How we met: Bret Easton Ellis & Julian Ozanne

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Bret Easton Ellis, 35, novelist, was born in LA. While at university he wrote his first novel, Less Than Zero, which became a bestseller, but it was the extreme violence of American Psycho (1991) which brought him notoriety. A film version is now in production. His latest book, the thriller Glamorama, was published in January. He lives in LA and New York

Julian Ozanne, 34, film producer, was born in Kenya and came to London to study at the LSE. He then worked in Washington for a Democrat congressman. He was a correspondent for the Financial Times for nine years before joining Bedford Square, a production company. He made a film about Ellis, This Is Not An Exit. He lives in London

BRET EASTON ELLIS: I met Julian a few times in New York in the early Nineties, but I really got to know him in the summer of 1996. I was sharing a big beach house in the Hamptons with various friends, including the writer Carter Coleman and his girlfriend.

What was meant to be an incredibly wonderful summer became a nightmare. There were constant arguments and some of us still aren't speaking to one another. Things got so bad that by August, when Carter said his friend Julian was coming in, we all thought "Bring in the Bride of Frankenstein - we don't care!" I'd heard stories from Carter about Julian's journalism and was expecting a gruff, tough, cliched war correspondent. Plus there was a big rumour going around that the British were really lousy house guests. I was thinking, "God, is this Brit going to be some moochy layabout?" But Julian turned out to be quite the opposite. He showed up, asked for a beer and I knew from the relaxed, smiling look on his face that things would be fine. It was a very hard-drinking house and Julian slipped effortlessly into that. He stayed longer than planned and demonstrated a proclivity to make parties last as long as they could.

There's nothing comparable in our backgrounds and that can help a friendship. Plus, if you tell me that American Psycho is one of your favourite books, as Julian did, then afterwards you can probably do no wrong. When he approached me about the documentary it sounded like an appalling idea. But he then appealed to my narcissism and persuaded me to be the film's star. Filming it was a big learning experience for Julian. I'd never done anything so collaborative but felt very comfortable with him around as producer. But I did have to say "no" sometimes, like when they wanted to film me at the gym - I had not given him total access to my life.

The documentary is very flattering about my work but I hated it. Watching it, I learned that you perceive yourself one way, and then there's how others perceive you - and that you don't want to know. I was going, "Who the hell is this? That isn't me!" For the first time, there was real tension in my relationship with Julian, and we had it out last July, when I was publicising the film in London. He told me I had to stop badmouthing it. He was pacing up and down, smoking, holding a cell-phone, and I thought, "My God, he's become the typical producer."

A couple of months later I ran into him in LA at a screening. He sat down and told me he'd fallen in love with a young actress who was not really interested in him. That he could immediately pour his heart out like that shows how comfortable we feel together. There's not a lot hidden with Julian. I don't like the whole stiff-upper-lip business and with Julian there is a refreshing lack or reserve, though he's never so upfront that you're turned off. There's nothing he could say that would make us stop speaking - which is not the case with some of my American friends. I trust Julian and can't imagine the friendship not enduring. Even though some of our times together haven't been physically healthy, emotionally they've been great.

JULIAN OZANNE: While I was in Nairobi for the FT I became a very close friend of a young American writer, Carter Coleman, who was writing a book about hang-gliding in Tanzania. Carter went back to New York, became a friend of Bret's and introduced us in 1991. I had read American Psycho and it struck me as a brilliant satire of youth culture, obsessive consumerism and the loss of moral values. Bret joined Carter and me for lunch at La Madre, a New York restaurant featured in the book. I found him very funny, and incredibly incisive. I was taken by his charm. (He becomes more charming after he's had a couple of vodka tonics.)

When I went to stay in the Hamptons I began to see a different side to Bret: the slightly wicked manipulator of disputes among his New York literati friends. The house was like the Addams Family on a bad day. As an outsider, with no axe to grind, I brought a bit of light relief. Bret was being incredibly voluble - he'd just talk non-stop.

He's been on the receiving end of so much hostility from the media that he's very guarded in public. It was very brave of him to let me come into his world for the documentary, because as his friend I knew him too well for him to bullshit me. He was hell to work with, because he loves to play the prima donna.

To publicise the film we flew Bret to London on Concorde, and in interview after interview he attacked us. But his criticisms were mostly to do with his belief that we'd made him look "fat and effeminate". I had to take him aside and say, "Do you know what you're doing to the film's prospects?" I think secretly he respects the film, and he has been trying to get it aired more widely in the US. I don't think I'd ever work with Bret again but I'm sure we'll stay friends. I have tremendous affection and respect for him. It's very rare to have such a good intellectual relationship with someone.

Bret's suffered a lot emotionally, so that makes him quite a good person to go to with your own problems. The trouble is that he's notoriously indiscreet. You go to him in a crisis, he's very sympathetic, but a few days later someone phones to ask, "Is what you told Bret true?"

He used to be a lot more angst-ridden and vulnerable. The criticism of American Psycho really hurt him; people were sending letters threatening him with grotesque violence. He's been through great periods of depression and now has tougher skin. We're close in age and talk about burn-out - how in your twenties everything seems possible, but in your thirties you have to give up a lot of your goals and dreams. I've made a change of direction, from journalism to film-making, which was very difficult. Where does Bret go next? Is he going to keep on with a very hectic life and writing? There's been some taking stock lately but I don't think he's answered those questions. He is stimulated and excited by certain things, but I'm not sure the phrase "being happy" would mean anything to him.

`Glamorama' is published by Picador, price pounds 16

Comments