It's been 20 years since the original Trainspotting hit theaters, and fans are finally getting the sequel they've been waiting. T2 Trainspotting reunites director Danny Boyle along with actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle. We were able to speak with Boyle and the boys (minus Robert Carlyle) to talk about how much has changed for them and their characters since we last saw them and reuniting once again after all these years.
Shakefire (SF): What prompted you to want to revisit Trainspotting after 20 years?
Danny Boyle (DB): We tried ten years ago when there was an obvious prompt because Irvine Welsh published a book, Porno, which was a ten years later sequel to his original novel, and so we had a go at it, and it was not very good. I’m sure it was fine because it was John Hodge, the same screenwriter and me and we were working on it, but when you read it you thought, I didn’t even bother sending it to the actors because it didn’t feel there was a real reason to do it. Because obviously there’s an onus on you when you return to something with the impact that the first film had, if you’re going to update it you’ve got to have a reason. And it didn’t feel like there was a reason. It was just a caper again. And also the actors didn’t really feel any different, they didn’t look any different. I’m sure they would have felt different, but they didn’t look any different ten years ago, not really. They’re all smirking at me now. But actually we did used to joke at the time that they looked after themselves so well that basically they still looked in their early 20s.
Anyway, so we met in Edinburgh two years ago, again, John Hodge, the screenwriter, Irvine Welsh the writer, the two producers and me, and we sat down. And I think when we sat down we thought this won’t work, we’ll have to do due diligence because there is a big anniversary coming up, there will be a lot of interest in whether it will happen or not. And what emerged was much more personal and gave us a reason to make the film really, I think, is that it becomes not just a sequel, it is obviously a sequel, you can’t deny that, but it has its own right to exist really, raison d’être really, the reason to be, which is obviously the passage of time, and especially masculine behavior over time. The other film is obviously a great celebration of a certain period of your life through the most extreme prism you can imagine, these junkies in Edinburgh, and then obviously the update is when they’re 46 and they’re fucked, as Renton says.
SF: Obviously this is a film that both embraces and takes the piss out of nostalgia. As performers, can you talk about the surrealism of revisiting a character all these years later, and if you can talk about just how it felt on set to make sure that you weren’t just making a sequel you were also making a reflection upon sequels in general, about how you can’t go back to the past again but sometimes the past is the best time of your life.
Ewen Bremner (EB): Age is cruel, and you don’t realize that until you get to this point in your life. In the first film we were full of exuberance and potency, and we thought we were invincible. And it took us 20 years to realize that we’re just running on the spot and time is flying by. So, when Danny asked us to come back together and find out who these guys were after 20 years, we had an opportunity that is unparalleled, that never comes along for actors, to think of a character 20 years later and to run with it, because Danny lets you really run with every idea and he feeds you full of fantastic ideas to play with. So, we just had a bagful of opportunities and the prospect of jumping on this film again.
SF: What was it like coming together as people after all of these years, you’ve all gone on very different journeys in film and theatre and your personal lives, how did that affect your group dynamic this time around?
Ewan McGregor (EW): I hadn’t seen Jonny for maybe 15 years. And I hadn’t seen Bobby, I can’t believe that’s true...it’s amazing, isn’t it, 15 years, I hadn’t seen Bobby since the premiere of Trainspotting in Scotland. Ewen and I, this was our fifth movie together, so we’ve worked with each other over the years. So, we’re getting back together again and our relationships were founded working on Trainspotting, and I think this idea that we were all fucked up all the time and it was a party all the time, but it wasn’t. We had a short space of time to make that movie, I think we shot it in seven weeks, six weeks, and we worked really hard on it, and we were also all aware that we were doing something really special and important, and so we were giving it our all. And so to come back together and find each other again under the same conditions, if you like, and with the same responsibility for this film was just fantastic, and it just felt like coming home. And it wasn’t until the very end, and quite late on in the shooting, where the four of us were actually on set at the same time, and that was extra special really.
SF: Thinking about how the first film ends and the second one begins, the words “friendship” and “betrayal” came to mind. How does that play out over the course of the film?
DB: Well, friendship’s a very powerful thing that none of us are really in control of, it takes over your life in a way that you can’t anticipate. And Irvine Welsh said something very interesting about this dynamic and about the first film in relation to the second film, and he said that the first film was a film about the power of friendship and how it’s intoxicating and overwhelming and is a real hit in the vein. But ultimately to be part of this friendship group it crushes your individuality, and so the individual, which is Renton in the first story, he has to break free of the crushing conformity of the group. But the second film has the individual coming back into the fold because to survive out in the wilderness is just as crushing as it is to survive in the group, so the individual comes back into the fold to try to find succor in this difficult part of his life.
SF: The music in the original Trainspotting was seminal and very evocative, very representative of that era and that culture. Danny, if you could talk a little bit about the score of the movie and the concept behind it now two decades later.
DB: One of the key questions everybody asks of course at the beginning when you start this, they just assume the soundtrack will be really good, yes, no problem there, so there’s a lot of expectations. But we were very lucky on the first film because obviously there was a huge variety of choices and it was a great time and all that kind of stuff, but we found what we call the heartbeat of the film was this Underworld album, “Dubnobasswithmyheadman.” And I remember I said to John and Andrew, the screenwriter and the producer, that this would be the heartbeat of the film. And I remember them being a bit alarmed about that because they thought it was going to be just plastered with Underworld music, which was very heavy. And I said, no, but it is the rhythm that will make the film tone.
And you’re always looking for that on a film if you can, you don’t always find it, but you find some way in the musical choice that represents the film, and of course we found “Born Slippy,” which wasn’t on that album and it ended the film. Coming to do the new one you want to try and find that equivalent heartbeat, and we found this band, Young Fathers, who come from the same estates around Edinburgh that Irvine Welsh came from and where his stories are based from 25 years ago when these guys, Young Fathers, weren’t even born, and yet their stuff just fits in the film, so we used three or four of their tracks on the film.
And there’s a variety of other options, there’s some reflections on the first film, remixed and re-imagined, like the Prodigy remix of “Lust for Life” and Underworld re-imagining “Born Slippy.” But it’s the heartbeat of the new film that sustains you most, and that was this relationship with Young Fathers, yes, and their songs are peppered through the film and includes the final song, which is a wonderful song called “Only God Knows,” and a brand new song from them.
SF: Could you talk about some of the lessons in both the new movie and the old movie that are about that period of your life and realizing that some of the things that come with being a functioning adult in the real world are superficial and these fake joys?
Jonny Lee Miller (JLM): I think the monologue there in the first movie, and as Danny has been saying today and I think it’s really true, that the movie’s really a lot about masculinity. And there’s that confidence and that fearlessness which permeates the first movie and it’s really summed up in the voiceover, especially in the end speech there, this is what I’m going to do, this is who I am, this is who I’m going to be, and it’s directed at the audience, it’s an assault on the audience, you know, a confident boast. That falls away later in life, and what are you left with, you reflect more on it.
So, I think the second film really reflects that very well about your attitude, your confidence maybe disappears a little bit. It’s not your confidence, it’s your brash attitude to life, you don’t feel invincible anymore, your mortality is more evident to you perhaps, either subconsciously or consciously, you’re either aware of that or you’re not. You feel more anxiety perhaps.
SF: When you guys were creating the movie what were you hoping audiences will take away after they see this film?
DB: You hope people recognize it as honest really. Whatever the circumstances that you’re portraying, however extreme the story, is that one of your current touchstones, you certainly find this working with good actors, they won’t let you do anything that feels dishonest. It’s a weird filter they have. You think, oh, I’ll hire that actor to do this and stuff like that, you have to pass through that actor’s filter. An actor’s filter is their safeguard of the quality of their work and it has to be honest, and especially doing a film like this, which comes after a first film which was such a hit and such a celebration of such extremes, it won’t let you just repeat that because they’re now in their mid-40s, these guys, and it’s a different landscape for them, they don’t have all the answers.
Jonny was just saying about you’ve got all the answers when you’re in your early 20s, and you mock and sneer about the whole thing really. And that’s expected and welcomed actually as you step out of childhood, you’re allowed that really; you’re not when you get in your mid-40s. So, I hope people take away that it’s an honest picture really, however extreme the elements you see of them all. I hope anyway.
T2 Trainspotting is out in theaters in Atlanta, GA on March 24, 2017.