about beat the clock, and hold onto the rights.
Shooting got underway at the start of October 2000 then, running through to early 2001. Anne Rice was again front and centre of much of the film’s story, gradually warming once more to the production. In fact, the May 2002 issue of Film Review magazine would feature a glowing interview, as she declared that “the movie is an energetic and innovative rendition of my book, and it features fine performances and a magnificent look”.
Her name was on the poster, and she became part of the promotional circuit for the movie as well.
That said, it would be a film that duly needed people to come out and bat for it. A false rumour sprung up on an internet movie news site – imagine that! – in the middle of 2001, suggesting that the studio was going to drop the film straight onto DVD. Warner Bros denied that, and a theatrical release was ultimately set for February 2002. Hardly high season for movies, but there may have been a space there for a $35m adult-skewing vampire adaptation to make a few coins.
Still, that same Film Review article repeated – and it was a story that kept bubbling up – that “it’s no secret that Warner Bros rushed the film into production, rather than lose the rights to the Anne Rice story”. Nonetheless, by getting the film made, Warners had ensured it could pursue the other books it had the option too.
Of course, the film’s post-production’s story was dominated by the tragic death of Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash shortly after the movie wrapped. She was just 22 years old, and this was the second film in what promised to be an extensive film career. It’d be naïve to say that it didn’t give the film some added interest, but what a price to have to pay for it.
As it happened, when the movie did finally make it into cinemas, it pretty much came and went. Reviews weren’t great, and the box office was no disaster, but the $45m take killed any interest in the studio wanting to make another in the series. Anne Rice cooled towards the film in its aftermath as well, declaring in the end that people should simply forget about the movie altogether.
That didn’t stop interest in further adaptations though. With the rights back with Rice, she sold an option to Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s company), as part of its deal with Universal Pictures.
This was 2014, and The Fault In Our Stars director Josh Boone was being lined up to direct a new take on Interview With The Vampire just two years later (he’d penned the script with Jill Killington). Meanwhile, Rice’s son – Christopher – had penned a screenplay for The Tale Of The Body Thief that Imagine had picked up.
Yet these projects hit the buffers quickly. This time, there was no rush to get anything into production, and come the end of 2016 Rice had the screen rights back again.
Next up? Paramount Television bit, with a view to a TV series based on The Vampire Chronicles series. Again, this petered out, and by the end of 2019 Rice shipped them again.
Now, the project is set up with AMC, covering film and television shows. Will it finally get to the screen this time? Quite possible. And hopefully, not in a race against the clock…
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