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20 years later, the lads of ‘Trainspotting’ grapple with growing up

March 24, 2017 at 6:25 PM EDT
The new film "T2: Trainspotting" is about a group of best friends from the projects of Edinburgh, who come together after 20 years with a wee bit of baggage. Oscar-winner Danny Boyle returns to direct the sequel to the original 1996 movie about four heroin-using, small-crime committing, wild-living young men. Boyle talks with Jeffrey Brown about nostalgia, both in the new film and for the old one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: An Oscar-winning director returns with a sequel to a film that became a cult classic 20 years ago.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

ACTOR: Hello, Mark.

ACTOR: Simon.

ACTOR: So, what have you been for 20 years?

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a fraught question, all right. The new film, “T2: Trainspotting,” is about a group of men, once the best of friends growing up in the projects of Edinburgh, Scotland, coming together after 20 years, with a wee bit of baggage.

Director Danny Boyle says that nostalgia, even to the point of denial, is a central theme in the film.

DANNY BOYLE, Director, “T2: Trainspotting”: One of their problems is that they imagine, as men often do, that they can still live like they were 20 years old.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re saying that as you smile, right, that you feel it yourself.

DANNY BOYLE: Very much so. I mean, it’s like a — something I would absolutely hold up my hand and admit to. And it was one of the joys of doing the film was the learning process of seeing how poorly men age and how wise women are, whereas we — it’s not even like we think we’re living in the past. We just are, and we’re not admitting it to ourselves for so long.

And that’s one of those things that happens in the film. So, you have your cake, you have your fun, but you also — you learn from it as well, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: The new film is a sequel to the 1996 original “Trainspotting,” about four heroin-using, small-crime committing, wild-living young men.

Based on a 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh, it was a low-budget affair, Boyle’s second feature film, with then little-known actors, but it became a smash hit, one of the most successful films ever made in Britain, with a large, almost cultish following in the U.S. and worldwide.

DANNY BOYLE: We believed in it very fervently, very passionately, in the book and how we wanted to make it as a film. This is Irvine Welsh’s extraordinary voice that he creates for these people, and that we inherit in the movies.

He gives a voice to people who are marginalized, and they are from an extraordinary city, Edinburgh, but they’re from the fringes.

JEFFREY BROWN: The first one was about this youthful experience of, you know can almost do anything. And they do, like heroin and all kinds of antics. But you feel immortal. But now this is inevitably a kind of meditation about aging and mortality.

DANNY BOYLE: The first film is really boyhood, or, you know, when you emerge from childhood into those late teens, early 20s and you feel reckless and careless, and you can take all the risks, terrible risks you take with yourself and other people.

And most of us get away with it. And they have — most of them have got away with it. But they move from boyhood to manhood, really. You get a little sense of the beginning, a glimmer of understanding of where they are in the world and what they should be and what they need to atone for.

JEFFREY BROWN: For the sequel, again based on work by Irvine Welsh, the four lead actors, including Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller, have returned.

All had gone on to successful careers, as has Boyle, who won an Oscar for best director for “Slumdog Millionaire,” and later made the biopic “Steve Jobs.”

When you’re making a remake like this, there’s an opportunity, because you have a built-in audience, in some sense, but isn’t there also kind of, I don’t know, albatross or something of expectations?

DANNY BOYLE: Oh, totally. And you have to learn very quickly to take off the albatross. Otherwise, it just gets heavier and heavier, worrying about what people will think of us going back.

JEFFREY BROWN: You just say, don’t blow it, right? I have this memory of a film I love.

DANNY BOYLE: Yes. The affection for the first film was palpable. And, indeed, that was one of the reasons we went back to it. There was still an appetite for these characters.

But, yes, you’re concerned about not besmirching the original and the memory of the original. But we felt — and we tried 10 years ago, and we abandoned that attempt, because it would have disappointed people, we knew, because it was just a rehash of the original. It was kind of like a caper.

JEFFREY BROWN: “T2” is no rehash, but it does pay homage. Scenes are recreated from the original, again addressing addiction at times, but equally about the bonds of friendship.

ACTOR: I need to detox the system.

ACTOR: Detox the system. What does that even mean? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not getting out of your body that’s the problem. It’s getting out of your mind. You are an addict.

JEFFREY BROWN: Obvious question is, why go back?


Well, because I think it is kind of — it is a natural inclination in human beings. The past is alive in us, and you often ignore it for long periods of time.

JEFFREY BROWN: But there is it.

DANNY BOYLE: Yes, but there it is. And that’s why we have those catchup moments where you go, it’s not, is it, 20 years like that?

JEFFREY BROWN: And to the extent that we’re talking about a film about aging men, you’re older, too.


JEFFREY BROWN: Did you feel any trepidation about going back to your early period?

DANNY BOYLE: Oh, yes, because you think — you’re measuring yourself against the past, really.

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, you feel that?

DANNY BOYLE: Oh, yes, very much so, yes.

I also — because I have a philosophy, a belief, which I can see in many, many other directors that your early work is your best work, because you don’t know what you’re doing. And I certainly felt that way when we were making the first “Trainspotting.”

We were in the dark, me and the actors, but none of us had much experience. And so you’re taking huge risks, ridiculous risks, a bit like the bravado of the characters in a way. Obviously, when you come to a later one and you look back, then you begin to simulate some of that innocence and some of that naivete work and that freshness really.

And I hope some of that is in the new movie as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s an interesting philosophy of life and directing. It’s all downhill from here. Right?


DANNY BOYLE: Absolutely, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: “T2: Trainspotting” opens around the country today.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown.