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Bret Easton Ellis talks about his novels and the films they spawned

April 25, 2010 |  3:53 pm


There was a big turnout Sunday afternoon at the Festival of Books session featuring Bret Easton Ellis in conversation with music journalist Erik Himmelsbach. Ellis’ seventh novel, “Imperial Bedrooms,” will be published later this year — the occasion for his “first public appearance in four to five years.” The book has been described as a sequel to his first novel, “Less Than Zero,” though Ellis insists the new book is more a continuation of the life of the character Clay than a sequel (no matter how much that might sound like a sequel).

Himmelsbach asked whether Ellis views himself as a screenwriter, having adapted his novel “The Informers” into a 2008 film. This led to an extended discussion of Ellis’ views on adaptations of all his novels, past and forthcoming. He feels the film version of “Less Than Zero” got everything wrong – for example, all the blonds were turned into brunets – but he did develop a sentimental fondness for the film.

He most likes Roger Avary’s 2002 adaptation of “The Rules of Attraction,” but he feels Mary Harron’s adaptation of “American Psycho” in 2000 did not succeed as well because film is forced to clarify things that a novel doesn’t.  He said he's most disappointed in “The Informers” and hated seeing his best intentions “destroyed,” regretting not having learned more about the perils of screenwriting from F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner.

Ellis shared some interesting anecdotes about casting choices for adaptations of his books. Originally, David Cronenberg was slated to direct “American Psycho” and Brad Pitt was to star. Instead, Christian Bale won the role, despite arriving as at a lunch with Ellis and introducing himself as "Psycho's" lead character, Patrick Bateman. Bale insisted on the pretense until Ellis threatened to leave. For some time, he said, Benicio del Toro was lined up to play Ellis in the forthcoming film version of “Lunar Park,” but now the studio is considering Jude Law.

With “Imperial Bedrooms” continuing Clay’s story, Ellis discussed “Less Than Zero” and its genesis as coming out of a class at Bennington College that consisted of him, fellow author Donna Tartt and one other person. He was originally influenced by Joan Didion and other Los Angeles writers; even now he wonders how you can “write a Hollywood novel without satire.” Ellis also described the scandal surrounding the publication of “American Psycho,” and he said he plans to continue to explore the subject of violence in his work.

Ellis moved to Los Angeles from New York about five years ago, because he felt the literary scene in New York was a “small world that was not that interesting.”

Himmelsbach asked him if he still felt Los Angeles was “an illiterate community,” an opinion he denied. Ellis was also called on his Twitter reaction to J.D. Salinger’s death – “Yeah!! Thank God he’s finally dead. I’ve been waiting for this day forever. Party tonight!!!” – which oddly led the audience to erupt in applause.

Ellis seemed to be annoyed with many of the questions, attributing his attitude at one point to it being early on a Sunday and drinking without a straw. Perhaps he just doesn’t like questions, and there was no Q&A following the panel.

— Chris Daley is a contributor to the L.A. Times Books section.

Photo: Bret Easton Ellis Credit: Chris Daley