A Conversation the 'American Psycho' Author

Bret Easton Ellis will not be edited. Like, literally—his defense of every gory word in the manuscript for American Psycho, about deranged Wall Street trader Patrick Bateman and his murder fantasies, caused him to be dropped by his publisher. No matter. Ellis and his eventual bestseller went on to a another publisher who printed it as-is. Recently, of course, Ellis’s impassioned and untamed Twitter stream has set him apart, a kind of Kaiju in a shallow sea of self-branding on social media. And the power and notoriety he has harnessed there helped him launch a successful Kickstarter initiative to fund The Canyons, an unabashedly risqué film he wrote starring Lindsay Lohan and directed by Paul Schrader. Ellis’s most recent novel, Imperial Bedrooms (2010), may be his last, he says, but, back home in the city where he grew up, and with which he became synonymous after the colossal success of his debut novel Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis is looking forward, to making movies, to life after novels, to… whatever comes next. Perhaps unsurprisingly his thoughts on the state of cinema, as well as his hometown of Los Angeles and everything else, are inspiring, devastating, and always utterly unique.

It is very satisfying for my own cosmology that you are back in LA after more. But, can you ever go home again? Is LA the same city you grew up in, the same city of Less Than Zero?

Well, I’m different. I’m older. Less Than Zero was a city seen through the eyes of someone who is 18, 19, 20. Now, at 49, I have a very different take on the city and the way it works. The city that I was writing about in the ‘80s just doesn’t really exist now. As I did to an extent at that time, Clay felt OK about relaxing into his ennui, his indifference. I don’t feel that way anymore. That’s not the way I view my life. I’m looking out on the city now, and a lot of the landmarks are the same but I’ve changed.

Can one live in Los Angeles without romanticizing it? Even now I am picturing you in a sort of post-Christopher Isherwood or Gavin Lambert style lifestyle, throwing dinner parties, lost among the angels.

It’s not on the Christopher Isherwood level. Because that world doesn’t exist anymore—the kind of guest list he would have. It’s a very different world and a different type of celebrity that is in L.A. now. I don’t have that kind of existence. I wish I did. I don’t know what you call it. Where are the Christopher Isherwoods or Gavin Lamberts now? I don’t know what the equivalent is, or if anything has taken there place, or that anyone would publish their diaries about the people they would have at their salon. I tweeted that I was having Marilyn Manson and Eli Roth over for dinner and people freaked out. That’s the modern equivalent.

Do you feel like you are part of a community—literary or otherwise?

No. I have a couple of friends who are writers, and by ‘writers’ I mean novelists. But, no. In the last season of Mad Men Don Draper exclaims to someone as they are considering a move to Los Angeles, “What are you doing? It’s Detroit with palm trees.” What I think he meant is that it is a company town.

A one-industry town.

Yeah, and most of the people I know are involved with that business. But, as far as some sort of literary community, I have to say, I didn’t even really have that in New York. I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t interested or didn’t believe in it or didn’t feel I was good enough to be part of the New York literary scene. People would argue that I was part of it but I never felt that.

There is that bit in your Paris Review interview where you talk about expectations that people were putting on you and perhaps projections you were casting on yourself. With all of that who-you-are, who-you-think-you-are, who-others-take-you-to-be in the air now, especially since the advent of social media, personality has sort of become our primary medium for art, creation. You’ve handled that as well as anyone.

I think that has a lot to do with being interested in media from a very early age. I don’t even know if it is something that I’m self-conscious about—it’s just the way that I am. There were times, when a book was being promoted, when I tried to be “the writer,” “the male novelist.” It was half-hearted. I don’t know if I ever believed it. It felt like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do. But that didn’t last long. I think the reason that I’ve carried through for this many years is that I grew up interested in the media, and, to some extent, celebrities. I really believe that you have to be authentic. You cannot pull a pose, and sustain it for decades. You have to, at some point, be who you are, be real. I’ve been pounded and unpopular, but I’ve just been real.

You are plainly passionate in your enthusiasms and your critiques, often in support of things that aren’t quote-unquote cool. I think there is a perception that you are being ironic, challenging people who have such fervently held beliefs. I think, generally, the perception is that you are a provocateur.

Well, that’s just not true. I think any one who really tries to be a provocateur fails. I think if you are who you are it upsets people. I’ve never given out an opinion on a book or a film that I have not fully backed.

It’s interesting where we get our opinions from, whether they come second hand, the way Bateman inherited his music tastes and toiletry regimen from men’s magazines. Speaking of, where did Bateman’s penchant for Oliver Peoples come from?

I remember the glasses being very chic when I was writing American Psycho.

Well, let’s talk then about The Canyons. Isn’t the fact that this movie exists at all, just its existence as an artifact—made wholly outside of Hollywood, in this entirely new way—a great accomplishment?

It is. That is what was exciting. The product itself. It is the future, I think, of how people make movies. The mission was to make a movie in this DIY way. Being able to write a script, have it bypass any sort of development process, working closely with a director who understands the script and wants to shoot the script as-is. That was the exciting part. The excitement was in the making of it. Now that it’s done, now that it’s about to come out I am just happy that it was made. Whatever happens to it is kind of out of my control—by that I mean, the response—will people like, will they not like it.

These are grim times in movies. But somehow you seem OK with that.

What was once a great American art form, the studios no longer care about. That’s how it is. It’s capitalism. And, I never believed this was going to happen, but, because of technology, American movies have been shunted off to the side a bit. They are not in the center of the culture in the way they once were. I still am a believer, less this year than I have been, but I still have that habit of going to the theater. It’s almost the same thing that has happened to the novel—I am less interested in it than I was previously. A lot of it is in the breakdown of narrative, and the splintering of information—how we get information in small bytes; all our attention spans have gone way down. It’s all content; it’s all going to be watched on your iPad. That’s why the power of movies is being diminished, you are not seeing them on their terms. They’ve been degraded. I hope this is a transitional time, but even if we come out of it movies are going to be changed.

It’s the end of movies as we know it, for sure, but you seem to feel fine. You seem to be having the time of your life.

I think at a certain point you just need to be optimistic, you just have to force it.

- Interview by Christopher Wallace

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