Trainspotting is a bona fide classic. The 1996 feature film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name made international stars out of director Danny Boyle, and young actors Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlysle, Ewan Bremmer and Kelly Macdonald. The film, which followed the exploits of a group of heroin addicts in an impoverished area of Edinburgh, saw its screenplay by John Hodge nominated for an Oscar, and was also named the 10th best British film of all time and the very best Scottish film of all time.
That’s an insanely tough legacy to live up to, which is probably why it has taken Boyle and co more than 20 years to revisit those crazy characters. But now T2: Trainspotting is happening, bringing back Rent Boy, Sick Boy, Spud, Franco and the rest of the group – all older, but probably not wiser. And for Johnny Lee Miller, he found out about the reunion in a rather unconventional manner.
I got a postcard [from Danny Boyle]. I got a postcard last year and it just said that we are going to have a go at T2, script is following.
After that came… well, nothing for a bit. Instead Miller just had to hang around and wait. Luckily the wait was worth it.
I just waited to see what it was like. I knew we wouldn’t do it if the script wasn’t good enough. And when [Danny] says that we are going to have a go at it, that is what he means, have a go. And he wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t satisfied with the script, because I think that happened ten years ago. [But the script’s] great. It wasn’t anything any of us took lightly, we were all quite nervous about it. I think after reading the script though, it was pretty much ‘yeah we were going to do it,’ because the script was great and we realized that we all felt that and the time was right really. I like that it was very different and I liked what it had to say, and I found it quite reflective and moving, and it’s about a completely different set of issues really.
Of course, while things may be different, there are some things that will still be the same. This is Trainspotting after all.
There might be some drugs involved. My character has got a drug habit still, he’s a bit of a cokehead. Sick Boy has got a lot of personal issues in the movie and he hasn’t really moved his life on too much. In the first film, they are a group in the same situation, and here they are four individuals in very different places.
While those places may be different, all four characters do share one similarity though, in that they’re no longer moving forward in their lives.
Well, I think [Sick Boy] is a little bit stuck as a person, and I think he has emotionally really not matured very much. So I think he is at a point of being quietly desperate…
…In the first movie, they are all cool. People were like, ‘Oh Sick Boy is cool,’ and he was, the hair and everything. Now, he isn’t cool at all, because he is kind of stuck. And that was very interesting for me to show that he is still trying to be that, but it’s not working. And hopefully I think that is relatable to people.
They are [all] kind of stuck, but I think I can say that the movie is driven by the story that happens and the way that we find them, it’s really initiated by Renton (Ewan McGregor). And that comes from him having a realization, and perhaps being more mature than the others. In the way that the first film was really his point of view and voiceover, I think that he is probably the one that has gotten the most maturity.
That’s of course the situation the characters find themselves in, but what about the actors? Miller reveals that it’s actually been 20 years since they have been in the same room together.
There’s a few days of, we get together for rehearsals and conversations and some of us are there before others, because of the way timing works out. So the first time I saw the Ewan’s (Mcgregor and Ewen Bremner) and Bobby (Robert Carlyle) was in a rehearsal space and we sat down and talked and that was pretty amazing. And we slowly started to catch up and we went out to dinner a couple of times. Just to be there in the same place, talk about a script that we all really dug, cause it was pretty surreal experience to visit something 20 years later with the same group of people.
It sounds like the group managed to get right back into their groove again without much hassle, getting along like the old friends they are. Things may be different on-screen though, as the original Trainspotting ended with Renton stealing all of the rest’s money. Miller had previously indicated in the past that Trainspotting was a film about friendship, but how does that change now?
What was refreshing about that was the hero does that to his friends at the end. And yet he is still sort of remembered as the hero of the movie. And it was real. Like people let each other down and they do selfish things for whatever reason and they have a self-preservation and things aren’t always black and white and there isn’t always right and wrong. That happens in groups of people and I think that was always relatable to people. And yeah, the movie looks at that. And it definitely is addressed cause you can’t come back and not. If you think about it, the first film didn’t have a plot. It was just a group of friends interacting and then at the end, they get some drugs and go down and do a drug deal. That really is the plot. (laughter) And it’s kind of the same model for the second movie. It’s a group of people interacting and how their actions have affected one another.
Whatever the theme behind it, the original Trainspotting clearly struck a chord with viewers, something that it still continues to do to this day as more audiences discover it and are influenced by it.
What’s interesting is a lot of people I work with are in their 20s, the PAs and the crew, and they are obsessed with Trainspotting. And I am like, ‘how old were you when it came out?’ And they are like six, and it’s kind of depressing. (laughter) But they are really into it and so I know it’s a good movie, because it still stands the test of time. I do think the films do go hand in hand and there’s a lot of echoes from the first film in the second. It’s the same guys.
I think [Trainspotting] was just very relatable. It was cool so that people could sort of aspire to it, but it was also about rebellion and anger and giving the finger to society and doing your own thing. And it was about executing all that in a very cool and visual way with amazing music and great characters and it was very fun and funny. And it hit the zeitgeist; hit the nail on the head. So you can’t do that again, you can’t. It would have to be like a whole different film made by a whole different group of people now and it will happen again someday, absolutely.
But are these things applicable to those people now that they’re older? I don’t know, it’s like the million-dollar question, isn’t it? But I think that it’s more about love and loss and what you are left with and what have you got and what have you done? And it’s more reflective like that. And I think it does it in a pretty clever way and I think it will be relatable because of that. I hope so.
As much as audiences fell in love with the original film, it also caused a fair bit of controversy as some people accused the film of glorifying heroin addiction by having these “cool” characters all using. How will T2 address this?
No, I don’t think we were trying to [glorify heroin]. I don’t think anybody is trying to make the same movie. Danny’s intention is always really honesty and this is something that you learn when you work for him and in the rehearsal process, his only interest is in what people are saying to each other and how they are saying it to each other and how their characters are interacting. And the truth then leads you to funny stuff and drama. So I think he was obsessed with showing why people take drugs and then the consequences of abuse; and not in a documentary way. So therefore, these people are having fun on drugs? That’s the truth. And the consequence is a whole other thing. So I think this movie deals with that. You have some of that, but it’s not going to be, I don’t know if it will be outrageous to people because it’s not presenting the same arguments really.
No, it was not outrageous to anyone that has had any contact with that kind of world or who has lived like that. Was it outrageous? No. It was truthful. Maybe shocking to people who didn’t know about it, or people who like have never taken drugs or gone out or had a good time or all that. But like I said when it comes down to it and it’s about who are your friends and how you treat each other and what is important to you in life? Is family important, are your friends important and are you going to screw them over and what are you doing and what are you going to do? And then now we get to look at what did you do and who are your friends and are you going to make amends to them or are you going to still try and screw people over; it’s just life stuff.
And as we all know, “life stuff” gets emotional, and for Miller and his costars that was no different when making this movie. Especially as they shot certain scenes in T2 that related back to the original film. Was it emotionally challenging to do that?
We only revisit a couple of the locations from the first movie and one of them was very recognizable from the first movie and there we were again. And Spud (Ewen Bremner) has written something and he has Ewan (McGregor) read it out loud and it was pretty amazing because of what it’s about. That was very reflective and I can’t really tell you any more than that, because it would just spoil it. But it was a big moment for all of us there cause it just hit us what we were doing. So I wouldn’t say that it was challenging, but I would say yeah, it was an amazing moment, because you saw the look on Danny’s face and he is not really an overly emotional guy. But it really hit us all and it was pretty cool. But challenging would be the wrong word, but emotionally, yeah.
We’ll get to see for ourselves exactly what scene Miller is talking about when T2: Trainspotting hits local screens on 24 February.
Please note: The contents of this interview were provided by Flow Communications on behalf of Ster Kinekor.