by Randy Shulman
October 9, 2002
“I think Roger Avery is an incredibly stylish director — I’m really lucky to have gotten him to turn this book into a movie. ”
You really wouldn’t expect Bret Easton Ellis to say anything other than that, seeing that he’s calling at the behest of Lion’s Gate, the small but influential film company that’s releasing The Rules of Attraction, an adaptation of the writer’s 1987 novel dealing with drugs, sexuality, and wanton behavior on a college campus in the mid-Eighties.
“I don’t want to be ageist or anything, ” Ellis continues, “but Less Than Zero was directed by a much older Englishman and American Psycho was directed by an older woman. Roger’s my age, went to college the same time I did and, I think, liked this book more maybe than the other filmmakers who translated my other books liked the material they were working with. ”
Still, you don’t get the feeling Ellis is just paying lip-service. He gets furious when talking about the cuts the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board imposed on the movie. What was originally two and a half hours was trimmed to closer to 90 minutes.
“I did see Rules last night — the final, final cut, and there are a lot of disappointments because the MPAA was tyrannical about this movie and removed a lot of things that were provocative and interesting — I’m talking about images, monologues that were altered. And last night I felt kind of disappointed leaving the theater. ”
The film, which opens tomorrow, stars James Van Der Beek as college student Sean Bateman (younger brother to American Psycho‘s Patrick), Shannyn Sossamon as the near-miss object of his affection, Laura, and Ian Somerhalder as Laura’s ex-beau Paul, a pretty boy getting in touch with his homosexual side who’s drawn like a magnet — an awkward, school-girlish magnet — to the hunky Sean. Those looking for a straightforward romantic narrative, however, had better stick with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as Rules of Attraction takes the dizzying non-conventional road. It is, admits Ellis, a film for the younger demographic.
“I have not met a person over fifty who has liked this movie, ” says Ellis, now 38. “The older you are, the less you respond to it. ”
Ellis is working on a new book that, he says, “is a very long, involved novel about a marriage and my family. It’s very autobiographical. And it has no gay content. ”
No gay content? But isn’t Ellis gay? Isn’t he one of our gay authors?
“I definitely don’t identify as gay, ” he says, his tone slightly cagey. “So I can’t commit an answer. “
MW: You’ve had three books turned into films so far. Can you describe what it’s like to watch something you’ve worked on be transferred to a different medium?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: I’ve had three different experiences. One was very disappointing — Less Than Zero, my first novel. One I admired but found very chilly and thought that it maybe misinterpreted the book — American Psycho. And I had a great experience with Rules of Attraction. I don’t think when you read my books, you’re necessarily thinking, “This would make a great movie. ” They have cinematic scenes, they have a lot of dialogue, but often they don’t have that narrative momentum a movie needs. So I’m always shocked when people want to make movies out of my books.
MW: You say that American Psycho may have misinterpreted your material?
ELLIS: Don’t get me wrong, it’s a movie I admire — I am by no means embarrassed by it and I liked it a lot. I just thought it didn’t really capture the sensibility of the novel. It was too chilly, too elegant. I thought the novel itself was a lot wilder and crazier. Director Mary Harron placed the movie within a feminist context and put quotation marks around it and I don’t think the movie needed that.
The irony is that in American Psycho every scene and all the dialogue are [taken] from the book, yet with Rules of Attraction about two quarters of the book was missing: a lot of things were changed around, some new dialogue was added and it had been updated from the ’80s to the present. Yet it captures the essence of my work much more closely and intensely than any of the other films have.
MW: Let’s talk about Rules and the changes the MPAA imposed on Rules of Attraction. I take it some pornographic images were removed at their request?
ELLIS: I wouldn’t call them pornographic. There was definitely some nudity, some language — there were frames snipped that they found unacceptable. It really is too bad. I guess if you haven’t seen it then it’s not going to matter, you’re not going to know it. These lost images aren’t going to be in your mind. [Director] Roger Avary, [producer] Greg Shapiro and I talked about the cuts needed for an R rating, which were ridiculous. The cut that Roger turned into Lion’s Gate was an R and the MPAA disagreed. Compared to a lot of the gross, big budget teen sex comedies, this was no worse.
MW: Was any gay content cut?
ELLIS: There’s a really elaborate cafeteria scene cut for length where we went from the girls’ table to Sean [and his friends'] table to the gay guys’ table, and they were all misinterpreting one bit of gossip that had gotten around campus. Other than that, I don’t think so.
MW: Are you normally involved in the filmmaking process?
ELLIS: I’m not ever involved in the process. I’m always left out. I was completely locked out of Less Than Zero. I didn’t even know it was being shot until literally the week it [started]. The only time someone wanted my approval was Mary Harron with the casting of Christian Bale in American Psycho. She was going to cast him anyway, but she wanted me to approve. And I said, “You should go for an American actor or someone who looks more how we imagined this character would look. ” She set up a dinner with [Bale] when I was in L.A. and he walked in dressed as Patrick Bateman. He had an American accent and halfway through dinner I was just so chilled that he had nailed this character. I thought he was great in the movie. It was a tough performance to pull off and I think it was a great bit of casting.
MW: I think that was a turnaround roll for Bale, something to take notice of.
BE: And unfortunately he did Reign of Fire and that turned his career back, so he’s got to find another American Psycho soon.
MW: He’ll survive Reign of Fire. Not enough people saw it. Besides, Newsies didn’t kill his career.
BE: And if Newsies didn’t kill his career, nothing can.
MW: Earlier this year we interviewed Michael Chabon who I always thought was gay but, it turns out, is not.
ELLIS: I’ve known Michael for a long, long time and when that came out it was just hilarious.
MW: What about you though? My recollection of you was that you were a gay author.
ELLIS: Really? That’s fine. I have no problem with that. I guess I just don’t think in those terms, and I definitely don’t identify as gay. But I wouldn’t identify myself necessarily with straight either. I have no problem being asked these things in interviews, but it is sort of weird to talk about your sexual preferences or “sex life ” in a public forum. I find it really, really awkward. And this is whether I was married or dating Julia Roberts or whatever.
I liked it when the Advocate put me on its one hundred most interesting gay persons list. I am by no means upset about it. I like it. It drives some of my friends nuts maybe, but I think it’s cool. I’ve played around with my persona in terms of its sexuality, and I’ve made various comments over the years that I’m straight, I’m bi, I’m gay, I’m whatever you want me to be. And you know what? To me that’s the most honest answer. It’s the one I’m most comfortable with. I have no problem with people identifying me as anything — except as a bad writer.
The Rules of Attraction opens this Friday, October 11, at area theatres.