When the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho started moving through development in the 1990s, many questioned whether it was a realistic proposition. The material was not only hyper controversial upon its initial release thanks to its insanely graphic depictions of violence (particularly against women), but it’s also a book that doesn’t operate with any kind of traditional narrative. Because of this, writer/director Mary Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner faced an uphill battle in the making of the movie, but what they ultimately created is spectacular and well-earns its cult following.
With this year being the 20th anniversary of American Psycho, we figured that we would use it as an excuse to look back on the making of the film and everything that went into its creation. Digging into commentaries, featurettes, and interviews, we’ve plucked out 14 behind-the-scenes facts that you may not know – and there’s some pretty great stuff!
Leonardo DiCaprio Was Almost Patrick Bateman, And Gloria Steinem Is Rumored To Have Interfered
By 1997, Mary Harron was essentially all set to make American Psycho with Christian Bale as her chosen lead, but the production hit a roadblock because the studio balked at the idea of Bale not being famous enough for the part. Because of this, there was a brief stint where it looked like the movie was going to be an Oliver Stone film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Bret Easton Ellis has said that version fell apart due to a clash between the visions of the filmmaker and star, but co-writer/actress Guinevere Turner has said that activist/journalist Gloria Steinem steered DiCaprio away from the project to protect the young girls who fell in love with him after making Titanic. The odd kicker to this story? About five months after the release of American Psycho, Steinem married David Bale and became Christian Bale’s stepmother.
Christian Bale Got Multiple Warnings That American Psycho Would Be Career Suicide
Christian Bale’s turn as Patrick Bateman is inarguably one of his best performances, and one of the most beloved by his fans – but what makes that kind of funny in retrospect is that he had multiple people telling him before signing on that the project would be “career suicide.” During an interview on Charlie Rose, Bale explained that he was warned about taking on a villain character and ending up with a stunted career. All of that negativity only served to make the actor more interested in the project, and clearly he made the right choice.
Christian Bale’s X-Factor That Earned Him The Role Of Patrick Bateman: His Dorkiness
After watching Christian Bale’s performance in American Psycho, it’s really impossible to imagine any other actor bringing the character to life in the same way, and Mary Harron believes that is an extension of the way in which Bale fully embraced the oft-ignored aspect of Patrick Bateman: the fact that he is a huge dork (something both evident in his utter lack of suaveness, and the way people talk about him). While there were many actors in consideration for the role, the key flaw in their approach was that they saw Patrick as a cool guy. In contrast, per Harron, Bale “couldn’t make it dorky enough.”
Perfectly Peeling The Face Mask At The Beginning Only Took A Single Take
Mary Harron describes the early scene where Patrick Bateman peels off his facial mask as being one that tells you everything you need to know about the character, and it’s a beautiful shot. It’s a literal translation of the façade the serial killer protagonist notes in voice over, and it’s impressive that the whole thing comes off in one piece. Making the moment even better is the fact that the production didn’t need more than one take, as everything went perfectly during the first attempt.
Getting All Of The Necessary Songs And Brands Was A Serious Challenge
American Psycho was an exceptionally controversial novel when it was initially released, and that controversy naturally splashed onto the film adaptation when it was in development – and while that was a nice thing in the sense that it stirred curiosity from the audience, it also had the unfortunate side effect of spooking various brands and music rights holders.
The production couldn’t fill Patrick Bateman’s medicine cabinet with all of the best skin care treatments, and lines like “Don’t touch the Rolex” had to become “Don’t touch the watch.” Ultimately the movie was able to get all of the key songs needed for the script, such as “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis And The News and “Sussudio” by Phil Collins, but Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love Of All” is notably an orchestral version.
There Is One Super Specific Thing That Bret Easton Ellis Outwardly Doesn’t Like About The Movie
It is the right of any author to criticize adaptations of their work, but one of the nice things about American Psycho is that it is a film that gets the stamp of approval from Bret Easton Ellis. He has talked about not loving the fact that there is a certain ambiguity in the ending (something that Mary Harron herself called a failing on Charlie Rose), but there is also apparently one other nitpick that he has. Per Guinevere Turner, he’s really not a big fan of the moonwalk that Patrick Bateman performs in his apartment shortly before murdering Jared Leto’s Paul Allen.
Mary Harron Regrets Having Jared Leto’s Character Be Named Paul Allen
Speaking of Paul Allen, there is another bit of strangeness involving that character that begins with the fact that his name is changed from the book (where he is Paul Owen). This alteration was made for an unexplained reason, but Mary Harron had to pick from a list of substitutes and feels her choice was a mistake in retrospect because it made people believe that there was some kind of connection to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. As revealed on the director’s commentary track, this was not at all her intention on any level.
Scenes Featuring Patrick Bateman’s Mother And Brother Were Cut For Good Reason
Matching the book, early drafts of American Psycho included scenes where audiences were provided a bit of context for Patrick Bateman via his relationship with his family – namely his mother and his brother (the latter, Sean Bateman, later played by James Van Der Beek in the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules Of Attraction). These scenes were cut, however, because the effect that their presence had on the audience perception of Patrick was damaging. Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner didn’t want the movie to feature any kind of excuses or explanation for his behavior, be it an abusive childhood or bad genes.
Mary Harron Called Christian Bale “Robo-Actor” On Set Because Of A Very Special Skill He Has
Anyone who has ever seen Christian Bale work, in American Psycho or anything else, knows that his talent is beyond legitimate – but did you know that the guy evidently has the capacity to consciously control his own sweat glands? During the filming of the famous business card exchange sequence, Bale’s co-stars noted that the star was able to break out in perspiration at the exact same time, take after take. At that point Mary Harron was already beyond impressed with his commitment, but after seeing that she took to calling him “Robo-Actor.”
Patrick Bateman Only Having Blood On Half His Face After Paul Allen’s Murder Wasn’t On Purpose
Some of the best behind-the-scenes stories come from a place of “happy accidents” – an acknowledgement of the fact that no matter how much a filmmaker prepares for a shoot, sometimes there are things that just fall into place to create a kind of magic. In American Psycho, the prime example is the way in which Patrick Bateman gets only half his face covered in blood while chopping at Paul Allen with an axe.
It’s a perfect detail in the conclusion of the sequence, which is ripe with beautiful contrast featuring Patrick in his dapper suit smoking a cigar in front of the corpse he just created, but it wasn’t something that was in any way intentional.
Patrick Bateman Watching Himself Have Sex In The Mirror Was An On-Set Idea
As noted by Mary Harron in the director’s commentary, the first time we see Patrick Bateman party with prostitutes in the book is written like a Penthouse letter, but in the making of the film she wanted to find a way to take that sheen off of it. This was partially executed in the demeanor of the call girls who don’t romanticize the job, but also through Bateman’s obsessive flexing in the mirror. This detail evidently wasn’t something that was in the script, but instead came as an idea on the day that Harron pitched to Christian Bale. Bale took the idea and ran with it, and the result is one of the more oddly memorable sex scenes in modern cinema.
Co-Writer Guinevere Turner Has Two Roles In The Film
Without knowing any better, any fan might watch American Psycho recognizing the dual hats worn by Guinevere Turner, who not only co-wrote the screenplay with Mary Harron, but also plays Elizabeth – the socialite that Patrick Bateman kills during his second night with Christie. What you may not know, however, is that Turner has a second role on screen as the gored dead body that Christie stumbles over when she runs screaming into the bathroom (shortly before Patrick catches up with her and bites her on the leg). Per Turner, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, as maintaining continuity with the blood splatter demanded that she stay still while naked on the floor even between takes.
Christian Bale Was Super Comfortable With His On-Set Nudity
American Psycho was one of the first times that Christian Bale decided to really go above and beyond in terms of the physicality of his roles (later followed by crazy transformations for The Machinist, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Fighter, Vice and more), and as a result he was basically a perfect human specimen during his time as Patrick Bateman. This goes a long way in explaining his attitude during the filming of the chainsaw chase sequence, because he evidently was extremely comfortable walking around set completely naked with the exception of a pair of sneakers and a sock on his junk.
Christian Bale Performed Patrick Bateman’s Confession Something Like 15 Times
The scene where Patrick Bateman calls his lawyer to confess to his horrific murder spree (many of which are episodes featured in the book but not in the movie), is the most emotional piece in all of American Psycho – but Mary Harron didn’t exactly take it easy on Christian Bale when it was being filmed. According to the director, she did something in the realm of 15 takes of the monologue. That’s a hell of a lot of takes for such a big scene, but Harron had a very good reason for doing it, which was that Bale’s energy was better and better the more drained he got. What’s featured in the movie is one of the last ones he performed.
If you now find yourself in the mood to watch American Psycho, the bad news is that it’s not available to stream on any subscription services, but the good news is that we live in a modern age where getting access to pretty much any mainstream movie is a snap. The film is available for digital rental and purchase and various retailers, and is also on both Blu-ray and DVD.