Danny Boyle was really not surehe wanted to make a “Trainspotting” sequel. There was talk of a follow-up back around 2006, as the smash hit — the one about young heroin addicts and ne’er-do-wells, played by Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle — was turning 10. But it didn’t feel right.
“If we went back to it, and the actors didn’t look that different — which they didn’t 10 years ago — and we didn’t really have anything to say, other than to rehash some of the jokes, it wasn’t good enough,” Boyle tells us.
Cut to 2015, with the 20th anniversary looming, and they decided to take another crack at it. It turns out the new “T2 Trainspotting” is very different indeed: gloomier, sadder, though still darkly comic. Where the first film was about youth, the second is about aging, and how badly our heroes — reunited after two decades — are handling their mid-40s.
We talked to Boyle — who since the original has made “28 Days Later,” “127 Hours” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” which netted him a Best Director Oscar — about making a very different sequel, the controversy that plagued the first and, of course, heroin.
What was the thing that convinced you a “Trainspotting” sequel would be more than a rehash?
As we talked about it, something more personal emerged. We wanted to be honest about decay, about wounds, and — since it’s a very male environment, the original film and this new one as well — about how poorly men age. Our representatives of that are a very peculiar group, obviously, because of their relationship with drugs and with each other. But it’s about the transition from a celebration of all that energy of youth to manhood, and male behavior over time. It would be about how much better women age than we do.
You had no problem getting funding for this movie, whereas with the first, that must have been incredibly difficult.
Back then, nobody wanted a drug movie. They don’t work, nobody goes to see them. And they’re depressing. The only reason we got permission to do it was because of the success of our first film, “Shallow Grave.” And we had an idea of how to do it, so it was a celebration of the novel [by Irvine Welsh]. Whereas this new film is a little more introspective — inevitably, because of their ages. And also because of their reckoning. If you’re going to do a film with the premise that Renton returns after an exile of 20 years, there’s going to be more of a sense of reckoning rather than an immersion in a style of life, which is what the first one is, really.
The tone is different, too. It doesn’t look or feel like the first.
The biggest change is there’s no voiceover. The first is a voiceover film. There’s hardly any dialogue. There are bit and pieces, but not much, because it’s all led by Renton. He leads you through the visuals. That was a big decision, not to give him voiceover this time. He can’t hide behind the voiceover. He can’t smart aleck his way through a voiceover again. He’s got to say what happened. Eventually do hear him say that he’s 46 and he’s f—ed. That makes a huge difference to the style of the film, how you shoot it. When we were preparing the first film, I remember seeing “Goodfellas,” which is also a voiceover film. We were very influenced by that. But we saw how much material you need to gather for a voiceover film compared to a film of proper scenes, where people talk to each other and work things out over scenes. It’s very interesting to see the difference.
At the time, the first “Trainspotting” was criticized for “glamorizing” drugs. But it’s so much more complex, which is not to say that it’s actually simple anti-drug propaganda.
A lot of those comments were made without seeing the film, generally speaking. But there was a malaise at the time that the film tried to break. People often moralized in a way that was disconnected from the experiences of a lot of the people who were going to see the film, who did have a relationship with drugs. That relationship is full of risks, but they’re risks they’re willing to take.
The first one is a celebration of that recklessness, that carelessness, that abandon you have as you emerge out of childhood. It didn’t try to moralize about it, because that’s what was unique about the book: It gives you their perspective, of these people who are normally viewed by mainstream society as victims or stupid or evil.
Often the people who are dealing out that morality have a relationship to drugs themselves. As Renton points out in the voiceover, they’re addicted to the drug du jour, whether that’s Prozac, whether that’s Viagra, whether it’s painkillers. And heroin is a painkiller. It’s what people take to ease pain. It’s in our hospitals, and if we’re lucky we’ll all die on it, because it’s a very nice way to go, apparently. I’ve seen elderly relatives self-administering it. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a car crash, you’ll be on it. It’s an extraordinary drug.