It’s 20 years since Trainspotting arrived in cinemas in a film that kickstarted not only the career of Danny Boyle but the entire British film industry as we know it.
Now Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are back with the frankly brilliant follow-up T2 Trainspotting and loaded couldn’t happier.
To mark the release of the film, Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and director Danny Boyle spoke to loaded about the film and what brought them back together.
loaded: It’s been 20 years since Trainspotting and Scotland’s changed a lot. Has Trainspotting contributed to that change? What are your thoughts on where Scotland is at the moment?
Carlyle: I mean, for me, I hate it. I think this is the rise of nationalism in Scotland, I just don’t know, I hate it. I think the world is far too small to start building up barriers particularly between ourselves and England. I think it’s crazy. And I guess it’s reflective of what’s happening across the globe. There’s a shift to the right and that’s the strange thing about Scotland, is we are traditionally not at all to the right, we’re very much to the left. So there’s a kind of strange thing going on in Scotland at the moment I don’t really understand. I’ve been away for maybe eight, nine years in Canada doing different stuff and I see kind of snap shots of the country each time I come back. And in the past few years it’s getting sort of darker and darker and I’m just hopeful that they can kind of shake themselves out of this fug and kind of realise that it’s not good to start building barriers.
loaded: You mentioned you’ve been away a lot and when you come back you see how things have changed. It’s kind of the same with the movie, everyone has been away for 20 years and then come back, yet in the movie many things haven’t changed. Are there elements of that when you go back? People you know still stuck in the same rut?
Carlyle: I think that’s one of the great things about the film. Everybody’s got friends like that or they’ve got a Begbie-type figure in their life. I certainly have. I got quite a lot of people like that that I kind of draw quite a lot of inspiration from [laughs] for this guy. But yeah, you do. They stay in the same place and the world doesn’t change for them. Sometimes you envy that.
Boyle: It’s interesting about Britain. I saw this thing, it’s a very unusual country, and it may have changed very, very recently because of the influx of other Europeans, which has obviously hit a road block at the moment, that it’s like over 90 per cent of British people die within seven miles of where they were born, which I was like, ‘What is that all about?’ And I checked it and it is apparently, as much as you can tell with records. Having spent so long historically exploring the world, conquering it and destroying lots of it as well [laughs]… but yeah, it’s weird. And, of course, the film does begin with Renton returning to where he has to go. And they’ve been sort of in aspic really, just waiting, in a way. One of the weird things that you don’t really understand from the film, but they’ve clearly not contacted each other. They’re real people and you believe them and yet they exist in this film, the first film, and they’ve sort of been in suspension until the second film happens.
loaded: Tell us about the process of getting the gang back together.
Boyle: We had a script ten years ago, which was a more faithful adaptation of ‘Porno’ and it didn’t work and I didn’t send it to them because I knew they wouldn’t do it. I sort of just knew. I just thought, ‘They won’t do that’ because I don’t want to do it either and I knew they wouldn’t want to do it.’ So we went back 18 months ago and John [Hodge] came up with this script and as soon as I read it I thought, ‘They’ll do that.’
loaded: Watching it is like a trip down memory lane. Was it the same for you guys, you’ve obviously seen each other over the years, but all being together again?
Carlyle: In actual fact, I’d worked with Jonny, of course, on other stuff, and I’d seen Ewen Bremner a couple of times but Ewan McGregor I hadn’t seen since the film.
Carlyle: I know. I know. It’s a crazy stupid thing. Because we get on really well and we’re really close and we were but of course your career moves on and you move all over the world. At this point I’m in Vancouver and he’s in LA, Jonny’s in New York, Ewen is wherever. So it’s corny this, but it was a beautiful moment all coming together again. We had a meal before filming began, at least three of us did, and we hadn’t seen each other for all that time. We met and we were just looking at each other, seeing who aged the best [laughs].
loaded: So who did?
Carlyle: McGregor I think [laughs].
loaded: So which three of you got together that day?
Carlyle: It was Jonny and Ewen Bremner and I, because Ewan joined later.
Boyle: Ewan was later because he was finishing his film. So they all came at different times and we had to release Bobby and Jonny, so they came early, but we had to release you early because you had to go back. So they did it in their summer holidays, Bobby and Jonny, literally instead of their summer holidays.
loaded: When was the first time someone seriously talked about a sequel?
Boyle: We never talked about one after we first made it did, which is normally when you would cash in. We never thought like that.
Carlyle: I think there was maybe unbeknownst to each other, but I always kind of hoped that we would because the other book ‘Porno’ of course was there. So it was sitting up begging for it. But it was always going to be a kind of dangerous, high-wire thing to attempt to do.
loaded: Robert, what do your kids think when they see you in a role like Begbie?
Carlyle: They don’t, for a start, because they haven’t really seen it. But my wee one, Pierce, he’s hilarious, when I was shooting the movie in the spring time I stayed in Edinburgh, I didn’t stay at home because you don’t want to bring that stuff home with you. And the one weekend I did go home, he kind of vanished at one point and he went upstairs and he came back and then he had a false moustache on. And it was like, ‘Yeah, you know, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing’ [laughs].
loaded: Begbie features in other Irvine Welsh novels. Danny, have you thought about adapting any other of his books?
Boyle: No, only because I’m obsessed with the first novel. It had a very dramatic effect on me the first novel, first reading it. It felt like a road to Damascus for me. My life changed reading it. I didn’t know it was changing but it did. And so in a way I kind of influenced this second film looping back as it does towards the first film because I find it impossible to escape it really. So no, I haven’t really, much as I admire his other writing. I particularly admire the new one ‘The Blade Artist’, I don’t know whether you have read it. It’s really good.
Carlyle: ‘The Blade Artist’ if you don’t know, it focuses on Begbie. It might be interesting is that in the original draft of this script ‘T2’ Begbie died, he was no more. And then suddenly just before we started shooting ‘The Blade Artist’ came out and he’s very much not dead, in fact he has a whole new life. So we had to kind of really think about that.
loaded: There’s that old adage about suffering for your art. Bobby, is it true you had your teeth yanked out for this?
Carlyle: Yeah, yeah. The second one I did. I had a temporary crown that had been in and it had been there for about two years because I didn’t have any time to actually get it fixed because it needed like a few months healing and it would have to be out. So I thought, ‘Well this is perfect. I’ll take that crown out.’
loaded: Finally, can you talk about the updated ‘Choose Life’ monologue?
Boyle: So ‘Choose Life’, obviously in the first film it’s a kind of defiant, sardonic youth, kind of mocking the choices that are offered and in this one it’s much more desperate because it’s a lonely man really, lying in his bed, having night sweats thinking what his life has amounted to and going through the choices that appear to be there to assuage or satiate us all in all this freedom we have and how none of it is much use to him. And the real story of it is, I don’t know whether you got this, but he didn’t return for his mother’s funeral. His mother passed away and he didn’t go back for that funeral. And that is a huge element in his life that he has to make some kind of atonement for, which is the idea of his father at the end and the idea of father figures. Him and his father and him and his son, there’s a lot of that going on in it really, making some kind of atonement really for what you’ve done, what you’ve been.
Thanks to Carlyle and Boyle for speaking to loaded. T2 Trainspotting is released in the UK on January 27.
Credit: Charlotte Winters / The Interview People