As Interview with the Vampire opens, Tome Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst introduce Roald Rynning to the world of the undead, Christian Slater bares his soul to Marc Shapiro, and Domiziano Giordano takes a bite out of Alan Jones.

Hollywoodhunks Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are sexy, competing bloodsuckers in the blood-filled and erotic Interview with the Vampire. In it, Tom’s devious Lestat goes tooth-to-tooth with Brad’s tortured Louis, and during the filming of Anne Rice’s 1976 bestseller the two seemed to mirror their screen characters’ competitiveness off the screen as well.

As director Neil Jordan remembers it “Tom’s character loves to be in control and inflict pain on Brad’s character, who just wants to escape. In many ways they related to each other the way their characters did”

“Tom’s North Pole and I’m South” says Brad Pitt, 30, of the difference between himself and Tom Cruise, 32. “There was this underlying competition that got in the way of any real conversation. At a point I started to resent him, but in retrospect I realize that it was because of who our character were.” Cruise brushes all the gossip of competitiveness between himself, the established superstar, and Pitt, the modern grunge moviestar away with a general, “I think that actors being competitive is counterproductive. Acting is about communication and what I important is to make a great movie, not to feel competitive with your co-stars.”

Still, filming the $50 million nearly six gruelling months, and from the very beginning rumours flew about the rivalry between the two heartthrobs. The 3-inches-shorter Cruise insisted on wearing special high-heeled boots to see eye-to-glowing-eye with Pitt, and sources claim Tom freaked out when he saw early footage and thought Brad looked better than him. After the demanding changes in the make-up, the all-American Tom insisted on homoerotic scenes being cut from the script. Needing to be in total control of everything in his career, Cruise required everyone working on the bloodfest to sign agreements not to speak anyone, including family members, about the production.

“Doing the movie wasn’t great,” remembers Pitt, who arrived for the shoot exhausted from doing Legends of the Fall. “My character is depressed from the beginning to the end, and so was I. I conpletely hated doing this movie.”

After the shoot, Cruise was supposedly concerned that he perceived as the film’s lead draw. He and his talent representatives at CAA were reportedly working furiously in the final edit of the film to heighten his screen time and slightly scale back that of Brad’s. Tom firmly denies the many rumours of his egomania. “It’s a director’s movie and a director’s set. I’m an actor and although I discuss things with the director, the final word is his. A lot of the controversy in the beginning was about me changing things in the script, and that was very false. People were making that up, and the rest snowballed from there.”

For many, however, the most astonishing performance in Interview with the Vampire doesn’t come from either Tom Cruise of co-star Brad Pitt, but from Kirsten Dunst. Who plays Claudia – the girl vampire who ages but is forever trapped inside a little girl’s body.

The 12-years old Kirsten has been acting since the age of three, and didn’t feel the slightest bit intimidated by starring with two of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs.

“Why would they intimdate me?” she asks, surprised at such questioning. “They are human beings, and why should I be nervous around people doing the same job as I’m doing?”

Nevertheless, there were things Kirsten had to do in the film that she considers “truly gross”. Stuff like kissing Brad. “I hated that! Brad was like my big brother on the set, so it was like kissing your big brother – totally gross. And Brad said, ‘How do you think I feel? I have to kiss a little girl.’ It was awful.” Reminding her that hundreds of girls would have loved to be in her shoes she simply declares, “They’re nuts.”

“Brad was like my big brother on set, so it was like kissing your big brother – totally gross!”

The film’s successhas given the careers of both Cruise and Pitt a powerful transfusion of popularity. For Brad it’s a leap into the major leagues. For megastar Tom it has proven that he successfully spread his acting wings.

As for the reported competition between them, both seem proud of the film and each other’s performances. In fact, they wouldn’t mind working together again.

And that’s excellent news for producer Geffen, who’s laughing, all the way to the bank. “I have bought all the rights for the complete set of AnneRice’s gory anthology, The Vampire Chronicles, and am already planning, future films,” he confirms. “It could go on and on and on. Vampires live forever.”