Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle has an almost childlike quality about him. He appears to approach his surroundings with the brimming excitement of a kid who is just about to open a present and the sincerity of someone who hasn't been in this business for over 20 years.
The moment people recognized him last night at the Aero Theatre, a swarm of fans gathered around. Boyle was there for “A Conversation with Danny Boyle,” which not only served as a Q&A session with Boyle and Josh Trank, director of Chronicle, but to promote Boyle's upcoming film, Trance, a psychological thriller starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson.
We were lucky enough to sneak in a quickie one-on-one interview with Boyle prior to the event — our time made even shorter by one particularly nervous and enthusiastic theater worker who followed us into the manager's office for Boyle to autograph a photo of the two of them together from the 2009 Directors Guild Awards (when Boyle won for Slumdog Millionaire). Apparently he predicted correctly that Boyle would win. (He probably wasn't the only one who did so.)
Here's the interview, followed by some highlights from the conversation, moderated by L.A. Times writer Mark Olsen.
Your films are very different from each other. Is that an intentional choice? Or is there a common thread throughout all your films?
Both, actually… One of the kind of philosophies, if you like, is to try and do something different so that you're setting yourself a different challenge every time. Not just a slightly different story or different characters or different actors, but the genre or the world you're going to move into is different. And the reason for that is because I love that feeling of not feeling innocent, of not really knowing how to do it. Of having to learn by [looking] at the great films and also trying to figure it out yourself… And you're not trying to copy the great genre types — it's ridiculous to say you're trying to improve them — but you're trying to refresh them or renew them or see them differently.
So there's that [sense of] trying to get back to what you were like when you made your first film. Because there's something about that that is like being the first time you're in love. I mean, it's just like, you don't know what you're doing and you'll never actually do it as well. You'll do it sort of better [but] you'll never do it as wonderfully, in a way.
You realize after a few of them…there are things that link them together that you kind of go, “Oh, wow. I didn't realize it's the same movie.”…And one of the things I realized that links a lot of the movies that we've made is that there's hugely a character that faces insurmountable odds and somehow overcomes them. So you get that lift, which we all love at the end of the movie — it's a kind of hero thing, I guess.
And the difference in [Trance], I hope, is that…you can't work out which one it is [that] faces insurmountable odds. And if you put it in chronological order, you know. But because we don't, you don't really know until right at the end who faces insurmountable odds.
The movie that really put you on the map was Trainspotting, which has become a cult classic. Why do you think audiences gravitated toward that story the way that they did?
All the credit really comes from the book. The book is an extraordinary achievement and inspired everyone who worked on it: me, the actors, the screenwriter — everybody. We were all astonished by the book. But it didn't make you reverential, which great books can sometimes make you frightened to do anything to them. There's a spirit in it that goes, “Do anything,” that forces you to adapt it in a way that's almost anarchic. So some of it's not the book — I mean, bits of it are — but it has a spirit that tries to capture the book's energy. And it's the insight into people, really: the forgotten people or the dregs of humanity or long lost people. And it just focuses so much on them. There's something beautiful about that.
It was a great one to make as a second movie [his first was Shallow Grave] because we had a bit of confidence because the first movie had been quite successful… We didn't have a huge amount of money, but we had this novel that was a slap in everybody's face. And you wanted to capture that, really, and I think that we were lucky enough to get enough of that in the film and people recognize that.
And he has this gallery of characters… Listen, I've made lots of movies, and I can't even remember the names of the characters in the movies I've made. But everybody remembers their names: Begbie, Spud, Sick Boy, Renton… It's weird to carry character names like that, you know.
So, I've heard rumors that there's going to be a Trainspotting sequel…
[Boyle crosses his fingers.] It's not just teasing. It's a very, very serious prospect — and a very serious attempt we're going to try to do something that relates to the fact that it'll be those same actors in those same character parts twenty years older. It'll be like a time lapse. They'll go from how they were when…all the actors were in their mid-twenties — and not they're mid-forties. And we've all aged. One section of [the] audience will have all aged, but there's another section of audience who caught up with the film because it is regarded as a cult classic.
I have to ask. Any chance of Tommy coming back in any form?
I know, Kevin McKidd. He was lovely. He was really lovely. It was interesting because we did these posters, which became very iconographic. And he was meant to be on the poster but he was on holiday. And he wouldn't change his holiday… So he didn't get to be on the posters.
Maybe this is his chance to get on the poster.
Maybe he will come back. Maybe he'll come back and he won't be forty — unlike the rest of them. He'll still be like, “You see?” It's better to have that eternal youth.
Okay, last question. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, which is coming up. Where is your favorite place to grab a pint?
I don't know any drinking holes. I'm not a big drinker. I have spent a very drunken evening in New York, which is, of course, the place to be on St. Patrick's Day. So I can claim that. But I've also, I spent… I'll tell you where we were at…where we came from was Austin for the South by Southwest festival, and I remember about three years ago, four years ago, I spent a weekend in Austin, and I don't remember a single thing about it. And it must've been a great weekend because you just don't remember anything about it. And they say that, isn't it? “If you can remember the party you've been at, it wasn't really a party.”
Next: highlights from the discussion
Some highlights from the discussion:
- Boyle tells the audience that your first film is your best, acknowledging that Trank is about to make his second film, a remake of The Fantastic Four. Talk about pressure.
- Because Boyle finds that actors don't really look great running, he turned to an East London agency that represents professional athletes whose careers are over to find zombie extras in 28 Days Later. Boyle had an acting workshop with some of them, having them threaten him. “I don't know whether any of you ever lived with, like, a ballet dancer or an athlete, but people who are absolutely focused on the body…when they turn it on, it's pretty scary.”
- Boyle discusses how the reason there was so much footage of the meteor that hit Russia is because, in Russia, cars are equipped with cameras for insurance purposes. Apparently, insurance companies won't pay unless they're provided with proof. Thus, the cameras.
- The studios were told that Slumdog Millionaire was like Trainspotting but with a more Amélie feel. And 127 Hours was sold as being an action film where the hero doesn't move.
- Boyle to the American audience, who he lauds for their movie knowledge and appreciation: “If you read as many books as you've seen films, people would really respect you.”
You can catch Boyle's upcoming film Trance in theaters starting April 5.