By Karen Butler
Dublin native Stuart Townsend said he wasn’t the least bit anxious about slipping into Tom Cruise’s fangs to play Lestat in “Queen of the Damned,” the follow-up to Anne Rice’s vampire classic “Interview with the Vampire.”
“I was like, ‘I’m just going to do the best job I can’ because you can’t please everyone,” explained the 29-year-old star of “About Adam” and “Resurrection Man.” “But, I knew it was a very different movie than ‘Interview,’ so I was never really worried about comparisons or intimidated by Tom Cruise [having played Lestat before] because [‘Queen of the Damned’] is like the rock and roll, tongue-in-cheek version [of Lestat’s life].”
The film begins as the vampire Lestat emerges from decades of hiding, determined to step out into the light, fatal for immortal bloodsuckers. Lestat reinvents himself as one of the closest beings to God on earth: a rock star. Before long, his music gains popularity around the world, ultimately finding the ear of the slumbering Queen Akasha (played by late pop singer Aaliyah.) Mother of All Vampires, Akasha has been resting for centuries, waiting for the right time to rise again and seize dominion over the world.
Lestat’s music is the revelation she has been waiting for and she wants him to rule beside her.
Although the film opened last week to mixed reviews from critics, it did brisk business at the box office, mostly based on the immense success of the 1994 film “Interview with the Vampire” and people’s desire to see the beautiful Aaliyah in her last film role. Anne Rice, the author of the series of books on which the films are based, has done little promotion for “Queen of the Damned,” but in production notes for the film sent by Warner Brothers to journalists, she lauds the movie as “an energetic and innovative rendition of the ‘Vampire Chronicles,’ featuring fine performances and a magnificent look.”
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“Well-directed, elegant and intriguing, the film is surely destined to take its place among notable modern interpretations of vampire mythology,” she is quoted as saying.
Even though Rice endorsed the movie, that doesn’t mean the legions of vampire lovers who read her books will go for it. Townsend, who’s 29 and studied at Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting, said that, so far, the one aspect of making the film he did find a little daunting was the fans, adding that he has had little interaction with them thus far.
“The fans are pretty terrifying,” he admitted. “I was on the Internet once and once only. They’re all screaming about how I didn’t have a blonde wig.”
That’s not the only difference moviegoers might notice about this new Lestat, a vampire who is now supposed to be more than 200 years old. In addition to the fact that he is a rock star, Lestat is also a little more sympathetic and human than Cruise’s Lestat. This is partly because Lestat is described to us in “Interview with the Vampire” from the point of view of newborn vampire Louie (played by Brad Pitt), who blames Lestat for the loss of his humanity and actually tries to kill him. “Queen of the Damned” is told more from Lestat’s perspective.
“One thing I loved about Lestat was he’s struggling with immortality and existence and eternity and the fact that he’s very human,” Townsend explained. “I think he’s a very human character. He played music. He wanted to connect, but he had to live in the shadows away from all these people.”
Audiences might also detect a slightly less homoerotic tone in the relationship between Lestat and his sire, Marius (played by Vincent Perez) than was present between Lestat and Louie in “Interview,” Townsend pointed out.
“[Marius and Lestat] had a history,” Townsend noted. “It’s like this guy created me, taught me and left me and we played with that a lot. This Lestat is much more heterosexual than the previous one is. But I have no problem with that. Vampires are sexual creatures and they’ll bite a rat, a dog, a man, a woman.”
One of the most thrilling perks to Townsend’s job, he said, was getting to feel what is like to be on a stage in front of 3,000 screaming rock fans.
“It’s insane!” exclaimed the son of profession golfer Peter Townsend. “It’s like, ‘I know this is fake, but I’m getting such a kick here.’ When 3,000 people scream at you, it’s kind of a nice feeling.”
Townsend said he also loved that his character had the ability to glide through the air, explaining that, although the harnesses he had to wear for the stunts were really uncomfortable, “the sense of flying is amazing.”
“You can fly 30 feet in the air and land exactly where you need to,” he said.
Townsend can next be seen in Luis Mandoki’s upcoming action thriller “24 Hours” opposite Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love and girlfriend Charlize Theron.
Asked how he managed to avoid being typecast in his career after three years of stage work and 11 films, Townsend replied: “I’ve gone from playing a Hasidic Jew to a Northern Irish psychopath to the nice, geeky guy in ‘Shooting Fish’ and then vampires, and my next character is a very straight doctor, so I do try and shuffle around. What you want is to sort of get away from yourself.”