Director Danny Boyle delivered his landmark picture, “Trainspotting” in 1996, and this highly entertaining and edgy movie - about a group of friends loitering in the game of life - still resonates with movie audiences everywhere. In 2017, Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle return for their very anticipated sequel, “T2 Trainspotting”.
Danny, Ewan, Ewen, and Jonny found the time to speak with the Phoenix Film Festival and other entertainment outlets for an insightful group conversation and expressed their thoughts on the film’s iconic characters, themes and even the new soundtrack.
“T2 Trainspotting” arrives in theatres on Friday, March 24.
Q: What prompted you to revisit “Trainspotting” after 20 years?
DB: We tried ten years ago. Irvine Welsh published a book, “Porno”, which was a ten-years-later sequel to his original novel. John Hodge (the screenwriter for “Trainspotting”) and I (worked) on a script, but I didn’t even bother sending it to the actors, because (I) didn’t feel there was a reason to do (the film). Obviously, there is 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 (one). 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 from 10 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, Irvine Welsh, two producers, and me. I think when we sat down, we thought, ‘This won’t work. We’ll have to do due diligence, (and) because there is a big anniversary coming up, there will be a lot of interest in whether (a new film) will happen or not.’
What emerged was much more personal and gave us reason to make the film, really. It is - obviously - a sequel. You can’t deny that, but it has its own right to exist.
Raison d’etre, the reason to be, which is the passage of time, and especially masculine behavior over time. The (first) film is a great celebration of a certain period of your life through the most extreme prism that you can imagine. These junkies in Edinburgh. The update is when they’re 46, and they’re f*****, as Renton (McGregor) says.
Q: As performers, what is the surrealism of revisiting the characters all of these years later? Did you feel that you weren’t just making a sequel, and you were making a reflection upon sequels, in general? How you can’t go back to the past, and sometimes, the past is the best time of your life?
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 that we were invincible. 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.
Danny lets you really run with every idea, and he feeds you full of fantastic ideas to play with. So, we just had a bag full of opportunities.
PFF: Thinking about how the first film ends and the second one begins, the words “friendship” and “betrayal” come to mind.
I read a quote about these two words, and it simply stated, “Apology accepted. Trust denied.”
Thinking about Spud (Bremner) and Simon (Miller), I think that they felt just the opposite: Apology denied, but trust accepted. Do you think that is right? If so, is it because that they began their friendships as kids, so “trust accepted” is just inherently there?
DB: Well, friendship is 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. Irvine Welsh said something very interesting about this dynamic, and about the first film in relation to the second film. The first film was about the power of friendship, and how it’s intoxicating and overwhelming, and it is a real hit the vein. Ultimately, to be part of this (group of friends), it crushes your individuality. So in the first story, the individual, Renton, has to break free of the crushing conformity of the group. (In) the second film, the individual (comes) back into the fold, because to survive out in the wilderness is just as crushing. So, the individual comes back to try to find succor in this difficult part of his life.
Q: The music in “Trainspotting” is seminal and very evocative, very representative of that era and that culture. Danny, can you talk a bit about the score of this movie and the concept behind it, two decades later?
DB: We were very lucky on the first film. We found an Underworld album called “Dubnobasswithmyheadman”. I remember saying to John Hodge (screenwriter) and Andrew Macdonald (producer) that this would be the heartbeat of the film. 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 into the new (film), you want to try and find that equivalent heartbeat, and we found this band, Young Fathers. They came from the same estates around Edinburgh that Irvine Welsh came from and where his stories are based from 25 years ago. These guys, Young Fathers, weren’t even born, and yet their stuff fits into the film, so we used three or four of their tracks.
There are some reflections on the first film, like the Prodigy remix of “Lust for Life” and the Underworld reimaging of “Born Slippy”, but it’s the heartbeat of the new film that sustains you the most, and that was the relationship with Young Fathers. Their songs are peppered throughout the film, (including) a wonderful song called “Only God Knows”.
Q: The original “Trainspotting” monologue can be frightening to someone who is about to enter “real life” after school. Can you talk about some of the lessons in both films that are about that period in your lives?
JLM: I think the monologue in the first movie is a lot about masculinity. There’s a confidence and that fearlessness which permeates the first movie, and it’s really summed up in the voiceover, especially in the end speech.
This is what I’m going to do. This is who I am. This is who I am going to be, and it’s directed to the audience.
It’s an assault on the audience, a confidence boost. That falls away later in life, and what you are left with, you reflect more on it. I think that the second film really reflects that very well. Your confidence - maybe - disappears a little bit. It’s not your confidence, (but) 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.
Q: What was it like coming together – as actors - after all of these years?
EM: I hadn’t seen Jonny for maybe 15 years, and I hadn’t seen Bobby (Robert Carlyle), since the “Trainspotting” premiere in Scotland. I can’t believe that’s true. 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 (by) working on “Trainspotting”. We had a short space of time to make that movie. I think we shot it in seven weeks (or) six weeks, and we worked really hard on it. We were also all aware, that we were doing something really special and important, and so we were giving it our all. 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. It felt just like coming home. It wasn’t until the very end - and quite late in the shooting – (when) the four of us were actually on set at the same time, and that was extra special.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.