Director Danny Boyle has never wanted to stay in the same place for long or work with the same material.
He is constantly on the move and jumps between cinematic genres with the confidence of a master. He likens himself to Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh universe and even accepted his Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire hopping onstage like the popular character. Over the years his other cinematic highlights have included a thriller (Shallow Grave), a horror roller coaster (28 Days Later), a kid’s adventure tale (Millions), a sci-fi escapade (Sunshine), a claustrophobic endeavor (127 Hours) and a biopic (Steve Jobs).
All of this isn’t even touching on his first true breakout hit, Trainspotting. That’s the film that launched Danny Boyle into the minds of film lovers everywhere, and 20 years later he has returned to pick up these characters where they left off in the new film T2 Trainspotting. The unique title isn’t a reference to the James Cameron Terminator sequel, but Boyle instead sees it as a view of how the characters from the first ‘Trainspotting’ film would want to call a film starring themselves 20 years later.
Boyle has come to San Francisco on this bright sunny day to talk about T2 Trainspotting and how time is one of the best cinematic tools in his arsenal. We talk about playing with moments in time 20 years later and how the past has a funny way of catching up with you. This is a transcription of that conversation.
Q: Good to see you again, Danny.
Danny Boyle: Likewise.
Q: How happy are you that this new film is out in the world and you can now stop getting questions about a Trainspotting sequel from journalists like me?
Boyle: [Laughs] It’s weird because you have to be careful what you wish for since these things begin as casual chats with journalists. Then when you see them two years later, they ask you, “Any further news on the Trainspotting sequel?” So then you just invent a story. Suddenly it becomes real, but it didn’t come along soon, it took 20 years, but here we are. We were very keen that we did it for the right reasons. We did attempt a more traditional adaptation about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t very good. Deciding not to move forward with that was a key because we realized we could only do it if we could find something that would give it its own independence rather than it being a slavish sequel or another caper with the same characters. We waited until the actors were older and physically different, and that is a currency in the film that you can’t deny. Begbie, for example, is unrecognizable apart from his behavior, which is exactly the same.
Q: You’ve talked before about the nostalgia the characters of the film had for events of their past. What were some of your own nostalgic moments while making this sequel 20 years later?
Boyle: The memory of the first film comes up a lot because you’re all together again and it also reveals how utterly unreliable memory is because everyone remembers things differently. I was surprised when we finished shooting the film and we saw a first assembly how the film became a story of male behavior. The movement from boyhood to manhood is what it felt like and ultimately is what the film is about.
Q: Compared to the first film, the drug use in this sequel is fairly minimal. Was that a conscious decision?
Boyle: People talked about the first film being about drugs, and there are a lot of drugs in it; not so many in this film, but really the film is about friendship and about energy and youth. You can read it as a social document about Edinburgh’s drug problem, which was huge at the time and still maintains. I would argue that these types of films are important because our relationship with heroin is an ongoing one. It will come and go, but it will always be there because it always has been and no one has found a way of eradicating it, partly because we medically depend on it. If you have ever been in terrible pain, you will be administered or self-administer morphine, and that is part of the current opioid problem. The problem is also that people apply it for emotional pain, which is how we apply it in this film.
Q: How easy or difficult was it to patch things up with Ewan McGregor after your very public falling out?
Boyle: We fell out in a very British way by not talking about it. The only way either of us would talk about it would be interviews with the press. It was Ewan who reached out because he is very gracious, but we really didn’t see each other much prior to that because he lives in L.A. and I live in London, but now when we see each other it’s great. It was wonderful to get back together after all of these years. It felt very natural straight away and we fit together as an actor/director combo.
Q: You’re also telling a story about a character who is returning to an old lifestyle with old friends and memories. Whenever I return to old places from my past, I revert to old behaviors. Did any of that happen to you on set?
Boyle: Yes! We encouraged that because the way we set up the film, we didn’t want anything to do with publicity agents or personal managers. Everyone is treated equally throughout. You will all have an equal part in the movie, which is hard to guarantee because sometimes in editing you might feel like dropping a character. You won’t get a lot of money; you will get a lot more money if you do another film, but you will get an opportunity to get back together with the character you were successful at playing and here’s your chance to pay your dues. They were wonderful at agreeing to that and not doing the usual nonsense of asking for more money.
Q: I’m surprised so much of that dynamic comes through in a sequel 20 years later. That energy is there.
Boyle: Yes, and a lot of it has to do with them being fucking good actors as well.
Q: In the process of putting the band back together, there is always the tricky tightrope of financing the movie. You’ve been vocal about the daring and unique things you wanted to include in this movie, but how did you balance your vision from that of the financiers?
Boyle: Well, we sort of ignored them. The ceiling is $20 million and if you make a movie for that amount, you can pretty much do what you want. From their perspective that’s the magic number where they leave you alone.
Q: Anything over that and they’re hovering over your shoulder?
Boyle: [Laughs] Oh, fuck yeah! But I understand that because $20 million is a lot of money. It’s more money than most people see in their entire lives and it’s being spent like that in about 10 weeks of shooting. So if you’re spending $200 million, they’re going to be all over it and anyone who thinks they’re not is insane. That also leads to terrible compromises, so you’re better off taking the $20 million and doing what you want.