Danny Boyle: Trainspotting sequel was case of ‘now or never’

Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller in T2 Trainspotting. Picture: Contributed
Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller in T2 Trainspotting. Picture: Contributed
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A “now or never” summit was held in Edinburgh to decide if a sequel to Trainspotting should go ahead, Danny Boyle has revealed.

A “Big Brother House” was hired to have a final go at coming up with a story that would persuade the actors who starred in the original film to revive their roles after two decades.

The Oscar-winning director, author Irvine Welsh, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald reunited in the city as the clock ticked towards the 20th anniversary of the first film’s release in 1996.

But Boyle said the resulting script produced by Hodge convinced him Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner could return, saying: “I thought they’d be crazy not to do it.”

Although T2 Trainspotting, which is released on 27 January, is said to be loosely based on Welsh’s 2002 sequel Porno, Boyle revealed the new film is also “a direct look” back to the author’s original 1993 best-seller, which he described as being “like a modern Ulysses.”

Boyle and Hodge – who were interviewed in the LA Times – started working with Welsh on a sequel three years ago after the director and McGregor resolved their much-publicised differences after the actor was dropped from The Beach.

• READ MORE: Picture quiz: How well do you know Trainspotting?

Recalling the discussions over a possible sequel, Boyle said: “The main question was ‘could John produce a script?’

“The actors naturally had reservations in terms of only wanting to do something as well as we did the first one - they didn’t want to let people down by making a disappointing follow-up. John attempted a couple of versions which we all knew, including him, didn’t work. Then we all went up to Edinburgh for one final go.

“The 20th anniversary was coming up and we thought it’s now or never.

John went away and wrote a script that I knew, as soon as I read it, I could send to the actors. I thought ‘they’d be crazy not to do it’.

“They still might have said ‘no’ because of all sorts of factors, not least because a couple of them are in serious full-time TV shows. But they all responded very positively, so we were able to get it going.”

Welsh said: We had this Big Brother House in a flat in Edinburgh. They were getting immersed in the city again. It was a now or never situation. We got to a point where it was going to happen.”

McGregor said: “It wasn’t until three or four years ago that this started being talked about. A new script was then written by John, and it was like ‘oh **** it’s really good … it’s really really good!’

“So we had a secret meeting in the Union Club in Soho. Well, all except for Johnny Lee Miller, who couldn’t make it. Even at the premieres and at Cannes there was always someone who wasn’t there. But in this case there was Bobby Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Danny, Andrew Macdonald, John Hodge and me. It felt really extraordinary. We read the script out loud and talked about it afterwards. And really from that day we were all in.”

The new film is set after 20 years after the original, which ended with McGregor’s character, Renton, betraying his friends after a drug deal in London. He returns to Edinburgh for the first time and is quickly reunited with old friends Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie.

A number of other cast members return in the sequel, including Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo and Kelly Macdonald.

Boyle added: “It’s 21 years since the release of the first film, and conventional wisdom says that’s 20 years too late to do a sequel.

• READ MORE: What songs are on the new Trainspotting (T2) film soundtrack

“The delay wasn’t exactly deliberate — we’ve been talking about doing another one for years.

“But, actually, it’s what gives the film a raison d’etre. When you put the actors side by side with how they looked 20 years ago, it’s very brutal.

“We looked at it 10 years ago and the actors didn’t look that different. I used to joke with them that they must moisturise all the time! But 20 years is a long time and you can feel it.

“The guys dealt really well with how they look now and how that they were going to be compared to how they looked previously. It was honest. They weren’t shy about owning up to where they are now, and that’s what the movie is all about.”

Carlyle, whose fearsome character has been serving time behind bars, said: It was a long time to wait to do it again. I expected it to be tough, but it genuinely wasn‘t.

“It’s a corny thing to say, but it was like an old pair of shoes. I knew this guy Begbie so well. He’s changed a lot, but there‘s still a lot of fun about the character - and a kind of despair as well. He’s led a sad kind of life. And that is really what the film explores.

“It‘s what have these guys done in the last 20 years and where are they now? It‘s very emotional, much more emotional than I expected it to be and I think it‘s probably even more emotional than Danny expected it to be.”

Jonny Lee Miller said: “I always said there was no point in making a sequel to Trainspotting unless you’re examining some bigger issues. What’s it like being older? What have you done? What’s happened to the characters and what are the implications? A straightforward sequel to a caper, with the answers to who got away and who got revenge, becomes very boring really. The only way you could make it interesting is to put people’s lives in between it.”

Boyle added: “We always sort of knew that there would be a pleasure in seeing these four characters together again, but the big surprise is the emotional impact. You see their faces, and it’s immediate.

“There’s a pathos. It’s to do with our awareness of what time has done to them, and to us. The film kind of telescopes time—you look one way and the past is there, so close; you look again—and it’s gone.”