The new book giving the inside track on the making of Trainspotting 25 years on

It was one of the biggest box office sensations in British cinema, which turned its cast into huge stars almost overnight.

Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle as Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie in the first Trainspotting film
Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle as Spud, Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie in the first Trainspotting film

But a quarter of a century after the release of Trainspotting, the full story of how it was made has only now been fully documented.

Jay Glennie’s new book chart the highs and lows, the myths and controversies, and the stories behind the classic scenes.

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Key players, including author Irvine Welsh, screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle, offering their insights, while Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd and Kelly Macdonald are among the stars sharing their reflections.

Jay Glennie's new Trainspotting book is available to order now.

The Coattail Publications book reveals the groundbreaking adaptation very nearly failed to get off the ground – after a near-catastrophic mix-up over the film rights.

Macdonald had read Trainspotting on a flight from London to Glasgow in 1993 shortly after filming had wrapped on Shallow Grave, his first collaboration with Hodge and Boyle.

Boyle recalls: “It was truly a turning point in my life. Once I started to read it, I couldn’t stop. Irvine’s book is one of the greatest ever written. It was a new voice. It was magical, but so far removed from being a film, it was all over the place.”

By now living in Amsterdam, Welsh enjoyed receiving “overtures” from Boyle about an adaptation of Trainspotting and was also sent an early version of Shallow Grave ahead of its release.

Robert Carlyle had to be persuaded that he was suitable for the role of Begbie in Trainspotting.

Welsh says: “I thought it was f****** brilliant. This guy knew what he was doing. I loved John’s screenplay and I just thought if he was to put my characters with that cinematic energy it was going to be f****** unbeatable.

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“I kinda warmed to Danny’s courting. He was old school, writing me these hand-written letters.”

Macdonald and Boyle had just secured funding from PolyGram and Film 4 to make Trainspotting when it emerged their plans were in “jeopardy” after Welsh negotiated a deal with another company.

Welsh received a handwritten “harsh note” from Boyle accusing him of betrayal.

Ewan McGregor was first choice to play the lead role of Renton in Trainspotting.
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Welsh recalls: “I then realised that I had basically sold the rights to the wrong guy.

"I didn’t know anything about how the film industry worked. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry either. I didn’t have an agent.

"I had done very well negotiating my own book deals, so I arrogantly presumed I could operate in the same way in the more complex world of film. I just charged forward like a bull in a f****** china shop.”

The crisis was only resolved by Macdonald after several months of complex negotiations.

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Irvine Welsh shot to fame when his debut novel Trainspotting was published in 1993 - less than three years before the film adaptation was released.

Welsh also wrote to Macdonald weeks before filming was due to start raising concerns about the dialogue in Hodge’s script.

He said: “I appreciate that actors will bring their own sensibilities to the roles, but the characters at present sound to me more like middle-class students than scheme junkies.”

Ewen Bremner’s performance as Spud is revered by fans, but he was dismayed at being overlooked for the lead role of Renton, after playing the role in the acclaimed stage production.

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Bremner, who told his agent to put him forward for other films when told Boyle wanted him as Spud, says: “As soon as I read it I knew that it had been written for Ewan McGregor. I absolutely knew from page one.

“I have to say I was very frustrated at the time. I was a bit miffed and I wasn’t at all excited about jumping into it.

"My feelings didn’t change up until the last minute. I cannot believe that I was on that precipice of making a huge mistake and I sincerely meant it as well. It just shows how silly you can be.

"It was in a lot of ways my ego and snobbery, choking me up about it.

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"In the end it came down to a great script, wanting to work with Danny and that I’m from Portobello, just a couple of miles from Leith. I knew that world and I just felt the characters were part of my heritage.”

Robert Carlyle lost out on the chance to star in Shallow Grave after refusing to “tone down” his working class accent for Boyle.

When Carlyle, a fan of Welsh’s book, was asked to see the director for Trainspotting he insisted he was not tall enough to play the terrifying character of Begbie.

He recalls: “It was weird to get the call from Danny. I honestly didn’t know why he could possibly want to see me for Trainspotting. I couldn’t see anything good coming from it.”

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Carlyle changed his mind after reading Hodge’s screenplay, saying he was “blown away.”

He tells Glennie: “It was always going to be really difficult to condense that novel, to distil all the energy and craziness into a 90-minute screenplay. That he managed to do that is amazing. It lent itself perfectly to Danny’s vision and allowed space to tell the incredible visual story that it became.”

An insistence on a complete newcomer to play schoolgirl Diane saw more than 900 young women audition after flyers seeking “the new Patricia Arquette or Kate Moss” were distributed across Glasgow.

Macdonald went along with a “bonkers short haircut” after spending the only money she had left getting her required headshot done in a photobooth in Central Station. She got lost in a Strathclyde University building en route to the first audition and fell down stairs outside the audition room just before her second.

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Recalling her third and final audition, this time with McGregor, Macdonald says: “I was 19 and a bag of nerves. I felt so daunted to meet Ewan. He was on TV and was mostly naked on TV as well. In fact, Ewan was maybe the first man I’d ever seen nude!

“I never made eye contact with Ewan, not that he would have been able to see me, as I had my script right in front of my face. I was absolutely nothing like the confident Diane.”