Irvine Welsh talks of bringing Filth to life

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IRVINE Welsh needs something to eat and he’s only got a glass of water to hand, “but it’s ok I’m staying near the Rapido so I’ll be alright,” he says with a smile.

It’s 4pm and in two hours he’ll be at the Omni Vue cinema for the premiere of Filth, the movie adaptation of his novel of the same name. Plenty of time to get a sausage supper in.

Irvine Welsh gets the word about Filth out. PICTURE: PHIL WILKINSON

Irvine Welsh gets the word about Filth out. PICTURE: PHIL WILKINSON

• Stars out for premiere

• Jonathan Melville’s film review

Right now we’re on the first floor of Edinburgh’s old GPO, now home to Creative Scotland offices, and he’s giving his last interview of the day about bringing his incredibly dark novel, written 15 years ago, to the screen. It’s been a long day, so is he fed up talking about it already?

“Not yet, but giving the same answers does bore me, so sometimes I’ll just say something different, make it up ... just to amuse myself.”

This is the way Welsh myths are created. Myths like he could barely write his own name to sign on in the early 1980s – when he was actually studying at Essex University. Or that he has a sister, when in fact he only has a brother. Or that he grew up in Morningside. Yes, even that one was swallowed by an unsuspecting interviewer at some point. So who knows how much, if any, the following is strictly true ... especially the stuff about singing old David Soul numbers on the karaoke.

What is a cold, hard fact though, is that Filth is the story of Edinburgh policeman, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, and his slow decline into mental and physical illness. It deals in violence, drugs, prostitutes, sexual perversions (though most of those have been left in the book no doubt to the censors’ approval) while Robertson attempts to win back his estranged wife and daughter by clinching a promotion and all the while making some vague attempt to investigate a murder.

Or as the film publicity states: “a bipolar, bigoted junkie cop manipulates and hallucinates his way through the festive season in a bid to secure promotion and win back his wife and daughter.”

The story is dark, complex, unsettling; the main character is sadly lacking in redeeming qualities. It’s not quite the kind of film movie studios would be falling over themselves to make, which is perhaps why it’s taken so long to get to the screen. But then, the same could have been said of Trainspotting.

“It’s a film which would be easy to do really badly,” says Welsh. “If you don’t have a really good director and strong lead actor, then it could have been really bad. There are some adaptations you can busk a little bit with, but not this story. I’ve been trying since the book came out to get it made into a film, but it’s been worthwhile taking time to get the right people together.”

Initially the rights to Filth were bought by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, but when the company’s European and US arms split, the rights to the movie went “into limbo”, says Welsh. “After about five years they came back to me. I was a bit gun shy of going back to Hollywood, and I wanted a British producer. A producer friend Miranda Robertson bought them and my pal Dean Cavanagh wrote a really great screenplay. Then we couldn’t find a director who didn’t want to write their own screenplay, so nothing happened.

“Then a friend of mine, Cass Pennant, was trying to get his biopic filmed and he called to say he’d met this guy from Aberdeen who was going to do that and he was a big fan of mine and wanted to make Filth.

“I met Jon (Baird, director) and then never heard anything for nine months. Then he came back with a screenplay and I was blown away by it – it was the same feeling I’d had when I first read the Trainspotting screenplay. I was very confident then that it would get made.”

From there Baird and Welsh hit Hollywood, and used their agency CAA to help get the film financed. Before a single actor was cast it was pre-sold to Australia, the UK, Japan and Germany.

“That gave us a big chunk of money to start,” he says.

So didn’t he invest himself? Welsh laughs. “The plan was to get other people to invest, that changed when we were more confident it was gilt-edged.” Which is why he’s named in the credits as an executive producer.

Casting the right person to play Robertson was always going to be key. Baby-faced, clean-cut James McAvoy, of Shameless, Atonement and X-Men: First Class fame, was not perhaps the first to spring to mind to portray a 40-something, cocaine-sniffing, alcohol-fuelled cop, mason and Hearts supporter.

“James was one of the first to contact us wanting to play Bruce. We met him and I thought he looked about 15. But actors always look younger. I left him and Jon to talk about it, and when I came back it was like he’d grown a five o’clock shadow, he’d just changed, he’d gone into role. I was so excited about that. We were blown away. Jon and I were high-fiving each other in the lift.

“And because James is such a big Hollywood star he was like a magnet for other actors to get on board. Jon just cast the f*** out of it.

“Having James also gave us someone people would want to like when they go and see the film. A bit like Ewan in Trainspotting, he’s a highly likeable guy. But to me Bruce is not a bad person, just a man who’s had a really hard time and is like a Greek tragic hero, ruining his life by himself. He’s also like a typical Scotsman, won’t take help from anyone when it’s offered.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though, even with McAvoy on board. Finance dropped out during the shoot, and Trudi Styler stepped in.

Shooting in Edinburgh though was a joy, and Welsh himself made a cameo appearance in a scene shot in the Grassmarket. “Though it was cut,” he laughs. “Which Jon had promised he’d never do.”

There’s also another surprising cameo in the film – David Soul.

“I had met him a while back and we’d kept in touch,” says Welsh. “Two of my karaoke numbers are Silver Lady and Don’t Give Up On Us Baby. I just wanted to get him involved. I introduced him to Jon and they got on like a house on fire – they went off on the piss for a couple of days.”

Robertson is a Jambo – was that a deliberate decision on Welsh’s part? “He could have been a Hibby, I mean Begbie was, so it’s not about being the bad guy. It’s just that he’s a cop and a mason, so I thought sociologically it was more likely he’d support Hearts.”

Welsh, who watched his beloved Hibs play at the weekend, knows his new movie is up against another shot in Edinburgh, with themes close to his heart. “I went to see Sunshine on Leith last week. I was converted before I went in. I was its easiest audience,” he says. “With Filth I’m definitely more nervous. Friends and family will be there and, of course, you want to see it going down well in your home town. It is exciting.”

With that, our allotted time is wound up. He poses for a photo, then is off to his car. A stop at the Rapido is likely.

Filth opens in Scotland on Friday, and nationwide on October 4.

Writer’s road to success was never a plod

FILTH was the fourth book Irvine Welsh had published after enjoying huge success with Trainspotting in 1993.

It introduced a new character in DS Bruce Robertson, but also references more familiar faces such as Begbie and Sick Boy from Trainspotting and other lowlifes from Marabou Stork Nightmares. There’s even been a sequel, Crime, which stars DI Raymond Lennox – Robertson’s sidekick in Filth.

Welsh himself is no stranger to drugs and violence. Born in 1957 at Elsie Inglis Maternity Hospital, he grew up in Muirhouse in the 1970s and his following of Hibs saw him witness, and very infrequently take part, in football hooliganism.

He also saw his housing scheme change through a combination of unemployment and heroin use, and later Aids and HIV. While he dabbled in drugs when he moved to London, his Edinburgh friends recall that he was generally more fond of drinking – spending a lot of time in the Harp Hotel in Corstorphine and had considered drugs as a middle-class pastime in his youth.

Welsh has said Filth was a “hard book to write” but after it was published “Polismen kept stopping me and asking me to sign their notebooks. It was always ‘make this out to Jimmy at our station . . . he’s just like the boy in your book’.”