Like, embrace the pain: the Bret Easton Ellis interview (part 2)

It’s very telling, you know?

Find part 1, right here, folks.

Kathy: My two very favourite novels of all time are Lunar Park, and Pet Sematary by Stephen King, which kind of makes perfect sense…

Bret: Yes, it does.

Kathy: I’m really interested in the idea that Lunar Park may be becoming a film. I’m wondering, how on earth is that going to happen? What kind of film is it going to be?

Bret: I don’t know.

Kathy: Is it going to be a horror film or a comedy or… ?

Bret: Well the irony to all of this is that I’m not writing Lunar Park, and the even bigger irony here is that the one big studio assignment that I was up for last year was the remake of Pet Sematary.

Kathy: Oh!

Bret: …which I badly, badly wanted. I had an entire pitch set up, I worked on it for weeks. I went into Paramount and we talked with the producers about it, and… they hired another writer. This is what happens.

Kathy: Oh god…

Bret: No, it’s what happens. They audition twelve or thirteen writers that they think might be right for the project, and so… I loved that book, I didn’t think that the first movie really did it justice, and I thought this was a great opportunity to, you know, reboot it. And I was crushed when I couldn’t get the Pet Sematary job. It wasn’t personal – it’s just business. The guy they hired is a guy who has done two very successful Stephen King adaptations, and they just felt safer with his take on it than mine – which pushed the violence a little bit too much. They wanted it to be more PG13 than R. So that was a problem. I wish I’d known that, going in. I still don’t think I could’ve delivered the movie they wanted, but that has been, for this year, my most disappointing… not getting a job. Because Stephen King’s a fan of mine, Stephen King loved Lunar Park, everyone thought: ‘oh, this is a no-brainer, you’re gonna get this job, you’ve got a great pitch’. It just so happened that, the studio needed a PG13 movie, and there was no way because of how gruesome I had made it – mine was pretty hardcore and scary.

So, Lunar Park – how are they going to do it? Well, there have been three or four directors attached, three or four actors attached – the last actor that was attached was Ben Stiller. I don’t think he’s doing it. And then Jude Law was attached for about six months.

Kathy: Benicio Del Toro.

Angela: Yeah, I heard that.

Bret: Benicio Del Toro, who is a friend of mine, was going to do it. Not doing it, definitely Benicio’s not doing it anymore. The people who are producing it are very (whispers) overly fastidious – they develop things to death. And I’m friends with them, so I can say that and it’s not off the record, it’s just… I have complained to them, I said: ‘you guys don’t make movies! Your production company develops things to death.’ So there’s a new director on it, Phil Alden Robinson – I have not read his script, but he’s writing  and directing it. He wrote and directed – of all movies, and I think this is why he got hired – Field of Dreams.

Kathy: Yeah, yeah I can understand that. I think that could work!

Bret: I read a not-good script that was making the rounds. I then begged them to let me write the script, they said no, we don’t want the writer to write the script. That happens a lot.

Kathy: But the book is about the writer!

Bret: That’s why they don’t want the writer to write the script. That is exactly the reason. And I just really wanted to concentrate on… I think it’s a horror movie, I really do.

Kathy: It’s a terrifying book.

Bret: I don’t know what’s gonna happen. The first director involved with it was a British director named Sean Ellis. And I really liked his movie, and he’s young, smart; he loved the book, had a great vision for it, and actually he was supposed to direct another movie of mine and that completely fell through then he moved on to Lunar Park and then that didn’t work out. What do you do? I don’t know. The movies never get made. The movies don’t get made. And Lunar Park has been in development now for five years. So who knows?

Kathy: But most of your books have been made into movies.

Bret: Yeah.

Angela: A lot more than most authors who get optioned.

Bret: Yes, that is true.

Kathy: I really loved The Informers, I’m sorry to say.

Bret: You don’t have to be sorry about that at all.

Kathy: I thought it was just fantastic. I felt that the tone was what I remembered of the book.

Bret: This is the problem – if I was just the writer brought in to adapt someone else’s novel and the movie didn’t turn out to my liking I would’ve been totally cool: ‘oh yeah, I loved working on The Informers, it was great’. The problem is that I was so involved with getting that movie made. I was so involved in the screenplay – did forty drafts of the screenplay. I was a producer on it, and it was based on a book of mine. And I know – and so do all the actors, and so does the other writer on it, Nicholas Jarecki – the big movie that was there. Now of course (whispers) you guys don’t. And so it just doesn’t bother you in the same way.

I’ve seen fifty different cuts of that movie. I’ve seen cuts of that movie that are thirty minutes longer, that have much more of a resolution to them. There’s a scene at the end where Mickey Rourke drags Brad Renfro out into the desert and shoots him in the head and drives off in a van. Now, did you think that was gonna happen in the movie? Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton die in a plane crash, outside of Vegas. Gone. Cut from the movie. The last scene of the movie… it was not supposed to be an ‘everyone gets AIDS and dies’ movie, which is what it ended up becoming. The last scene in that movie was a funny scene, well… it’s kind of a moving scene. It’s Jon Foster and the girl on the beach…

Kathy: I loved it.

Bret: No, we loved that too, but it was supposed… well, we had problems with the body make-up a little bit. We thought her body make-up was way too overdone.

(We all laugh.)

Kathy: She looked like she had gangrene or something.

Bret: Yeeeaah. And so that was a bit of a problem, and so it was supposed to be this much bigger ending with everyone… When Jon Foster and Austin Nichols are like laying in bed together, and Jon gets the phone call and goes: ‘what, where is she? What’s going on?’ Actually, what was shot there was this two minute scene between them where Austin goes: ‘what happened?’ and he says: ‘my dad, he’s dead. He went with Cheryl to Vegas. He was flying his plane, and it crashed.’ Austin says: ‘man, are you okay, what’s going on?’ And Jon Foster is really numb, and has a scene where he’s, like, just going through the motions and his hand shakes a bit when he tries to pick up something, and there’s a suggestion that they might have slept together the night before this weird scene with a lot of complicated things going on, and then boom, we cut to him out in the desert, inspecting the remains, and then Austin Nichols drives over to Kim Basinger’s house and fucks her again, and then the daughter, Susan, walks home – she’s in tears because she just found out that her father was dead, then she walks up the stairs and walks in on her mother being fucked by Austin Nichols, while Jon Foster is looking at the remains of Billy Bob Thornton and Winona Ryder… (Bret laughs) I know this sounds like the most horrible movie, but do you understand what that movie is?

Kathy: There is more, more going on.

Bret: And what you’ve seen now in the 97 minute version of it? So I’m watching it – and the freak-outs among everybody, the creative team are enormous. Billy Bob Thornton is enraged that his huge scenes were cut, and Amber Heard is really upset that her scenes were cut, and just, whatever, so… it’s a very different thing. But I am glad to hear that you liked it…

Kathy: I loved it.

Bret: It makes me happy, it makes me think that it’s not all for nothing, all those years working on that movie.

(Bret’s publicist waves to tell us to wrap up.)

Kathy: Oh! Can I get my Hills question in real quickly?

Angela: Yeah yeah yeah sure…

Kathy: Okay: Spencer Pratt…

Bret: Okay.

Kathy: …has supposedly gone crazy. I just wanted your opinion on: what you think happened to him, if you think it’s real, or you think it’s false – or does it really matter?

Bret: It doesn’t really matter, at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or if it’s false… because that’s really not what The Hills is about – or that’s all that The Hills is about. And judging from that very last shot, of The Hills… do you remember that last shot?

Kathy: Oh yeah, absolutely…

(Angela does not know it, but nods and smiles. She is about to be enlightened…)

Bret: They didn’t quite pull that off the way I wanted them to. It really needs to be Lauren and Brody. Kristen and Brody in that – their relationship means nothing. You know, what’s much more heartfelt is that Lauren and Brody relationship, and then that turned to a friendship and that was much more heartbreaking and painful. Kristen Cavallari: if she was in a room, I’d think, she’s gonna eat it. She’s like, so scary. Isn’t she a terrifying girl? Would you be friends with Kristen Cavallari?

Kathy: I wouldn’t be friends with any of them, they’re all terrifying!

Bret: But the show’s energy level really dropped, because Heidi and Spencer weren’t in any of the final episodes. The show became so meaningless in that last season. It was kind of hard to watch, and I think it should have ended with that moment when Lauren Conrad walks away from the wedding, of Spencer and Heidi, and gets into some weird black car. It’s like something out of Mulholland Drive, the David Lynch movie – she’s replaced by Kristen Cavallari!

(Kathy is cracking up.)

Bret: And Lauren is looking like really oddly sad in the back seat of this black car that’s driving her somewhere, we don’t even know where, and then the group of The Hills is outside a church, where these two monsters just got married, and that’s the end of the show.

I don’t think it matters, ultimately, about Spencer Pratt’s freak-out – maybe it was real – maybe he really was doing it, or maybe it was all an act, but that’s really what’s always been so fascinating about the show. Is it real? Is it not? You know I’ve seen Justin Bobby – and not in Justin Bobby mode – where he was super clean-cut, really smiley, pretty articulate, almost gayish, like: ‘oh god, I can’t believe it, I’m up for this part is a stage production and it’s really cool’, and then you see him on The Hills and he’s like this wet octopus, you know: ‘baby, what are you doing?’. The Justin Bobby that I met once at a party was clean-cut and cute and funny, and not this kinda stoner… so I don’t know – and that’s what I loved about the show. That it was this kind of scripted reality. It wasn’t so scripted as with a staff of writers – it really was about their lives in a way. Now you watch a reality show like the Kardashians and you know it’s all scripted. (TV voice) ‘Okay this episode, they’re going to Vegas, Scott is gonna get…’ Do you know what I’m talking about when I refer to the Kardashians?

Kathy: Oh absolutely.

Angela: No, I haven’t seen it! (Fades into the background.)

Bret: He starts to get drunk, and he’s gonna ruin Kim’s party and all this stuff…

Kathy: He’s gonna punch the mirror…

Bret: So they’ve got seven writers, a staff of writers, on the Kardashians.

How I always thought the final season of The Hills should have been – was we break the fourth wall. So what you do is you have scenes with them, with their agents and their managers talking to them: ‘I’m not doing the scene with Lauren, and if I’m gonna do this you’ve gotta up my price to 25,000’. And have those scenes with them – beautifully shot, with the camera crews, talking about being on The Hills. That is the drama, and that should have been the last season of the show.

Angela: The construction, to show it.

Bret: The construction. Because none of those jobs are real anymore, no one was working for People’s Revolution by the end! They were all making fifty grand an episode! And then in the last season, in the last season no one had a job. Who was working? Lo had her boyfriend, Whitney had gone off to do the city – which I thought was completely unwatchable and I wasn’t into it – but, it should have just slowly gone into this. Like Audrina – you know she did this very famous Burger King commercial where she’s in a bikini on a beach…

Kathy: Oh I haven’t seen that…

Bret: …eating a giant hamburger and it’s so salaciously shot, because it’s really not about the burger – it’s about her tits and her ass and everything, and she got a ton of money for it. She was doing it during the filming of The Hills – bring that in! Bring in Audrina, shooting the day of her Burger King commercial, and then seeing Justin Bobby at night, and Justin Bobby saying: ‘you know, I have a girlfriend, and I don’t really wanna do this scene with Audrina’ and have Adam DiVello going: ‘well, can’t you just give a little bit, say you miss her, there’s no one else like Audrina’, you know… showing that scene. ‘Man I just don’t think I can’t do it’, and then you’d show Justin Bobby’s girlfriend in the backroom going: ‘oh my god, Justin’, you know? They should have broken the fourth wall, and they didn’t.

That shot of Brody at the end in the studio, it’s too weird. What does it even mean? And we know Brody’s dating Avril Lavigne now – did Avril Lavigne demand this heartfelt final scene of The Hills, which I never would have thought in a million years would have been between Brody and Kristen Cavallari? That’s the climax of The Hills?

Kathy: I think they thought it was more clever than it was.

Bret: What was for about four seasons almost the great modern Jane Austen novel, about girls in LA, trying to find men, and being constantly disappointed by them, and their one friend marrying a cad… Even the names were like out of Austen – Audrina Patridge, Spencer Pratt, Lauren Conrad – I mean awesome, I mean, it almost seemed like a drama about manners and morals. No matter how shallow you think they are, the show made you invest in them. It was beautifully shot, you kind of cared about Lauren – as messed up as she was… See this is why I can’t talk about The Hills, I can’t stop talking about it!

Kathy: Well, what’s happening with your own show The Canyons?

Bret: Oh that’s gone. That’s been over for a long time.

Kathy: So that’s totally gone? That’s such a shame because that would have been fantastic, I was so excited about that.

Bret: That was… (whispers) a terribly black period. That was during the Imperial Bedrooms writing period and… that was a ‘letting it go’ moment, because I’d been involved with pilots, creating shows for networks, before, and they didn’t happen. I was like: ‘oh, I really don’t care’. I really cared about The Canyons. I really did. But this was my – we talked earlier about ‘letting it go’ moments. This was the beginning of it.

The Canyons seemed to be such a sure thing and Showtime was so into it. We had the entire season written out, and the pilot had been retooled, and it was just one of the best things that I’ve written, and it was like the coolest idea for a TV show, and yet suddenly, in that last week, Tim Robbins comes in, and he’s got this big show about the corruption of the pharmaceutical companies, and that was at the time a huge topic in America. They said: ‘we don’t have enough money to make two pilots, we have enough money to make Tim’s, and it’s Tim Robbins and he’s gonna get movie stars to be in it, and we’re gonna go with that.’ They shot it, it was horrible. They never aired it. They canceled The Canyons.

Kathy: That sucks.

Bret: I was in bed for a week, which was so lame – that was how depressed I was when that show wasn’t going on – and it doesn’t go anywhere, you know? They own that pilot forever. You don’t get to shop it around anywhere else. Showtime has it for like five years.

Angela and Kathy: What?

Bret: Because they don’t want competition.

Angela: Because they buy the rights, yeah.

Bret: Yeah they buy the rights, they don’t want HBO or anyone to get it.

Kathy: I want to see this show!

(Angela nods).

Angela: What is it about?

Bret: It’s The Hills with monsters.


2 thoughts on “Like, embrace the pain: the Bret Easton Ellis interview (part 2)

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