You don't get many sequels like this. Twenty-year-old indie films with cult followings aren't exactly prime sequel territory. So an opportunity to make a film like T2 Trainspotting is rare. Strangely enough, it's a sequel that was seemingly willed into existence by director Danny Boyle and the movie writers who kept asking him about it.
"You have to be careful what you wish for because these things begin with kind of casual chats with journalists," he explains. "You say something and the next time you meet them two years later, they say, 'So any further news on the sequel?' and suddenly you start inventing a bloody story because you just do. And suddenly the thing's real and it'll be along soon. Anyway it wasn't along soon. It took 20 years, but here we are."
We had a chance to sit down with Boyle during a round-table interview in San Francisco, where he attended a screening and Q&A for the film ahead of its wide release. Here's what we learned.
1. Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor had to make up before making the movie.
"We fell out in a very kind of British way without really talking about it. The only time anyone would talk about it was in interviews when the press would mention it. Really what we should have done was what Sickboy and Renton do when they get back together at the beginning of the film, is have a punch-up. That's really what you needed to do was have a good fight with some pool cues and throw a few glasses at each other and et cetera. It was Ewan really funnily enough because he was gracious, really gracious. When Slumdog started to get a bit of attention, he presented one of these pre-Awards Season awards, he agreed to present one in LA, I think it was called the Brittania award. He made this speech and it was really touching, so we built on that together.
"I love him dearly, really. He's a very special person, and you don't see very much of each other because he lives in LA and I live in London. You're just not going to bump into each other that much, which is a shame, but whenever I do bump into him it's great. And it was great to get back together again and work. It felt very natural straight away, almost immediately. We fit together very well as a kind of actor-director combo."
2. The Cast Fell Right Back Into Old Habits
"The chemistry of the combo is something you can't predict even in a repeat of it. It's just there. It's always been there between them. They really do like each other in an interesting way — not in an entirely jovial kind of chummy way — there's bits of stuff going on, but it's in a good way."
3. Boyle Isn't Sorry About Making a Movie That Arguably Glamorizes Heroin.
"You can read [the first film] as a social document about Edinburgh's drug problem, which was huge at the time, and still maintains. I would argue that these kinds of movies are important because our relationship with heroin is an ongoing one. It will come and go, but it will always be there. It always has. No one's found a way of eradicating, partly because we medically depend on it."
"I think that first book is a masterpiece of presenting these characters who are normally marginalized and they're front and center. They're not victims and they're not evil. And they have a sense of humor and a point of view that is outrageously attractive, and that's why people are drawn to it. They dare to say things that people are frightened to say really. Like they say, "We don't take drugs because we're stupid. We take them because we enjoy them or we get something out of them." Which is something you're not allowed to say even now. It's like, "You can't say that, there's an opioid explosion. How dare you say it?" But you go, "Why are all those people taking them? They're not all stupid." Maybe some of them are but most of them aren't. They're taking them because they need them. They get something from them.
"Drugs have always been with us. They will continue to be with us. They're not going to vanish. They're a life-long accompaniment with us really. What was wonderful about the book was he looked at that front and center and absolutely refused to back down or apologize for any of it."
4. Boyle was careful not to make the same movie twice.
"There are some similarities — because I'm not a fool — you want to try and generate some scenes that have the energy and the delight and the repulsiveness you remember from the first film. So Spud throwing up in the sick bag, and them doing the 'No More Catholic' scene in the pub. So that's fine, but also you want the film to be about something that's a bit more painful.
"So they go to Corrour, and they don't make a funny speech about Scotland being shite — and we got criticized for that, and it's like, 'What do you want us to do? Do you want us to do another speech about Scotland being shite?' Or do you want to go there and actually what happens is you get this terrible memory of Tommy and this baby and it just crucifies them because at some point there's a reckoning for that kind of behavior, and it's there when it comes, and they can't cope with it, so they go back to heroin, both of them for the first time in 20 years."
5. And He Wasn't Interested in Making a Straight Adaptation of the Literary Sequel.
Boyle based the first Trainspotting on Irvine Welsh's novel of the same name. When Welsh published a sequel called Porno in 2002, Boyle considered adapting it, but ultimately decided not to. He didn't like the book as much as the original. (He said so himself twice during this roundtable.) And when he and screenwriter John Hodge hashed out some ideas for an adaptation, neither of them got very excited. Ultimately, T2 Trainspotting isn't anything like Porno, so the characters diverge more from their literary counterparts over the course of the story.
"We follow our path and he follows his, and they run in kind of respectful parallel. They don't seem to cross over. I would have thought they would cross over. From my perspective, I would have thought Irvine would have started writing them more like they are in the film, but from his perspective he probably thinks our films should be more like his books. It's very harmonious, but parallel rather than overlapping."
6. Boyle Didn't Mean to Make a Movie About Fatherhood.
"I was surprised — when we finished shooting the film and we saw our first assembly — at the impact of those children. There are multiple different children who are in it constantly. There's children everywhere. They've all got children or they've got imaginary children. These children are disappointed. There's that final scene about Begbie and his father. This fatherhood thing, I was surprised how present it was. I thought it would be more background noise, but it felt very present really, and it's because the film became about male behavior over time. The movement from boyhood to fatherhood or manhood over time, and that's what the film was about."
7. Culture Can Save Your Soul.
"It seems to be obvious to me where we're heading. With the mechanization or robotization of jobs and society, it's culture that should expand. Culture can save almost anyone really. You find you're not alone. You read to know you're not alone. That's the key thing they say, 'Well what is it to read a book?' And it's to know you're not alone. That loneliness, which is a product of the way we organize societies at present, people can become lonely-ized so easily. Culture solves that. You find a space, and that's obviously what we try to do in the film. So I would just read, listen to music, watch movies, soak up culture, and you'll find your heart in that. That's all I can say."
8. Renton's New 'Choose Life' Speech Is Steeped in Regret
"His updated speech, the 'Choose Life' speech, the final third of it, you realize it's not like the first speech, which is a litany of sneering at the choices available to him. It's actually a confession about how desperate he is, that he's disappointed that his choices, what he's done, hasn't worked, and that he needs help."
"Then he ends up sleeping with the girl right after it because she's impressed with his speech, and who wouldn't be? It's a great speech. But sadly that makes him forget what he should be doing. Guys are like that, you get to sleep with a young girl, and you think, 'Wow! I've still got it!' It's terrible really, men aging."
Here are the two speeches for comparison: