Writer Bret Easton Ellis is known for a coldly cynical, disaffected view of humanity in his novels "American Psycho," "Less Than Zero," and "Rules of Attraction," all of which have been made into films that helped define their era.
But the first story Ellis has written directly for the screen, "The Canyons," about a young actress trying to hide an affair from her movie producer boyfriend, isn't meant to be about today's beautiful people in L.A. Instead, he wanted to write a contemporary film noir -- a love triangle about a girl torn between a rich boy and a poor boy.
"When I decided to set it in Los Angeles, it became apparent that these people would be on the fringes of the industry, this kind of trust-fund douchey guy and this failed actress and the aspiring actor she used to be in love with," Ellis told Moviefone.
Normally, a movie like "The Canyons" (which opens in select theaters today and is also available on VOD) would fly under the radar. However, thanks to its cast, which includes Lindsay Lohan, the film has been making headlines.
But Ellis insists that hiring Lohan, whom director Paul Schrader referred to as an actress who's been "hijacking" the film, was not "stunt casting." In fact, Ellis had originally wanted to offer the troubled actress the smaller part of Cynthia, since he and Schrader had someone else in mind for the lead of bored, boy-toy Tara. However, that changed in the audition.
"[Lindsay] just blew us away. She was so much better than everyone else... People forget she's really a good actress," Ellis said.
Once Lohan was on board, the film instantly became all about her, which Ellis had anticipated. "Well, the narrative she brings has its own baggage and some people can't see past that. I can't believe how much hate the film has gotten, really, mostly just in the past few days. It's insane," he said, referring to some of the more savage reviews of the film.
Still, he's optimistic about Lohan, at least.
"Hopefully this will be part of a new narrative for her," he said. "I think she has a good chance. The thing is, what she's done hasn't been so bad, she's just had the spotlight on her all the time. People have come back from much worse things."
Case in point: Robert Downey, Jr., who was brilliant in the film based on Ellis's "Less Than Zero." Few people today remember that the "Iron Man" star served hard time for his drug offenses. Ellis says there's no reason Lindsay can't come back, just like RDJ has.
Of course, Lohan wasn't the only cast member who turned the making of this film into a media storm; Ellis and Schareder also casted famous porn star James Deen, in the role of Christian. But, like Lohan, Ellis insisted that having Deen onboard wasn't a stunt either. He said he actually wrote the part of the spoiled, manipulative Christian with Deen in mind.
"I think [Deen] conveyed the emptiness and the malevolence more than any trained actor. And he has that charm," Ellis said. "When he walks into a scene, you can't take your eyes off him. Maybe because you're expecting him to start f*cking someone! The other actors auditioning for the part overplayed the malevolence but he got it just right."
Although the character of Christian ventures into Patrick Bateman/"American Psycho" territory (Bateman was the narrator/antihero of Ellis's novel "American Psycho), Ellis said that that never crossed his mind. As the author tells it, the inspiration for the character, and the name, came from a very unlikely source: "Fifty Shades of Gray."
"I was obsessed with that book!," Ellis laughed. "I was trying to get the rights to make it. So I named him after Christian Gray because I saw him as the same kind of character -- sexual, controlling."
Ellis won't be involved with the "50 Shades" adaptation (it's being directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson). However, he says that, even if he'd gotten the job, he doesn't know who he would've cast in the coveted lead role.
"I used to do Twitter polls every day asking who was the best actor for the role. I know all the popular choices," Ellis said. "I wouldn't have cast James [Deen] for that. I know who [author] E.L. James has in mind for that part, but she'll never get him. It's obvious who she wants. But when I was reading the book, it's so light on physical descriptions of the characters. They're kind of faceless, really, in my mind."
Still, Ellis admits that adapting novels to the screen, especially his novels, isn't easy. And while his favorite film adaptation of his is 2002's "The Rules of Attraction," he never pictures any of his books as films. "I think most of them are unfilmable. But I was happiest with 'The Rules of Attraction.' Roger Avary found this really sharp way to tell that story. I thought it was impossible, because the book was told from so many points of view, but I was really pleased with that."
The thing is, no matter how people receive these films, Ellis isn't worried about the criticism, especially the stuff that's aimed towards him. As he told The Guardian:
"I have had a ton of sh*t thrown at me since I was very young. The reviews for ['The Canyons'] are actually better than for 'American Psycho,' the book, when it was published. I got no good reviews for that book at the time. So my armor was built a long time ago."
Of course, "American Psycho" went on to become, dare we say, an American classic and a no-less controversial movie. Perhaps time will be kinder to "The Canyons" as well.