The risk-taking director ups the stakes with a sequel to his revered 1996 breakthrough film, Trainspotting.
“I didn’t know what I was doing”, says the man who made Trainspotting. This is also the man who went up on stage at the 2009 Academy Awards, having just won an Oscar for directing Slumdog Millionaire, and did three giant bounces at the podium before he said a word. “When my kids were much younger,” he told the audience, “I swore to them that if this miracle ever happened, I would receive it in the spirit of Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh.”
Danny Boyle is 60 years old but you will never meet a younger man. He has just finished up work on T2 Trainspotting, the long-awaited sequel to the 1996 zeitgeist lightning bolt that made his name. I am the fifteen thousandth journalist he’s chatted about it with, and he’s leaning in, waving his arms around, laughing, grinning, one leg slung over the arm of his chair like a schoolboy: he looks like he’s good for fifteen thousand more. He doesn’t think he looks good at all. “One of the things that happens when you go back and make a sequel, inevitably, is you bump into old photographs of yourself making the first film. It’s shocking. What I looked like then! And I didn’t appreciate it! I was all, ‘I was so handsome! Who is that guy?’”
That guy is the guy Boyle is still trying to be: the brilliant innocent with no idea how much he doesn’t know. Again and again over the years, he has told interviewers that most directors do their best work early on, which is a braver thing to say the further into his career he gets. He says it now: “You don’t know what you’re doing when you start out. And I’ve learned that that is really valuable. As you get on you gain cunning. You learn the ways this art form can be manipulative. That’s terrible.” He isn’t kidding. The man
who directed the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony is seriously telling me that professional ignorance is a virtue.
“Yes. Absolutely. It’s dangerous, of course. You’re at your most vulnerable early in your career. You need luck, plus talent obviously; but you need to be working with good people or the things you don’t know will do you in. That’s why I think so many people make one or two films and fall by the wayside. But that sense of innocence, that sense that it’s
the first time, for the audience and for you, that feeling is just very powerful.” He tries to hang on to it. “It’s a constant quest. If you knew how certainly, so you could write it down, it wouldn’t be what I’m talking about. You’re chancing it every time.”
Trainspotting was Boyle’s second film. He made his big screen debut two years earlier – after years of working in TV, and before that theatre – with Shallow Grave, a tense, blackly comic thriller starring Ewan Mcgregor, Christopher Eccleston, and New Zealander Kerry Fox.
“I thought just this morning I should text Kerry, actually, and tell her I’m here. Finally! I’ve been to Australia like, four times, and on none of those occasions did I go to New Zealand – I was furious with myself. So for this tour I told them obviously I have to do Australia, but I’m not doing it unless I can do New Zealand too. Kerry is crucial to my career as a director.”
In the early 1990s, Mcgregor and Eccleston – the future Obi-wan Kenobi and the future Doctor Who, respectively – were total unknowns. Both got their big screen starts thanks to their chemistry with Fox, who, as the star of Jane Campion’s 1990 arthouse hit An Angel at My Table, was the only person in the Shallow Grave cast with enough name recognition to bring funders on board.
Shallow Grave was also where Boyle met John Hodge, the film’s screenwriter, who subsequently worked with him on Trainspotting (1996), A Life Less Ordinary (1997), and The Beach (2000). After the last of these – Boyle’s first big studio film, and a punishing education in the ways directors lose freedom when big studio money is on the table – it was over a decade before they worked together again, this time on another low-budget thriller, Trance (2013).
Trance is the one film in Boyle’s back catalogue which supports his idea that as directors get more technically competent, they risk losing their way. (“I know”, he says with a smile when I tell him this.) The film is gripping but soulless. It was an attempt at making a film with a woman as its central character, something he had never managed
“You don’t know what you’re doing when you start out. And I’ve learned that that is really valuable. As you get on you gain cunning.”
before. “I’m a commercial film maker – an indie one – I tend to do smaller films, but commercial ones. I’m not interested in making art movies for a select audience, I’d like them to play as widely as possible. To put a woman at the centre of those is very difficult.” Boyle’s films cost about $15–20 million American dollars to make, and he has found the people who put up that money are much less likely to do so for a story about a woman.
Surely, though, an Academy Awardwinning veteran has the clout to push back against industry prejudice? “Yeah, it looks like that when you’re around the end product. In reality, the process isn’t like that. You just don’t pick up much interest, it’s very very tricky.”
But Trance got the green-light, and that lit the fuse on the long-discussed Trainspotting sequel, because it got Boyle and Hodge back together. They had considered making the sequel for the 10-year anniversary, but the script they had at the time was simply not good enough. With the 20-year anniversary looming, Hodge went off and wrote a new one: funny, profane, melancholy, remarkable. T2 Trainspotting is a true sequel which is also a whole new beast, using the return of popular characters to reflect on the passage of time like a ruder, wilder, Scottish answer to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy.
Though actually, Boyle and Hodge were determined not to think of the new film as a sequel at all. “In part of your brain you know it’s a sequel. And you know it will have to be sold as a sequel, because you’re experienced, and you do know that’s the way the world works, and for it to play in Auckland and Christchurch and Wellington, it’s gonna have to have Trainspotting in the title. Otherwise you’re starting from nowhere. But the other side of your brain, the naive innocent bit, is saying it’s not a sequel, it has to be its own thing. So we wouldn’t let anyone tell us the title was going to be Trainspotting 2”.
Instead the working title was The Least Unfamiliar. “Terrible, yes, I know. It was from a speech in the film. In fact, we cut that speech in the end. But we stuck with the title for as long as possible.” This went down predictably badly with the people in charge of promoting the film: “They fought us over it, rightly, they fought and fought and fought.” By the time Boyle and Hodge gave in, their mental sleight of hand had done its job: they were up to the editing stage, and they could tell the film was working. “So at that point we said, well, if you asked our characters what the title should be, they’d say, call it T2, because that second Terminator [ T2: Judgment Day] is a great fucking sequel, and it’ll piss that James Cameron guy off as well.” ●
T2 Trainspotting is in cinemas now.
T2 Trainspotting is a true sequel which is also a whole new beast, using the return of popular characters to reflect on the passage of time...
“My life started in Auckland, my real life. I always tell people that for the first 18 years of my life I was holding back. I couldn’t be myself at school, at home, even with my friends. When I finally came up to Auckland in 2011 to study, that was the year I also came out to my parents. It was emotionally hard, the lead-up – being unsure about the outcome. My parents moved here from Samoa in the 1980s and for me, family is everything: it’s my rock, my centre. So it had to work out. It was during one of my semester breaks, me and my sister drove home to Hamilton. I’ve got four sisters and one brother and they already knew – I told my siblings first because that bond is really important. I mean, looking back on my life, if I was my parent, I wouldn’t have been surprised! I have memories of family drink-ups when I was younger and everyone would be like, ‘hey Pati come and dance,’ and I would just do my little hula!
“When we finally got to the house to tell my mum, she was in bed sleeping. I turned on her light and sat by the bed tapping her like, ‘Mum, Mum’. I started crying and she woke up asking, ‘what’s wrong?’ I just said it: ‘Mum, I’m gay’. We sat there. I couldn’t stop crying, and she just started patting my back. Mum told me that I was her son and that she loved me regardless, but she also told me that I was going to have to work hard because there would be heaps of people out there who wouldn’t want me to succeed because of who I am. As soon as I got back to Auckland I was brand new. The relief that I felt was amazing!
Right “I love the gold and the red flowers,” Tyrell says of this photo from his ‘Aitu FAFSWAG’ series. “Sione is innocent and mysterious and naturally very gifted. His flowers are inspired by Frida Kahlo – she’s one of his favourites! He went back home to Australia in the middle of last year just to see some of her work – he loves Frida that much! He’s a comedian, definitely, but the real word that comes to mind when I think of Sione is stardust. He’s from another world. We have 13 of us altogether in FAFSWAG but only these eight images as a series really worked together, I felt. Tanu did a family portrait of us all together earlier in 2016, which was great because it meant some of the members who hadn’t been photographed before finally got to be part of the magic, and that’s family – involving everyone.”
Pati Solomona Tyrell’s photographs show the beauty of being young, queer and Pacific.
“Nana is the baby of the group, well, at the time of this shoot she was. No matter what she comes up against, she’ll prevail, no matter what. I think you have to face the world like that, with that much strength. She’s looking into the future because there’s so much life ahead of her. These photos are just done at home with one strobe light – there’s one person standing there making the magic happen, the process is nothing like the finish, it’s not glam at all, but it’s real. All three of the T Girls – Moe, Falencie and Nana – their stances are really strong, they each hold a certain presence.”
“Mahia for me, it’s the word chaos, but it’s the most beautiful chaos. You can see it in his personality, and his artwork, he’s spontaneous and really fantastical – he absolutely loves his fantasy work. This photo, thinking back to our discussion about the past and the future, looking at the spikey choker and that over-the-shoulder sort of nonchalant gaze, I feel like Mahia’s looking back into the past. That’s a black bandana on his head, they aren’t flowers and it’s quite dark, super dark, I really like the darkness. Can you tell? This series is all about our own personalities and bringing them out in the images. ‘Imagine that you are the aitu [ghost or spirit] – give me all of you’: that’s what I told them before the shoot. We know each other well enough that I can say, ‘you know who you are, you know what to do, give it to me!’”
“Tanu. ‘ Tulou Bitch’. I feel like that’s really him. He’s definitely a leader. This is also the first image I’ve ever taken of Tanu. Out of all my artworks, it’s the very first photograph of him because he hates having his photo taken! The time was just right; everyone wanted to be on board with it, even Tanu. This photo series is an activation of our spirits and a manifestation of our individual personalities; adopting the narrative that Pacific queer people – Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Akava’ine – were once revered culturally as oracles and persons of status. The series is about reclaiming that mana in a modern context through a visual language that derives from my own practice and world view.”
“Cultural drag queen! My eyebrows? I just wanted to red out my eyebrows! It was a basic, don’t-really-know-how-to-do-makeup thing, ha! Cultural hairy drag queen! Just raw. I have bad days like anyone else where I get down on myself, like – oh I’m so hairy, and I’m too fat, and too femme! So a lot of this work is about love and acceptance of self, you know? When I’m talking about spirit, it’s about letting go of ego and being here in this space right now and just having love, just embracing everything that you are. I encouraged all the members that I photographed to let go of their vanity. It’s important to represent all bodies: fat, hairy, real. A lot of the work that I’m making, it’s the learning afterwards that’s important, the critique of the work is important, yes, but also the critique of mindset – how we’re thinking about ourselves.”
really great for going back to painting and going, ‘Oh, I can totally improvise this’.”
Her paintings are what she calls a “pretty/ugly” mix of Cubism and Regionalism that somehow blend geometric forms with bodily functions. Her shows have rude titles like In & Out, Glory Hole and Balls Deep. “I got really inspired by Notes on ‘Camp’ by Susan Sontag. I liked how she related a queer sensibility to aesthetics in art; I thought that was really clever and nailed all these things I’d been thinking about, about what’s good painting and what’s bad painting, and blurring those boundaries.”
Taylor is currently holed up at Parehuia, the artist’s residency next to the wee house in Titirangi where Colin Mccahon lived in the 1950s. Outside are the very subjects of Mccahon’s ‘Kauri Landscape’; Taylor shows me how a large window at the back of the studio chops the trees’ tops and bottoms off so they turn into weird static lines. With space, time and money for flash materials, she says her work is improving rapidly. “This is the biggest opportunity I’ve ever been given in my career, the most amount of space or privilege or ease. And it’s the first time I’ve not worked since I was 13.”
While Taylor has often paid tribute to mystical bohos Tony Fomison and Philip Clairmont for shaping her style, she has hitherto wasted no love on Aotearoa’s saint of paint Mccahon. Before the residency she was a fan