Danny Boy(le)

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


Above Tay­lor in the stu­dio. Pare­huia was de­signed by ar­chi­tect Pete Boss­ley and is ad­ja­cent to Ti­ti­rangi’s Mc­c­a­hon House mu­seum.

Above ‘Full Moon / King Tide’, 2016

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