20 years later, Danny Boyle returns to ‘Trainspotting’

The Oscar-winning British director revisits his signature film with ‘T2 Trainspotting,’ which hits theaters Friday

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Danny Boyle has made a dozen films. He won an Oscar for his Best Picture-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” turned the founder of Apple’s life into a movie with “Steve Jobs” and got James Franco to lop off an arm in “127 Hours.”

But if you had to whittle it down, the British director’s signature film is “Trainspotting,” his 1996 tale of a gang of pop-culture obsessed heroin addicts on the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, “Trainspotting” was a shot to the arm of the British film industry and one of the signature selections of the ’90s indie film movement, along with landmarks like “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo.”

The idea of a sequel to “Trainspotting” was first floated in the late ’90s and again in the mid-’00s, and screenwriter John Hodge worked on a screenplay for a sequel based off of Welsh’s 2002 “Trainspotting” follow-up, “Porno.” It didn’t pan out.

“It just didn’t seem like enough reason to return to these characters,” says Boyle, on the phone last week from Austin, Texas. “The actors didn’t really look that different, and there was none of that kind of currency you’d have if you felt the passing of time on them.”

But in 2015, with “Trainspotting’s” 20th anniversary looming, Boyle met with Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald and several other key players to discuss the possibility of revisiting the “Trainspotting” universe.

“When we first sat down, we probably all thought, ‘I’m sure this won’t work, but here we all are, at least we can say we had a go at it,’ ” says Boyle, 60. “And what came out of it was the real reason to make the film, which was something a bit more personal. It’s an investigation, really, of aging, male behavior and masculinity over time. That’s what it’s about, rather than a rehash of the first one.”

Boyle wanted “T2 Trainspotting,” which opens locally on Friday, to act as a companion piece to the original film.

“It’s not because you want to make a ‘worthy successor,’ because that’s the trap, I think,” says Boyle, whose working title for the film was “The Least Unfamiliar.” “What you’ve got to do is make something that you believe in, in and of itself, and then it might be a worthy successor. They can stand beside each other and complement each other in some way.”

Those complements came from the cast, which includes the principal actors from the first film — including Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle — picking up their characters 20 years after the events of the first film. They also come from the music, which was as important an element of the first film as any of its characters or visual cues.

In addition to a handful of songs by Edinburgh hip-hop troupe Young Fathers, “T2” includes remixed pieces of Underworld’s “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” as callbacks to the first film.

“Because of the impact of the soundtrack of the first movie, you wanted to be able to trigger memories through it,” says Boyle, who is as much an obsessive about music as his “Trainspotting” characters. “It wasn’t just to use it because it was successful, I thought if we do it — and we did want to do it, because there’s a poignancy that’s created by triggering those muscle memories — that we would reimagine the music or remix it. You hear the chords and you recognize them, and a thread goes back to the original film, but it’s slightly different as well, and the context has changed.”

For Boyle, the context around him is completely different than it was when he made the original “Trainspotting.” Back then, he had only one film behind him, the stylish 1995 noir “Shallow Grave,” and now he’s one of the most celebrated visionaries working today. That extends beyond film: He counts his greatest triumph as his directing of the opening ceremonies of London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

All that experience doesn’t necessarily make him a better filmmaker, he says. He cites a quote by Winston Churchill — “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” — as a sort of motto. “Success is fleeting anyway, it’s very delusional, I’m not sure it’s that nourishing anyway, the things it encourages within you,” he says.

His next project is “Trust,” a TV series for FX that follows the Getty family, heirs to the Getty oil fortune, through five decades over five seasons. It’s a large undertaking, but in some ways Boyle longs for his early days as a fledgling filmmaker.

“There’s something wonderful about innocence, when you first start out, especially in terms of film,” Boyle says. “Film is so technical and so cunning what it does to you, that there’s something about the early days when you’re not aware of all its tools and all the way it impacts people. The first films you make are, in a way, the best ones.

“They might not be the most successful, they may not be the most accomplished, but in a way there’s something beautiful about them. You long for that innocence again; I do, anyway,” he says. “I don’t wish to become a technical virtuoso who appears to know what he’s doing. That’s laughable, really. Because if that was true there’d never be any unsuccessful films. There’d only be successful films made, and the world would be a very boring place.”


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‘T2: Trainspotting’

Rated R: for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence

Running time: 117 minutes

Opening Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak

Danny Boyle on:

Using Blondie in both “Trainspotting” and “T2” : “Oh, Blondie. There are certain temples in the landscape where you have to worship. The Clash is one of them for me, Blondie is another one, and obviously Iggy (Pop). I wanted you to have a memory of ‘Atomic’ in the first film.”

On nostalgia : “Nostalgia is a word that is sneered at in a way, but it’s very powerful, the past. Those who erase the past are to be feared, rather than those who try to come to terms with it and try to acknowledge its importance in forming you, what you are, what it means to you, and how it supports you, as well, when you return to it.”

His favorite music cue in movie history : “My favorite film ever is ‘Apocalypse Now,’ and that’s got multiple answers you can provide just from that film alone.”

His favorite music cue in one of his own films : “There’s a bit at the beginning of ‘28 Days Later’ where Godspeed You Black Emperor play a song called ‘East Hastings’ as Cillian (Murphy) makes his way around town. We shot it, and I remember assembling it and putting on that track, and that was very special. A couple of weeks after we filmed it, 9/11 happened. And that changed the nature of the film. It made it more acute, and it became about the vulnerability of cities. Whereas previous to that, cities themselves, for all their terrible things, they’d always felt this incredible power, and suddenly cities were vulnerable. It was weird. You can film a sequence that’s about one thing, and then the news takes over and it becomes about something else entirely.”

What he still wants to do in film : “An original musical. I think that’s the ultimate test of any director. I don’t know whether I’ll get to do one, but I’d love to. To get your characters to burst into song without anybody snorting or giggling, to feel natural that your character sings, is the ultimate, I think, especially for a music lover like me.”

The possibility of a “Trainspotting 3” : “Only if there’s a good reason. And that good reason has to stand aside from appetite or the relish or the appeal of it, because those things are not the true sense of it. I couldn’t see one at the moment, but you never know.”