Danny Boyle: “Hanging Out With Junkies Is Unbelievably Depressing”

A few Oscars later, Danny Boyle returned to his origins.

The man who started it all... Image GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Oh, Danny boy. Danny Boyle has given us so many gems, like Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours or Sunshine.

But if there was one film that defined him, that is undoubtedly Trainspotting, right? After all, he is enjoying the success of that movie all over again with its sequel, T2, where he has reunited the whole gang again.

Yes, Boyle is now an Oscar-winning director and a well-established one, but back in 1997, he was still just recovering from the first Trainspotting film and pondering how his life might be about to change… Which loaded saw as the perfect moment to have a chat with him. Do you want to know what we found out?


“Three shootings to the head, two to the thigh, a scalpel attack, and one crushing by a car…” The director adjusts his diamond-encrusted shades and clicks his fingers for another cocktail. “Sounds like a winner to me, DB,” murmurs the writer as a pneumatic blonde rubs expensive suntan oil into his expensive skin. The producer climbs from the nearby pool and starts drying his golden hair with handfuls of cash. “OK, guys!” he grins through gold teeth, “let’s make us a goddamn picture!” Film-makers? Jammy gets.

Sitting poolside smoking huge cigars are director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald, the trio who brought us Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and now brand-new, super-cool kidnap thriller A Life Less Ordinary starring Cameron Diaz and- hey! surprise! – Ewan McGregor.

The guilty trio Image Loaded

Alright, so we’re actually in a London photo studio facing the Grand Union Canal and OK, there’s no sign of limos, bimbos or even egos. But still, they’re the most successful film-makers Britain has had since … well, ever probably. They are, literally, loaded. Trainspotting on its own took £70 million at the box office. They might be home-grown film-makers, but they’re also filthy rich home-grown film-makers.

“Not filthy rich,” grins Danny Boyle, ruffling his strimmer-cut hair happily. “Not Stan Collymore wages, obviously, but yes, quite a few bob…”

“Film-making’s quite a nice lifestyle,” smiles John Hodge disarmingly. “A licence to lounge around all day and indulge all your fantasies.”

Directing A Life Less Ordinary Image Loaded

That should have been ‘a licence to print money’, what with Trainspotting the movie, the video, the soundtrack, the T-shirt, the poster, the amusing hypodermic-shaped pen and the industrial-strength toilet cleaner. And now there’s a new version of Trainspotting in the shops. In a nice new green box.

“It’s the same film,” admits Andrew. “There’s just a couple of extra scenes stuck on at the end to make more money! But we’re giving Carlton Athletic, the drugs reform group who helped us make the film, 50p a video cassette, and a minimum of £20,000. Which should give you some idea of how many they expect to sell…”

Bloody hell, that’s… umm… at least three dozen. And just how many did they sell the first time around?

“A lot!” smiles Danny. “They’ve made a fortune, but then they deserve to for backing us in the first place. We’re bloody lucky to be here.”

Yep, if the astral dice had fallen on a less even tablecloth, Andrew would still be arsing about making short films in his mum’s bathroom, qualified doctor John would be lancing boils in his Glasgow practice and Danny would be co-directing Doobie Ducks Fun Bus on BBC2.

John and Andrew Image Loaded

But it didn’t happen like that: by chance MacDonald met up with Hodge who just happened to be writing the screenplay for a darkly comic tale about three flatmates fighting over a dead body and a sack o’ cash entitled Shallow Grave. Andrew took it to Channel Four who instantly gave them a lorryload of used notes with which to bribe veteran TV director Danny Boyle into the team. And the rest, as they say, is merchandising.

A point which millions of filmgoers also got, turning Shallow Grave into a huge worldwide hit and making Boyle & Co such a hot property they could afford to turn down Alien 4 (“Although we did get a first-class trip to New York to meet Sigourney and Winona… ” smirks Danny), and instead chose to film loaded correspondent Irvine Welsh’s tale of drugs’n’violence, Trainspotting. Was Irvine happy with your version?

“Yeah, I think he was,” says John proudly. “Luckily, he’s not obsessively precious about his work. He wasn’t too bothered about it adhering to every detail of the book. Plus, I think asking him to play the ‘fat malignant squirrel’ Mikey Forrester – the most unattractive character in the whole book – appealed to his sense of humour.”

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There can’t be a lot of belly laughs to be had researching a film like Trainspotting, though.

“Hanging out with junkies is sooo unbelievably depressing,” says Danny. “The book has this energy, this vibrancy that junkies in the grip of their addiction just don’t have. But then we met Carlton Athletic, this drug recovery group who reform through total abstinence and playing football. You have to have advisors like that, because you’re not a junkie yourself, however much you smoke and snort. We’re all miles away from that world.”

Was Irvine happy with your version?

“Yeah, I think he was,” says John proudly. “Luckily, he’s not obsessively precious about his work. He wasn’t too bothered about it adhering to every detail of the book.”

Did A Life Less Ordinary’s hunting for locations involve driving across the grasslands in a camouflaged Landrover?

“Er, yeah, pretty much so!” says John. “Such a hard life, eh?”

“It is important though,” says Danny. “When we went to Carolina it pissed down for a week and we took that to be a sign – especially as the film’s about divine intervention – so we went to Utah instead.”

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But why, when you’ve got the whole of America to choose from, why choose the Osmond-riddled state of Utah?

“It is a very strange place,” frowns Danny, “It’s the most right-wing state in America, very weird. And we were there for six months.”

“Did you notice that Trainspotting was playing when we were there?” adds Danny. “God knows what they made of it.”

Hodge wrote the original script for A Life Less Ordinary – a surreal modern tale of love, angels, kidnap and dentistry – straight after Shallow Grave, in an attempt to write something slightly more lighthearted.

“Yeah, Shallow Grave was basically an exploration of violence and dismemberment,” laughs John. “And I really wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to say goodbye to violence and dismemberment entirely, but in the end we had to cut some dismemberment scenes from A Life Less Ordinary.

There was more dismemberment?

“There was only a little bit,” he says sheepishly. “Just a small severed hand. But I still think all films should use shock, horror, comedy, erotica, and violence; they’re the tools of the trade, really. And dismemberment’s very important. Something to do with my medical training, no doubt … ”

A Life Less Ordinary has a fantastic cast of great character actors including Holly Hunter, Stanley Tucci and Ian Holm. Is there anyone who said no?

Our interview man Image Loaded

“We tried to get Sean Connery to play God,” says Danny. “He said it would be like farting against a thunderstorm. Apparently, that meant ‘it would make no difference’.”

Of course, A Life Less Ordinary has something bigger than God: Oasis. The Manes are notorious for never allowing their tracks to be used in films, yet ‘Round Are Way’ (Slade-along B-side to ‘Wonderwall’) appears over the bizarre animated end credits, and Ewan McGregor even sings a rather tuneless version during the film.

“It can be a problem,” says Andrew. “Like when Frank Sinatra wouldn’t let Scorsese use his recording of ‘My Way’ for the end credits of Goodfellas because it was a mob film. But we met Noel at the premiere of Star Wars; he’s a

mate of Ewan’s and a fan, too. He agreed, and if Noel says yes, then you’re in.”

Fittingly for a film made by men so fond of loafing, the cast of A Life Less Ordinary didn’t rehearse, they just went out on the piss together in one vast, beer-soaked bonding ritual of firearms, karaoke and popcorn. Well, almost.

“Salt Lake City isn’t one of the great party towns of the world, you know,” says Andrew. “We only had one bar. . . ”

“SPANKY’S! !” they chorus.

“Where they served proper beer and spirits and stuff. We had a few parties and there was a big pool hall next door where we’d get horribly drunk. Or at least some of us would go and get horribly drunk .. . ”

Who? Come on, name names!

“Ewan McGregor!” laughs Danny, “Ewan can put it away.”

The cast were also taken out to see two films: It Happened One Night, the genre-defining romantic comedy starring Clark Gable and A Matter Of Life And Death which was made by the hugely successful British film-making partnership Powell and Pressburger. As it happens, Emeric Pressburger was Andrew’s grandfather. And, glib though it sounds, the Boyle/ Hodge/ Macdonald partnership is the Powell and Pressburger of the ‘ 90s.

“Yeah, they’re our role models in the way they worked and how they stuck together,” enthuses Danny. “It doesn’t happen very often; people usually only last for one film.”

“But eventually we will break up,” shrugs Andrew. “But of course, now we’re worried what will happen when we do break up.”

John laughs. “There will, of course, be lots of shooting and dismemberment when we do.”

So do film-makers get groupies?

“Fuckin’ hell!!” spurts Danny, dribbling tea down his sweatshirt.

“Oh, almost certainly!” says John with authority. “It’s just that we don’t.”

Trainspotting Ewan McGregor Jonny Lee Miller
Sharp-shooters Renton and Sick Boy take aim. Image Picture Film4/Polygram Pictures

“Well, Quentin did, didn’t he?” asks Andrew.

“And that’s Mr Quentin Tarantino to you,” says John.

“Well, supposedly,” says Danny sceptically, “That’s what he says.”

It must be a great chat-up line though, “Hey baby, I directed Trainspotting”?

John makes a frame with his fingers. “I could put you in pictures!” he drawls, squinting through the hole.

“I have never, ever said that to anybody,” says Danny, outraged.

Andrew is intrigued. “So what do you say when someone asks you what you do for a living?” he asks.

“I avoid the subject,” blushes Danny, “I’d be too embarrassed.”

“Oh, I always say I directed Trainspotting!” says John, “It’s great! You don’t know what you’re missing out on!”

In fact, the trio have just come back from Thailand where they have been scouting locations for their next film, an adaptation of Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a story that explores the darker corners of the human mind and yes, it involves a few notable dismemberment scenes.

But most of all, it’s a story about lazing under palm trees and drinking coconut punch. And all three grin like fat Cheshire cats floating in a sea of cream.

“Ah yesss… ” sighs Danny. “Expensive hotels, wonderful beaches, beautiful women. It’s such a drag.”

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