Alice Cooper Interviews Anne Rice on Religion, Vampires, Tom Cruise & Pot
Alice Cooper is a longtime fan of novelist and fellow Christian Anne Rice, whose Christ of Lord: Out of Egypt has been turned into The Young Messiah, a movie that opened this week. When the filmmakers arranged for a screening of the film for Cooper and wife Sheryl, they decided it would be fun to let the rocker interview the writer.
Read Cooper's interview with the Vampire author below.
Alice Cooper: Was Memnoch the Devil written before or after your conversion to Catholicism? Am I correct in assuming what I read about your conversion?
Anne Riche: Memnoch was written before I returned to the Roman Catholic Church. I think the novel reflects a Catholic upbringing, a Catholic obsession with questions of meaning, a need to explore theologies and question them stridently. I remember including every major question I had, and when Lestat rejected the entire Christian system, as it was presented to him, his decision reflected my attitude. I don't know what you read about my conversion. I can tell you that I returned to the church of my childhood in December of 1998. I gave up pondering theological absurdities and doctrines, and decided to leave it all to a higher power. I sought to go back to the fold, to the church I knew best, to the Eucharist, and I truly believed that doctrine and theology simply did not matter. What mattered was faith in God and loving God. Twelve years later I came to believe I was mistaken. Or that my approach did not work any longer for me. I left all organized religion in 2010.
Did your parents encourage your writing as a young girl?
Yes, my parents always encouraged my writing. They encouraged creativity on the part of their children in every way. My mother believed we could accomplish great things when we grew up. She told us stories of the Brontes and how they'd written under male names in order to be accepted by the literati; she filled my head with tales of Dickens and all he achieved in terms of social justice through his novels. My mother totally believed in me, and though she died when I was fourteen, I took her confidence and faith in me to heart and have all of my life. My father was a writer himself; his many rules and attitudes really did not work for me; but the fact that he was a writer, this inspired me greatly. It was a wonderful home to grow up in, filled with books and talk of the invisible and the intangible. We were as far from American materialism as one could imagine. When my first novel was published, when I received the very first copy, I flew from California to Texas in order to put that book, inscribed with love, in my father's hands.
Were you at all surprised at the success of Interview With The Vampire?
I was surprised. I had hoped and dreamed of great success, but in my heart I thought the book was too weird to be very successful. I was also shocked by some of the out and out dismissal of "a vampire novel," too. It was like a whirlwind, the publication, with a huge paperback advance sale, and a huge motion picture rights purchase; but many snubbed the book and in hardcover, it was not a sales success. In paperback it became a bestseller, and after that it became an underground favorite with many. The book lived two lives --- big commercial attention; and then underground devotion.
I know there was an uproar in the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat ( I personally think he stole the movie). Were you shocked at Tom's portrayal of Lestat?
Let's put it this way. I was thrilled with Tom's portrayal of Lestat. I thought he did a magnificent job. As soon as I finished watching the movie on video tape in my home (before its release) I called the great producer David Geffen at home in California and told him I loved the movie, loved what Tom had achieved, loved all of it. All my early fears were meaningless in light of Tom's passionate portrayal. Even now some 20 years from that time, when Lestat makes headlines, stills from that movie --- with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt --- are blazed across the page or the computer screen. The movie has never stopped being popular. Every day new people see that film and review it on Amazon with exuberant praise.
Would it be hard for you to write a straight up Doris Day / Rock Hudson romantic novel? Or would that be just fun for you?
I wouldn't know how. I am a highly instinctive and spontaneous writer, and all I know how to do is access my deepest obsessions and let the words flow, no matter how strange or erotic or bizarre the result may be. I can't force myself to write something in which I don't fully believe. I just can't do it.
Do you and Steven King get along?
I don't know Stephen King at all. I've never met him or spoken to him. I wrote him a long fan letter once but never received a reply. Whenever I'm asked about his work, I praise him to the skies, and I love many of his novels. I study the novel, Firestarter whenever I'm blocked. Reading the first few pages of Firestarter helps to get me going. In the early years of his career, I think King was underrated. Later on he began to be recognized, to receive awards and to write now and then for the New York Times. I've enjoyed seeing all this. But Stephen King, to the best of my knowledge, has never commented on me or my work. This is nothing to complain about; likely he simply isn't interested. And I accept that completely. There are many writers I don't comment on, and haven't read. I admire Stephen King. I have learned a lot from his narrative style, pacing, and plotting. I wish him all the best always. He is a giant. And his success has done wonders for supernatural fiction in America.
How much did the city of New Orleans influence your writing?
It does have a dark past. I was born and grew up in New Orleans and the city and its history and legends have influenced every single thing I've ever written. I cannot imagine my novels or my career without the New Orleans influence. For me, New Orleans is unique, and surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I grew up loving its ante-bellum Greek Revival architecture, the Spanish architecture of the French Quarter, the majesty of the Mississippi River flowing past the city's docks, the great old oak trees that line St. Charles Avenue, -- and the customs and feast days of New Orleans -- Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Day -- and the warmth of its people. New Orleans was an entry port for immigrants in the 19th Century. The Irish and the Germans (my ancestors) flooded in, along with the Italians, and New Orleans became a unique melting pot with a lot of Caribbean ambience and European flavor. I love New Orleans with my whole heart.
Do you think ghosts are just demons in disguise with the intent of drawing people into the occult?
I don't believe in demons, and have little or no interest in ideas about demons. I think there is plenty of first person information on ghosts to indicate that they do manifest and always have; whether they are earth bound souls or spirits from some other place, I do not know. I keep abreast of all serious research into ghosts, and hauntings. I read the most current books I can on this research.
What was your first rock concert? (Lestat was definitely a rock star.)
Gosh, I haven't been to many at all. Before writing The Vampire Lestat in 1983, I went to an Iron Maiden concert for research. But frankly, I can't remember ever attending a rock concert for pleasure. I did attend an Elton John concert once in a stadium as his guest, but I wouldn't call that a rock concert. My romance with recorded music has happened entirely through tapes, CDs, and DVDs. And I do love rock music! I discover new voices (some of them quite old) every week or so. I embrace many many singers.
People ask me this all the time so I get to ask you. What scares you? (other than Trump and Hillary?)
Death. The idea that we may cease to exist, the idea that we may wink out without ever knowing we're winking out, that we may cease to be without answers to all our cosmic questions and even without the answer that there is nothing. That scares me a lot. (I'm not scared of Hillary. I hope she will be the next president of the United States, with Bernie Sanders as Vice President.)
You will probably go down in history as the female Edgar Allen Poe. Do you consider that a fair comparison?
I do. That's a comforting thought. I greatly admire Edgar Allan Poe. Always have. I read him when I was a child growing up. My father who owned an expensive early tape recorder, recorded his reading of the Telltale Heart for me. But I hope I'm remembered a little more for writing about outsiders, for exploring the emotions and suffering of the outsider.... a theme that embraces all of my work, including my erotica and my novels about Jesus Christ.
Did you ever use any hallucinogenics (absinthe, magic mushrooms, or whatever) during the writing of any novel?
I've never used any hallucinogenic drugs. Ever. When I was coming of age in the Haight Ashbury, I saw people all around me, including my husband, taking LSD and having remarkable and sometimes shattering experiences on it; but I never touched it. Never. I was too afraid. When I did smoke pot, I tended to have powerful emotional experiences that frightened the people around me a bit and that was enough for me. Finally I swore off pot altogether because I had a devastating experience on it in which I realized that we might die without ever knowing the answers as to why we existed. I never recovered from that experience. I wrote about it in The Vampire Lestat. Lestat has this awful experience when he is drinking wine in the inn in his home village with his friend and lover, Nicholas. He says in the novel that he "saw" suddenly that we might die without knowing the answers, and that he never recovered from it. That was directly autobiographical except it was marijuana for me.
The public loves the world of Anne Rice (dark and romantic). My wife and I named our German Shepherd Lestat. So... What's next? Remember the Lord hates a quitter. As a lyricist myself I know that writing never ends.
I was honored years ago when I heard you'd named your German Shepherd Lestat. I was thrilled. Just thrilled. You are certainly right that writing never ends. I hope I pass with a pen in my hand, writing in my diary...or at the keyboard of my computer in the midst of a story. That would be lovely. What is next for me is another novel with Lestat, as he probes deeper into the origins of the vampires and the origins of human beings, another novel about his never ending quest for meaning, and his deep acknowledgment that he will always be an outsider know matter how much he is loved. Lestat has always been obsessed with goodness, and evil, and that will continue in my next book, of course.
Your book Christ the Lord Out of Egypt was the basis for the film The Young Messiah. In the co-writing of this movie many references were used from the Bible. Was the Apocrypha also used as a source?
Actually very little of the apocrypha was used in the novel, only the legends regarding Jesus' childhood in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is NOT gnostic and contains legends that influenced Christian art for centuries. Nothing gnostic was used in the book whatsoever. I researched the First Century for something like ten years, off and on, probing history, archaeology, anthropology, and the bible, of course, the bible again and again and the early historians, Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. I sought to write a biblically sound and authentic novel about Jesus as a child that would bring Him alive for people, presenting a fictive day to day life for him. I wanted people to hear his laughter, smell the dust in the streets of Nazareth, to see the world in which Jesus lived; I wanted people to have a sense of Him as a real little boy, surrounded by mysteries -- the Jesus whose birth was celebrated by angels singing to shepherds, the Jesus whose birth brought Magi from the East, the Jesus whose mother had been visited by an angel.... The bible mattered infinitely more to me than the apocrypha.
Everyone puts their faith in something or someone. Where would you say your faith lives?
My faith lives in my novels, of course. It lives in every word I write. It lives in my novels about Jesus. Though I've moved away from institutional Christianity and organized religion -- and all its theological strife -- my devotion to Jesus remains fierce. My faith blazes in my vampire novels, and in the Witching Hour series, and even in the erotica I've written. I believe that people are basically good as Anne Frank put it; I believe the creation is basically good and beautiful; I believe that sex is beautiful and good. I believe our capacity to love, to know pleasure, to want to live lives of meaning -- all this reflects the existence of a loving and personal Creator. I dream of all things human being reconciled in our ethical institutions and moral institutions; I dream of all of us being redeemed in every way. This is why the story of the Incarnation is so important to me, the story of Jesus being born amongst us, growing up amongst us, working and sweating and struggling as we do, and dying amongst us before he rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. I write about outsiders seeking redemption in one form or another and always will.