Danny Boyle On How Storytelling Has ‘Dried Up’ in Cinema And Why It Took So Long to Make a ‘Trainspotting’ Sequel
Art and Experience: Danny Boyle and “Trainspotting” helped define the way an entire generation saw drugs — not just the fact of them, but also the experience of what it would be like to take them. Although today, Boyle thinks his quick-cutting, off-kilter depiction is of a different drug than what you remember.
“I think if you’re being honest, the first film resembled more MDMA drug abuse than actual heroin abuse,” Boyle said. He spoke to IndieWire on a tour stop in Chicago, now the home of Irvine Welsh, author of the original novel. “The adrenaline of the film was much greater, whereas heroin abuse is obviously a very dull subject to actually look at – not much happens. People just stall in the corner, really, or go fairly soporific.”
Twenty years later, “T2 Trainspotting,” like its predecessor, turns that “dull subject” into a rollicking ride. Reuniting stars Ewan MacGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle for one more Edinburgh caper, the film, which is entering limited U.S. release on Friday, began to acquire life 10 years ago before spending another 10 years incubating in the minds of Boyle and his collaborators.
“We did turn our back on it [ten years ago] because it was just nostalgic and it was just a rehash,” Boyle said. “So when we got to this one, 20 years later, I think we all knew we’d abandon it unless we found something that felt like there was real reason to believe in a new film.”
Boyle’s way into the film wound up being the “emotional and psychological pain” the characters are coping with in middle age. Renton (MacGregor) grapples with a nasty divorce and health problems that have steered him back to Scotland to reclaim his lost youth; Spud (Bremner) is desperate to kick a smack habit that never left him; and Simon/Sick Boy (Miller) has simply taken on bigger criminal schemes in an attempt to fill the void in his soul. These factors interested Boyle more than the promise of a drug relapse — he jokes that “the drug that’s most abused in the film is Viagra.”
To put enough distance between “T2” and the original, the filmmakers at first refused to call it “Trainspotting,” going instead with the name “The Least Unfamiliar.” “It was to try to let the film get on its own two feet and work out its relationship with the past on its own,” he said. Meanwhile, Boyle was dealing with the fallout of another challenging project.
Jobs Well Done?
Boyle’s previous feature-length directing effort, 2015’s biopic “Steve Jobs,” was a box office disappointment. But the director has made peace with it. “There’s a wonderful expression: If people don’t want to come, nobody will stop them,” he said, laughing.
Because Boyle works almost exclusively with small- or medium-sized budgets, he said the film’s failure won’t impact his career very much.
“That means you have both the ability to work again, because you’re not hemorrhaging money for a studio, and also you can make the films about what you want them to be about,” he said. “Films below $20 million are not really worth the studio’s time monitoring you that closely, when they have $200 million projects to monitor.”
Boyle has never directed a massive blockbuster, though he says he’s been offered the chance, especially earlier in his career. “I like the poorer projects, where you’re trying to make them look like $100 million.”
The “Phenomenal” State of TV
In the latest step of a career full of left turns, the Oscar-winning director’s next trick will be prestige television — a medium that has seen no shortage of crossover from decorated filmmakers.
“Trust,” Boyle’s upcoming drama series on FX, will follow the dynasty of the Getty family, a story rife with oil barons, kidnappings, and assorted other true-life dramas. Simon Beaufoy, who previously penned the scripts for Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours,” is writing all the episodes in the first season, and Boyle is planning to direct two to three of them in addition to exec-producing the series.
In an unusual move, Boyle intends for each of the show’s five planned seasons to cover a different decade in the life of the Gettys. And he also wants to shoot them in non-chronological order, with different casts every season but the potential to overlap the characters as the decades draw closer. The first season is casting now, with the goal to be in production this summer.
More film directors are turning to TV now, and it’s easy for Boyle to understand why. “You look at the variety of the storytelling, it’s phenomenal,” he said. “And that has dried up in cinema, for sure. What’s extraordinary is the money equation is different. I mean, [TV is] not stupid with money, but they’re also not on your back the whole time saying, ‘Shave, shave, shave, shave.’ Which obviously the [film] studios are.”
United in Manchester
Apart from TV, the other project currently commanding Boyle’s attention is the new film school he’s helping to launch in his hometown of Manchester.
Boyle describes his role at the school as a “patron-cum-fundraiser-cum-spokesman,” as well as an occasional teacher. The school, being budgeted at 30 million British pounds ($36 million), will come with a special focus on new forms of visual storytelling, including web series and virtual reality. “I’ll learn a lot about filmmaking,” Boyle said.
With the school, he also hopes to peel away some of the British cultural influence from its London center. “I come from Manchester, and I’d love to be able to, in a small way, pay forward what I owe that city for the way it formed me,” he said.
As long as Boyle’s return to Manchester is nothing like Renton’s return to Edinburgh, he should be fine.