Academy Award winner Danny Boyle sat down to talk about revisiting the world of his groundbreaking film Trainspotting 20 years later with T2 Trainspotting. Boyle talks making a sequel, using obsession to tackle addiction, and answers a theory from his film Sunshine.
Of all the movies you’ve done, what was it about Trainspotting that made you revisit that story?
Danny Boyle: When the first movie came out, it was a hit. That’s normally when the commerce side of the industry says, “Go again!” I don’t remember having discussions about that. Seven years later, Irvine [Welsh] published a book about the characters 10 years later called Porno. We did try to adapt that book. We had a go at it to see what would happen. I remember reading the script and it was terrible. I’m sure [the script] was fine, but it wasn’t enough and would’ve disappointed people. It was basically a quick rehash of the same story.
We’ve all seen sequels like that before…
DB: There are lots of sequels like that. I would never want to do a sequel like that. I never even sent the script to the actors because I knew they would say no as well. Then the 20 year Anniversary of Trainspotting loomed on the horizon. This would be the last chance [laughs]. I met with the writers and producers and we talked for a week. Gradually, something a bit more personal emerged about men aging. It’s about boyhood to manhood and how badly men age. We hang on to the past so much. Now we had a reason to make the film and it didn’t feel like a sequel. In fact, we didn’t call it anything to do with Trainspotting. We called it ‘The Least Unfamiliar’. The studio was like, ‘What? You’re going to call it Trainspotting 2 aren’t you?’ That allowed us to grow the film for about 6 months once we got the script. Then you give into the inevitable and say, ‘Ok’. When then decided to call it T2 because apparently Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not legally called T2. We called it T2 and they were furious about that because everyone would go online and they’ll end up on some James Cameron fansite instead of information about the movie. Eventually we got to T2 Trainspotting, but we made the film we wanted.
Which one of these Characters do you identify with the most?
DB: They’re extreme, especially Begbie, Spud, and Sick Boy. Begbie is psycho and violent. Spud is chaos, self destructive chaos. And Sick Boy is cruel. He has a cruel streak in him, and he exploits people. Renton is flexible, he’ll just go whichever way things are going. We all can see our friends and our lives in them in some way. I think that explains their appeal. As far as what I see in them, it’s the group. I never favored anyone of them. You have to be very careful when you’re working on these four characters that you treat them equally. Spud, towards the end of the film, is the hero in a way. He becomes the architect the whole thing. It’s a bizarre idea, but we loved doing it. When you have four characters like that, you can move them around and one of them can pop during a certain moment.
Gradually, something a bit more personal emerged about men aging. It’s about boyhood to manhood and how badly men age.
Spud the one character who is trying to get better and be a better person.
DB: He’s hopeless to begin with, but his time comes and he manages to get one foot on the ladder. He gets out of the quagmire of addiction to rehab, addiction to rehab, addiction to rehab.
That’s what I loved about his character. If you’ve ever known anyone who struggled with addiction, they’re trying to get better. They aren’t just addicts.
DB: We dismiss them too quickly. We had groups come to the first film who were all ex-addicts. One group uses sports and the other used drama to replace addiction. It’s like the film says, “You have to replace it with something.” You’re an addict, get addicted to something else instead. Apparently it’s the quickest way out of addiction. Find an obsession that replaces it rather than trying to fix it. A lot of the extras we worked with on the film come from the drug recovery groups. Why we were in post they sent me a picture. They’d all gone to Mt. Everest base camp as their big obsession. For those guys who have seen the pits of the world, to be on top of the world like that was amazing.
Here’s my theory on Sunshine. As the group gets closer to the sun, the sun starts to change them.
DB: Oh yeah!
That’s what I thought; the sun is a power source.
DB: It’s a key part of serious sci-fi. Our interaction with powers out there will change us. We’re tiny so these forces are going to change us. Like in Solaris, the planet can read your mind. It knows what your deepest thoughts on and it presents them to you. I love that about serious sci-fi.