Today, voices of a generation don’t fade away—they just go online. At 53, Bret Easton Ellis is the eminence grise of former enfants terribles: His 1985 zeitgeist-defining novel Less Than Zero, published when he was just 21, earned him a place in the pop culture pantheon. American Psycho—his bloody send-up of yuppie materialism—was excoriated by both the right and left wing when it was published in 1991. It went on to become a classic movie, a Broadway musical, and a perennial best-seller. Released in 1987, The Rules of Attraction became a cult hit (and gave the world a long shot of Kip Pardue’s penis in the subsequent 2002 film adaptation). His dissolute, decadent, and occasionally sociopathic characters captured the ids of world-weary Gen Xers and drew them out to funny, controversial, and occasionally frightening ends.
All along the way, considerable controversy ensued. Did the stylish young emperor have any clothes, or was he just a shallow, fallow writer trying on a lot of different hats? Ellis’ private life also came in for criticism. For many years, he skirted gay rumors in the press and insisted that he was of “indeterminate sexuality.” His late-in-life coming out, after the death of his longtime boyfriend, did not exactly endear him to the gay press.
But the novels mentioned above have become bona fide classics, touchstones for successive generations of disaffected youth. Ellis has also made a pitch for relevance beyond that work: He wrote the screenplay for a movie, The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen (something of a fetish object for Ellis), and he’s directed an eight-part online series called The Deleted, which exhibits no shortage of nubile young male flesh. He’s also doing a podcast, featuring guests like Moby, Larry Clark, and Anne Heche (and lots of inventive invective against the PC left). And he has the most active and amusing Twitter feed of any L.A.-based notable.
I first met Bret almost 20 years ago, when I was an editor at New York magazine and we were both part of a circle of writers that was decadently running around downtown. We’ve maintained a casual friendship ever since. (A few years ago, we even embarked on a tour of L.A.’s Scientology headquarters, but I’ll save that tale for my memoir.) Marveling at his endless capacity for self-invention and his controversial defense of such dubious personages as Milo Yiannopoulos and Donald Trump, last February, shortly before the Oscars, I asked Bret to sit for an interview. After a little convincing, he invited me to his West Hollywood apartment. (Simon & Schuster announced it was dropping Milo’s book a few minutes before I arrived.) We ended up gossiping (and sparring) for three hours. It was lots of fun, as evenings with Bret usually are, even though both of us drank only water.
Maer Roshan: As I was riding here, Simon & Schuster announced that it was killing Milo’s book, perfectly timed for our interview. You know Milo, right? And didn’t Simon & Schuster also kill American Psycho?
Brett Ellis: Yes. But they killed my book slowly over eight months, so unlike Milo, I had time to prepare. This was back in 1990, when the outrage machine moved much more slowly.
MR: How did it all start?
BE: A copy editor raised the first alarm, and then the insurrection spread. The guy who designed the cover for Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction refused to do American Psycho on the grounds of taste. He thought I was “a monster” and the book was “disgusting.” [Laughter] Funny, it all seems so quaint now. My agent, Binky Urban, was desperately trying to sell the book to another publisher while Simon & Schuster was busily pulping thousands of books in some Jersey warehouse. And the thing is, they all had it wrong. They all just totally misread me and the book.
MR: What did they get wrong about you?
BE: They were just so literal about everything. They thought that just because I depicted an act of misogyny, I was a misogynist myself. American Psycho was a satire of yuppie excesses, but they accused me of promoting them, instead of spoofing them. Being a provocateur was something I was interested in, but if I only wanted to be a bad boy, I’d have turned in 400 pages of wall-to-wall war instead of social satire with only eight or nine violent pages.
MR: Did you think your career was effectively over at that point?
BE: No, I was calm throughout. People got even more pissed off when Random House picked up the book. My reviews were uniformly vicious, though. If there were a Rotten Tomatoes for books back then, American Psycho would have gotten 1 percent. The L.A. Times gave the lone good review, and they got tons of cancellations for it. You had to publicly denounce me if you wanted to remain unscathed.
MR: It’s interesting that your most criticized book ended up being your most successful one.
BE: American Psycho was a very personal book for me—a novel about a young man trying to fit into a society he hated but wanted to fit into anyway, because where else could I go? There’s a universal connection people have with that book. People are trapped in a world that they hate with nowhere else to go, and they make awful compromises to get in.
MR: Did you lose any friends because of it?
BE: No. But I distinctly remember detecting an intense Schadenfreude behind the smiling masks of so many young writers I knew at the time—writers whose books had not done as well as mine. Friends would call and say, “Are you OK?” and I slowly came to a chilling realization: “Oh, my God, they’re happy about this!” Ten years after Less Than Zero, I realized that all my friends had quietly despised me since that book came out. [Laughter]
MR: Do you think people are misreading Milo as well?
BE: I don’t see how anybody can defend the cancellation of his book if they saw the clip of him in context. I think he has a total First Amendment case against Simon & Schuster. Let’s face it: Someone who joked about the equivalent straight fantasy of young male high school students having sex with their female teachers rarely sparks the same outrage and instant condemnations of sexual molestation and abuse that Milo’s did.
MR: It’s more than that, though. He—
BE: —Was joking about learning to give good head by sucking off a priest? Are we really at a point where a joke like that is that’s so outrageous? Then we should kill Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Chelsea Handler. What about the Sarah Silverman joke about Jewish people getting raped by their doctor as “a special time in every girl’s life?”
MR: Bill Maher made that point, too, but Milo is not a comedian. He was the keynote speaker at CPAC, which is not generally a comic slot. Though it should be. [Laughter]
BE: “Generally”—that’s the operative word. It seems so quaint now. “Well, generally, presidents don’t act this way!” “Well, generally, this isn’t how things are done!” We’re in the middle of a moment where everything general is being blown up. And there’s no use trying to put things back the way they were.
MR: What was most fascinating to me were the people who were defending him on his Facebook. They’d write things like, “I’m a 35-year-old heterosexual farmer from Alabama and I love you, Milo!” Odd to see a bunch of right-wing bros rallying around this effete, pedophilia-promoting Brit. And he was so silly on Bill Maher: Here’s a guy in full Kabuki makeup and pearls making fun of transgender people. It wasn’t very effective—even as performance art.
BE: True. He blew it on Maher. He was being introduced to this huge American audience, and he came off like an ass. But even then, you could sense there was an intellect at work. Clearly he is smart. My boyfriend Todd went to one of Milo’s rallies at UCLA about a year and a half ago.
MR: Was he carted in on a throne?
BE: Milo? No, this was before his diva days.
MR: I meant Todd! [Laughter]
BE: Todd was actually the one who turned me on to Milo. And he was a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter. Left-wing, Jewish Democrat, liberal as they come. He was so devastated by Trump’s victory that he’s become an opiate addict since Nov. 9. He’s cleaning up now, but he still can’t present himself in public. And yet even he, early on, understood Milo. He showed me a 2013 YouTube clip where Milo, in suit and tie, very dry and British, very effectively debated against feminists. And in the beginning, he seemed pretty sensible. But over time, a schism occurred between the effective, presentable Milo and the Milo who went out on the Dangerous Faggot Tour. A kind of darkness emerged in him. He morphed into something … mean.
MR: And he now travels around with a stylist and a personal trainer.
BE: [Laughter] I know. We had dinner a few times. I’d written a piece for Out called “The Reign of the Magical Gay Elves,” which took down mainstream gay culture and the overprotection of gays. He loved the article, but I had no idea who Milo was at the time. We’d just talked a couple of times via Twitter.
MR: Where did you have dinner?
BE: JAR, that steakhouse on Beverly. I recently read the first chapter of his book Dangerous and it does set out his ideology in a literate and compelling way. Agree with it or not, there is an idea behind it. And let’s face it: Gay culture needs more pranksters and mischief makers. I’ve had enough of Neil Patrick Harris and Dustin Lance Black. There’s a lack of outrageous people in the culture now, and they’re sorely needed.
MR: What did he wear to dinner, a strand of tasteful pearls?
BE: No pearls. He was in a suit and tie, very chill, not flamboyant. We just talked about my work and what he liked about it. And every time I’ve seen him since, he’s never that character you see on TV. Same thing with Ann Coulter, who I met via Milo. When you meet her, she is quite lovely.
MR: I used to know Coulter too. A lot of these right-wing ladies are fag hags, for some reason.
BE: I like Ann. But squaring the person with her persona is tricky.
MR: I don’t know. Her personal charm doesn’t excuse the poisonous, polarizing crap she spews into the world.
BE: She only succeeds if people take the bait. I agree with Bill Maher, that liberals get their buttons pushed too easily. I could tweet out something dumb that would spur a riot at Berkeley right now.
MR: The right wing is practically built on outrage.
BE: Outrage is endemic in contemporary culture. This wasn’t happening when we were younger.
MR: Well, the ’90s had its own PC period.
BE: That’s true. American Psycho was a victim of that. Madonna’s video was banned. That whole Mapplethorpe uproar. But I haven’t really changed my position since then. The left has. I’ve always been opposed to censorship and First Amendment violations.
MR: I don’t remember you as being very political when we met, although you weren’t particularly a fan of gay activism. But judging from your tweets and your podcasts, you seem to have moved rightward since then.
BE: Politics? I have no politics! I’m not even registered to vote. In my entire seven years on social media, I’ve never endorsed a candidate or anything political. I have made a strong case against authoritarian PC culture, because it makes the culture such a suffocating place, especially for a writer. The total disdain for identity politics and politically correct culture isn’t just a right-wing thing.
MR: You don’t have to endorse a candidate to have a political perspective. Certainly your odd crush on Trump is not one that’s publicly shared by many gay people.
BE: I don’t have a crush on Trump. But you’re right. Everyone is very polite and correct in public. But you get them drunk at dinner, and those same people are hilariously filthy and un-PC. I have somewhat well-known gay friends who feel like they have to hold it in all the time. They struggle to be virtuous gays! Achieving equality is great, but I miss the rowdier aspects of gay culture. The outspoken gay artists, those uppity gays who don’t see themselves as victims.
MR: Every generation engages in a certain amount of nostalgia. When we were growing up, people older than us pined for the secret tearoom days.
BE: I pine for the secret tearoom days! I love reading about them in gay memoirs and journals. Who was it who said that, “Once Stonewall happened, gay life became a nightmare?”
MR: You? [Laughter]
BE: I’m not old enough. Gore Vidal? But I understand what he meant. There must have been an amazing freedom about gay life back then, despite this intense closet. After Stonewall, things started to became all politicized and banal—a total drag.
MR: That era might seem glamorously dark and dangerous in retrospect, but I’m sure it would suck if it was your reality.
BE: Yes, that’s the contradiction. But everyone wants everything to be completely black or white now. All nuance is gone.
MR: Why do you think that is?
BE: Here comes my old-man “get off my lawn” speech: the shortening of attention spans, the refusal to read or explore deeply, the immediate reaction to everything. No one ever says, “I’m going to think about this for a day or two after I read up on it and then tell you what I think.”
MR: Gay kids growing up now seem to have so many more choices available to them. They have so much less baggage. Do you ever feel sad that you came of age in an earlier era, rather than this one?
BE: Yes and no. Sexually? Of course I do. Coming of age during AIDS sucked, all that fear and stress. I felt almost zero sexual freedom for many, many years. You had to get a boyfriend or one partner to get tested and have sex with; I remember regretting right when I got to college and AIDs happened.
MR: We didn’t have sex. We dressed up and went dancing instead!
BE: We put suits on! We had dinner with suits on! And then we went to Nells!
MR: Did you have a difficult time coming out?
BE: Well, I knew I was gay very early on. But I understood that was a problem with the outside world. I had a couple of secret boyfriends in high school, but it was tinged with tons of guilt on their part.
MR: Try going to Yeshiva High School. [Laughter]
BE: Hot. You know my predilection for Jewish boys. So I knew I was gay, but I didn’t feel anyone needed to know. I knew I had to just get through it until I got to college. Bennington was super accepting, lots of gay dudes, was just before AIDS hit, lots of straight guys were totally fine with making out—that, at least, does seem to be coming back now. I was in the closet, mediawise, in New York, but it was definitely a glass one. Everyone knew, but when it came time to do press, I’d be evasive. Vanity Fair sent someone to spend three days in Virginia with me, desperate to get me to come out. They got nothing! [Laughter]
MR: Why were you so secretive?
BE: Because most “gay” writers like David Leavitt in the mid ‘80s ended up being stocked in the gay section in bookstores. I had bigger ambitions. Do they still have those gay sections? It’s been so long since I’ve been inside a bookstore. So, yes, coming out was a process for me. By the time I wrote Lunar Park, I just didn’t care anymore. I care even less now. But I keep thinking about your coming-of-age question. It’s a haunting one. In some ways, people growing up now do have it better. But seeing how miserable my boyfriend and his millennial friends are about their stressed outness …
MR: What have they got to be stressed out about? [Laughter]
BE: Exhibiting themselves, being noticed, their voices. They are very, very preoccupied with themselves. We had books, journalism, TV, movies, theater. There used to be experienced gatekeepers in the culture who decided whether or not to grant you access.
MR: The kids really have to market themselves now. Keep up their public profile.
BE: Which highlights how little they really do have. I saw it close-up with these influencers I worked with on this digital series that I directed, The Deleted.
MR: What happened with that?
BE: Let’s just say it did less well than we had hoped. But we got one of the biggest male influencers, Nash Grier, and a big female YouTube star, Amanda Cerny, to star in the series. The influencer A-list! They all knew Vine was coming to an end, so they were desperate to get onto my show. They realized, “I can’t do another year of Tube videos in my bedroom. I’m 24 now, not 16 anymore!” Because what is the way out of this kind of celebrity for them? The democratization of the arts has, in many ways, been truly dreadful for the culture. We all complained about the gatekeepers when we were coming up, bitching, “Ugh, you have to go through this channel and that channel,” but I kind of long for that now.
MR: Why was that better?
BE: Because you weren’t just waving your arms around in a sea of desperate people trying to make it. There were clear stepping-stones to success. If you had talent, people would reach in and pull you up. You had a real shot at having a singular voice on a platform few other people had access to. Today, my boyfriend Todd’s cranking out YouTube videos along with millions of other kids. The DIY aspect is great, but at the moment he’s—
MR: A tea blogger, right?
BE: Yeah, he blogs about tea, but he’s also rocking out, playing guitar. And everyone’s hopes surge because that girl with that viral song—what, “Sunday” or “Saturday”?—got a record deal.
MR: “Friday! Friday!” [Laughter]
BE: Right. Which I think she followed up with “Sunday.”
MR: Wow, you’re on top of all the hits!
BE: Well, I met Todd when he was 23. [Laughter] I’m not bragging or complaining about that.
MR: How did you meet?
BE: He was dating the host of a party I was invited to—my one foray into L.A.’s A-list gay society. Needless to say, I was never invited back. [Laughter]
MR: Is the age difference between you ever a problem?
BE: I’ve gotten to know all of his friends, his younger brothers. Like it or not, I’ve been indoctrinated into all of their hopes, their fears, their desires. I get them. Which is not to say they don’t freak me out sometimes. But there are many times I want to ask, “Could you spend just one day off the grid if it would save your life? Could you manage to not look at your phone for 24 hours? Do you think you could survive the psychic pain of peeling yourself away from Grindr?” This non stop social media!
MR: And yet you’re one of the few writers from your era—the Jay McInerneys and the Tama Janowitzes—who’s adapted so ably to these new modes of communication. You tweet, you host a podcast. You’ve managed to stay relevant while many of your contemporaries fizzled out.
BE: A lot of people say the same thing about me, you know. They say I’m yesterday’s news. That my two best novels were published in my 20s. Yes, I’m active on social media, but I’m also 10 years younger.
MR: Jay is 10 years older than you?
BE: Eleven. But who’s counting? [Laughter]
MR: How are you two doing these days?
BE: We didn’t speak for five years. It’s so boring, I know. You know, for the most part, I’m not really competitive with other writers, but with Jay, I’ve always sensed this weird edge. I guess it all started at this festival l headlined in Paris. There were posters of me everywhere in those Imperial Bedrooms sunglasses. I was totally mobbed on my way to the auditorium. I get this total rock-star treatment there, unlike anywhere else.
MR: You’re like the literary David Hasselhoff of France. [Laughter]
BE: Exactly! It was awkward. I was sure it was driving Jay crazy, but apparently, he never really noticed or cared. Last year, at Art Basel in Miami, a British journalist also wondered about our relationship. I dumbly joked, “Oh, Jay’s too rich now to want to hang out with someone like me!” Of course it became this huge flap.
MR: You’re hardly poor, Bret! Jay is married to a Hearst, though.
BE: They’re crazy rich!
MR: What do they do all day?
BE: They travel. They drink a lot of fine wines. I don’t know! But after this all settled down, I saw Jay at the end of the summer, and it was great. I forgot how much we got along. And yet we’re so different that if we hadn’t published novels at the same time, we’d never have been friends.
MR: In the way that all celebrities are friends.
BE: Maybe. But I always forget how much I like him. I’m also a huge fan of his writing. Sounds crazy, but I loved his last novel, Bright, Precious Days. He’s so talented, and he doesn’t get a fair shake because people think he’s douchey, but he’s not, he’s fun.
MR: What about you? Are you still interested in writing books?
BE: I think about it. I have notes.
MR: Is writing something that still interests you, or do you see yourself as more of a director or screenwriter now?
BE:I have a book I’ve been thinking about writing for about 10 years—something set in Los Angeles in 1980-1981—but I’m not feeling it in the way that I felt all the other books I wrote. I still read a lot. I have a big stack of books by my bed, but writing is different. Something happened in terms of me and the novel.
MR: Has the decline of literature as a popular art form left you feeling unmoored?
BE: I am feeling that way a bit. But also I am concentrated on directing. I have written thousands of pages of fiction during my life, some long and very deeply felt. I spent all of the ‘90s writing Glamorama. So I care a lot about writing, but I don’t want to write a book I don’t have to write.
MR: Have you said all that you have to say?
BE: I think so. At least in that medium. But when I talk about writing articles or podcasting or directing movies or writing movies, everyone says, “That’s all really great, but you’re much better at writing novels.” [Laughter] “So why don’t you write and maybe do the other stuff on the side?” The problem is, nobody is even reading novels anymore. I never, ever have conversations with people about novels anymore. At an industry party the other night, there was only one person who’d read a book, and he was a literary agent! So what really seems to be fading away—faster than me or Jay— is the idea of the novel as central to the conversation among the intelligentsia. No one cares about novelists today like they used to during Mailer or Capote’s heyday. The whole idea of the fancy novelist has just dissipated.
MR: You know what else has dissipated? The idea of the fancy editor. [Laughter] I keep thinking, “Where are the fancy dinners, Goddamn it!? The town cars and expense accounts?”
BE: Oh, yeah. I remember being treated to $500 lunches, book parties that cost $30,000-$35,000 a pop! Once, when I was late with a book, my editor came out and stayed at the Hotel Bel-Air to edit me for three days. I lived here, but they still put me up in a suite and kept the room service flowing. We really did see the last gasp of a different era. But I’m grateful to have lived in Manhattan then. Although when I tell younger people that, it always sounds like I’m talking about the Jazz Age!
MR: I find myself furiously lecturing the kids who work with me: “What do you mean you’re asleep by midnight? Where did your generation go wrong?” [Laughter]
BE: Take a millennial artifact like Girls. Lena Dunham certainly knows what was going on in the ‘80s and ‘90s—she often comments on it—but her show is such a stressed-out, threadbare version of the way young New Yorkers used to live.
MR: They just can’t get decadence right … [Laughter]
BE: Well, how can they? You can’t move to Manhattan, get an apartment with a friend, an entry job and survive by going to lots of parties with free drinks. We used to have many friends with no money running around New York like they owned it. That New York is over. So is San Francisco. Even Austin. Young people have been priced out.
MR: Detroit? [Laughter] They keep trying to make Detroit the new thing.
BE: [Laughter] I’m not sure Detroit will ever be New York. Though, until recently, I hadn’t been back to New York for six years.
MR: What made you turn on the city?
BE: Losing my ex of seven years, Michael Kaplan, had a lot to do with it. It was one of those bizarre, fucked-up situations that made me re-evaluate the narrative of my whole life. His ghost permeated everything whenever I came back there.
MR: He died in your apartment?
BE: He died in his studio, but he had left my apartment earlier that morning. He had an aneurysm at the age of 30. So that was part of what made me hate it there, and as I was getting older and I just found myself coming back to L.A., I was doing more TV and movie stuff. Life was so much easier here. I returned to New York for a spell in 2010, and it was suffocating. I couldn’t wait to get home.
It’s amazing how many people I see on TV now who used to be standing around that island in my kitchen doing lines at 3 in the morning. Peter Dinklage, Mario Batali, Candace Bushnell … so many greats have passed through that cokey den of iniquity.
MR: I remember many long nights at that apartment.
BE: Yeah. It’s amazing how many people I see on TV now who used to be standing around that island in my kitchen doing lines at 3 in the morning. Peter Dinklage, Mario Batali, Candace Bushnell … so many greats have passed through that cokey den of iniquity. [Laughter] I also can’t believe—you and I had different problems—but I can’t believe that I never became an addict; I don’t know how I skipped that. My father died young. He was a terrible alcoholic, so I had all these alcohol-y genes. … I don’t know why it never got me. I still do drink, but I’m not a drinker who blacks out.
MR: You never worried about the amount of drugs you were consuming?
BE: There was a brief period when there was that drug service on the Upper West Side that things got bad. Remember that? Really good-looking guys in black suits would come to your apartment with briefcases full of drugs. You’d call up their 800 number and say, “Uh, I need three tickets and one parking pass.” [Laughter] People would ask, “What the hell are you ordering?” I’d say, “Three Valiums and an eight ball!” [Laughter] Like everyone back then thought I had it contained, it was a weekend thing. Now I look back, and it seems so fucking out of control.
MR: There was also something goofily innocent about those days. All those deep, ridiculously manic conversations …
BE: Yeah, there were lots of those. But also just listening to music and watching something on TV, and you’re all like, intensely coked up.
MR: It was kind of fun.
BE: It was. But no more. The last time I did coke, it was just a tiny pinch at a Hollywood party about three years ago. I thought I was going to die. It was so unpleasant, and it was, like, a line small enough for an ant. [Laughter] It was that small. My coke problem didn’t fully disappear as soon as I got here, but it just wasn’t as fun in L.A. as it was in New York.
MR: Everything shuts down at 2 a.m., for one thing.
BE: True, and what are you gonna do then? Drive to see the dealer? I’m happy with a bottle of wine now and Apple TV.
MR: I somehow doubt that. But you’ve definitely settled down a lot. Despite your image, you’ve always been kind of a serial monogamist.
BE: Totally. I’ve been with Todd for seven years. I’d been with Mike for seven years. I tend to partner off with younger guys, though. I don’t know where that comes from. Did we have the “daddy” thing going on when we were young gay men? It’s so prevalent now. It’s all over porn. Todd and all of his friends are looking for daddies.
MR: I need to meet some of his friends! [Laughter]
BE: He’s really good friends with Gus Van Sant’s boyfriend, Joe Baken. They’re the same age. Gus is 64, and our two boyfriends are in their early 20s, so the four of us go out and get strange looks from everybody. [Laughter] But I think it’s a biological thing. Men gravitate to younger people as they age. There’s a cruel moment in everybody’s life when everybody stops looking at you. It happens to straight men, too. I remember having dinner with my editor, Gary Fisketjon, one night in the ‘90s at Balthazar …
BE: I know! How awful! That’s how every chapter will begin in my memoir! [Laughter] But anyway, three very attractive women passed by our table, and when they were gone, Gary looked really depressed ‘cause nobody checked him out. “I don’t have it anymore!” He told me, “You get to a point in your life when you realize one day that the girls just stop seeing you.” And I remember the year it happened to me. The year I got phased out of the whole “biological people want to have sex with me” thing.
MR: How old were you?
BE: I was in my early 40s. I got over that very quickly, but I had a massive midlife crisis over something else instead.
BE: A big love affair that just did not happen. A last stab at romance that turned into a midlife crisis. I was intensely depressed for about five years. But then everything just lifted.
MR: Have you ever wanted to have kids?
BE: When I was 35, 36, I couldn’t stop looking at kids. If I had been with the right guy at that moment, it could’ve happened. Now, no, that’s absolutely over.
MR: Do you think you’d be a good dad?
BE: I think I’m a good dad to Todd! [Laughter]
MR: You didn’t get along with your own dad, did you? So maybe part of your paternal thing is …
BE: Completely. A mending of that failed relationship. I am extremely paternal. And it really only goes so far. But I think [Todd] was looking for a father figure, too. You’re not with someone that long unless you’re looking for some person to take care of you.
MR: I remember you telling me about a trip you took to Europe, and there were all these young kids who knew who you were. Are you surprised at this new generation who considers you kind of an icon?
BE: Um, yeah. Totally surprised. [Laughter]
MR: Do you speak at colleges?
BE: Not anymore. I don’t think I’d be invited now. I had a speaking-engagement agent for a time, but when everything started going awry on college campuses, I got the hell out.
MR: Do people write you letters and try to connect with you?
BE: On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram they do. “I have a manuscript, I’m a student at so-and-so, could you look at …” I never look at anything! [Laughter] I did that a few times early on, and it always was a disaster.
MR: You must have a lot of new right-wing followers on Twitter, thanks to your podcast.
BE: On my podcast last season, I talked a lot about Hollywood’s PC culture, the infantilization of academia and how it’s getting worse than ever. Breitbart and Drudge love to pick up that stuff.
MR: Drudge loves you, right?
BE: Totally loves me. I see him whenever he’s in town. He’s mellowed out a lot since then, but Drudge also sees Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty—he knows everybody. Donald Trump!
MR: Yes, Trump. [Laughter] You deny that you’re a supporter, but you took a lot of heat when you defended him during the campaign. You still get a lot of shit about that.
BE: The worst is when I’m abroad. I was on a panel in London recently, and the moderator, Hans Olbrecht, a German curator, leads with, “You must be happy to be in England right now, compared to the unending horror going on in the United States.” And I said, “Stop! Stop! ‘Unending horror?’ This is the problem. This hyperbole. This is the making everything so catastrophic, mischaracterizing, demonizing that has been going on the past two years. Both sides were mischaracterized.” I said we need to stop demonizing Trump. Yes, the level of sexism and misogyny with Hillary was awful, but Trump was being treated much worse. The large crowd went ice cold, silent. Nobody wanted to hear it.
MR: Do you you know a lot of Trump supporters?
BE: I tweeted last February about how shocked I was at a dinner in West Hollywood when all these ostensibly liberal people privately confided that they were secretly supporting Trump. But I knew gay guys who voted for Trump.
MR: I bet none of them would admit that now.
BE: Not a word. But it’s unprecedented! This is an unprecedented presidency. You’ve got to admit something hideously exciting, absolutely riveting about Trump.
MR: True, in the sense that a car crash is riveting. I look at him and my stomach churns.
BE: Did you ever meet him?
MR: Yeah, he used to send his car to pick us up. I interviewed him a bunch of times for New York.
BE: I agree, a lot of the aversion to him is aesthetic. He’s grotesque, physically, his makeup. [Laughter] All bad. But ideologically, what is he?
MR: At the end of the day, he is himself. He’s a thrice-married bleached-blonde serial adulterer who has somehow became lionized by fundamentalist Christians. Like, I don’t get that. It’s an interesting narrative.
BE: [Laughter] You should move in with my boyfriend, I hear this every day.
MR: We’re not outliers at this point. His election seems to have triggered something in the country. An authentic resistance movement.
BE: Everyone is super careful not to talk about politics now, [especially the Trump voters]. I have not spoken to anybody post-the election who voted for Trump. The talk has stopped.
MR: [Laughter] The love that dare not speak its name!
BE: Yeah, look, all of this is a problem, I don’t disagree with you on that. I guess I have been looking at this as, maybe it’s my advanced age, my privilege— [Laughter] How much this is really going to change my life? I think that’s why I’ve always been suspect of politics, in a way. I’ve never saw them as a real vehicle change. For fiction writers, the problems of man are these deep rivers of sexuality, hatred, jealousy, evil, all of this stuff that bureaucracy can’t put a Band-Aid over. The things that drive us are not governed by a dictum. So while I’m amused by politics, I’ve never gotten into them. And now, especially at this age, my race and who I am …
MR: I guess it’s true what they say: “White men over 50 are his biggest supporters.” [Laughter]
BE: Oh no! Am I so easily pigeonholed? Honestly, I hate the media like they do. I’m taken with the sweep and the drama of all this; how can you not be? But I promise I’m not pro-Trump. I’m pro-the idea of a movement, of anarchy, of a cultural purging.
MR: It’s easy to enjoy him as a spectacle when you’re isolated from his fallout.
BE: I get it. I may be privileged, but I’m certainly not the only one who’s isolated. Right after the inauguration, I was having dinner with two extremely wealthy white men in their 60s at Spago, and they’re just totally distraught. Downing glass after glass of this outrageously expensive wine: “Ugh! What a day! Let’s open five bottles!” And then: “This is bullshit, she won the popular vote!” And I said, “But not the Electoral College. New York and L.A. are like empty calories, all empty votes.” This incensed them. I’ve never seen them so pissed. “Yes! We want New York and L.A. to decide elections. We should not give these rural hicks one more fucking Electoral College vote!” I went totally cold.
MR: Todd was a huge Hillary supporter. How did he take the news when Trump won?
BE: Remember the day of the election, The New York Times said she had a 98 percent chance of victory? Well, Todd was so relieved to hear that, he went out to party with friends. I stayed, riveted by the incoming results. And as things began to become clear, I realized, “Oh fuck, he’s gonna come home.” I have never dreaded my boyfriend’s return before. [Laughter] And when he came in and saw the news, he collapsed. He got into bed and stayed there for four days. I Instagrammed his drawer with all his prescriptions for all of this shit he took to relieve his stress and anxiety. He’s getting better now, but it was a rough few weeks.
MR: You must be used to such drama, after working with Lindsay Lohan and James Deen on The Canyons. The reports about her behavior when you were filming the movie were insane.
BE: I saw Lindsay in London when I was there two weeks ago. We ran into each other in the smoking section of this hotel …
MR: Was she wearing a hijab? She’s becoming a Muslim, I read somewhere.[Laughter]
BE: She wasn’t, but the press had broken that the week before she had posted those photos on her Instagram, of her in the hijab. The truth is, she had her moments on that movie, but I do think there was an overreaction to her. We came in on budget, we came in on time. Sure, she acted crazy a couple of days, um …
BE: Once we were waiting to shoot a scene at a restaurant on Sunset, and she called up and said, “I can’t come in, I have an ear infection. I can’t do the scene today.” And we all knew that she’d been partying with Lady Gaga the night before at the Chateau Marmont. We had 18 days to shoot this thing. We had secured Cafe Med for only three hours to light and shoot Lindsay in it. So they called her bluff and sent a doctor over to see her. Big surprise: no ear infection. So she got up, came in and nailed the scene in two or three takes and then went back to bed. So she really was very professional. In a weird way, she was kind of a trooper. She knew a lot about camera angles, how to modulate a performance. But she was not, um, well during the shooting. She was drinking a lot on set. There were scenes that we couldn’t shoot again because she wasn’t able to hit the marks for the camera to move around her and James. You know, the camera would move, she was supposed to stop, pour a drink and then move over. But the camera would be moving, and she just kept fiddling around at the bar. [Laughter] There was nothing funny about it then. But James was a joy. It was great to work with him.
MR: Was this before he was accused of rape?
BE: The rape accusation happened a year and a half later. And it was very unfair, I think. James and I became good friends during the filming. And I knew him before Stoya, the girl who said he raped her—I knew them both. I traveled with them together to Italy for the Venice Film Festival. We stayed at the Lido in Venice. He got mobbed by young girls everywhere we went. He could not walk anywhere. Berlusconi was sitting at a table two tables down from us, and he was even impressed. We had to have bodyguards block our table. And she couldn’t deal with it. She had horrible issues about it. There was definitely an instability there, so it didn’t surprise me when it bubbled over.
MR: Next week is the Oscars. Do you still go to a ton of events?
BE: God, no. I try to avoid those. Believe me, I see it as I’m getting older, you really find yourself drifting away from people. Todd and I are almost like these isolationists that rarely go out, rarely go to a screening. I’m dreading having to go to two things.
MR: The Vanity Fair Party?
BE: No, I skipped it one year, so they never invited me back! So I guess I’ll watch the Oscars from my bed.