Jacob Anderson on Grey Worm, Game Of Thrones and his next step

16 mins read
Game Of Thrones

Jacob Anderson was so determined to play Louis De Pointe Du Lac in the new Interview With The Vampire TV series that he put himself through six rounds of auditions. In the past, Anderson has claimed it was eight rounds, but he says today with a laugh that he may have “overstated that”. Whatever the actual number, it underlines the deep connection he feels with Louis, an enterprising brothel owner making his way in 1910s New Orleans whose life is upended when he meets magnetic French vampire Lestat De Lioncourt (Sam Reid). It’s hardly a spoiler to say that it isn’t long before Louis joins him on the dark side.

Anderson, who previously played Daenerys Targaryen’s trusted advisor Grey Worm in Game Of Thrones, doesn’t hesitate to call conflicted, code-shifting Louis his “most significant role” to date. That’s no mean feat given that Anderson has also carved out a recording career as the Stormzy-endorsed singer-songwriter Raleigh Ritchie – a stage name he formed from two characters in Wes Anderson‘s The Royal Tenenbaums.

“As I was reading the pilot, I kept getting this feeling in my chest – a kind of excited feeling [but also] a sort of frightened feeling,” he says. “And I think – to get out of, like, ‘woo-woo’ territory – it was probably because I really respond to this story and I really relate to Louis.” Not wishing to sound too earnest, Anderson adds impishly: “Aside from the people-eating, I’d say Louis and myself are pretty similar.”

Interview With The Vampire is my most significant role”

Warm and thoughtful from the start, Anderson is speaking over Zoom from Prague, where season two of Interview resumed filming in September following a 10-week actors’ strike hiatus. The show is one of several hundred independent productions that the SAG-AFTRA union has allowed performers to return to under its ‘interim agreement waiver’. Understandably, Anderson says he’s “very grateful to be back”. He isn’t a method actor and notes, quite reasonably, that he can’t walk around “being Louis all the time” when he’s off set because “that would really freak out my daughter!” In 2018, he married A Discovery of Witches actress Aisling Loftus; they welcomed their first child two years later.

Being Louis on camera must be draining enough. Based on Anne Rice’s iconic 1976 novel Interview With The Vampire, the series is more expansive than the 1994 film adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, partly because it also draws from Rice’s subsequent books. When we meet Anderson’s Louis, he’s living in stifling luxury in present-day Dubai, where he desperately wants to share his life story with jaded journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian). This nifty framing device – lifted from Rice’s novel – allows us to spool back to Louis’ vampire origin story in New Orleans, where he is wooed and groomed by the coolly manipulative Lestat.

The TV series is also more audacious and outrageous because showrunner Rolin Jones has cleverly recalibrated Rice’s period piece to make it more relevant in 2023. Whereas the film refrained from portraying the central relationship as overtly sexual, here the fierce homoerotic charge of Rice’s novel is brought to the fore. Episode one peaks with a visually dazzling sex scene involving Louis, Lestat and sex worker Lily (Najah Bradley). “My feeling is that there kind of isn’t a story without it,” Anderson says of the two vampires’ sexual attraction. “I think that the idea of there [merely] being a ‘queer subtext’ [in Rice’s novel] comes partly from the film.”

CREDIT: Andreas Laszlo Konrath

This Interview With The Vampire also benefits from what Anderson calls its “colour conscious” approach. In Rice’s novel, Louis is a white plantation owner living in the 1790s, but the series reimagines him as the head of a prosperous Black family cutting deals in New Orleans at the birth of the Jazz Age. It’s a heady, hedonistic period that the show brings to life with gorgeous gothic production values. “It wouldn’t feel true to the demographic of New Orleans at that time if Louis wasn’t Black,” Anderson says.

At the same time, changing Louis’ race adds fascinating new layers to an already complex character. “The idea that Louis is literally a powerful being but that isn’t enough to take him away from racism in 1910s New Orleans just feels really true,” Anderson says. It’s another reason why Louis, who is trying to hide his sexuality from the world at large and dealing with profound grief, never seems comfortable in his skin. “He can get into a poker game [with fellow businessmen], he can buy a club, but it’s not going to change how bigoted people perceive him,” Anderson explains.

The colour of Louis’ skin also informs his relationship with Lestat, a Gallic dandy who oozes self-confidence. “In quite a literal, social sense, Lestat is much freer than Louis, but Lestat doesn’t understand the privileges and entitlement he has,” Anderson says. “And when I think about it, there aren’t a lot of shows that look at interracial relationships in that way.”

Interview With The Vampire
Jacob Anderson in ‘Interview With The Vampire’. CREDIT: BBC

Though Anderson has been racking up screen credits since 2007, the year he moved from Bristol to London to pursue a music career, he says he “wouldn’t have had the confidence to play Louis a few years ago”. When asked why, he seems caught between candour and protecting his own privacy. “To be honest, there’s a big part of me that thought I would have an absolute meltdown doing this [role],” he says. “It’s difficult for me to talk too specifically about the similarities that Louis and I have, but, like, there are things in this show [where] I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can go there without melding myself and Louis together too much.”

It’s Louis’ existential doubts that seem to strike a chord – or maybe a raw nerve. “He thinks of himself as a monster because of the choices he’s made, guilt and things that he’s repressed,” Anderson continues. “And like I said, I can’t exactly relate to the vampirism part of it, but I feel cripplingly aware of how human and fallible I am every day. I really feel shame and guilt about things that I probably need to feel shame and guilt about. The difference [between us] is I go to therapy. Louis’ therapist in our show is Daniel.”

Anderson is equally self-effacing when it comes to his acting career, which began with TV guest spots in Casualty, Doctors and Skins, plus supporting roles in British films including 2010’s Chatroom and 2011’s Demons Never Die. He acknowledges he has been “booked and busy” since he was 17, but adds unexpectedly: “Weirdly, I feel like I’ve been trying to escape performance for 20 years.” Not very successfully, NME suggests. “I wanted to write and direct,” Anderson counters. “I didn’t want to act – like, I didn’t really want to be looked at. I wanted to write songs and just do that. And I’ve ended up kind of doing the opposite.”

“I didn’t want to act – but I’ve ended up doing the opposite”

Anderson laughs at his own, somewhat ironic career trajectory, before explaining that music and acting both fulfil his fundamental need to express himself. “I write every word of my songs – it’s like I’m exorcising something,” he says. “And with acting, I wouldn’t generally do something unless I had a really personal connection to it. I don’t audition that much, because it’s not about wanting to work.” Instead, acting is an “outlet” that often proves therapeutic. “I was quite an insular child, but I also had a lot of energy that I didn’t necessarily know what to do with,” he explains. “And acting gets that energy out. It exhausts it.”

Because he has spent years trying to juggle these two forms of expression, Anderson admits that he hasn’t always felt “very present” in his acting career. The latter spiked massively in 2013 when he was cast as Grey Worm in Game Of Thrones, an experience he still “hasn’t settled into” even though he portrayed him for six seasons. “The experience of making that show was so different to the way it was being perceived and metabolised by people who watched it,” he says. “It was such a big deal, but it never really felt that way to me because the way we made the show felt quite small.”

Anderson shared most of his scenes with a “tight-knit” group of actors including Emilia Clarke (Daenerys), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Conleth Hill (Varys). He didn’t fully appreciate Game Of Thrones‘ epic scope until he watched finished episodes featuring dozens of other actors he rarely shared scenes with.

Game Of Thrones
As Grey Worm in ‘Game Of Thrones’. CREDIT: Sky/HBO

In his third year on the show, he flipped into Raleigh Ritchie mode to release his debut album, ‘You’re A Man Now, Boy’, an affecting alt-R&B collection that contained an anthemic collaboration with Stormzy, ‘Keep It Simple’. Anderson returned the favour by featuring on ‘Don’t Cry For Me’, a reflective standout from his landmark 2017 debut ‘Gang Signs & Prayer‘, for which he joined the rapper on stage at Glastonbury in 2019. “He’s got an old-school sense of artistry – if you look at how he makes things and the patterns of his releases, they’re the same kind of pattern as Bowie or Elton,” Anderson enthuses. “He can create forever because he’s got such a sense of proper musicality.”

The second Raleigh Ritchie album, ‘Andy‘, a tender and introspective affair named after his grandfather, followed in 2020 after the pandemic gave Anderson time to focus on music. Today, he says portraying Louis is “too dense” to inspire much songwriting, though he has begun “a bit of noodling”. Both of his previous LPs evolved organically after he spent “a very long time mucking about”, so he thinks it could be a while before a clear concept takes shape. Though ‘Andy’ was initially conceived as a “unity-themed” project with a different artist on every track, it ended up having zero features and feeling “even more personal” than his first record.

“So who knows what this third thing is gonna be?” he ponders. “I’ll probably write something about being a parent, but maybe it’ll end up being about Prague!” He lets out a hearty laugh, a welcome reminder that Anderson has definitely found a way to separate himself from Louis De Pointe Du Lac.

‘Interview With The Vampire’ debuts on BBC Two tonight at 9pm – the full series will be available on BBC iPlayer

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