Some Ill Winds Swirled Over Directing of 'Vampire' : Movies: Criticism, then praise, from the book's author was just part of Neil Jordan's challenge in bringing the story to the big screen.

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Wanna see a gothic thriller? Dark intentions and bared fangs? A subject that's been around so long it could qualify as the undead? How about "The Making of 'Interview With the Vampire' "?

There isn't one--yet--but Neil Jordan could star, as an Irish director of small, quirky films caught up in a swirl of ill wind and cult fervor, trying to make a mainstream movie out of a basically plotless novel. He'd have his most critical casting choice second-guessed by the writer, a Morticia Addams look-alike--who then changes her mind. And he'd go on a publicity tour for the film while visions of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins (to be played by Liam Neeson) are dancing in his head.

During that tour he would sit in a Manhattan hotel room, with an air of tea-time fatigue, and say something ironic like "Perhaps Hollywood is changing." Well, at least making "Vampire" wasn't as bad as his 1989 flop "We're No Angels."

"In that case," the director said of his oft-derided collaboration with David Mamet and Robert De Niro, "I was a director for hire, and it didn't make any sense. Somebody else could have done it better than me, 'cause what they wanted wasn't what I can give. So I just made a rule for myself, that I've got to have a certain amount of freedom. Otherwise I can't work."

Jordan--who between "We're No Angels" and "Interview With the Vampire" made a not-so-little independent feature called "The Crying Game"--claims to have been given his freedom this time. "It was remarkable really, given the size of the budget"--a reported $50 million.

He also got his share of Hollywood-style contretemps via "Vampire" author Anne Rice's vehement objections to the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat--the veteran ghoul who sucks the tortured interviewee, Louis (Brad Pitt), into the "life" of coffins and moonlight. Rice experienced such a change of heart after actually seeing the movie that she ran ads to say so. Considering book sales and everything, this might suggest to the less romantic among us that her public tantrum was a publicity stunt.

"I have no idea," Jordan says, convincingly. "She certainly doesn't mind inviting the press into her house, though, does she? I mean, I wouldn't do that, y'know. But we didn't speak when we were making the movie. In the end, when she saw the film, she loved it, that's all I know. I've only spoken to her twice in my life."

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If Rice really loved it, then she's eerier than we already suspected: an author who appreciates a director remaking her vision into his own. "Interview With the Vampire" is, besides being a film of occasionally startling violence and quarts of blood, an exercise in camp. Gone is much of the dark tonality of the book, with Cruise cracking the kinds of jokes that would have done "Love at First Bite" proud.

"Were the laughs wrong?" Jordan asks. "I just thought some things were inherently funny. They're eating rats? It's hilarious. Well, then, let's have 'em eat a poodle. Let's get some chickens. Isn't there something funny in Louis' dilemma--a vampire who won't kill?"

Yes, but George Hamilton would have been cheaper than Cruise and Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea, all those love hunks made up to look as if they need naps and transfusions. But alas, this is a big-budget vampire tale, one that suggests a litany of allusions (although it was first published in 1976, before AIDS had a name), and all of which Jordan dismisses.

"What fascinated me was the idea that there's no moral responsibility, y'know," he said. "Louis becomes a vampire and has to do these unconscionable acts to survive. And he says, 'Why is there no punishment? Why isn't God punishing me?' And, of course, nobody punishes him and that's what drives him nuts. I thought it was an amazing moral question. I thought if you could bring that to the forefront then you'd have a story."

He says that efforts to find metaphors in "Vampire" are an attempt to justify the book's darkness; he'd rather depict an amoral universe. "And that's not a metaphor," he says, "it's a question."

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Jordan is not, like so many other readers of Rice's "Vampire Chronicles," a longtime fan. "David (Geffen) asked me to do it, is how it happened," Jordan said. "He sent me the book, I read it, I read Anne's script, and I said I'd love to do it but I have to do it as an independent movie. I have to have my own way with the screenplay 'cause that's what I am, a writer."

A writer "lost in the world of multimedia," as he puts it. Jordan began his career as an author of fiction, then became a scriptwriter and began directing when his scripts were ill-used by others. On "Interview," however, he gets no writing credit. "The Writers Guild has decided it's her screenplay," he said. "Maybe they're right. Her script needed quite a bit of work, and I did quite a bit of work on it."

When Jordan speaks, there's a lilt and a hint of impatience. He seems tired, if not of vampires then of talking about them. His next project will be more of a "European film," a biography of Michael Collins, the man who made the Irish Revolution happen. He's ready to get on to it. "Interview" took a total of 17 years and several aborted efforts to get to the screen. It's time for the sun to come up.

"I don't know why it took 17 years," he says. "Maybe there's something inherently unfilmable in the book. In which case it's still there."

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