What Aaliyah Said About 'Queen of the Damned' and Her Final Movie Role in Anne Rice Adaptation (Flashback)

ET spoke with the 'Try Again' singer about playing the vampire monarch. Plus, Marguerite Moreau recalls her and Aaliyah's movie nights.

Aaliyah’s casting in Queen of the Damned highlighted her career's game-changing transition in the early 2000s. And unlike her character, a mere fictional monarch from the mind of best-selling fantasy author Anne Rice, Aaliyah was held up as real-life royalty in the R&B community by the time she landed her second big-screen role. 

Crossing over from music artist to movie star was an organic, if not expected, evolutionary step for Aaliyah’s trajectory. But Akasha, the adaptation’s other-worldly antagonist, became the singer's final role on the silver screen (following the previous year’s Jet Li vehicle Romeo Must Die). Aaliyah tragically died alongside seven others in a plane crash in the Bahamas on Aug. 25, 2001. She was 22 years old. 

Three months prior to her untimely death, Aaliyah spoke with ET and shared her excitement for the future. While promoting her self-titled studio album, she also took a moment to hype Akasha and Queen of the Damned, which had wrapped principal photography earlier that year.

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“I had a lot of fun doing [Queen of the Damned]. I was very excited to be part of a vampire film, because I've been a lover of vampires since I was very young,” the ‘Try Again’ singer explained to ET in May of 2001. “And not only was this a vampire film -- it was Anne Rice.”

In Queen of the Damned -- a fusion of the second and third entries in Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series -- fan-favorite character Lestat (Stuart Townsend) transforms himself into a rock star. By filling his music with references to vampires, he draws the attention of paranormal enthusiast Jesse (Marguerite Moreau). Angry that Lestat's songs are exposing too many details about what they do in shadows, the legendary immortal is also placed in the crosshairs of his fellow vampires. 

If that wasn't enough trouble, his music awakens the titular queen of the damned, Akasha, “the first vampire.” Upon her reemergence, Lestat discovers the 4,000-year-old Egyptian goddess’ grand plan for humanity doesn’t benefit him or his other like-minded vampire nobles, let alone humans. “I come back to try and take over the world," Aaliyah said about her character. "Akasha's very regal. Very grand. A lot of great costumes. She's sexy, but she's evil."

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ET spoke with Aaliyah’s co-stars leading up to the movie’s release. The untimely loss of their collaborator was still reverberating six months after her death. Just as it did for her fans around the world, Queen of the Damned's debut accentuated the cast's ongoing grief.

“It was so tragic," Moreau told ET in February of 2002. "I, still, am trying to understand how something like that can happen.”

“I was in Ireland at the time and I didn't find out for about five days afterwards, because I was on a road trip,” Townsend recalled. “And two of my friends had been in Australia at the time, so they knew her and they were with me. It was nice. We just talked about her all night long.”

While no reshoots or pickups were required for Aaliyah's scenes, post-production efforts were at a standstill following the tragic news. “The first reaction was shock,” Michael Rymer, the movie’s director, shared with ET in December of 2001. “I kept watching the news. Waiting to hear that there had been a mistake. That she was OK. That the reports had been exaggerated or false. But those reports were pretty clear from the beginning. It took a couple days to even really process it.”

“And then you go through the process of letting it sink in. You get a little angry,” Rymer continued. “I felt terrible mainly for her family, because they were as close of a family as I'd ever seen.” 

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In the aftermath, Rymer did encounter one obstacle in post-production. At the time of Aaliyah's death, she had yet to perform work for ADR (automated dialog replacement) or her “looping” performances (according to Rymer, Aaliyah was originally scheduled to record Akasha's ADR soon after she returned to L.A. from the Bahamas). Much like Paul Walker’s siblings did after the actor died in the middle of filming Furious 7, Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad, aided the production by helping fill in the gaps. Rashad recorded his sister’s dialog in a “whisper”-like voice, which was then integrated into her scenes that had corrupted audio. Rhymer said Rashad’s voice added "a little sibilance" and "clarity to the consonants" in Aaliyah’s dialog.

“It took us all a long time to recover. We were editing the film and trying to cope with that loss. And feeling so terrible for her family,” Rymer said. “I guess what drove us all forward, family and crew, was the idea we knew what she wanted. She wanted this film to really work. She wanted her performance to be as good as it could be [and] to have her participation really shine. And that's sort of what kept us going.”

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Throughout the Melbourne-based production, Rashad and Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton, lived with her in Australia. While the cast noted Aaliyah favored spending time with her family during the shoot, Moreau fondly remembered their occasional hangouts off the set. 

“She would get me to rent the scariest movies I could think of. And she'd come over and we would watch them,” the Mighty Ducks star recalled, adding that her co-star “loved scary movies,” while Moreau emphatically did not. “And she's like, 'We're just gonna scare ourselves silly. We're making a vampire movie. We're the complete opposite in terms of character. Let's scare ourselves.’ And I put in the movie and I turn around and she's asleep on my floor. And so I have to watch this whole movie by myself! And she wakes up at the end like, 'How was it?' And I'm like 'Terrifying! You cannot go home.' But she was always like that. Like a sense of play and mischief.”

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Queen of the Damned's debut stirred mixed feelings when it hit theaters on Feb. 22, 2002. Aaliyah's fans were granted another look at her talent outside the recording studio, but it was nevertheless bittersweet. “Every time we show the film, people are so taken with Aaliyah's talent and her presence. It's great, but at the same time it's saddening to see. There was no doubt that Aaliyah was ascending,” Rymer said. “She was so clear about what she wanted. She wanted to go all the way.” 

While it didn't receive the kind of critical acclaim Interview With the Vampire enjoyed years before, the movie has gained a cult following in the 20 years since its release. In addition to her music and fashion, Queen of the Damned is now one of many ways the artist’s legacy endures. For Townsend, witnessing Aaliyah's confidence and agility as a performer firsthand provided an intimate perspective at the extent of her potential that was cut short.

“[Aaliyah] was very chameleon-like and she knew that,” he said. “And I think she would have just continued to surprise us.”

Queen of the Damned is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.


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