Bret Easton Ellis on American Psycho, Christian Bale, and His Problem with Women Directors

What was that about?

I think Barry Manilow's "Daybreak" was playing, and there's like Patrick Bateman sitting in the park talking to people, and then it ends on the top of the World Trade Center. A big musical number, very elaborate. I'm glad it wasn't shot, but that kind of shows you where I was when I was writing the script. I was bored with the material.

Do you usually get bored with the books after you write them?

Not while I'm finishing them. After the book comes out, I am completely bored with the book.

Even though that's exactly the point at which you have to start talking about it to the press.

[Smiles] A problem! You get better at it as the year of promotion moves along. You get into a groove.


Anyway, Mary Harron eventually got involved with Christian Bale set to star, and then both of them briefly got thrown overboard when Oliver Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio expressed interest. Were you privy to any of that?

I was a bystander. I mean, it was terrible because I knew Mary and I'd met Christian, and yet, I also didn't think Leonardo DiCaprio was a bad idea. I said that a couple of times in interviews, and I'm sure it pissed Christian off and I'm sure Mary wasn't pleased to hear that.

So why did you say it?

Because I didn't really realize what was happening when I said it. I thought Mary was maybe going to direct the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. I mean, look. She probably made the right choice.

It's interesting that so many good-looking, almost feminine teen idol types wanted to play this role. Even Brad Pitt was involved at one point.

It's the kind of role that an actor wants. You have to be very pretty to play the role, and leading men are often very pretty and not allowed to show a lot of range. You're either put into this action movie role or the romantic lead role, and there are not a lot of projects offered to them that can invert that or twist it up a little bit. I think it was probably very appealing for an actor of a certain age to play crazy like that, and also look really nice. I don't know, it's the best of both worlds.


Gloria Steinem was among those protesting DiCaprio's involvement -- ironic, because she later became Christian Bale's stepmother.

Yeah. I love it. Though, I've always thought that the feminists got it totally wrong on that one. But I can't go there anymore.

When Christian Bale first asked to meet with you to get your approval for the role, he actually showed up at the restaurant in character. Did that freak you out?

That was in 1998, I think, when that happened. I didn't have an issue with Christian Bale doing that at the time, it was just seriously unnerving. You
know, even though the book had done well and it was a popular novel, I had not seen people acting like Patrick Bateman or trying to appear like him. There was actually a period there for four or five years after the movie was released where people would come up to me at book signings, and guys would show me [pictures of] their Halloween costumes, and it was them dressed as Patrick Bateman. All over the world, maybe a thousand times it happened. [The meeting with Bale] was before any of that happened, and I was unnerved that I was in a restaurant with someone pretending to be this monster that I created. I just wanted him to stop. I asked him to stop, and then he did, and it was fine, and then Mary Harron joined us, so it was more comfortable. But he was intense!

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  • Jay says:

    I just read this entire thread and could not stop laughing. The simple fact that so many women find what Mr. Ellis is saying to be demeaning is just another example of people not hearing what they want to hear when they read an article. If this were an article about child birthing, and a woman made a dirogatory remark about male stupidity on the subject, I honestly don't think any man would have something to say. Look at the facts: there isn't one, not one, big name female director in Hollywood right now. Im talking about someone on the level of speilberg or scorsese or Michael Mann. It's just the way it is.

    Now what I find to be truly hilarious, are the women on this thread who found American Psycho to be a misogynist price of trash. It is admittedly a feminist book. The men in the book are patsies; fascinated completely by toys and "hard body's". The more powerful characters in the book are actually female. And if you have a problem with gory violence I suggest you start picketing Thomas Harris' house because last I checked Red Dragon, Hannibal and Silence of the lambs all have some pretty gory scenes in them. Oh wait a minute... The hero of the latter is a woman. Guess we won't hear about that then.

    • Gwen says:

      I love this much. I'm a girl. I know a lot of other girls who do as well. Just putting that out there.

    • Trixie says:

      You're assuming that the most successful directors are the best, which is problem #1...

    • Sarah says:

      Just wanted to point out a huge issue with your logic to me. Childbirth, at least right now anyway, can only be experienced and therefore understood by a woman. That could change one day, but hasn't yet. Directing, on the other hand, can be experienced and understood in myriad of ways by women and men So you definitely would need a better analogy for your point to ring true.

      Also, reading interviews with Ellis previously, I had been convinced that he was interesting and not at misogynistic. However, this interview has completely made me rethink some of that. His generalizing and boxing-in of women and men is really disgusting and simple-minded.

  • Gwen says:

    Oh and comparing a woman calling a man stupid on the subject of childbirth and comparing it to this article is just idiotic. Are you implying that women know nothing about filmmaking? Haha that's just ridiculous. Men CAN'T have children, women can and do make successful films. Clearly. Also, I assure you that some men would have something to say if a woman called all men stupid when it comes to childbirth because...that isn't true at all. A male obstetrician sure knows more about it than I ever will.

    • Tim says:

      Are you kidding me? No, he's not talking about whether or not women can make films. He's just saying that men wouldn't react the same way that women are reacting to this article if there was an idea expressed (in an article or comment on an article) that men are stupid for not knowing something about childbirth. He was just saying there are no big name female directors right now. Its a FACT... not an attack against women.

  • Courtney says:

    I don't think it's fair to say there are no women Spielberg's or Scorsese's. Filmmaking is an art form which is open to interpretation. People attribute success largely in part of the scale and budget of the film, and how much money it gains at the box office. My definition of success in storytelling, is it having a impact on my life as soon as I walk away from it. Not every filmmaker is trying to become Spielberg. Film making is about telling a story, which should be compelling and important to it's creators. I'm sick and tired of hearing these weak comparisons. It's not about being male or female. It's about creating a compelling and intelligent story. This book was written my a male and interpreted to film by a female. Both book and film left a powerful mark in my mind when completed.

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  • […] At the time of the film release, Ellis was positive about the film and seemed happy with the outcome according to Turner. It appears his opinion has changed in the interceding years. He has said the book never should have been made into a film. And, he’s stated that he’s not a fan of women directors. The female-directed movies are not as good as those directed by men because film is a visual medium better suited to men. It’s all in this Movieline interview from 2010. […]

  • L_Iv says:

    Once again, men blind to their own privilege.
    "There are no big female directors" because men have been behind the camera since the darn thing was invented. They were the ones who wrote the scripts, funded the projects, built the studios, etc... Experienced male directors became mentors to young male directors, taught them what they knew, and the cycle continued. Like in any male dominated field, it can be difficult for women to "break-in" when they are surrounded by men, even just a few, who don't want to share their space with women.
    Also,these days, with billion dollar franchises, studios (mostly run by men) don't want to put cash-cow film franchises in the hands of women, because when it comes down to, in the boys club, women cannot be trusted. And that's fare, because women have not proven themselves to be worthy yet. The catch-22 is that women haven't been given the opportunity, and will continue not to be given any opportunity to prove themselves.
    The deck is stacked against women on this one... still... anyone who says "Strange Days" is not an awesomely directed movie (that's Kathryn Bigelow, circa 1996) can suck it.

  • […] itself in pop culture, inspiring dozens of parodies and thousands of Halloween costumes, much to Ellis’ disdain. The movie is celebrating its 15th anniversary, so to mark such a bloody occasion, here are some […]

  • […] Ellis threw a hissy fit because the Oscars actually allowed a woman to win an Oscar for directing, a field he has argued that “requires the male gaze,” because women aren’t capable of understanding visual language “because of how […]

  • […] the film version of American Psycho because it lacks the unreliability and ambiguity of the novel (and also because the director is a woman and falls subject to “emotionalism”–whatever, BEE). I’d personally argue that the film did a pretty good job making Bateman […]

  • […] at the time, said he found scenes set at restaurants “static” and “boring.” Another one of the […]

  • […] at the time, said he found scenes set at restaurants “static” and “boring.” Another one of the director’s demands came down […]

  • […] at the time, said he found scenes set at restaurants “static” and “boring.” Another one of the director’s demands came down […]

  • […] early draft which was considered by everyone (even Ellis himself) to be a mess. Ellis’ told Movieline his draft ended with a musical sequence: “Barry Manilow’s ‘Daybreak’ was […]

  • […] Bret Easton Ellis either dislikes or is ambivalent about almost all of the adaptations of his novels, including Less Than Zero and American Psycho. With Less Than Zero, Ellis has discussed the problems with the film on his podcast during an interview with the film’s star, Andrew McCarthy, wherein the studio neutered and/or changed much of the tone and intent of the novel. Ellis’s Less Than Zero novel functions as a tour through the decadence of the young, rich, and white in Southern California of the 1980s, with the main character, Clay, coming home for Christmas break disillusioned with it all. The film version decided to make Clay, who’s bisexual and has his share of vices in the book, into a heterosexual goody-goody who comes home trying to save his friends from drugs, and replaces the novel’s tour through partying hell with a redemptive arc and a love story. With American Psycho, it has become something of a cult classic, with many critics thinking it’s one of Christian Bale’s best performances. However, Ellis thinks the film is flawed because it conflicts with the nature of his novel, and thinks the visual medium tips the scale of whether the story is real or imagined. Ellis has also been a bit sexist with his opinion about female directors, which the film adaptation of American Psycho had with Mary Harron at the helm of the production. In Ellis’s view, a female film director lacks a proper “male gaze” and “male sensibility,” since women….  […]

  • […] what Bret Easton Ellis said about movies as a medium (not horror movies, just all movies), when he was asked in 2010 whether he thought Mary Harron was a good director. Harron directed an adaptation of his […]