Bringing ‘American Psycho’ to Life on Broadway

by Stacy Lambe 6:15 AM PDT, April 20, 2016

“I am exhausted -- and we’re not even open yet,” Benjamin Walker, star of American Psycho: The Musical, which begins its run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in New York on April 21, tells ET over the phone. The call takes place on a Thursday afternoon, in between his morning appointment with his physical trainer -- a job requirement for the mostly shirtless performer -- and a rehearsal of the show. The production, which is currently in previews, doesn’t leave much time for a break before the cast performs in front of an audience later that evening.

Walker plays Patrick Bateman, the famed antihero of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel and later embodied by Christian Bale on screen in 2000. Bateman is an investment banker and ultimate yuppie. He works out, obsesses about fashion and music, admires Donald Trump, and in his spare time, slaughters women. “Did you know I'm utterly insane?” he asks in the book, film, and now, to audiences of the musical adaptation written by Glee scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik.

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“One of the great things about playing Patrick Bateman is that I get to use direct address,” Walker says. “It really is a conversation between the audience and Patrick.”

The show, unlike the film or book, feeds off the audience interaction, and Walker’s version of Bateman loves the attention. “He's been abusing people for a few days now,” Walker says of his dealings with the audience during preview performances. “If you're crinkling your chips bag, Patrick is going to come for you. The other night, this woman was rattling her bag, and I asked her to stop and she wouldn't. So, I said to the ushers, 'Lock the doors.’”

The audience ate it up, he reveals, “but she didn’t.” “Then again, you're not at home on your couch, watching Netflix. You're at the theater,” Walker says with the same admonishment Bateman would exude. “Act like you've been here before.”

Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman Photo: Jeremy Daniel

And being there -- or present -- is key to the show’s success. “With this, you really get to go on the ride with him,” Walker says. And that ride follows Bateman, who first appears on stage in his underwear from inside a tanning booth in his living room, as he navigates the rat race of ‘80s excess. 

As he ventures outside his sleek apartment, Bateman’s world of excess and irritation expands with each person in his life. His girlfriend, Evelyn (played by Helene Yorke of Masters of Sex), sings about designer clothes and is more concerned with her dinner parties than with Bateman’s increasing maniacal attitude. The other women in his life include his snide mother, Mrs. Bateman; his doting secretary, Jean; and Courtney, the woman with whom he’s having an affair. There are his male colleagues -- Tim, Craig, David, and Louis -- who all are, by definition, frenemies.

“These side characters so much inform the story,” Yorke says, “and when you're seeing it in person -- having those elements present and entering Patrick Bateman's world in that way -- it is crucial to understanding where his psychosis comes from.”

From left to right: Krystina Alabado, Holly James, Morgan Weed, Heléne Yorke, Ericka Hunter, and Anna Eilinsfeld Photo: Jeremy Daniel

And then there is Bateman’s greatest irritation of all: colleague Paul Owen (played by Drew Moerlein, making a memorable Broadway debut), who enters with so much bravado and charm, Bateman visibly gets sick.

The two characters then whip out their business cards for comparison. “It’s definitely been referred to as a d*ck-measuring contest,” Moerlein says of the number, “Cards,” which sees him and Walker getting into an improvised dance-off on stage each night. “It is all of us trying to one-up each other.”

That improvised moment is later mirrored in the story’s iconic murder scene when Bateman takes an ax to Owen as they listen to Huey Lewis and the News. The two actors “dance around like idiots,” according to Moerlein, who says that he and Walker come up with it all on the spot. “We do the most ridiculous, dorky moves,” he says.

“Our characters are so messed up at that time in the show, so really anything goes. That freedom really launches us into the next segment of debauchery,” Moerlein says of the bloody moment that famously follows. It’s acted out with cinematic grandeur on stage behind a clear screen, which captures all the splatter just before intermission. Though, that’s not to say the (fake) blood doesn’t find its way onto audiences in the first row.

From left to right: Drew Moerlein, Jordan Dean, Holly Hames, Dave Thomas Brown and Alex Michael Stoll Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The second act sees a lot more splatter as Bateman goes on a killing spree. And while front row seats are recommended for up-close examination of Walker’s ever-increasing lean physique (at 6’ 3”, “his body is ridiculous,” Moerlein says) and his co-stars’ oft-shirtless bodies, there have been reports of blood splattering on audience members. One woman’s complaint about stains on her Burberry cashmere scarf and Louis Vuitton bag even made it into Page Six.

“I hate to say we loved it, but we loved it,” Yorke says, relishing in the irony of the situation that makes American Psycho’s jokes about ‘80s iconography like Trump, designer handbags and food obsessions just as relevant and funny today.

Although Walker embodies all of Bateman’s psychosis during the show, off stage, he is just a nice guy with a disarming Southern drawl that comes from growing up in Georgia.

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“To be such a wonderful guy while carrying this great weight [in character] is unbelievable,” Yorke says, pointing to one of her favorite moments of the show, when Walker is stripped down, covered in blood as he sits alone on stage. “He switches back and forth between these two personalities, calling Detective Kimball to make this massive confession and then speaking to the audience very calmly and with great measure about who he is and who he isn't.”

“He inspires and brings us all up to a new level,” Moerlein says, equally impressed with Walker’s transformation.

While the 33-year-old actor seems to be synced in with whom Bateman is, Walker reveals that it continues “to morph and change.” “I always feel like I figure out a character on closing night, right when it's too late,” he admits.

However, no matter how tuned in to Bateman he gets, his wife, actress Kaya Scodelario, insists that when the show’s over, he leaves Bateman at work. “She doesn’t mind the abs,” Walker says. “She doesn't want to wake up in the night with me just standing there watching her sleep or something.”