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Feature: Making Queen of the Damned

The Return of Lestat

From Here to Eternity for Akasha and Lestat?

The Vampire Lestat has been reincarnated in the new film Queen of the Damned!

It doesn't seem like seven years since the Vampire world was in uproar at the news that Tom Cruise was going to play Anne Rice's brooding blood-sucker Lestat, in the screen version of Interview With The Vampire.

Warners eventually decided to combine Rice's next two Lestat novels into one movie, Queen of the Damned, which sees Lestat reincarnated as a rock star, and besotted with an Ancient Egyptian Queen called Akasha.

Jorge Saralegui, the producer of the movie, explained that the new film had such a long gestation period because Rice's bloody prose takes an exceedingly long time to turn into a script. "Neil Jordan (director of Interview...) worked on a version of The Vampire Lestat and couldn't get anywhere. It basically sat on a shelf gathering dust. That was until we came along."

Saralegui joined forces with Australian director Michael Rymer (who scored a hit with his directorial début Angel Baby), to set about the task of plucking out the hearts of the second and third Vampire Chronicles, and combining them into a story that was acceptable not only to Rice but also to her most enthusiastic acolytes. "The tone of the movie is dictated by the characters," says Rymer. "In the first book, Louis doesn't like being a vampire and he spends a lot of time soul-searching and Angst-ing. It's a dark piece, a serious film. Lestat, on the other hand, loves being a vampire – he has this fearless, irreverent energy."

After a long search for an actor with suitable charisma to play the demanding role of Lestat, Rymer spotted newcomer Stuart Townsend performing on the London stage in Orpheus Descending, and in Resurrection Man as a terrorist. The combination of dark sexuality and violence made him ideal for the role. "Stuart is a very serious actor, who wouldn't take a role he didn't believe in," Saralegui told his website. "I don't recall Stuart staying in character after "cut" was called, but he certainly didn't crack jokes, either. Stuart did a lot of training for the fight scenes, but he was a natural at it. He made it look effortless."

The role of Akasha went to the beautiful R&B singer Aaliyah, whose death in a plane crash last August came as a great shock to all involved in the production. "Aaliyah probably had the toughest part to play in our film," Saralegui explained. "She was then a 21-year-old with one movie under her belt, expected to play a 4000-year-old Egyptian queen who was transformed into the most powerful vampire of all. I was most concerned as to whether Aaliyah would be able to command the respect that Akasha would certainly draw. Aaliyah arrived on the Melbourne set extremely well-prepared, and delivered a performance that will make everyone who loves her proud.

"Aaliyah was obviously a woman of many talents, and very much in command of them, despite her youth. She was a giving person who made everyone around her feel comfortable. Her terrific family was always with her, giving her support and a sense of home even when abroad. It's much easier to be an exemplary person and spread one's creative wings in such a nurturing environment. Aaliyah's work speaks most eloquently for itself, and I can only hope that the rest of our film does her justice..."

by Martin Ellis

Read the full four-page photo-feature in
Shivers #96

Image © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #96
April/May 2002
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