Bret Easton Ellis on American Psycho, Christian Bale, and His Problem with Women Directors
Bret Easton Ellis has written six books (his seventh, Imperial Bedrooms, comes out next month), and all six have been optioned by Hollywood. Of those six, four were made into movies, and they run the gamut from iconic to underseen, acclaimed to lambasted. Each day this week, Ellis will tackle a different adaptation of his books for Movieline, giving his take on what worked, what didn't, and what went on behind the scenes.
American Psycho is by far the most controversial work that Bret Easton Ellis has written, and yet when it comes to the adaptations of his novels, Mary Harron's 2000 film is the most critically acclaimed and well-regarded. It went through a bumpy production process that attracted directors like Oliver Stone and David Cronenberg and actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, but the final result eventually became a calling card for both Harron and its star, Christian Bale, and it's only grown in public esteem since its release.
Still, is Ellis happy with it? Not quite. Yesterday, he shared his thoughts on the compromised movie adaptation of Less Than Zero, and today, he delves into the tortured backstory of American Psycho and how he feels about female directors in general.
In many ways, American Psycho is an extremely faithful adaptation. A lot of the dialogue and scenes are taken straight from the book. And yet, when I saw you last, you were sort of implying that you thought Mary Harron was hamstrung by it.
Oh yeah, I do. I think any director would have been.
Well, the book has this reputation and it has its following, and if you're going to take that material from one medium to another, you're just going to have to make some decisions about it. The book itself doesn't really answer a lot of the questions it poses, but by the very nature of the medium of a movie, you kind of have to answer those questions.
What questions do you think she answered that she shouldn't have? Whether or not this was all in Patrick Bateman's head?
Right. And a movie automatically says, "It's real." Then, at the end, it tries to have it both ways by suggesting that it wasn't. Which you could argue is interesting, but I think it basically confused a lot of people, and I think even Mary would admit that.
I feel like the film has become almost more iconic in the years since it's come out.
Oh, it totally has. Completely. It's insane.
Did you see the Miles Fisher video that drew from it?
Loved it. Love Miles Fisher.
Did you expect American Psycho to become so iconic?
Not at all. I mean, I did not think that was going to be a particularly popular book. I thought it was going to be very pretentious. No, I didn't have any idea.
At this point, it's probably the most well-known of the films adapted from your novels.
Are you OK with that?
I've gotta be.
It went through a lot of director-actor combinations before it eventually got made. The earliest one I could find was Stuart Gordon intending to direct Johnny Depp. What did you think of that?
Well, I don't know about Johnny Depp's feelings about it, but I talked to Stuart Gordon a lot, and I thought he was the wrong director for it. I expressed that, but I don't think [producer] Ed Pressman was necessarily listening to me.
And then David Cronenberg attached himself. Is that the point where you actually wrote a draft of the screenplay yourself?
I did write a draft. David told me, "I want to make this movie, but I don't want any scenes in restaurants, I don't want any scenes in clubs, I don't want to shoot any of the violence..."
Why no scenes in restaurants or clubs? That's half the movie!
Because he said they're very difficult to shoot. "They're static, they're boring, people are at a table, and you can't really do a lot with it." He said, "I don't want to shoot in restaurants and clubs, and I want the script to be about 65 to 70 pages long, because it takes me about two minutes to shoot a page. I don't do a minute a page, I do two minutes a page."
I mean, these directions were insane. I just went off and wrote a script that I thought would be best for the movie. It did veer off a lot from the book, because I was kind of bored with the book. I'd been living with it for, like, three and a half years, four years. I invented some scenes.
Like a musical sequence?
There was a musical sequence at the end, yes.