T2 Trainspotting: An Interview with Danny Boyle
My conversation with Danny Boyle starts with him asking me where I am. I am in Houston. Boyle mentions that he was just in Austin, where T2 Trainspotting was the Secret Screening title on Sunday night for SXSW.
“You’re going to laugh Danny, but I was sitting twenty-feet away from you at the Saturday night world premiere screening for Baby Driver,” I say. Here we are to discuss Boyle’s latest film. A sequel to the film that jump started his career, his sophomore feature Trainspotting, and the subsequent redo T2 Trainspotting. Instead we’re talking about Edgar Wright and his new film Baby Driver.
“It was a blast wasn’t it?” asks Boyle.
“He was doing some amazing things with the sound mix, combining the songs on the soundtrack with the sounds of guns and cars,” I reply.
“I saw Edgar afterwards,” says Boyle. “I told him I knew so many of the songs he used, it was once the soundtrack of my life.”
The conversation quickly sways to Boyle’s use of music in films like the original Trainspotting, which brought new life to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” a song penned by David Bowie who was producing Pop’s second solo album in 1977. Previously “Lust for Life” had been in a couple of low profile films: the 1980 documentary D.O.A. and 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan. But Trainspotting endeared it to a new generation caught up in the zeitgeist of Boyle’s film about Scottish heroin addicts trying to take back control of their lives.
“I can’t claim to having increased its presence,” said Boyle. “Because it was such a great track that we all knew, and it was just wonderful to be able to put it in a film. We don’t really show this but in the original book that the movie is based on the characters are obsessed with Iggy. There was a character in the original book, Tommy who eventually dies, who goes to an Iggy concert in Glasgow, and has a transcendent moment where the rock star looks at him piercingly. Iggy was a big part of the milieu of the film.” T2 features a remix of “Lust for Life” by Prodigy. Yet the movie teases the remix because at the beginning Ewan McGregor puts the needle on a record for a split second before taking it off again. Only we know it’s the first drum beat of “Lust for Life.” Late in the movie the song bursts forth even more triumphant because we wanted to hear it all along.
“A guy named Liam Howlett runs Prodigy, they’re an amazing rave techno group from the ‘90s. They’re an amazing band to see live, they still tour. It’s a wonderful remix,” says Boyle.
“We were determined that if we were going to use songs from the original movie they had to be different as well as the same,” says Boyle. “And ‘Born Slippy,’ which was another song from the first film was reimagined by Underworld. It was different but a progression, that was the principal we were striving for.”
Boyle discovered in doing the sequel that “the amount of time that had passed that allowed us to make something that didn’t feel like a copy of the first one.
“When you’re an editor, you’re compressing time, slowing it down, speeding it up, stopping it. It’s an extraordinary process editing. It literally is the art form of time. The audience, when they see a film in the cinema, literally gives you their time. They give you two hours of their lives. Sure, a lot of people look on their phones, but they are there to see what I am giving them for their time. To do a movie that people remember and to add 20 years to it is lovely,” says Boyle.
In the time since Trainspotting debuted, the film’s four main players have formed their own fan bases. Ewan McGregor has since been in the Star Wars universe. Robert Carlyle was a Bond villain. Johnny Lee Miller has played Sherlock Holmes in the television series Elementary. Ewen Bremner has been in multiple Woody Allen films and Black Hawk Down. The way these characters reunite conjures up a mixture of synchronicity with the feeling that you can never go home again.
T2 Trainspotting brings the four characters – Renton, Begbie, Spud and Simon – while also introducing a new femme Angela Nedyalkova. Whatever baggage the characters were carrying at the end of the last film they still have it attached to their aging personas. Begbie has just broken out of prison, Spud is in a downward spiral of addiction, Renton has returned but has conflicts with how things went down when he was younger and had to quickly leave town. Simon runs the family bar and has replaced heroin with coke. Kelly MacDonald, the femme of the first film, has a cameo as a lawyer who advises her former friends on a legal issue. It’s like Diane was the one character from the first film who got their shit together.
“The audience tunes in, you’re not just watching a one-off sensibility. You’re watching something that clearly has to investigate the past. The past is alive in all of us,” says Boyle. “Men are so bad at aging. We deny aging for so long. Women are much more sensible at aging, measuring out time. In movies it’s wonderful to have men aging badly. They’re trying to recreate the old days like when they go into the club. Yet you have the poignancy of realizing what poor fathers they’ve been; there are the two sons we see in film,” says Boyle. “It’s a potent mix.”
Both of the Trainspotting films were written by Boyle with John Hodge and based on the novel by Irvine Welsh. Welsh penned a sequel in 2002, Porno. “It was a rehash of the first film,” says Boyle.
“We wrote a script at the time but the scenarios we used didn’t look that much different then. At the time it felt too much like a traditional sequel and that’s the one thing I didn’t want to do,” says Boyle. This new version is the way he wants to go. “Hodges and I were much more prepared to do something acute and personal and to admit to the aging process. And then see that through the prism of these characters.”
T2 Trainspotting opens this weekend at the Edwards Grand Palace and the AMC Sundance Theater.