The years drifted by. The play­ers drifted apart. But de­spite all the odds, ren­ton, Spud, Sick Boy and Beg­bie are fi­nally back in T2 Trainspot­ting, a se­quel with a sur­pris­ing link to The Likely Lads


The Danny Boyle clas­sic has spawned a se­quel. Choose life. Choose a film mag­a­zine. Choose the ‘Con­tents’ page. Choose so-called funny wit­ti­cisms in­stead of use­ful in­for­ma­tion. Choose choos­ing. Choose... oh, sod it.

JONNY LEE MILLER WAS BRICK­ING IT. It had been ten years since he’d seen Robert Car­lyle, longer since he’d crossed paths with Ewan Mc­gre­gor and Ewen Brem­ner, and two decades since the Trainspot­ting com­rades had all been in a room to­gether, at the film’s wrap party. So when, a week be­fore shoot­ing was sched­uled to be­gin on long-awaited se­quel T2 Trainspot­ting last May, Danny Boyle asked the cast to get to­gether to re­hearse some scenes, it was a big deal. Miller was anx­ious as it was, of mak­ing a film that could po­ten­tially tar­nish the legacy of Trainspot­ting, of dis­ap­point­ing an en­tire gen­er­a­tion. And, to add to his al­ready frag­ile con­di­tion as he trav­elled to the set for the first time in Bath­gate (mid­way be­tween Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow), he con­tracted food poi­son­ing from the break­fast he’d picked up en route. By the time he got there, he was done for.

“I was so ner­vously ex­cited,” he re­mem­bers, “and I ended up throw­ing up in the bath­room. It was like, ‘Nice to see you, I gotta go vomit.’ And it just felt weirdly, aw­fully ap­pro­pri­ate for Trainspot­ting, throw­ing up in a bath­room, hav­ing not seen these guys for years, hop­ing that they didn’t think I’d de­vel­oped some aw­ful drug habit.”

Miller wasn’t the only one with jit­ters, and with good rea­son. Danny Boyle’s 1996 adap­ta­tion of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel — not, ul­ti­mately, a film about heroin but about a gang of friends test­ing, goad­ing, fight­ing and es­cap­ing each other — made icons of its char­ac­ters, and stars of its direc­tor and cast. The cin­e­matic epi­cen­tre of Cool Bri­tan­nia, Trainspot­ting seemed to de­fine a gen­er­a­tion: stu­dent dorms all over the coun­try were adorned with the orange-and-monochrome poster, on which Beg­bie (Car­lyle), Diane (Kelly Mac­don­ald), Sick Boy (Miller), Spud (Brem­ner) and Ren­ton (Mc­gre­gor) grinned and growled, in­deli­bly in­grained in pop cul­ture.

“Peo­ple want to see them again,” pro­ducer An­drew Mac­don­ald tells Em­pire. “They know their names. It’s the only film I’ve been in­volved in where that’s been the case. You hardly re­mem­ber who the guys in Shal­low Grave were,” he says of the same team’s pre­vi­ous film. “And then we made a film straight after Trainspot­ting,

A Life Less Or­di­nary, no­body re­mem­bers that. No­body’s wanted to see what­ever the fuck they’re called, Ce­line and Robert, you know... No­body’s want­ing to see that again, are they?” We wouldn’t like to say. “Ex­actly!”

It’s June 2016

and Em­pire is hang­ing around a toi­let on the set of T2. Not, alas, the one Jonny Lee Miller threw up in a few weeks ear­lier, but a row of toi­lets con­structed for a scene in an Ed­in­burgh night­club. It’s dark, it’s dank, and it’s rid­dled with graf­fiti. “Mike you fanny” is one such scrawl. “Saggy tit­ties” an­other. Em­pire’s favourite is daubed above a toi­let, sim­ply read­ing “Nar­nia”. Busi­ness as usual, then.

“I, more than any­one, had flirted with the idea for a se­quel the long­est,” says an en­thu­si­as­tic Boyle when we meet him later. “Be­cause I’d an­swered so many ques­tions in in­ter­views ask­ing if there was gonna be one.” 2002 saw the pub­li­ca­tion of Welsh’s se­quel Porno, which, against a back­drop of the gonzo porn in­dus­try, fo­cused on Sick Boy and Beg­bie’s at­tempts to

take re­venge on Ren­ton, who made off with their swag at the end of the orig­i­nal story. Boyle and Mac­don­ald com­mis­sioned John Hodge to write a draft closely fol­low­ing Welsh’s book, but no-one was over­joyed with the re­sult. His heart wasn’t in it, says Hodge, and Boyle, sim­i­larly un­en­thused, didn’t send it to any of the cast. For a few years, they just let it go, de­spite the con­stant ques­tions.

“I was asked about it all the time,” says Mc­gre­gor, “and I al­ways said I would never do any­thing to dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of the film we made and that ev­ery­body loves. Trainspot­ting means ev­ery­thing to me. It’s a re­ally amaz­ing film and I just thought it was a bad idea to do a se­quel ten years after. But mainly I just didn’t feel the same con­nec­tion to Porno that I had done to the novel of Trainspot­ting, which re­ally moved me. Also Danny and I went through years of not work­ing to­gether, and so there was all that go­ing on as well.”

Ah, yes. After A Life Less Or­di­nary, Mc­gre­gor was set to star in The Beach, which would be his fourth film with Boyle, but the direc­tor cast Leonardo Di­caprio in­stead, en­abling him to raise more in­vest­ment funds for the bud­get. More than los­ing that par­tic­u­lar role, Mc­gre­gor felt hurt by los­ing his place in the team: they were, he had thought, in this to­gether. The wound was deep, and for years they had no con­tact. But time is a healer, and in 2009 Mc­gre­gor saw Boyle in a restau­rant and felt only af­fec­tion. “I went over and we chat­ted for a lit­tle while and it was so nice to see him after all that time,” says Mc­gre­gor, who later that year, at the 2009 BAFTA LA’S Bri­tan­nia Awards, in­tro­duced Boyle to the crowd be­fore the direc­tor came up to the stage to re­ceive the John Sch­lesinger Award for Artis­tic Ex­cel­lence In Di­rect­ing. It was a touch­ing speech in which Mc­gre­gor paid trib­ute to Boyle, clos­ing with, “I love you and miss you.”

“He was re­ally sweet,” says Boyle, who re­grets the way he han­dled The Beach’s cast­ing switch. “We weren’t par­tic­u­larly re­spect­ful to­wards him, way back in the day. But he’s al­ways been very, very gen­er­ous. So we met and talked and I said how sorry I was, the way we had treated him. And it re­built from there.”

In early 2014,

Boyle de­cided it was time to re­vive se­quel talks. 2016 would mark the orig­i­nal’s 20th an­niver­sary, so plans to see if they could pro­duce a wor­thy suc­ces­sor for around that time got un­der­way. Boyle or­gan­ised a trip to Ed­in­burgh for him­self, Hodge, Welsh, and pro­duc­ers Chris­tian Col­son and An­drew Mac­don­ald to kick around ideas, and the day be­fore Boyle was set to travel up from Lon­don, he bumped into Mc­gre­gor. “It was odd, and fate­ful, I sup­pose,” says Mc­gre­gor. “By that time I was up for do­ing a se­quel, and I told him I was look­ing for­ward to read­ing a script.”

In Ed­in­burgh, the team pored through Porno, read Hodge’s old drafts, and started again. “The idea was to light a fire un­der John,” says Welsh. It worked. “Some­thing hap­pened to him,” says Boyle. “Those ses­sions un­locked

some­thing in John that he was able to write about. It was like the first one: as soon as you started to read it you just knew, ‘This is gonna work.’ It’s him un­leashed, re­ally.”

What John Hodge wrote was a story that not only re­vis­its Trainspot­ting’s var­i­ous repro­bates 20 years on, but ex­plores that very pass­ing of time — how it changes us or, in some cases, does not. How we re­flect on our past and live with it, and whether or not we truly evolve. The film re­tains some of Porno’s key nar­ra­tive strands, par­tic­u­larly Sick Boy and Beg­bie’s venge­ful ret­ri­bu­tion, but is gen­er­ally new ma­te­rial. It also draws heav­ily on the first film it­self. “Some bits are from Trainspot­ting, in the same way that one’s present life also in­cludes el­e­ments of the past,” says Hodge. “We all live with our past all the time, and these char­ac­ters are the same. It’s not Ocean’s Thir­teen, which re­ally has got noth­ing to do with Ocean’s Twelve or Eleven. In real life we carry around a lot of emo­tional bag­gage, even if we don’t think we do. So if you’re see­ing it vis­ually, that’s be­cause it’s there, in their heads.”

The script was sent to the ac­tors, and slayed them. “I was cry­ing,” says Robert Car­lyle of first read­ing it. “I thought, ‘Why the fuck am I cry­ing at this?’” He’s still emo­tional now, as he was through­out the pro­duc­tion. Ev­ery­body was, he says. “Danny felt it, Ewan and Ewen felt it, Jonny, we all felt this real emo­tional con­nec­tion to these char­ac­ters and to this world. But that first read — I was speak­ing to Ewan Mc­gre­gor, say­ing, ‘I can­nae be­lieve I’m feel­ing like this.’ I’ve never cried when I’ve read a screen­play be­fore. Ever.”

In sum­mer 2015, the key cast and crew (other than Miller, who was shoot­ing Sher­lock Holmes show Ele­men­tary in New York) met in a mem­bers’ club in Soho for a read-through. Al­though some of them had crossed paths or worked to­gether over the years, this was the first proper re­union since 1996. “To hear their voices read­ing new ma­te­rial in that Spud voice, in that Beg­bie voice, in that Ren­ton voice, was like, ‘Oh my God,’” says Boyle. “That felt re­ally good. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Let’s make sure there aren’t any hic­cups now. Let’s make sure we do this.’”

There are lots

of DVDS in Sick Boy’s flat. There are lots of lots of things in Sick Boy’s flat, a swanky, brash and clut­tered pad. Em­pire has been given free rein of the sets, so we’re be­ing nosey. What’s here? A foos­ball ta­ble. A synth. Stacks of car mags, crates full of empty cans of lager and cider, a stu­pen­dous amount of dirty wash­ing-up, and yes, moun­tains of DVDS, in­clud­ing, nat­u­rally, lots of Bond films — Sick Boy/si­mon is, lest we for­get, a 007 afi­cionado. We then ven­ture into his pub, the Port Sun­shine, a di­lap­i­dated drink­ing hole which will play host to some key en­coun­ters. In­clud­ing Ren­ton’s first meet-up in two decades with Sick Boy, who, it turns out, has aged sur­pris­ingly well.

“I wanted to go all out,” be­moans Miller. “Like, ‘Why don’t I shave my head and show up bald?’ My hair’s get­ting pretty thin any­way, so

I thought I could look com­pletely dif­fer­ent, but Danny said the blond hair was such a huge part of the first movie and it had to be there. So we ended up do­ing it but with the roots com­ing through, and you can re­ally see hair loss.”

Boyle had said in the past he didn’t want to make a se­quel un­til the ac­tors looked phys­i­cally older. “Any­body other than Danny might have rushed the film, done it ten years ago,” says Car­lyle. “They might have put the grey through the hair and the lines on the face. But the grey is al­ready on the hair now, and the lines are on the face. You can’t get any bet­ter than that.” Car­lyle ar­rived on set with long locks and a full beard, leav­ing op­tions open. As T2 be­gins, Beg­bie is in prison, and Car­lyle, after look­ing at ref­er­ence pho­tos of pris­on­ers, de­cided the hair had to go — but the mous­tache would stay. “That’s his sig­na­ture, right there,” he laughs.

“One of the in­spi­ra­tions be­hind do­ing the film was The Likely Lads,” says Boyle, re­fer­ring to the 1960s Bri­tish sit­com — a sur­pris­ing in­flu­ence on T2. “Be­cause then they came back with What­ever Hap­pened To The Likely Lads?, seven years after, but it felt longer. And it had that great song: ‘What hap­pened to you, what­ever hap­pened to me? What be­came of the peo­ple we used to be?’” Boyle takes a deep, emo­tional breath. “Fuckin’ hell. Be­cause film and tele­vi­sion freezes peo­ple in time, so see­ing them un­frozen and pre­sented to you, cheek to cheek, it’s like, there you go, your he­roes. It’s like mu­sic — you don’t wanna see them when they’re past it. It’s bru­tal.”

The cast ar­rived in fits and starts, thanks to busy, glo­be­trot­ting sched­ules. Brem­ner was first, then Car­lyle, who was over­come with emo­tion when they were then joined by Miller after he’d fin­ished film­ing Ele­men­tary. “Out of ev­ery­one, Jonny and I were prob­a­bly the clos­est,” says Car­lyle. “Je­sus Christ. Big, big, big hugs. Just hold­ing onto each other, ac­tu­ally.” Im­me­di­ately after the hug­ging, Miller ran to that toi­let to throw up. And a week later, when he had fin­ished work on his di­rec­to­rial de­but, Amer­i­can Pas­toral,

Mc­gre­gor ar­rived, just as wor­ried, con­cerned he might not be able to “find” Ren­ton again. On the first day, in the lunch queue, he met Brem­ner.

“I said, ‘I’m re­ally fuckin’ ner­vous, Ewen. I’m scared about it,’” ad­mits Mc­gre­gor. “And he said, ‘Don’t worry, as soon as you get in there you’ll be fine.’ And he was right. As soon as I got the Adi­das on and got on set I was al­right. Be­cause I’m Ren­ton, and Ren­ton’s me. There was noth­ing to find — he was al­ready there.” In what sense are they in­ter­change­able? “There’s some­thing about his story and my story,” he con­tin­ues, then pauses, col­lect­ing his thoughts. “I hadn’t seen Danny for all those years, and Ren­ton hasn’t seen his mates for all those years. He fucked off, and I fucked off. I haven’t lived in Scot­land since I was 17. He’s com­ing back, I was com­ing back. There were an aw­ful lot of par­al­lels, you might say.”

On set, Em­pire watches as Boyle di­rects Mc­gre­gor, who’s found him­self in a tense al­ter­ca­tion with an­other char­ac­ter. Ren­ton’s teem­ing with adrenaline, and Mc­gre­gor’s wide-eyed, lap­ping up in­struc­tions from Boyle, ask­ing how he wants him to play it. It’s a sim­ple scene, but it’s swirling with elec­tric­ity. When Boyle calls cut, the crew cheers. “Well done, gen­tle­men,” says Boyle, prac­ti­cally bounc­ing. Mc­gre­gor’s beam­ing. The likely lads are back.

In mid-no­vem­ber,

Em­pire meets Boyle in his Soho pro­duc­tion of­fices, where he and ed­i­tor Jon Har­ris are fin­ish­ing the film, the walls plas­tered with se­quenced screen­shots. In Oc­to­ber, they watched a rough cut back-to­back with the orig­i­nal film, to con­trast and com­pare — if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know there are overt nods to Trainspot­ting in T2, from fran­tic street chases to Ren­ton’s ad­ven­tures with car bon­nets. “Be­cause it lives in the shadow of the first one,” ex­plains Boyle. “And how much you step out of that shadow, or stay in it, de­fines it. You’re not just mak­ing it in a vac­uum. And also we just wanted to make sure we hadn’t made some howl­ing fuckin’ cock-up. ‘He’s cir­cum­cised in that film, and now he isn’t!’”

Only here, in post-pro­duc­tion, says Boyle, is he truly dis­cov­er­ing what the film’s about. “You know Richard Lin­klater’s Boy­hood? Well, this is ‘Man­hood’,” he says. “For all those years I kept jok­ingly mak­ing the ex­cuse that the ac­tors weren’t ready to make the film yet be­cause they didn’t look old enough, be­cause they were in spas ev­ery week­end pam­per­ing them­selves, blah blah blah. But ac­tu­ally, when I look at what we’ve done... I think I wasn’t ready to do it. Be­cause of my own age. You’ve got to have a per­sonal rea­son to make a film. And I think I was wait­ing.”

On the phone, Em­pire speaks to Brem­ner, who says he’s been pro­foundly touched by the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence. “The char­ac­ters in the orig­i­nal film, they’re so vir­ile,” he says. “Their spirit is very strong. But grow­ing up, and we’re still all grow­ing up, that can pass. You don’t grow up with­out los­ing things that are dear to you, and hav­ing your iden­tity chal­lenged and be­ing rocked by events that are out of or in your con­trol. I think the film per­fectly cap­tures the cru­elty of age­ing. It’s a re­ally pow­er­ful film, I think.”

“Try­ing not to face up to de­cline is a part of life,” adds Hodge. “When you get to 50 you sud­denly re­alise all the big events com­ing your way are not good ones. Be­ing young can be hard, you can feel in­se­cure, and might be eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged or what­ever, and you can get to a cer­tain age and look at the achieve­ments in your life, but re­ally the great time is when you’re young. All the rest is a waste of time.”

Does he re­ally think that? “Yeah! After you’ve been 15, 20, 25, there’s never any­thing like that again. At 45, what­ever, you’re strug­gling to keep hold of a strand of that, and that’s part of the theme of the film. I don’t mean to sound un­nec­es­sar­ily dis­mis­sive of ex­is­tence after the age of 25, but if you think back and then look for­ward, there’s no con­test! All these peo­ple who say, ‘Life be­gins at 60, look at me, I’m play­ing golf ev­ery day,’ I mean, so fuck­ing what?”

But for all the talk of midlife crises, T2 prom­ises at least as much en­ergy as the first film, with at least as much at­ti­tude. The mere ti­tle is a clue — a bois­ter­ous two fin­gers up. James Cameron’s Ter­mi­na­tor se­quel is com­monly known by the same name, but was never of­fi­cially called that, so Boyle nicked it. “We called it that be­cause that’s what the char­ac­ters would call it,” he says. “They wouldn’t show any re­spect for it.”

Ev­ery­one is buoyed by the rough cut, though there is still, of course, trep­i­da­tion. “We want the film to sat­isfy ev­ery­body,” says Brem­ner. “We have to live with the con­se­quences of it, on a daily ba­sis. I have to walk down the street with peo­ple maybe say­ing, ‘Hey, Spud! You shouldna made the sec­ond one, should ya? Was a bit crap!’ We’re all up for it. We gave it our best shot.”

In a sea of se­quels, it’s heart­en­ing to have one made for all the right rea­sons. Cer­tainly, no­body can ac­cuse them of rush­ing it.

It’s less fists out and more feet up for Beg­bie.

Sick Boy, Ren­ton and Nikki (An­jela Nedyalkova) toast the gang’s ea­gerly awaited re­turn.

Ren­ton and Sick Boy re­dis­cover their lust for life.

Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh chat to Robert Car­lyle (Beg­bie) on set. Be­low: Welsh — the man with the golden pen.

Old habits die hard for Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy and Ewan Mc­gre­gor’s Ren­ton.

Spud brings the bou­quet. But who are the flow­ers for?

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