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A look inside Hollywood and the movies : Interview With the Vampire’s Picky Creator

The good news, says author Anne Rice, is that her 1976 best-seller “Interview With the Vampire” is finally scheduled to go before the cameras in mid-October and be released by Warner Bros. next summer or fall.

The bad news, according to Rice, is that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt will be playing the leads. Not to demean the acting ability of either, she cautions, but visualizing them as French-speaking 19th-Century vampires is a stretch. She’s not the only one upset with the choice. Since Cruise was cast a few weeks ago, she says by phone from her New Orleans home, the calls and letters have been pouring in.

“It’s like casting Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in the movie,” she says of the $50-million project, also starring Antonio Banderas, River Phoenix and Stephen Rea--which is being directed by Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) for Geffen Films. “I was particularly stunned by the casting of Cruise, who is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler. I told Jordan that myself.

“I’m puzzled why Cruise would want to take on the role. He’s a cute kid, on top of the world and on his way to becoming a great actor, but I’m not sure he knows what he’s getting into. I’m tempted to call up (CAA chief) Mike Ovitz and tell him that everyone will be gunning for his client. Cruise should do himself and everyone else a service and withdraw.”

David Geffen, a producer of the film, finds it interesting that Rice--who once rewrote the screenplay so the Pitt part could be offered to a well-known actress-- should be so upset with the casting. And Cruise, he counters, should be congratulated.

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“To his credit, Tom wants to play a broad range of characters, just as Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman and Al Pacino did before him,” says Geffen. “He’s one of the best actors in his age group, an Academy Award nominee and a big enough star to take the risk of sidestepping romantic leads. Tom was the first person who came to Jordan’s mind after Daniel Day-Lewis turned it down. And rumors that Pitt is upset with the selection of Cruise are totally untrue--made up by agents trying to get their own clients cast. I spoke to Brad this morning and he’s thrilled.”

Paula Wagner, a former CAA agent who represented Cruise until last January when she formed a production company with him at Paramount, is experiencing a feeling of deja vu over the controversy.

“None of this is new,” she says. “After ‘Taps,’ in which Tom played a wild, crazy cadet, people were convinced he was a brilliant young character actor. At first, no one would even see him for ‘Risky Business,’ which started his ‘career.’ People had much the same reaction when Tom was cast as (paraplegic vet) Ron Kovic in ‘Born on the Fourth of July.’ Two years later, he received an Academy Award nomination.”

A spokesman for Pitt (“A River Runs Through It”) confirms that the actor is glad to have Cruise aboard. “Brad has the utmost respect for all members of the cast--including Tom Cruise,” says his manager, Cynthia Pett. Adds a source close to the actor: “Brad has nothing to lose and everything to gain from being paired with Cruise. Having Cruise in the picture takes the pressure off his shoulders and puts it on Tom’s. And, of course, he is a huge commercial draw. Appearing in a $200-million grossing film--God willing--can only help anyone working with him.”

But Rice sees major obstacles. Cruise’s “Mom and apple pie” persona, she says, does not mesh with the European, impish, proud, semi-androgynous character she created on the page.

Pitt, the writer admits, might have worked as the dark, brooding Louis with a different co-star--perhaps Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons (rumored to be under consideration) or Peter Weller (“with his gaunt looks and those piercing blue eyes”). To her, Pitt and Cruise are two peas in a pod.

The book--which starts in Louisiana in the 1700s and ends up in contemporary San Francisco--was not easy to adapt. Rice herself wrote three scripts and read “umpteen” others. Though Richard Sylbert and Robert Evans kept it afloat at Paramount in the late-'70s, their successors--Barry Diller and Michael Eisner--shot it down. Producer Julia Phillips then acquired the rights for Lorimar and, when the company was folded into Warners, Geffen picked up the ball.

Casting, Geffen says, is the director’s job--not a public opinion poll. “If Jordan was Rice’s first choice for the job, she’ll have to trust his taste,” he says. “Remember, this is the man who made Bob Hoskins into a star and cast a hairdresser in the lead of the ‘Crying Game'--which eventually landed the actor an Academy Award nomination. Cruise, I predict, will get a best actor nomination and ‘Interview With the Vampire” will be nominated for a best picture Oscar of 1994.”

Rice, however, is not optimistic. “I like and respect Neil Jordan and am hoping he can pull it off,” she concludes. “I’m trying to live with his decision, telling the readers--and myself--'it will be OK.’ I’ve written that phrase on the wall in my home in three different places.”


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