By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
“Everyone at Lions Gate thought that I was crazy,” Harron says. “I had a real fear that if I say no, everyone’s going to say there’s something wrong with me. That I’m just this erratic person who’s self-destructive, doesn’t know what they’re doing, is a nightmare to deal with. Friends in L.A. were having to defend me because people were saying, ‘Has Mary gone crazy? What’s wrong with her?’”
In April 1998, almost a year after Harron had found Christian Bale, Michael Paseornek, president of film production at Lions Gate, sent Harron and Turner’s script of American Psycho to Rick Yorn, the manager for Leonardo DiCaprio, who was then riding out the Titanictsunami. Explains Paseornek: “Rick said, ‘Jeez, Leo has like a gazillion offers here, all at a huge amount of money, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ And then he called me up and said, ‘We have a problem here. Leo likes the script. He picked it off the top of the pile and read it.’ Mary said that she didn’t want to do the film with Leo, and, showing great integrity and foresight, said, ‘I will quit the project before’ — it wasn’t that she didn’t want to do it with Leo, I should take that back, she wanted to do it with Christian. Back up here a second — Mary wanted to do the film with Christian and said if we went to Leo and made an offer she was going to back off the project. And that’s what happened.”
Harron, who’d given birth to her first child by that point, is extraordinarily pacific when describing what happened during this period, a stretch of time during which news outlets around the world were filled with will-he-or-won’t-he reports about DiCaprio. (“Murder, Mutilation and a Heartthrob With No Morality” — The London Daily Mail.) “There was one element of calculation when I said I would walk,” Harron admits. “I mean, I did it because I was really angry, because I didn’t think it was going to work and all the rest of it. I thought it was an untenable position and it would ruin me more than anyone. But I also thought, well, Leonardo has so many other offers, and they don’t have a director, it’s less likely to come off. They are going to have to find somebody. And who’s really going to want to take it on?” Harron and Bale dug in, refusing to believe the film was gone for good. “Christian’s family felt that he was deluded,” says Harron, “and John was worried that I was deluded. Christian and I kept talking on the phone about how we were going to get it back, and they thought, ‘Oh dear, they just can’t let go.’”
“I’m sure I harassed her at times,” says Bale, “because I would lose my temper and give her a call, not mad at her in the slightest, but mad at the situation — how dare they? And Mary would say, ‘Now, Christian, I know, I know, but I’m right in the middle of dinner. I’ve got friends around. Please, can we do this another day?’ ‘All right, Mary, but for God’s sake, we can’t just take this lying down.’ ‘I know, Christian, but another time.’”
Remarkably — remarkable in particular in the movie business — Harron went public with her belief that DiCaprio wasn’t right for the role. Still, for all her candor and her calm, she worried, as Ellis had once worried years earlier, that American Psycho would be her ruin. “I had the feeling, well, that’s it for me,” she says, “because to go against any kind of money or fame in Hollywood is seen as just psychotic. It was really, genuinely scary, and I felt very isolated. Guinevere [Turner] was in town, and Gideon Ponte, my production designer and one of my best friends, and we all went to the Miracle Grill and sat in the garden. Even though I was nursing, I had two margaritas. The baby was there, and John, and it felt like these were the only people, you know, who I had.
“Then the next day — I was incredibly, fantastically lucky — Varietypublished a piece that Lions Gate had issued a press release saying I had walked off the movie. I had a call from my lawyer from the beach at Cannes, saying, ‘What is this? They said you’ve walked because you didn’t want to make a big-budget movie.’ Which I thought was libelous. If they’d been smarter they probably could have gotten rid of me. I would have been toast, and no one would have had any sympathy for me. I was so lucky they didn’t know how to handle it.”
After Cannes, everything either fell apart or came together, depending on whose story you’re telling. DiCaprio’s handlers announced that he was doing The Beach with director Danny Boyle, and quickly began putting distance between the star and American Psycho. Harron went off with Walsh to get married in a fishing launch in Maine. While there, she learned of the Stone-DiCaprio reading. (“And Oliver’s so good at satire, as we know from Natural Born Killers,” Harron says dryly. “That light touch.”) After months of being treated as persona non grata on the film she was still contracted to direct, Harron was angry and humiliated enough to call her agent and say, Get the money. (She had a play-or-pay deal.) A couple of weeks after Harron decided to get out, though, she was back in, permanently.
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