If you were born during a certain time period (and I was) you were lucky enough to have seen Trainspotting for the first time, in a movie theatre, as a teenager. And if you did, you definitely, still, even 20 years later, remember that feeling you had as the first few bars of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” combined with that Choose Life speech took over the screen and your world. In that moment a bunch of junkies trying their worst in 1990s Scotland somehow became part of that rarified culture circle: a cast of characters whose actual fictional names you’d remember for decades to come, as if they were real people, part of your real world.
Fast forward to 2017, and, against all odds, Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are not just still alive but kicking in T2 Trainspotting, which opens in the US today, with the entire original cast returning, and Danny Boyle directing and John Hodge writing again.
The last two decades have been good to the T2 team. The actors became movie and TV stars and you now see “Academy Award Winning Director” in front of Boyle’s name. Of course, not the same can be said about the characters, but then – if it could, there would be no T2 Trainspotting.
Danny Boyle agreed to catch up with us in advance of the D.C. release, which goes to show that on top of being an award winning director, he can certainly recognize his core audience (please refer to the first paragraph in this article for the description of who that would be). Kudos for that. He also is a great person to spend 20 odd minutes in a basement room in a hotel with, even if not illegal substances are involved. Double the kudos.
The movie, it should be noted, is very fun. It plays to all your Trainspotting needs. It even has a new Choose Life speech. Which makes it feel like a reunion that it is. The interview happened the day after the D.C. preview screening which BYT hosted, and the audience showed up with rolled up posters of the original, reacted instinctively to any nod and inside jokes that relayed the spirit of the first movie, and in general, was thrilled to be surrounded by people who remembered 1996.
So, our first question to Boyle is: Who is the audience for the second film? Is it mostly people who saw and loved the first one or does he feel they are touching new audiences with this?
DB: Just looking at the box office numbers in the UK, which have been huge for a 18+ movie, the audience has to be greater than just the first films. There definitely are the die-hard Trainspotting fans there, but we feel they are reaching new fans too. The actors are, of course, really worth watching. Which helps.
BYT: Does it at all surprise you just how connected people feel to these characters? These aren’t good or lovable people per se…
Danny Boyle: Oh, not at all…
BYT: Aside from Spud, who is sort of the beating heart of the movie….
DB: Except that he is also a complete mess. We don’t go into it as much in the movie but the havoc he has wrecked on Gail, his partner, and son is such that she has to completely shut him out of their lives in order to protect the son. Same story with Begby’s wife. They are trying to keep the hope for the next generation. But people do feel connected to the main male characters.
BYT: What made you all come back to the story NOW? It is not like anyone, yourself included, necessarily needed to make this movie…everyone is successful, working steadily, no one was necessarily sitting around waiting for the opportunity of T2?
DB: (laughs) Financially and things like that, no. And I do think that if we came to them sooner, which we didn’t, a lot of them would have probably said no. But there is something about the marking of that amount of time, 20 years… you can’t hide that. And the actors know it. You can hide 10 years on the screen but 20… you are going to deteriorate, decay. You can really see that on Begby’s character.
BYT: Prison is a brutal place.
DB: It really is, it has been a tougher 20 years for him than for the others. Spud too, in many ways, has deteriorated the same in and out of addiction, but at least his spirit remains the same. Sick Boy, on the other hand, is a hollow man. Renton too.
BYT: Which is why they’re perfect for each other… soulmates even.
DB: Indeed. They are. When Sick Boy’s girlfriend says “I like him more than he likes himself,” it rings true. He (they) are so filled with self-loathing. And that is something you can really feel in the books that we have tried to make the audience see in the film.
BYT: What was the main difference you noticed, working with these people twenty years later…
DB: Mainly, just how good at their jobs and professional they are. They just got it. I remember how long something would take for the first film, and now, two takes and it was ready. They’ve all become such adept storytellers.
BYT: Was that professionalism ever a challenge? The first movie was a ball of energy. It is often the first descriptor you get of it. Was it hard to consciously try and recreate that energy that seemed so spontaneous twenty years later?
DB: It was the DNA of the first one, that explosion of life, in such unsuspecting circumstances: a bunch of junkies from the estates around Edinburgh, how was that going to be viscerally exhilarating?
BYT: It really worked. Like an adrenaline shot.
DB: Because we all felt it. I felt it, the cast felt it, we celebrated it like that. It was our reaction to the book: full of horror but full of this…this joie de vivre just bursting out of it. But it is the kind of energy that belongs to our twenties. And the fact is that men often can’t outgrow that. Which is what the second movie touches on. That fear of death and inability to leave your 20s behind. This is why we’re obsessed with sports. This is why, at 60, I still dream about scoring a goal at Wembley. Women, on the other hand, maybe because the biological clock is so much more acute with them are much better at aging than me.
BYT: Speaking of women and energy of the first one… Kelly McDonald is back too. She, unlike the men, looks terrific
DB: Yes she does.
BYT: But, why such a small role? Was it a scheduling thing or…?
DB: No, actually we had two more scenes for her in the film. Her and Renton try to reconnect, and the way it was written she leaves him and puts him in his place. On film, however, it just didn’t work. It felt like she was the one being left behind. And we just couldn’t cut it in any way that didn’t read like that. It felt like she was the one that left behind. And I didn’t want that for her in this story. It felt really wrong and cruel to her. So, she is instead, the perfect cameo.
BYT: She is. She feels pivotal still.
DB: Yes, she basically tells Renton how the movie is going to end. And he doesn’t listen. Again, that typical male idea of being untouchable, just the way you were in your 20s. You can see him feeling: It is going to be OK. Like he knows what is coming. And of course, he doesn’t and she does.
BYT: Speaking of what is coming, you have had one of the more unpredictable genre-wise careers out there. From adventure to melodrama to horror to thrillers… you always seem to be jumping around, almost as if you are afraid of getting bored. What makes you choose a project?
DB: It is always instinct. And I always felt it is not good if you feel like you would know how to do something. I’ve made mistakes of telling people: I know how to do this. And it should feel dangerous. That is the only way to stay alert, to keep the adrenaline running.
BYT: And, after a revisit of his break-out film, what is next for Danny Boyle?
DB: Well, I’d love to to a musical. With dancing (his eyes sparkle at this). I adore dancing. Something so simple and joyous and universal about it.
BYT: Consider us first in line to see it.
T2 Trainspotting opens today. Do check your local listings. Don’t do heroin.