Boys to men

In Danny Boyle’s se­quel to ‘Trainspot­ting,’ it’s ma­tu­rity, not the nee­dle, that vexes char­ac­ters

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY MICHAEL O'SUL­LI­VAN

The year was 1996. A lit­tle­known film­maker from Manch­ester, Eng­land, named Danny Boyle, whose only cin­e­matic call­ing card was the darkly comic 1994 thriller “Shal­low Grave,” sat down with a Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter to pro­mote his new film: a lit­tle $2.5 mil­lion comic drama about a quar­tet of Ed­in­burgh heroin ad­dicts that he now says he “stum­bled” through the mak­ing of.

The film, based on a book by re­cov­ered ad­dict Irvine Welsh and writ­ten en­tirely in slangheavy Scot­tish di­alect, fol­lowed the al­ter­nately ghastly and manic ex­ploits of nar­ra­tor Mark Ren­ton (Ewan McGre­gor), his best friend, Si­mon “Sick Boy” Wil­liamson (Jonny Lee Miller), peren­nial loser Daniel “Spud” Mur­phy (Ewen Brem­ner) and vi­o­lent psy­chopath Fran­cis “Franco” Beg­bie (Robert Car­lyle). It was al­ready a U.K. suc­cess, but it had yet to find its state­side au­di­ence. “I can’t see it my­self,” Boyle said of the film’s chances at achiev­ing U.S. box-of­fice suc­cess.

“Trainspot­ting” (along with its sound­track, fea­tur­ing mu­sic by Iggy Pop, Un­der­world, Lou Reed and Pri­mal Scream) went on to be­come an in­ter­na­tional hit, gar­ner­ing writer John Hodge an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best adapted screen­play.

Now, 21 years later, the boys — er, men — are back, in an $18 mil­lion se­quel that is as haunted by the past as one would ex­pect. (The first film fea­tured a dead baby, a char­ac­ter lost to AIDS and a cli­mac­tic act of be­trayal by Mark, who ran off with the pro­ceeds of a drug sale that was to have been split four ways.) As “T2 Trainspot­ting” opens, Mark has just ex­pe­ri­enced the po­etic jus­tice of a heart at­tack on a tread­mill in Am­s­ter­dam, where he has been hid­ing out. Si­mon has gone from heroin to co­caine, but is still spin­ning his wheels and earn­ing his liv­ing as a black­mailer. Spud is at­tempt­ing to kill him­self. And Beg­bie is try­ing to es­cape from prison, where he has spent two decades dream­ing of mur­der­ing Mark.

Boyle, on the other hand, has done pretty well for him­self in the in­ter­ven­ing years, with an Os­car for di­rect­ing “Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire” and nom­i­na­tions for “127 Hours.” In town again to sell the new film, the 60-year-old film­maker re­flected on the en­dur­ing ap­peal of “Trainspot­ting’s” lov­able repro­bates, and the new film’s theme of ag­ing. Q: You and John Hodge took a stab at writ­ing a “Trainspot­ting” se­quel once be­fore, after Irvine Welsh’s 2002 se­quel, “Porno,” was pub­lished. You’ve called that ear­lier screen­play ter­ri­ble. What was wrong with it? A: It wasn’t about any­thing. It was about the mak­ing of a porno movie. It just used the char­ac­ters again. They have to kind of force them­selves back in, re­luc­tant though they may be, in some re­spects. It prob­a­bly wasn’t ter­ri­ble. Q: Wouldn’t you agree that the prob­lem with most se­quels is that they are forced? A: What I meant by forced is that the char­ac­ters have to have some­thing to say. Q: Spud, the most hope­less char­ac­ter, gets a re­ally sur­pris­ing story line here. Can you talk about that with­out re­veal­ing spoil­ers? A: My whole phi­los­o­phy is that ev­ery­body has a voice, and some­times those voices are mir­a­cles. Irvine Welsh’s voice is a mir­a­cle. He was a heroin ad­dict, and he was in an AIDS epi­demic in Ed­in­burgh. At the time it had the high­est rate of HIV in­fec­tion in West­ern Europe. Out of that came this voice: un­apolo­getic and de­fi­ant, and hu­mor that you could tar ships with. It was just cor­us­cat­ing. Q: Are you say­ing that Spud is a stand-in for Welsh? A: Yeah, his story is Irvine’s story, ab­so­lutely. Irvine just started writ­ing his sto­ries down. A crazy mag­a­zine [Rebel Inc.] started pub­lish­ing them. Peo­ple said: “I like that. Write some more.” It’s as sim­ple as that. The book is just a se­ries of short sto­ries, but, taken in the ag­gre­gate, I re­gard them as a mod­ern “Ulysses.” Q: Screen­writer John Jodge is a for­mer physi­cian. Does his med­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in­form his writ­ing in any way? A: Yes, physi­cians make great writ­ers, with­out a doubt. They have that cold eye, but also the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing peo­ple at their ex­tremes — at their ab­so­lutely most im­pos­si­ble and most vul­ner­a­ble. It ex­plains Chekhov, Michael Crich­ton. The best two books I’ve read this year are by doc­tors: Henry Marsh’s “Do No Harm” and “When Breath Be­comes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, about him dy­ing. I’m sure they’ll be mak­ing that last one into a film. Q: What was your re­ac­tion when “Trainspot­ting” be­came a hit in the States? A: Well, John and I made our next film here [the widely panned “A Life Less Or­di­nary”]. It was a dis­as­ter. Ev­ery­body hated it. We ob­vi­ously thought, “Yeah! Amer­ica loves us. Let’s go there and make a film. We can get Ewan McGre­gor and put him with Cameron Diaz.” Q: You fa­mously re-dubbed some of the di­a­logue from the first “Trainspot­ting” for its Amer­i­can re­lease, so that the Scot­tish ac­cents wouldn’t be so hard to fol­low. And the open­ing scenes in “T2” in­clude prom­i­nent sub­ti­tles, which are treated as kind of a joke. Did you con­sider any other con­ces­sions to the Amer­i­can au­di­ence? There’s one fairly ar­cane scene in the new film, set in an anti-Catholic night­club, where highly sec­tar­ian Protes­tant pa­trons are ob­sessed with the 1690 Bat­tle of the Boyne. A: I think Amer­i­cans will still get it — enough. This is why you don’t take a lot of money for a film like this. If you took $100 mil­lion, you’d have to

change that. The fo­cus group would go, “We don’t un­der­stand that. Can we make it about base­ball ver­sus bas­ket­ball?”

Q: If the first screen­play wasn’t about any­thing, what is this one about, other than, as you’ve de­scribed it, how badly men age?

A: That’s what I thought the film was about. What shocked me was, when I watched it in edit­ing after about four weeks, what the film is re­ally about is fa­ther­hood. I looked at the footage and there were all th­ese chil­dren run­ning around. I mean, we cast all th­ese chil­dren. I di­rected them all. It should be no sur­prise to me. But I watched it and I thought, “What are all th­ese kids do­ing in this movie?” They’re like fa­ther­less chil­dren, and they’re dis­ap­pointed in their fa­thers. That’s a theme that runs through it as well. I was shocked. I don’t think I’ve ever made any­thing where I was like, “Hang on a minute. This isn’t what I thought it was about.”

Q: As a fa­ther your­self, does that make it es­pe­cially per­sonal?

A: Yes, of course it is. I’ve got three kids. If you’ve got a ca­reer like I’ve had, you spend a lot of time away from home. I look at my [27-year-old] son and I think, “Am I a good ex­am­ple?” I’m not sure. There’s also a theme of loss there. I missed my mother’s death and my fa­ther’s death be­cause I was work­ing both times. So in “T2” we put the shadow of Ren­ton’s mother on the wall. That was re­ally cru­cial. I don’t think that peo­ple un­der­stand that Ren­ton has missed her fu­neral. And that’s re­ally un­ac­cept­able. But it’s un­ac­cept­able for me to have missed my par­ents’ deaths, not to have been at their bed­side when they died. I was in Los An­ge­les for “127 Hours” and the Academy Awards, sit­ting by the f------ pool at the Four Sea­sons when my fa­ther passed away. You do think about that. You think, “Why, you lit­tle youknow-what.” Q: How hard was it to round up all the ac­tors from the first film? A: The biggest chal­lenge was Jonny and Bobby, be­cause they’re un­der con­tract to Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion. Bobby was in Van­cou­ver do­ing a lon­grun­ning TV se­ries called “Once Upon a Time,” the fairy-tale thing, and Jonny was in New York do­ing Sher­lock Holmes in “Ele­men­tary.” I wanted Jonny’s hair bleached blond again, but I couldn’t get that in the con­tract be­cause CBS wouldn’t al­low him. It’s him that said, “Do it, and I’ll straighten it out with them.” He has that power, which I don’t. And Bobby the same. He cut all his hair off, and he said, “Don’t worry about it. I ar­ranged with the wig wo­man to make a big wig be­fore I left, so I am go­ing to cut it off.” Q: The first film is known for sev­eral set pieces with ar­rest­ing vis­ual ef­fects: Ewan div­ing into a filthy toi­let; a hal­lu­ci­na­tion of a baby crawl­ing on the ceil­ing; a close-up of a nee­dle go­ing into a pros­thetic arm. Were there any par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult shots to get in this film? A: The tricky one for this was Spud’s sui­cide [at­tempt], where that plas­tic bag is over his head. There’s no way you can fake a plas­tic bag. It has it be sealed in or­der to do that kind of — the suck­ing air thing. The first as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, who’s re­spon­si­ble for health and safety on the set, he was so ner­vous about that, be­cause of course Ewen could have blacked out. Q: How long did Ewen have the bag over his head? A: Like, half a morn­ing. And there’s a [vomit] tube in there, too, be­cause the bag’s got to fill with [vomit], which is pretty dis­gust­ing. I thought the open­ing fight be­tween Ren­ton and Sick Boy at their re­union would be tough. We had a cou­ple of stunt men on hand, be­cause of their ages. You guys look good, but — 46 years old? — you just can’t throw each other around a room any­more. But they did the whole fight them­selves. There’s not one stunt man in it. A lot of that is typ­i­cal male. “Oh, no, I can still do it.” It’s what I’m go­ing on about in this film: Men age badly. Q: You’ve said that Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola is your fa­vorite di­rec­tor and that he “dis­ap­pears” in his work. Why is dis­ap­pear­ing such a good thing? A: It’s what Ge­orge Or­well said about good prose: It’s like a win­dow pane onto a world. You shouldn’t sense the writer. You’ve no sense of who built the win­dow. Q: And yet, there is this video mak­ing the rounds of so­cial me­dia, cour­tesy of Indiewire: “The Nine Trade­marks of Danny Boyle’s Ki­netic Di­rect­ing Style.” Does it bother you that you’ve now be­come a brand, iden­ti­fi­able by cer­tain tricks of the trade: point-of-view shots, time-lapse se­quences, voice-over nar­ra­tion, etc.? A: No, that’s what I am. I wish I could be any­thing dif­fer­ent, but I’m not. It doesn’t last very long for any of us any­way. It’s like Sick Boy says in the first film: “You’ve got it, and then you lose it.” To be fair, I think that even Cop­pola would ad­mit that his unique mo­ment has come and gone. Q: Th­ese char­ac­ters cer­tainly get un­der your skin. Can we shut the book on them at last? A: Irvine has writ­ten an in­cred­i­ble book about Beg­bie called “The Blade Artist,” which is sur­pris­ingly good, mean­ing that it com­pletely in­verts your idea of Beg­bie. He’s in Cal­i­for­nia, as an artist who has found art ther­apy in prison and is sculpt­ing por­trait busts of fa­mous celebri­ties — Brad Pitt in­cluded — with knives. It’s writ­ten like a thriller. It’s not like his other books, which bleed all over the page. It’s al­most like he’s writ­ten it for film. I know Bobby wants to do it. But I don’t know if I could do a spinoff in that way. Part of the phi­los­o­phy of do­ing the se­quel — which I told them, and John and I agreed — was that we’re go­ing to do all four. Even if it makes sense to get rid of one of them, we’re not go­ing to do it. So you may hear from them again, just not from me. T2 Trainspot­ting (R, 118 min­utes). At area the­aters.

GER­ARD JULIEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

GRAEME HUNTER/TRISTAR PIC­TURES

Ewan McGre­gor, left, and Ewen Brem­ner re­unite as Mark Ren­ton and Spud in “T2 Trainspot­ting,” the se­quel to the 1996 film by di­rec­tor Danny Boyle, top. In the film, Spud has a very sur­pris­ing story line. “My whole phi­los­o­phy is that ev­ery­body has a voice, and some­times those voices are mir­a­cles,” Boyle says.

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