“It’s not easy to do an ax murder,” director Mary Harron tells EW of filming Christian Bale and Jared Leto's memorable scene.

By Derek Lawrence
April 14, 2020 at 12:04 PM EDT
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Credit: Lionsgate

Each month in the pages of EW, we’re chatting with the filmmakers, actors, and others involved in capturing an iconic shot in movie history. This edition of The Shot examines American Psycho's most memorable murder.

In American Psycho, there’s a reason Jared Leto nailed his character’s look of total surprise when Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) came at him with an ax: Leto was actually surprised.

By the time Bateman extends a dinner invite to fellow Wall Street investment banker Paul Allen (Leto) in the 2000 satire, the audience knows how unhinged he is, considering he's already killed a homeless man. But while that murder seemed more impromptu and random, Bateman is clearly out for Allen's blood, feeling a rage of jealousy over many aspects of Allen's life — particularly his business card. After getting Allen drunk, Bateman, who Allen believes is Marcus Halberstram, brings his target back to his newspaper covered-apartment, where he turns on Huey Lewis and the News' "Hip to be Square," explaining the artistic value of the song. Now sporting a raincoat and ax, Bateman stops talking music and says "Hey Paul," causing Allen to turn around just as Bateman comes swinging at him. It was a shocking moment for Leto and viewers alike.

“We decided to shoot the rehearsal of the actual murder without telling Jared,” reveals director Mary Harron. "Christian held back his performance until then so that it would be a real surprise. When he screams 'Hey Paul' and Jared turns around and sees Christian running towards him with the axe, he looks genuinely shocked."

After scoring Leto’s genuine first reaction, Harron shot Bale repeatedly swinging at the Plexiglas-covered camera while faux blood was squirted on his face. And they had to get it right quickly, because the mess only allowed for minimal takes. "It was one of those scenes where everything does fall into place," says Harron. "By accident, the blood spray only hit one side of Christian's face. When you look at him head-on, his face seems covered in blood. But when you look at him from the side, his face looks quite clean. It was a perfect metaphor for the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of Bateman: pristine on the outside, bloody and psychotic on the inside. And it all happened by chance.”

Leto, as the hapless Paul Allen, lay in a pool of blood during a brutal all-night shoot for the filming of Bateman’s postmurder celebration, seen above. “It’s not easy to do an ax murder,” shares Harron. “[The crew’s] feelings mirrored the image of Patrick Bateman on the sofa, breathing a sigh of relief, rewarding himself with his cigar, reflecting on a job well done.”

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