I’m doing a public interview with the US author Bret Easton Ellis in Dublin on April 25th, so — as well as being in the middle of reading his new memoir White, which is due out in Ireland in May — I decided this evening to have a look back over previous occasions when I met and interviewed him. He’s been a controversial figure in publishing from the get-go — and in 2019, he’s arguably even more of a polarising figure than he was when in his twenties. First up, here’s my first interview with him from 2005, published in the Sunday Business Post in Ireland, followed, after the jump, by my second interview with him, published also in the Business Post, in 2010.
Bret Easton Ellis Interview
By Nadine O’Regan
It’s a Tuesday night at the Edmund Burke theatre in Trinity College Dublin.
Bret Easton Ellis, the renowned author of American Psycho, the novel
in which narrator Patrick Bateman dismembered victims and dressed in
Armani, is midway through a question-and-answer session, when he
reveals that he is currently reading and enjoying the Robbie Williams
His audience, a large motley crew of coat-swaddled students, grinning
older fans clutching tattered copies of American Psycho and Glamorama,
lecturers, journos and the odd bewildered foreigner, erupt into
laughter. But no, Ellis insists, it’s true.
“I love it!” he says, as the chuckles build. “I totally identify with Robbie!”
Ellis‘s tongue might be planted firmly in his cheek, but that doesn’t
mean he’s lying. Robbie and Bret have plenty in common besides a wry
sense of humour.
Massive success early in their careers (Williams for Take That, Ellis
for Less than Zero and American Psycho)? Check. Egocentrism? Check.
History of drug use? Check. Ambiguous sexuality? Check. Willingness to
shock? Check. Loneliness even – perhaps especially – while surrounded
by opulence? Check.
In January 2004, Ellis‘s best friend and partner of six years, the
sculptor Michael Wade Kaplan, died of heart failure after what Ellis
describes as a rare “blow-out” night to celebrate his birthday. Kaplan
was just 30 years old.
In our interview earlier that day, I ask Ellis, 41, if he has come
through the grieving process. The author locks his hands together
behind his head. Eyes damp, he stares up at the ceiling.
“I was in London giving a reading. A thousand people in the audience.
I should have been really excited. And all I’m thinking is, ‘Where’s
Mike? Why did Mike have to die? I would give up any of this just to
hang out with Mike again.’
“It’s so corny, it’s mental in a way. But he’s always around.” Ellis
sighs. “It’s very bad news. I don’t know what to do about it. The only
thing you can do is move on. There’s nothing else I can do.”
Ellis left his New York residence after Kaplan’s death and relocated
to Los Angeles for 19 months. Happiest when writing fiction,
completing his new novel Lunar Park became a refuge for him – but
never a hiding place. Ellis writes not to escape from his life, but
rather to emotionally represent it – and perhaps to explain it.
The book was conceived as far back as 1989 and, although Ellis has
said otherwise, he asserts now that Kaplan’s death did not greatly
influence the material in the finished book. The truth is, he had
other ghosts with which to contend.
Ellis has never quite stepped out of the long shadow cast by his dead
father, an abusive, image-obsessed alcoholic who terrified the young
Bret. Nor has he outdone the success of his third novel American
Psycho, a work so horrifying that his original publisher dropped it,
but that subsequently became a cornerstone – albeit a grim,
blood-spattered one – in American fiction. “It will be the first line
in my obituary,” Ellis says, resigned.
These two hauntings have become intertwined in Lunar Park, a
pseudo-memoir of a man called Bret Easton Ellis who is struggling to
cope with a tsunami of problems: someone is carrying out the crimes
contained in his third novel American Psycho, Ellis has a drink
problem, a wife and child he’s not sure he wants, and – oh dear – his
father appears to have returned from the dead.
Lunar Park feels flawed. It also – crucially – feels true: ditsy and
deeply unconvincing supernatural stuff aside, this book comes on like
a report from the frontline of society. This book is not just about
Bret Easton Ellis. It’s also about our coke-snorting,
emotion-deficient, ruptured family, medicated, celebrity-obsessed,
anomie-filled times. Lunar Park is thought-provoking, gnomic, funny,
original and frequently very sad.
Ellis says he has forgiven his father. But any writer capable of
delineating his parent’s “botched penile implant” still seems to
possess at least a modicum of rage.
But then, of course, as with everything in Lunar Park, you have no
idea whether Ellis is telling the truth. Did Ellis really find blood
on the inseams of his father’s trousers? For that matter, did Ellis,
who is on record as bissexual, although he has never had a wife and
child, actually date both Christy Turlington and George Michael? And
was an “angry drug dealer found choking writer due to ‘lack of
payment’ in alley behind Barnes & Noble”?
Ellis has told the New York Times that he does not intend to
“demystify the text” for readers. True, false, you’ll never know. A
shame, I tell him. I had a list of questions prepared around it. “You
know what?” Ellis says. “I’ve given up. It’s impossible to not talk
about it. I’m answering everything now.”
Righto. So would the level of drug-taking by Bret Easton Ellis in the
book be an accurate representation of the real Bret Easton Ellis‘s
“Now I remember why I didn’t want to answer these questions,” Ellis
says. “Um. Yes. And no. I was really never into heroin. I took it for
like three weeks.
“Which is a lot, but when I see people popping Vicodin, which is, I
think, stronger than heroin…snorting heroin for three weeks? Big
fucking deal. Yeah, during that phase of my life, there were a lot of
drugs. Yes. You got a yes out of me.”
It wasn’t hard to do. Clad in a dark tracksuit, his face a little
bloated (Ellis worries about his drinking), the author seems like he’s
far too busy plumbing the depths in search of himself to be remotely
bothered by what any journalist thinks of him.
Which could be a reason why Ellis is such interesting and frequently
funny company. The crime novelist Stephen King wrote a positive review
of Lunar Park in Entertainment Weekly. “That made me cry,” Ellis says.
Because King was your childhood hero?
“Yeah.” A beat. “I was also a little bit drunk.”
We talk about how his Bennington College peers hated Ellis because he
was successful so young – his novel Less than Zero was published to
widespread acclaim when he was still in university. It’s easier for
people to be generous when they’re successful themselves, I say.
“Oh, I know,” Ellis says. “Jonathan Franzen [former literary dwarf,
now world-renowned literary giant as the author of The Corrections]
used to be such a prick– so red-faced and furious all the time. Now
he’s really nice.”
Being a friend of Ellis‘s, you’d imagine, isn’t easy. The author Jay
McInerney features in some of the funniest scenes in Lunar Park.
McInerney was none too happy about his guest starring role, however.
“He was so hurt and angry,” Ellis says. “And it made me so upset
because I thought Jay had a better sense of humour. Jay’s at a point
in his life where he wants to be very respected. He has issues about
his dignity. He wants to be taken seriously. So when a book like this
is published, yeah, he got pissed. He’s like ‘What are my kids going
to think when they read this and they see me snorting coke off a
“I just said, ‘Jay, what are your kids going to think when they read
Bright Lights, Big City for Christ’s sake?'”
Asked where Ellis fits into contemporary literature, he indicates with
his arms to show contemporary writers on one planet, him off into
space on the left.
It’s true that Ellis doesn’t exist in any particular coterie. Which
doesn’t change the fact that everyone is watching him nonetheless. His
new novel has received huge coverage in just about every important
publication. The suite in which we sit, paid for by his publishers, is
gargantuan and gorgeous. At the reading, the Trinity theatre is packed
with people listening rapt to Ellis‘s thoughts. Ellis, you think,
should be thrilled.
But then, the one person Ellis would like to be there – Michael Wade
Kaplan – isn’t there. The irony is, Ellis says, Kaplan would never
have come to one of his readings. Kaplan wasn’t a big fan of his
books; they would just have met up at the party afterwards. Stupid to
think of him being there, Ellis says. Stupid. He looks away for a
Ellis ends the question-and-answer session with a quotation, not from
one of his favourite authors, but from the Robbie Williams song
Strong. “I love that song,” he says. “‘You think I’m strong. But
you’re wrong. You’re wrong.'”
Gales of laughter eddy through the auditorium.
Ellis smiles. “Thank you very much!”