Before he set the bar for superhero reboots as Christopher Nolan’s Caped Crusader, Christian Bale committed what many believed would be career suicide by taking on the role of Patrick Bateman, the 1980s Manhattan yuppie/serial killer/antihero of Bret Easton Ellis’ iconic 1991 novel. Here are 19 things you might not know about the homicidal satire, which was released 15 years ago today.
1. IT TOOK EIGHT YEARS TO MAKE IT TO THE SCREEN.
In 1992, one year after its original publication, producer Edward Pressman bought the movie rights to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. But it would take another eight years—and an ongoing series of writers, directors, and lead actors—to finally make it to the big screen. Originally, Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon was set to direct the adaptation, with Johnny Depp in the lead. “I don't know about Johnny Depp's feelings about it, but I talked to Stuart Gordon a lot, and I thought he was the wrong director for it,” Ellis told Movieline in 2010. “I expressed that, but I don't think [producer] Ed Pressman was necessarily listening to me.”
2. DAVID CRONENBERG WAS ATTACHED TO DIRECT IT, TOO.
As American Psycho continued its journey from novel to feature, David Cronenberg became attached to direct it. When Cronenberg came aboard, he enlisted Ellis to write the script, with one caveat: He didn’t want to shoot anything in a restaurant or nightclub, which is where the bulk of the action in Ellis’ novel takes place. Cronenberg’s reasoning? “He said, ‘I don't want to shoot in restaurants and clubs, and I want the script to be about 65 to 70 pages long, because it takes me about two minutes to shoot a page,’” Ellis recalled. “I mean, these directions were insane. I just went off and wrote a script that I thought would be best for the movie. It did veer off a lot from the book, because I was kind of bored with the book. I'd been living with it for, like, three and a half years, four years. [So] I invented some scenes.”
3. CRONENBERG’S VERSION ENDED WITH A MUSICAL NUMBER ATOP THE WORLD TRADE CENTER.
Among those “invented scenes” was an elaborate musical finale that took place atop the World Trade Center. “I think Barry Manilow's ‘Daybreak’ was playing, and there’s like Patrick Bateman sitting in the park talking to people, and then it ends on the top of the World Trade Center,” Ellis explained. “A big musical number, very elaborate. I'm glad it wasn't shot, but that kind of shows you where I was when I was writing the script. I was bored with the material.”
By 1997, Cronenberg was out and Mary Harron was in as director of American Psycho, according to a report from Variety at the time. She co-wrote a new version of the script with Guinevere Turner (who plays Patrick Bateman’s friend-turned-victim Elizabeth in the final film). And Harron wanted Bale in the lead, so she offered it to him.
4. BALE WAS ADVISED THAT TAKING THE ROLE WAS CAREER SUICIDE.
“When I offered [Bale] the part, he said he had all these messages on his answering machine telling him this was career suicide. And that just made him more excited,” Harron told The Guardian in 2000. “That's sort of how I reacted, too.” But the studio wanted a bigger name in the role (this was, of course, years before Bale donned a Batsuit). “They would've taken almost anybody over Christian,” Harron said.
5. LEONARDO DICAPRIO WAS OFFERED THE LEAD—WITHOUT HARRON’S KNOWLEDGE.
At the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, Lionsgate executives announced that Leonardo DiCaprio—fresh off his Titanic success—would be playing the lead in American Psycho—which was news to both Harron and Bale. So Harron refused to meet with DiCaprio. “Leonardo wasn't remotely right [for the part],” Harron told The Guardian. “There's something very boyish about him. He's not credible as one of these tough Wall Street guys … He brought way too much baggage with him; I did not want to deal with someone who had a 13-year-old fan base. They shouldn't see the movie. It could've gotten us in a lot of trouble.”
6. GLORIA STEINEM WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK, OR ITS PROPOSED MOVIE.
Legendary feminist Gloria Steinem was a vocal opponent of American Psycho—both the book and its proposed movie—for the violence it depicted against women. And it was long rumored that she tried to talk DiCaprio out of taking the role. Ironically, on September 3, 2000—less than five months after American Psycho’s release—Steinem married David Bale, Christian Bale’s father.
7. DICAPRIO WROTE UP HIS OWN WISH LIST OF POTENTIAL DIRECTORS.
With Harron not budging on casting Bale and only Bale in the lead, the studio had to consider recasting Harron instead. DiCaprio reportedly submitted some of his own names to the short list of replacement directors, including (serendipitously) Martin Scorsese and Danny Boyle. Ultimately, the studio hired Oliver Stone, whom Harron described as “probably the single worst single person to do it. I like Stone’s stuff, but social satire is not his forte.” Added Pressman: “Oliver's approach was more psychological. Mary's was satirical.” Ultimately, after not being able to figure out the best direction to take the project, DiCaprio departed the film to work with Boyle on The Beach.
8. BALE IGNORED THE FACT THAT HE HAD BEEN RECAST.
Despite DiCaprio and Stone being officially attached to the adaptation, Bale proceeded as if nothing had changed about his deal with Harron. “I just pretended it didn’t happen,” Bale told The Wall Street Journal in December. “I’m English, so I never go to a gym, but for that role it was part of the whole deal that I had to go. I still kept going down to the gym every day because I was going, ‘Oh, I’m making the film.’ I would call Mary Harron—she’d be having a nice dinner with her family—and I’d go, ‘So Mary, so when we do this scene…’ And she’d go, ‘Christian, Oliver Stone is directing, DiCaprio is playing your role.’ I said, ‘Right, but you said it, my role, all right? It is coming back, so let’s talk about it, because it’s coming back to us.’ And she’d go, ‘Christian, can you please leave me alone?’” But Bale was right to be optimistic, and after passing on roles for nine months in the hopes that American Psycho would come back around, it finally did.
9. HARRON AND BALE WERE GIVEN THE GREENLIGHT, BUT COULD ONLY SPEND $10 MILLION.
As part of the agreement in giving the project back to Harron, with Bale in the lead, they were given a strict budget of $10 million and had to agree to cast known faces in supporting roles (hence the casting of Reese Witherspoon, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, and Chloë Sevigny).
10. BALE WORKED OUT A LOT FOR THE ROLE.
In order to achieve Bateman’s near-perfect physique, Bale worked out with a trainer for three hours a day, six days per week. American Psycho would mark the beginning of Bale’s numerous body transformations; he lost 63 pounds to play an insomniac in 2004’s The Machinist, then immediately needed to gain the weight back—plus even more muscle—to begin his superhero reign in Batman Begins.
11. BALE MODELED PATRICK BATEMAN AFTER TOM CRUISE.
In attempting to find a way to connect with Bateman’s character, Bale happened upon a late-night interview between Tom Cruise and David Letterman, and found his inspiration. In an interview with Black Book Magazine, Harron recounted how Bale channeled Cruise’s “intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes” to play the role of the Wall Street banker/serial killer.
12. THE MOVIE IS SET TWO YEARS EARLIER THAN THE BOOK.
Though the novel is set in 1989, just after Ronald Reagan’s final days in the White House, the movie is set two years earlier, as evidenced by a Zagat that Bateman is reading and a speech that is being given by Reagan on television at the end of the movie.
13. PATRICK BATEMAN COULDN’T TOUCH THE ROLEX.
In the novel, there’s a moment where Bateman, disgusted, drops the line, “Don’t touch the Rolex.” But because of the gruesome nature of the movie, the production had trouble getting the brands they wanted—and needed—to agree to be shown in the film. Rolex agreed to let its watches be worn, but only by characters other than Bateman, hence the tweaked line: “Don’t touch the watch.”
14. TIMOTHY BRYCE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO SPELL “ACQUISITIONS.”
In a scene in which several of Pierce & Pierce’s many vice presidents try to one-up each other in the business card department, Timothy Bryce’s card is the least enviable for one simple reason: he doesn’t know how to spell “Acquisitions,” as in “Mergers & Acquisitions.”
15. EIGHTEEN SECONDS MADE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN NC-17 OR AN R RATING.
While the film’s violence might seem to have proposed the biggest obstacle for the MPAA, American Psycho’s original NC-17 stemmed largely from an explicit sex scene involving Bateman and a pair of prostitutes. In order to secure an R rating, Harron was forced to cut 18 seconds out.
16. HUEY LEWIS BOYCOTTED THE MOVIE—BUT NOT FOR THE REASON YOU THINK.
Though Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square” plays a key role in the film, the song does not appear on the movie’s official soundtrack. For years, rumors have persisted that the reason why is because Lewis was uncomfortable with the violence in the film—a point he refuted to Rolling Stone in 2013:
When the movie came around they wanted to use “Hip to Be Square.” Willie Dafoe was in the big picture, and I'm a huge fan of his. I said, “Sure, go.” We knew it was violent and all that, but who cares? It's art. We're artists. No problem. They paid us for the song, and boom. Now a week before the movie premieres my manager calls me and says, “They want to do a soundtrack album.” I said, “Really? What would that look like?” He goes, “Hip to Be Square,” a Phil Collins tune, and a bunch of source music.” I said, “Well, that's not right, is it? Our fans have to buy this record for one song? Can we politely decline?” We politely declined, and they generated a press release the day before the movie came out and sent it everywhere. It was in the USA Today and everywhere else. It said, “Huey Lewis saw the movie and it was so violent that he pulled his tune from the soundtrack.” It was completely made up. So I boycotted the movie from there on.
Though he has yet to see the movie, he did see the scene in which “Hip to Be Square” plays—and parodied it (alongside Weird Al Yankovic) for Funny or Die.
17. MILA KUNIS PICKED UP THE SERIAL KILLER MANTLE IN THE MOVIE’S SEQUEL.
In 2002, a sequel to the movie went direct to video, starring Mila Kunis as the titular Psycho.
18. THERE’S A TV SERIES IN DEVELOPMENT.
In 2013, FX and Lionsgate announced that they were developing a television series based on the film, which would serve as a sort of sequel and be set in the present. In January, FX confirmed that the series was still in development, with Entertainment Weekly sharing its official logline: “In the new drama series, iconic serial killer Patrick Bateman, now in his mid-50s but as outrageous and lethal as ever, takes on a protégé in a sadistic social experiment who will become every bit his equal—a next generation American Psycho.”
19. BRET EASTON ELLIS THINKS IT WORKED BETTER AS A NOVEL.
In 2014, Ellis was a guest on WTF with Marc Maron, where he discussed his resistance to turning American Psycho into a movie at all, mostly because, as a reader, you never knew whether or not these murders happened or were all in Bateman's head. "I mean the book was conceived as a piece of … as a novel," Ellis said. "It was conceived as a novel. It wasn’t conceived as a script, it wasn’t conceived as a movie, it was a novel thing. It was 400 pages in the mind of this guy and he’s a completely unreliable narrator. You don’t know if some of these things happen or not. You don’t even know if the murders happen or not. Which to me is interesting. To me it’s much more interesting not to know than to definitely know." When Maron asked whether even he knew what happened, Ellis admitted, "No. I don’t know it. But, so, what the movie is going to do, regardless, is going to answer it. He’s going to have done them because we’re watching it happen."