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Canadian writer for 'Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire' addresses fan backlash

Adam O’Byrne had largely put aside acting to work behind-the-scenes in television, but he could not turn down a hair-raising cameo on AMC's “Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Canadian writer Hannah Moscovitch, who works on the AMC show “Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire," poses in Halifax on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Adam O’Byrne had largely put aside acting to work behind-the-scenes in television, but he could not turn down a hair-raising cameo on AMC's “Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.”

The Toronto-bred Stratford Festival alumnus appears during a particularly gruesome turn of events in the penultimate episode of the completed first season, in which the depraved vampire Lestat decapitates a man and toys with the head – a “startlingly realistic” mould of O’Byrne's noggin.

"It was all very kind of accidental but then in the end, a total highlight,” O’Byrne says by phone from Los Angeles, where he serves as producer and "right hand" to creator and showrunner Rolin Jones.

“It's terrifying how much it looks like (me), down to my eyebrows. It's crazy.”

Amid a multitude of off-the-rail moments in the seven-episode gothic series, O’Byrne is just one of several Canadians who contributed to some of the show’s most devastating shockers. The following contains spoilers for what happens in season one, which examines a toxic vampire relationship.

There’s also Vancouver’s Thomas Antony Olajide, whose character in episode three unwittingly inflames Lestat’s thinly veiled insecurities, and screenwriter Hannah Moscovitch, who penned an exceedingly violent assault in episode five that divided the online fandom.

Moscovitch says she’s aware of the social media debate and criticism that followed, much of it bemoaning the network’s failure to warn viewers of extreme intimate partner violence. She says the request “made a lot of sense” but that the decision was not up to her, nor show creators.

She also notes some viewers felt the monstrous attack was out of character for the alluring Lestat, but she disagreed.

“One of the things the (TV) adaptation does is we pull pieces from various books and insert them back…. We didn't feel like domestic violence or intimate partner violence was outside of the range of his evil, given that he is also willing to violently rape a woman in another book,” says the Ottawa-born Moscovitch.

"Part of our job with vampires is to ‘plus’ everything – it's like a human fight but ‘plus.’... So when vampires fight, it's worse. That was also maybe what caught everyone by surprise.”

The New Orleans-set adaptation is full of wild swings, starting with the decision to move the book’s late 1700s timeline to the Jim Crow era of the early 1900s. The book’s white Creole protagonist Louis – suicidal over the death of his brother when he succumbs to the white French vampire Lestat in 1791 – is now a closeted, gay Black Creole man who is seduced by Lestat as a mortal, and accepts the “dark gift” in a bid to have love and escape the bigotry of his time.

Also different is the 1970s San Francisco interview that frames Rice's 1976 novel, which spawned 12 more books that collectively make up the Vampire Chronicles.

The TV version is similarly framed by an interview between Louis and the same mortal writer Daniel but takes place in 2022 Dubai and is described as a "do over" for an interview the two attempted some 50 years earlier. It ended prematurely and without a book, for reasons that have yet to be revealed.

The L.A.-based Moscovitch says she was drawn to Jones’ richly woven exploration of race, sexuality, memory and trauma, but says the adaptation is a love story at its core.

“The changes we've made have made it very queer-explicit. And gorgeous and poetic and dark. If you want something conventional, and if you want something that's not queer-explicit, it's not going to be for you,” says Moscovitch, who planned to spend the holidays in Halifax.

British “Game of Thrones” actor and musician Jacob Anderson stars as the brooding Louis while Australian actor Sam Reid, whose credits include the historical U.K. feature “Belle” and ABC’s “The Astronaut Wives Club,” is the captivating but cruel and chaotic Lestat.

O’Byrne, a development boss at Jones’ production company Dwight Street Book Club, credits much of the show’s fervent following to the charisma of the two leads.

"The great thing is that they get along. They're very, very dear friends and they sort of fell instantly in love with each other, which I think is wonderful, as people,” says the 43-year-old O’Byrne, who moved to Los Angeles in 2006.

“But they're very different in the way they work. Sam just knows more about Anne Rice canon than almost anybody working on the show. He is so smart, nothing escapes him."

Meanwhile, Anderson “is just so thoughtful as a performer.”

“His presence is just so profound and you can see all of the thoughts going across his face without him doing very much at all.”

O’Byrne says Olajide also auditioned for the role of Louis and did well enough to be asked to do a virtual chemistry test with Reid.

"He was amazing in that audition and it was one of those nice moments in this stupid business where often it's a zero-sum game — where you end up with two actors and you have to pick one,” says O’Byrne.

The L.A.-based Moscovitch points to “a weird Canadian mafia” behind the scenes of "Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire," noting she recommended Olajide and O’Byrne recommended her.

The longtime playwright had dabbled in TV for nearly a decade when COVID-19-induced public health measures shuttered live theatre and deepened her transition to the small screen.

Early in the pandemic, she was hired to write one episode for "Interview"'s first season, and says she’s now graduated to a fuller role for season two's eight episodes: She's contracted to write one-and-a-half episodes, will be on set throughout the mostly European shoot in 2023 and is at the behest of Jones for whatever else he needs.

Moscovitch admits to some bewilderment in the promotion, musing that career advancement in U.S. television seems much quicker than in Canada, where her upcoming credits include the Indigenous TV drama "Little Bird" for Crave and a book-to-stage adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald's "Fall On Your Knees" for the National Arts Centre.

“Here, if they think you can do it they just hand you the keys to the world," says Moscovitch.

"They just put a crown on your head and they're like, ‘Go forth.’"

“Interview With the Vampire” streams on AMC+.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2022.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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