In late May, I went to Bret Easton Ellis’ apartment to talk to him for a feature for the Los Angeles Times (it’s in Sunday’s paper). I’d arranged to be there late on a Friday afternoon, hoping he’d be up for a cocktail, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Ellis, perfectly pleasant, met me at the door, barefoot and in jeans, and walked me to the kitchen. Like this:
He answers his door barefoot, in jeans, and leads me through into his kitchen: grey glass mosaic tiles, white Ikea cabinetry, brushed metal hardware. He hasn’t changed a thing since he bought the place in 2006.
But I didn’t write that; the London Times wrote that. Their reporter, Tom Shone, must have visited earlier in the day, because Ellis made coffee. He offered me Coke, or Diet Coke, if I preferred, in tiny cans. And while I did write an opening with the coke-haha-Coke joke, I deleted it in an early draft. But Carl Swanson went for it in New York Magazine:
Coke for Bret Easton Ellis these days comes in those 7.5-ounce mini-cans—the new, vaguely European ones containing only 90 calories. This is what he offers me, taking one for himself, after inviting me into his apartment….
In article after article, Ellis meets a journalist at his apartment in jeans, barefoot (variation: hoodie, polo shirt). Time after time, he walks to the kitchen before settling in with the reporter in his office. It’s hard not to think the Coke offer is designed to lure writers into the allusion to drugs — what, no Snapple? — and that the bare feet deliberate, tempting (successfully) each writer to mention this seemingly unique detail.
We’re all desperate for details, something that will ring true without being exactly the same thing that gets reported elsewhere. And there’s the challenge, because as a reporter, I have to tell a story that we’re all telling: there was this book, 25 years ago. It was about LA. The author, who got famous from it, was a New Yorker for a long time, but now he’s back in LA, and he’s revisiting the characters in his new book.
As an author, Ellis has to talk about the book; what he may also be do is performing a role of as a certain version of Bret Easton Ellis. During my time sitting on the low chair in his office, as he sat behind a large computer monitor — which was beeping as, I’m pretty sure, emails arrived, and his eyes flickered to it regularly — I asked him about what Lou Reed, or maybe Andy Warhol, had said: interviews are an art form. Are they?
“They are,” he said. “But you can do them as an art form and completely tell the truth, and not like stretch the truth at all. I don’t think there is anything that I have said so far in this interview that is not true.”
I considered writing about trying to get at the real Ellis, but that wasn’t this story, and I was nowhere near the real one. I only had a vague nagging sense that it wasn’t what I was getting.
That became clear when I read these other articles: he not only went through the same routine, he said the same things over and over, virtually verbatim. Quotes about narcissism, about his idea of Empire and post-Empire, a lot of things that I left out. One thing I didn’t report has surfaced elsewhere: Ellis says that his new book, Imperial Bedrooms, is like Chandler. But right now, let me say: it’s not.
- Chandler writes like this: “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”
- Imperial Bedrooms has sentences like this: “The blue eyes are complementing a light blue V-neck and a navy-blue miniskirt, something a girl would have worn in 1985 when the movie takes place.”
There’s nothing wrong with what Ellis has done, but seeing how much of his interview was said elsewhere reinforced the idea I had upon leaving: that whoever Bret Easton Ellis is, I had only seen a shadow of him. And I can’t help but wish there were something more authentic about this process. That Ellis was actually answering questions, rather than performing the skit starring this rehearsed version of himself.
No wonder he was reading his email — it must be boring to say the same thing to Vice, to Movieline, to the London Times and New York Magazine and the LA Times and whoever else has gone through the exercise, pieces pending.