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.
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.
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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