‘Trainspotting’ director Danny Boyle on music and middle-age men

1:30 p.m Monday, March 20, 2017 Movies & TV
From left, director Danny Boyle and actors Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller at a screening of “T2 Trainspotting” in New York earlier this month. The “Trainspotting” sequel picks up with the same characters, played by the same actors, 20 years later. Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Danny Boyle is kind and generous when it is revealed that the journalist in front of him saw his 1996 movie “Trainspotting” five times in the theater.

“I did that a few years ago,” Boyle said. The energetic 60-year-old director was at South by Southwest to discuss “T2 Trainspotting,” the long-awaited (and shockingly good) sequel to the iconic original. “Saw (the 2013 Jonathan Glazer film) ‘Under the Skin’ three times. Just kept taking people. I thought it was extraordinary.”

As was “Trainspotting.” The tale of Scottish junkies living in squalor at the end of the Thatcher era was one of the decade’s most galvanizing movies. Kinetic, funny, dark, smart and with, above all, a brilliant soundtrack, “Trainspotting” hurled viewers around the theater. As one friend of mine put it after we saw it for the second or third time for both of us, “I am not sure I would want much more movie.”

“T2” is another matter. Retaining much of the energy but directing it to new places, the film reunites Mark Renton, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson, Daniel “Spud” Murphy and Francis “Franco” Begbie in an obligatory heist, but it’s mostly about how some kinds of men simply cannot deal with middle-age and adulthood. This isn’t as much a midlife crisis as a midlife stalling out.

Boyle said the production team gave a sequel a swing about 10 years ago. The script, by “Trainspotting” scribe John Hodge, never even made it to the actors.

“It didn’t really work,” Boyle said. “We weren’t just going to allow anything through for commercial reasons. So we paid our dues and walked away.”

Ten years later was a different story. “The reason I hadn’t done it back then is that I really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to own up to my own aging.”

The creative teams jammed on some story ideas, and Hodge wrote the script, one that was, as Boyle said, “a bit more personal, a bit more naked.”

Boyle pulled the trigger and sent the script to the actors. “There’s no way back from that,” he said. “After all, one could say, ‘eh, not for me’ and then you’re in trouble. But I knew the film felt personal and that they would take ownership of the roles.”

It also helped, Boyle said, that the movie isn’t “The Mark Renton Show.” “It’s a very equal script,” Boyle said. “All four parts are equal right the way through.”

And so you have a movie that’s about a dying lust for midlife, about loss and medical emergency and the regrets that come from children and being a mediocre father or not having children at all.

As for the soundtrack, well, Boyle knew he couldn’t quite replicate the zeitgeist of the original, which had nothing but pop music cues and no original score at all. In “T2,” there are discreet bits of original music here and there, while songs from the original are hinted at or remixed.

Prodigy (the U.K. dance act, not one-half of hip-hop duo Mobb Deep) remixed Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” while Underworld’s stunning “Born Slippy” — heard over Renton’s final betrayal at the end of “Trainspotting” — was reimagined entirely as “Slow Slippy”

“We wanted the audience to hear things that triggered memories,” Boyle said. “but we also wanted those tracks to be slightly different.”

Indeed, Boyle said he thought briefly about removing any familiar music at all and populating the soundtrack entirely with tracks by Young Fathers, a contemporary Scottish hip-hop act.

“They live and work in Edinburgh and they obviously make music for now, but they fit so perfectly,” Boyle said. “I could have used 20 of their tracks, nothing but Young Fathers from beginning to end.” Ultimately, Young Fathers cut a new song (“Only God Knows”) for the soundtrack and makes a few more appearances.

More than the music, thought, more than the nostalgia, “T2” is a movie about older men being stupid, especially about younger women. In Renton’s case, it’s the savvy Veronica, a sex worker in Sick Boy’s employ.

“I’m not sure any of them have made much progress in the 20 years since we last saw them,” Boyle said. “I think Renton coming back home is meant to be a healing thing, but it’s a big step back, but of course he gets involved with this girl. His ‘Choose Life’ speech is a step forward and quite confessional. But the girl sleeps with him, and like any man of that age, when a young, beautiful woman, sleeps with him, he forgets everything he’s learned.”

Or perhaps he never learned much to begin with.

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