Bret Easton Ellis on The Rules of Attraction and Its Sexy, Illicit Spinoff You'll Never See

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.

When Bret Easton Ellis wrote The Rules of Attraction in 1987, it came burdened with heavy expectations, as his first novel, Less Than Zero, had made him a literary wunderkind two years prior. In a similar way, Roger Avary's 2002 film adaptation of The Rules of Attraction came two years after the relative success of Mary Harron's film version of American Psycho, and if ever Ellis were to become a book-to-film crossover franchise a la Stephen King or John Grisham, Rules would serve as a litmus test.

The film -- a darkly comic college roundelay where Paul (Ian Somerhalder) lusts for Sean (James Van Der Beek) who lusts for Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) who's still not over her ex Victor (Kip Pardue) -- wasn't a breakout success on the level of American Psycho, but it has its defenders, including Ellis himself. After plumbing the adaptations of Less Than Zero and American Psycho with Movieline, the author was happy to talk about what he thought went right with Avary's shot at his oeuvre.

I know that The Rules of Attraction is your favorite of the movies adapted from your books.

Yeah, totally.

It's interesting that the other movies are very particular about capturing the 80's details of the era the books were published, but Rules of Attraction throws that out the window. It's modern-day, though not very specific about it.

That's my main problem with it. I've talked to Roger about it, and he knows that I would have preferred for it to be set in the 80's.

So why wasn't it?

I think there were some sort of commercial problems with that. The studio thought its main audience was college kids today -- which it wasn't, because no one went to see the movie. I think there was a compromise, because the movie doesn't announce so strongly that it's taking place now. It's in this hazy middle period of 80's music and 80's references, and yet there are cell phones and computers. But that's just wallpaper. I think the movie itself is the one movie that captured my sensibility in a visual and cinematic language.

How do you mean?

I think my sensibility is very literary; all my books were built as books, and I wasn't thinking about them being movies. If I want to write a movie, I'll write a screenplay, but if I have an idea for a book, it's something that I think can only be done novelistically. That's why I think, personally, that they're very tricky to adapt -- that, and the fact that my narrators are semi-secretive and unreliable at times. There are a whole host of problems with adapting the works into movies, and I think Roger solved it visually. The way he set the movie up on a visual level is a nice counterpart to the novel, and I also thought it was kind of outrageous. He didn't try to push the likability, he didn't try to give these people sympathetic backstories. It was like, "This is it, and you can either take it or don't take it." There was something uncompromising about it that I found exciting.


Breck Eisner was originally attached to direct, right?

Yeah, I worked with Breck Eisner for about a year on it.

Him being the son of a former studio head is definitely evocative of the world you write about.

Oh, yeah.

Do you think that's what attracted him to the novel?

You know, I don't know what it was, but he was really smart about it. I would have been perfectly happy with him doing it, it just got bogged down in terms of finding the money. He really wanted to make a movie, and it was like, "OK, what's going on? Why can't we get this movie made?" As always happens, he moved on to something else, and then the producers brought on Roger Avary. Or maybe Roger Avary found the producers, I can't remember how that all happened.

How did the money eventually come to make it?

I think the success of American Psycho is a big part of why Lionsgate decided to go forward with Rules of Attraction. In one of the cuts of the movie, he did shoot the scenes at the end of the novel where Sean Bateman goes to meet his brother Patrick Bateman [the protagonist of American Psycho], and they weren't very good, so they had to be removed.

I heard that Roger asked you to play Patrick in those scenes.

It was never gonna happen. Not in a million years. Well, he wanted Christian Bale to do it, but he said no. They shot it with Casper Van Dien.

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  • Patrick Bateman says:

    Ellis is crazy if he thinks RULES OF ATTRACTION is better than AMERICAN PSYCHO, which transcended the cruddy source material. I'm no prude, but Ellis's output is rancid, sensationalist crap.

  • NP says:

    Agreed. Harron's film is such a sly, smart adaptation..
    I stopped reading Ellis's books eventually. His bag of tricks and narrative devices = tired and limited.

  • Sweetchuck says:

    You morons know nothing about cinema; RuLes Of AttRaction is a masteRpiece.............................

  • Joel Goodsen says:

    Bennington/Genius/Bennington = Michael Musto Is So Hot !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • TC says:

    Bret Easton Ellis on "The Hills":
    "He [Ellis] is, however-and on this subject, he is highly animated-a huge fan of MTV's scripted reality series of the young and the monied in L.A., THE HILLS. "I think THE HILLS is the greatest show I have ever seen in my life," he says, sincerely. "It is a modern masterpiece. I think that ADAM DeVILLO is a mad genius. He creates it and controls it perfectly." Mr. ELLIS is very specific about the way he watches THE HILLS. "I'm holding off on Season 4 right now. I started watching a bit of it, but I'm waiting until the DVD comes out because I want to see it all so beautifully mastered. Even if you download the show there is that irritating MTV logo in the corner. It doesn't work for me that way. It has to be on a big screen with the sound right up. It blows me away...I'm sorry, but whoever invented HEIDI MONTAG and SPENCER PRATT are just...nothing matches it. I've never see L.A. look more beautiful in a work of art. There are no movies that are as beautiful as that.""

  • Victor Ward says:

    I freakin' love how thought provoking this whole series is. I'm kind of pissed at Ellis, actually, for some of what he's said, but that's what I think is great about him. He's almost like Mozart. Shut up and stay with me. Ok, let's say he's like Tori Amos, cause that's kind of easier to swallow, but it means the same thing. He makes this, this something, and then he never does it again, at least not the same way. And, honestly, sometimes he fucks it up when he re-does it. Usually, he doesn't know he fucks it up. Sometimes he makes it better. A lot of times I wonder if he's slipped into that weird celebrity zone of self satire, holding that joke as his own last stand. Really, addressing TC's comment, calling "The Hills" brilliant is something, ahem, Victor Ward would do. Everything's a trick; everything is a smirk at something else - but nothing is. There's a camera crew following us in a black Jeep.
    All I really have to say, though, is that I hated the film version of Rules of Attraction, but whatever. American Psycho was not only the best adaptation one of his novels, but, arguably, one of the best film adaptations of a novel, ever. And, most importantly:
    Glamorama is my favorite book of all time, and I am, quite frankly, relieved that Avary isn't helming it. Sidenote: I fully recognize and embrace the odd craziness people exhibit over something, particularly a work of art, they don't own and didn't make. AND
    Yes, it can get made. David Lynch should make it. It would be perfect. Justin Theroux as the former model/terrorist. Laura Dern wearing wigs on the QE2. Natalie Portman bleeding out on the bathroom floor. And I am happy to audition for Victor Ward. I'll need to diet a bit more, maybe take a bike instead of my Vespa a few days a week, but I'll make it happen.

  • Victor Ward says:

    Goddammit, I can't shut up about this. Two more things!
    1. Kip Pardue - awful casting. I like him! But awful casting.
    2. The best sequence of Rules of Attraction was when IAN SOMERHALDER TOTALLY MADE OUT WITH DAWSON. Ok, fine, maybe that wasn't the best sequence. It was up there, though.
    But seriously, Dick was the best sequence, screw Europe. It saved the entire film. Underwear plus George Michael plus pills and alcohol equaled greatness.

  • busterbluth says:

    Victor, I don't know you, but I love you for this:
    Yes, it can get made. David Lynch should make it. It would be perfect. Justin Theroux as the former model/terrorist. Laura Dern wearing wigs on the QE2. Natalie Portman bleeding out on the bathroom floor. And I am happy to audition for Victor Ward. I'll need to diet a bit more, maybe take a bike instead of my Vespa a few days a week, but I'll make it happen.
    Glamorama remains my favorite Ellis. And everything but Laura Dern (I still have memories of Inland Empire) sound great.

  • wbm says:

    Rules was brilliant. Click my username & find a comic book based on the scene where Paul is mentally seducing Sean.
    American Psycho was a pretty damn good adaptation, too, but, as much as it captured the 80s the way the novel did, it failed to capture Patrick's grotesqueness. A very very mild disappointment on that one point.

  • […] was such a hit that both the studio and Ellis wanted to work Bale into the film version of Rules. Bale turned down the cameo and Casper Van Dien provided the voice on the other end of the line […]