Interview With The Vampire Q&A — Production Designer Mara LePere-Schloop On Bringing Storyville To Life

Based on Anne Rice's iconic novel, Interview with the Vampire follows Louis de Pointe du Lac's (Jacob Anderson) epic tale of love, blood, and the perils of immortality. The show was filmed in New Orleans, on both fully constructed sets and on location at some of the city’s most iconic historic sites. In this interview with we speak with longtime New Orleans resident Mara LePere-Schloop, who served as production designer for the series. She talks about crafting the details of Lestat’s townhouse, doing her best to not disappoint New Orleanians, and the challenges of building Louis’s Dubai penthouse.   
Q: You’ve lived in New Orleans for about 20 years, so what was it like putting on your work goggles to figure out how to capture and reproduce its essence for the show? Was it harder to do that as somebody who lives there? Or do you think that gave you an advantage?
A: It's so complicated! If you were in any other city in the United States and you said you lived there for 20 years, people would accept you as a local. But in New Orleans, if you’re not three generations in, you’re a newbie. What I felt more than anything, as someone that lives here and loves the architecture and the literary history of the city, I just felt an enormous amount of pressure to not screw it up! I really wanted to capture what I find so captivating, magical, and dysfunctional about the city. I think there's been a lot of representations of New Orleans in the media that people here love to hate, when you're getting a very superficial level of what the city is known for. To be honest, when I first heard about this project, I was equal parts excited but also just trepidatious. I was like, "I don't know if I want to touch this because if we screw it up, I don't know if I can live here anymore!" But the more I thought about someone else doing it and it turning into something that we weren't proud of, that really won out over my own fears of my version being disliked.
Q: There's a lot of darkness and devastating history in New Orleans that tends to get overlooked by the party aspect of the city.
A: As a resident I don't see that part of it, the tourism and that kind of excess. That's something that if you live here, you can pretty easily avoid in your day-to-day life. New Orleans is a much more nuanced, challenging place. Sure, we have a lot of crime, but we also have a lot of joie de vivre. New Orleans can make anything a celebration, and that's something that is both enthralling and depressing! That said, working on Interview, we were in the [French] Quarter so much, it reenergized my love for that part of town because there’s something about the people-watching that’s just incredible. People are doing whatever the hell they wanna do. You don't get to see that a lot.
Q: Were you a fan of the source material before joining this project, and if so, were you pleased at the timeline tweak that Rolin made for this series? Jumping ahead into the teens, the 20s and then the 30s gave you the opportunity to explore some decades that were just completely decadent and iconic. 
A: Yeah, I was a fan. It's funny because it wasn't until actually doing another interview for this project that I had the epiphany that those novels are probably a huge reason why I came down to New Orleans in the first place. Not that I was such a diehard fan, but it was more about the atmosphere that Anne created in those books. It was so compelling. Sort of similar to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Savannah. Anne Rice’s work really captured this place in such a magical way and made it seem so different than any other American city. So, I definitely think that those novels had a huge impact on me and one that I didn't really recognize until now.
New Orleans is also a very small town. There's not a lot of people here. When I first came, Anne Rice was a huge preservationist, so she was very active in the architecture community and I'd been to parties at her house, some that I crashed! There's also this loyalty to her here as someone that — love or hate the subject matter — really did spin a web of lore around the city that really brought tourism and a lot of other great things to the city. Again, upon hearing about this, I was very apprehensive. When I read the first four pages of the script and I saw the timeline change and all of Rolin’s tweaks, I put it down [and] I was like, "Okay, this is too controversial." Then I walked away from it for a day or two and went back and read the whole thing. Rolin's writing is just so incredible. I hope a lot of fans and a lot of New Orleanians have the same experience that I had, which is that initial shock, but you have to accept that this is an evolution of the story. Once you can get over that, you can really dive back into a lot of the things that were so wonderful about the source material. It's giving us so much more to contemplate and to experience. I hope that other people can have that same journey that I had.
Q: This was not your first time creating massive sets for a series — you did it in Budapest for The Alienist. What was it like to tackle Storyville and what were the key factors that you knew were extremely important for you to bring to life? 
A: Well, the other very enticing thing about this project for me was that Storyville is this fantastical, mysterious, very short period in New Orleans history. It had such a profound impact culturally on not only just New Orleans and Louisiana, but on our country, our music, and our food. There are so many things this social experiment created, and what's crazy about it is that it has never really been captured in film or television. It has in bits and pieces, but not on a scale that is comprehensive, that really lets you understand what this place was. So, I guess I like a challenge!
That neighborhood doesn't exist anymore, so we knew we had to build this, especially since we were shooting primarily at night and all in period, so controlling the streets was just not likely. What we realized early on is that there aren’t a lot of physical references of what Storyville actually looked like. There are very few photographs. There's probably, I'd say, maybe 20 images that capture the edges of Storyville, but it's not a place where people wanted to take a ton of photos, besides the famous portraits. There's lots of portraiture of the girls because they were being advertised or the images were collectibles, but there's not a lot of images of the places and the atmosphere. So, our next challenge was figuring out "Okay, how do we recreate a world that we don't have a lot of images of?" We hired some consultants to come in, people that have spent decades of their lives studying Storyville and we also tried to get as many narratives as possible, whether through non-fiction or oral narratives of that time period. We tried to siphon out as much information as we could through that. Then we had to take some creative license into how we were going to build and depict this.
There are a couple buildings on our backlot that are almost exact recreations of buildings that were in Storyville, and then some of them are just filler of vernacular architecture as part of those neighborhoods that still exist today. It was, again, a dream exercise in getting to dive into the city that I've lived in for so long, but I've never been able to do that thorough of a study of the architecture of. My education was a lot broader and not really specific to New Orleans and preservation here. It was just very special. What was also great about it is almost all of our crew, almost all of our art department, were people that live here. It’s a real treat when you live in a place and actually get to work on something that’s depicting that place. We do Los Angeles for New Orleans. We do New York for New Orleans. We do European cities. We do middle America. But it's rare that there's a story that's set here. Again, it was a real treat to be a part of!
Q: Let’s talk about the townhouse that Lestat and Louis inhabit. There are soooo many details to tackle in that home, from the phonograph to the wall sconces, to the hidden rooms, the courtyards, and the exquisite dark wood found throughout the home. It feels like an extension of a coffin but in the most fabulous way possible. Can you talk a bit about creating that home and some of the elements that were the most exciting to tackle? 
A: Okay so there’s a little history there. Anne Rice took inspiration from a real place for the townhouse that Lestat and Louis live in. It’s 1132 Royal Street and it's actually a museum today called Gallier House. It’s named after an architect whose name was Gallier and his father was also an architect who designed the original city hall and a bunch of buildings in town. The house is a living museum, so it's dressed as it would be in the 1800s and you can go visit it. We now know from the archives that Anne left to Tulane when she passed, that she would go to this house and a few others frequently to get inspired for her writing.
So, when Rolin, Alan [Taylor], and I were first talking about what to look for when scouting an exterior for the house, Rolin and I were both like, "Wouldn't it be amazing if we could actually get the Gallier House as an Easter egg?" We were really lucky to reach out to the folks that curate and manage Gallier House and another historic home, Hermann-Grima, and they let us use it. Again, as an architect that lives in the city, having taken tours of Gallier House in the past, at the time it was known for some really cutting-edge technology. It had some of the first plumbing. It had some of the first electricity. But it also had some really beautiful architectural details, like the cornice work on the first floor, this really deep relief, almost Gothic-like creepy cornice work. Then on the second floor he designed the skylight because he wanted natural light for his office, and he had attic vents to get heat out and all sorts of things. So even though we were building the interior of the townhouse on stage, there were certain things that, as an homage to Gallier and these Easter eggs for people that may go on a sojourn to see Gallier House, there were certain things that I thought would be really great to incorporate into our set. I went to Rolin, and I said, "I know they're vampires and they don't need the skylight, the aperture in the ceiling, but it's such a cool thing," and Rolin took that and actually wove it into the plot of the story! Rolin is such a fun writer and showrunner to work with because you can throw anything against the wall and he'll at first call you crazy, but then he'll gestate on it and he'll come back and he'll make it 10 times better than what you thought.
We had initially talked about vampire security, that they would need to have ways to protect themselves. So, we knew that we wanted a secret room for their coffin room with hidden panels. In Claudia's room, initially Rolin wanted her coffin to be in a trundle bed and we kept struggling to figure out how to make it shootable and how to make all these things work. It was just really clunky and I was like, "Let's have more fun with this," and so I was like, "What if it's a lazy Susan and the wall spins and one side is the coffin room and one side is the other?" Again, he looks at me like I'm crazy. He's like, "Can you really do that and not shut us down because it's so expensive?" And we worked with the special effects team, and we could do it! It's just super fun and it's great to be able to explore and do these wild things.  
For the overall design of the house, I wanted the concept to be that Lestat essentially buys Gallier House or a townhouse on the border of Storyville and then incorporates these cutting-edge design ideas that are coming from Paris and other places. He renovates it with these new embellishments and flourishes. The fireplaces and the capitals on the columns all have this art nouveau, organic sinewy details. I wanted it to feel like when you enter this house it’s a little feral, a little wild, but also sexy and just something very different than what we see in the rest of the show. I was always thinking through the lens of Louis, who's being romanced and being thrust into this new visual world. Our decorator, Selina van den Brink, and I worked really hard to find wallpapers, textures, and tapestries that also had complexity and depth. Whether it was with sheen, depth and detail, texture, colors, I just always wanted to push things beyond the surface layer, give it more for the eye to dive into.
One big thing we talked quite a bit about with the directors and the DPs is that I wanted that space to turn on a dime, just like Lestat. So, one second it can be sexy and then the next it's intimidating, scary, and you can get lost in the shadows of it. Like Lestat, it becomes something that can morph based on how it's lit. We also knew that so much of the story takes place in that house, but decades are passing so we were like, "Well, how do we show that evolution of time if they're locked up in there?" So, part of that was also with the lighting, with introducing different color temperatures and other things, so that it’s a very subtle thing but if you jump in and out of scenes from different episodes, you can tell something is different. For me it was about asking, "How do we make this hold up for seven episodes and not just be boring, but always be giving something compelling to look at?” The house is the embodiment of Lestat.
Q: Now on the complete other side of the spectrum is Louis’ modern Dubai penthouse. How did the vision of this penthouse begin for you? What seems to be on full display in that home is the art.   
A: I love Rolin. There's a line in the show where Daniel is talking to Louis and he's like, "The designer who did this had some naive views about a vampire needing a connection to nature," and this is something that I was losing sleep over, about Louis's apartment. Because it's one thing to do over-the-top, opulent, modern, but it seems so generic to me. We looked at a lot of references of some of the most expensive apartments in Dubai ever and it was like well, these could be anywhere. So, I was like, "Okay, if I was a vampire that had lived through a century and I was well-traveled and was searching for mankind's humanity, what are the things that I would pull to the surface?" So, I wanted to capture different international styles, whether it was Moorish architecture or Japanese minimalism, but these different things that had a lot to do with contemplation, reflection, but also security. It's almost cave-like even though it’s surrounded by sand and sunlight. For the dining room, during the first confrontation between Louis and Molloy, I wanted it to feel like they were in a cave. It was the one room without the windows or daylight. To me, it's like they're caught in the belly of the whale and having this face-off. I'm always interested in whether surfaces are absorbing light or reflecting light. It was a really, really fun set. It was a hard set to build because it's all plaster. It's very simple, but it required a lot of craftsmanship by our incredible team.
The other really exciting and really challenging part of that set was curating the artwork around him. For me, Rolin's mandates were that he's this cultured, international person and it needs to broadcast that there's a lot of wealth, so we knew we needed some big names. But I didn't just want it to be big for the sake of being big, but that there would be connections to the study of psychology, connections to African American culture in the United States. So, there's a lot of Basquiat, but then also Bacon. And then we have a Vivian Maier photograph. She's in the dining room in the back. What else did we have? We had a few artists from New Orleans, some contemporary. I wanted there to be his connection to New Orleans, to home, his connection to his race, his connection to international travel, to psychology. There's also a textile piece that's hanging that's a kimono by a Korean artist. I think that knowing Louis's character, there's different paintings in the background that relate to women — whether that's an allusion to Claudia or his sister or his mother — but these devastating relationships, so there's imagery of women that we wanted to capture. We suffered quite a bit over making sure we were getting all these things that have way more significance for us than I'm sure the average person, but for me Louis was such a fascinating character. And again, with someone with infinite wealth, access, and resources, it was a really, really cool challenge. The hardest part is always just balancing the financial with the reality of getting the rights for things because we had to get the rights or all those things. In the end I think we were all really happy with what we ended up with.
Q: So much unravels throughout Season 1. What are you most excited for viewers to experience visually as the season continues? The show is such a feast for the eyes!
A: I think what was really fun and exciting for me is that we were allowed to give not just characters, but also the environments an evolution. We’re telling the story over decades, so there's an evolution not only of the townhouse as it's related to Louis and Lestat’s relationship, but also the evolution of the fall of Storyville. I never want to compete with what's happening narratively, but I also want it to be as real and embodied as it possibly can be. I can’t wait for viewers to see the season finale because we had so much fun and got so into it! There was a lot of papier-mâché involved, and we got to do all sorts of crazy stuff that was super fun to do.

New episodes of Interview with the Vampire air on Sundays at 10/9c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.