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. Visually we’ve seen several iterations of vampires, but in this reimagining the vampires are equal parts vicious and elegant. In this interview with amc.com we speak with veteran special make-up effects creator Howard Berger, co-creator of KNB EFX with The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero. He talks about the challenges of fitting your cast with vampiric dentures during a pandemic, how he was able to ensure the vampires would shine on-screen, and the best way to deal with blood pools on set.
Q: You’re what would be considered real deal AMC family, having founded KNB EFX Group with Greg Nicotero in the late 80s. Your list of accolades runs deep, with fan faves like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad under your belt. It makes sense that you would be tapped to work on Interview with the Vampire, but how exactly did you become involved in the project?
A: Well it actually had to do with our relationship with [Executive Producer] Mark Johnson. The first time I worked with Mark was on the Narnia films, on The Chronicles of Narnia. Since then, Mark and I have collaborated time and time again on many projects over the last 16 years. Breaking Bad was one of them and Better Call Saul too! When it came to Interview with the Vampire, I got a phone call from Mark Johnson saying, "We're doing Interview with the Vampire and we want you guys at KNB to be involved with it." Of course I said, "Absolutely!" I'm a fan of the books and wanted to re-imagine everything that had been done before regarding The Vampire, so it was all very, very exciting.
Q: What were your goals with the make-up and the special effects for Season 1? Personally, I loved the manipulation of eye color and somehow there's an elegance to some of the bloodletting as well.
A: Greg and I sat down and started talking about it. When we first met Rolin [Jones, writer & EP), we assembled a big folder of vampire references from all different things. Things we had done, things other people had done. And Rolin was like, "I don't want to do the forehead. I don't want to do the Buffy the Vampire look." And we agreed. I was just thinking about it, and I came up with this idea. "Hey, why don't we make everybody except the vampires look like crap so they look just amazing and you're automatically attracted to how gorgeous and perfect they are?" So instead of making them scary with any sort of prosthetic stuff, let's make them really, really beautiful. Also I kept thinking, "Well, Louis, Lestat, and Claudia have to be able to intermingle with everybody else in the real world. They need to be able to go out for the hunt and not look horrifying. When Lestat is sitting at a table playing cards at the local saloon nobody is looking at him thinking he looks weird." I broached that idea with Rolin, and he really, really liked it, so we started to play around with some concept art. Then of course once they cast Jacob Anderson [Louis], and then Sam Reid [Lestat], we were able to start really figuring things out.
We were all in lockdown still. Jacob was in London and Sam was in Australia, so we were doing everything via Zoom. I would have meetings with those guys over Zoom, and then we would make dentures and I would ship them out to them. They would do the fittings live on Zoom, see what worked and what didn't work. Rolin would jump on with us and take a look. Like I said, I wanted to make them look amazing and shine among everybody else, almost like there’s a spotlight always on the vampire. The attraction is always there, there’s never any repellent. That was our big trick. Then of course we had all the dentures! Vampires don't always have their fangs. The fangs stem from emotion so they’re different if they're hungry, if they're in attack mode. We had all different types and sizes of canines that the actors wore to help express those emotions.
The eyes were very important too. They were wearing contact lenses and we utilized, per Rolin's request, what Anne Rice originally wrote in terms of Louis's and Lestat's eyes. We came up with concepts that Rolin liked that he felt matched the source material from Anne Rice and worked really well on the guys. We had all kinds of different lenses. Let's say for Lestat, when he’s starving, they're bloodshot and the irises are enlarged. Same when they're feeding. We did little tricks like that. But when they're out in public, they don't look odd.
Q: You mentioned specifically looking to the source material as a place of inspiration. Anne Rice created a lush world full of detail. Besides the eyes, was there anything else in the source material that helped inform some of the visual directions you took with the make-up and the special effects?
A: Oh there was a lot! In the book there's a tremendous amount that inspired me. I think that the elegance, the way that Anne Rice wrote the characters, again lent a hand to how we were thinking about achieving this. She's not extremely specific in the book about what they look like or anything like that, which was great. The eyes really, that was the big thing to tell you the truth, because the eyes are the pathway to the soul. We wanted to make sure that those were really, really specific. Then we mixed it up for the other vampires that don't have any description in any of the source material, so we were making everything very individual. One thing for sure though is that we wanted Lestat to be different than Louis. We didn't want viewers to think "oh, all vampires have the same eye color" or "all vampires' teeth are all this way." They're very individual and that was really important to show. We spring boarded off of, again, what Anne Rice wrote about Lestat and Louis in the book and then we just spread that across the board with all the other vampires, so everybody is very individual and distinct.
Q: The attention to detail and meticulous nature needed to really pull this off extends through the actors into every facet of the show. But even with the best in the biz I’m sure there were challenges: what were some challenges you faced this season?
A: Well, the biggest challenge was that we were prepping during the pandemic. We never ever had access to any of our actors, so that was very unusual. We had to do everything remote. I use a guy to do my teeth. His name's Gary Archer. He's great. He actually did the vampire teeth in the original movie! So, I brought Gary Archer onto the show since he's very well-versed in vampires, but these were going to be very, very different dentures. We designed all of them. I had him reach out to a dental specialist in Australia and one in the UK, and we were able to utilize them to help build and do all the fittings there. Then we hopped on many Zoom meetings and asked Sam and Jacob to shoot photos and send videos so we could review them. We didn't get to meet Sam, Jacob, or Bailey [Bass] until a week before we started filming, so we really hoped everything worked and fit! But we met the challenge and we succeeded. We probably made, I'm going to say, 30 sets of individual teeth for each actor.
I mean, everything has a challenge. All the bloodletting! We had to be very, very careful with blood. We shot in locations that were 150 years old, so we couldn't get fake blood on floors. Here at KNB we make bloods that can wash out very easily with soap and warm water. Costumes were rented, so we could not cover them in blood. We had to be very careful. We made these giant silicone blood pools, these blood puddles. They’re like plastic and you just throw them on the floor, and they look like wet blood. In Episode 1, when Louis and Lestat are in the church at the end of the episode, there's a lot of fake blood. I barely put any real blood on the floor. That's all blood puddles! It was like a blood carpet, but they look just like puddles of blood. We would lay them out all over the place. One of the things that happens when you pour blood on set, no matter if you say, "Do not walk here!" Someone always steps in it and there's a bloody Nike footprint somewhere in your shot that’s supposed to be set in 1900. [Laughs] Ultimately, it was all about fulfilling Rolin's vision because that's what we're there to do. We're there to make sure that Rolin is successfully able to tell the story that Anne Rice created but in his own style. I think that's what everybody was striving for in every single department. We all kept focusing on the source material, the books, and Rolin's take on everything.
Q: So much unravels throughout Season 1, but what are you most excited for viewers to experience visually as the season concludes?
A: When KNB got hired for this, I re-read the book. I needed to refresh my memory and reacquaint myself with Louis, Lestat, Claudia and everybody else. I’m very surprised a lot of people didn't know there were books, so I keep pushing in all the interviews I’m doing that this is Rolin's version of Anne Rice's books. He’s taken liberties to enhance the story and create a world that audiences today will be enthralled and engaged with. I mean, I think all the Dubai stuff is fantastic. It blew me away! I'm very excited about Episode 7. And I have to say I'm really looking forward to Season 2, especially after talking to Rolin about it last week!
New episodes of Interview with the Vampire air on Sundays at 10/9c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com 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.