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Hollywood, Those Bloodsuckers

August 15, 1993|Patt Morrison

Allow this to sink in for a moment, like canine teeth into the carotid:

Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat.

Now where is that garlic lei when you need it?

An earthquake stalked through Los Angeles on the morning The Times announced that Cruise had been awarded the role of 10 lifetimes: Lestat, the dark eminence of "Interview with the Vampire," the first of Anne Rice's series spun across the millennia.

That 3.5 on the Richter scale surely issued from the earth-filled coffins of the undead, twirling and thumping at the news. Tom Cruise? they mused in their restless, preternatural sleep. Not that boy who danced in his underwear? Our horror is as nothing compared to the horror of that!

This is the second of my favorite popular books to be done dirt by some casting caprice. And those who do not learn the lessons of box office are doomed to repeat them: Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks in "Bonfire of the Vanities." Need I say more?

The ineffable delight of a book is that reading it makes it your book, its characters your characters. Lestat may speak Anne Rice's dialogue, but with the voice and the face I give him. Gabriel Garcia Marquez always resisted having his enchanted novels laced into the corsetry of films; no one performer could gratify the facets of his readers' imaginations, he argued, and what is engaging and elusive in a million minds would become dull and earthbound when confined by one camera lens.

"Interview," set chiefly in New Orleans, is what the producers call a Gothic romantic thriller. Have they read it? Or are they like the book-banners who yanked "Make It with Mademoiselle" off a library shelf, without bothering to open it and find that it was a sewing guide from Mademoiselle magazine?

Let me tell you about the Vampire Lestat.

His is the aspect of a fallen angel, sinister and tragic. His soul, what is left of it, is grand and monstrous. There is something spiritual in his ruminations about death and sex and love and hunger and survival and the abyss of eternity. The sadder but wiser vampire, lifelorn, deathlorn, worldweary.

Vampires and I go way back. I thrilled when Mina snubbed that drip Jonathan Harker, afterthe mad, bad and dangerous-to-know Count Dracula flew in from the wings, and on them. Here was profound mystery, tormented wickedness, erotic peril, the dark knight sans peur et sans reproche, a creature of nature but unnatural withal, doomed but game through the centuries. He is charming and menacing and stricken of soul.

Now, Tom Cruise.

Look up "callow" in the dictionary; that's his picture, right there. He's good-looking, all right, but there's another mismatch: this is a role that requires the actor to be invisible in a mirror. Boyish? Hell, he'd be the only vampire with a curfew. Might as well cast Barney the Dinosaur as James Bond. Steven Seagal as King Lear.

Or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.

Enough. This bloodtype A-negative says no .

Selznick freres would have been chased out of either side of the Mason-Dixon Line by "GWTW" fans had anyone but Clark Gable been cast as Rhett Butler. Perhaps it is time again for such an outcry: ABC , anybody but Cruise.

Lestat cries out for a male equivalent of Anjelica Huston. Where was Daniel Day Lewis?

Failing that, I'll say one thing for Cruise. He's just played a lawyer (a character from a book that deserved to be made into a film), which means he already has practice being a bloodsucker.

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