L.A.-born disaffection meister Bret Easton Ellis exploded with 1985’s amorality fest Less Than Zero, later carving up the twisted shame behind consumerism with 1991’s American Psycho. But Ellis may have met his most rivetingly reckless character yet, and she’s real. It’s buttered pop tart Lindsay Lohan, who stars in The Canyons, the Paul Schrader-directed neo-noir written by Ellis, with Lohan as a social climbing wreck of an actress tormented by her twisted movie-producer boyfriend, James Deen. Looking like a slightly piqued moral quandary with glam trimmings, Lindsay is actually really good, and I’m not ashamed to say that in public. The film—which was financed by Schrader, Ellis, and sympathetic strangers—is opening Friday at IFC Center, where it’s sure to prompt some conversations.
Hi, Bret. I liked the film.
Did you really? I was just talking to Braxton Pope, the producer, who was stunned at the amount of negative reviews coming. He said, “Remember a year and a half ago, when we first had the idea, when it was just me, Schrader, and you? Did you think we’d have created the most notorious cultural event of the year?” Or non event. [laughs]
It’s dividing people, but there’s much more negative. There are volatile reactions to not only me, but James Deen and definitely Lindsay. People have problems with Paul as well. But I‘ve had negative reviews since Less than Zero. For American Psycho, I got 100 percent bad reviews. The armor’s been built, but I think Braxton was laughing a little bit too much.
At the Film Society of Lincoln Center's world premiere of the film on Monday, Schrader told the crowd that what you write is “beautiful people doing bad things in nice rooms.” True?
That’s his big quote. I love Schrader. He marches to his own beat and I love everything he says.
How about Lindsay Lohan? Is she the new Barbara Payton? She was the ‘50s starlet who blew it all and ended up turning tricks for booze and drugs, later writing a memoir called I Am Not Ashamed.
I know who Barbara Payton is (but I didn’t know she turned tricks). I have no idea what Lindsay’s leaning toward. All I know is she’s very street smart. She’s a very mixed up 20-something, but very knowledgeable about film and composition and lighting and hitting your mark. When she did our first table read, she blew me away. She was late, she was a little scattered, we had nervous small talk, and then she turned it on immediately. I don’t see her as lost. I know a lot of 20-somethings and they’re all messed up. But when you’re out in the public, you’re magnified 100 percent, and I can understand how you’d go a little bit further. But she was ultimately very nice. She was sometimes bossy—I don’t know if that’s the Adderall—but I genuinely liked her.
How much Adderall did it take to get James Deen to act out the man-on-man action in the film?
He’s had a lot of big-money offers from gay video companies and he was worried that if he went there, maybe his price would lower somehow. I assured him that was not going to happen. He had a feeling that this was going to be a kind of porn film, and when we got rid of that idea at our first dinner, he was OK with it. I thought, “Oh, my God, he thinks it’s a porn and he’ll have to sleep with another guy.” He realized, “Oh, so it’s all simulated. Of course I’ll do it.”
Is this your first film about more adult decadence?
Is it? I don’t know. When I was first talking to Paul, I wasn’t thinking about the ages so much. This could happen to people in their 30s, if they’re looney enough. But then I started thinking about this one guy that James plays and became incredibly intrigued by James. He informs a lot of the way the script takes shape, so everyone was automatically removed down to 26.
Can some people still not make the intellectual leap that you’re personally not depraved, you’re just an observer of all that?
It’s particularly pronounced now when I see the reviews that people seem to think I don’t realize I’m creating aimless, amoral characters. In fact, these people interest me and always have. I don’t feel like I’m explicitly judging them. That’s always bothered the critics. Because I let the characters play out their scenarios and don’t bring a lot of judgment to it, typically humanist critics are incredibly dismayed. But is The Canyons any worse than The Way, Way, Back? I don’t know. You know, a warm coming of age film with all of the edges worn off? It really bothered me, and I cannot believe it got good reviews.
Well, let’s go way, way back and remember the ‘80s, when your first book hit big. Were you openly gay?
Yes, but not in the press. When I started to do the press for Less Than Zero, there was this year when suddenly at 21, I was automatically going to be put into the David Leavitt queer fiction category. I never said I was straight, though I played around with the bi thing.
And you officially came out when?
I never officially did. It was a gradual thing. As I got older, I didn’t even care. I always had gay stuff in my books and I thought, “That’s kind of enough.” I never felt the need to be that kind of representative. But that was also a long time ago. You get older, you change.
I’ll consider you out now. By the way, Schrader says he wants to write a Clarence Thomas movie with Spike Lee directing. Thoughts?
Hmm. It would be dependent on who’d play Clarence Thomas.
Paula Deen? James Deen?