Academy Award-Winning Filmmaker Danny Boyle

The Oscar-winning filmmaker discusses his new film, T2 Trainspotting, and what it was like to bring back the original cast of his seminal film,Trainspotting, after 20 years.

Director-Producer Danny Boyle is considered one of Britain's most revered filmmakers. He began his career in the theater and also directed TV films and serials. He made his name with the hit Trainspotting, one of the most talked-about films of the '90s, which was followed by the thriller 28 Days Later and his first American venture, A Life Less Ordinary. With Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle became one of few directors to win the Golden Globe, Director's Guild, BAFTA and Oscar for the same movie. His latest project is the follow up to his seminal film about drug addiction, T2 Trainspotting.


I’m so pleased to welcome Danny Boyle back to this program. It’s been nearly 20 years since the cult hit. “Trainspotting” introduced the world to the dangers of heroine addiction and the worst toilet in Scotland. Thanks for that, by the way [laugh]. We still can’t get that image out of our heads [laugh]. But now the team is back with “T2 Trainspotting”. Before we find out more about the new sequel, here a clip from “T2”.


Tavis: What is it like to bring a team back together again 20 years later?

Danny Boyle: I know. It’s a bit like a pop group reforming [laugh]. Or a school reunion. You know those terrible school reunions where you’re like — it has elements of that about it, you know, where you kind of — and it is like that because you’re not just looking at the other person. You’re looking at yourself as well, and kind of what’s changed in you.

You set yourself against the original time and what you did then and what you looked like then. And for actors, of course, that’s absolute. You tell them we’re going to see you like you looked 20 years ago and now we’re going to go boom on what you look like now. There’s going to be no Hollywood makeup or anything like that. It’s going to be — we’re going to see you like you are.

Tavis: That’s scary for some people.

Boyle: Yeah. They have to have a bit of courage to accept it. That was the nature of the project and that’s what it was going to be about. It was about what time had done to them really over that period, you know.

Tavis: Why was the time right to do this now?

Boyle: I think we tried — well, I know we tried about 10 years ago and that was when the actors didn’t look very different. And I don’t know whether our hearts weren’t in it, but we didn’t make a very good job of it, the script, and we never even sent it to the actors.

And then the 20-year anniversary loomed on the horizon and we thought we should have a try now? And I looked at them and they did look different now. They did look like time had passed and the moisturizer that they put on every night hadn’t worked quite as well as it used to work.

They were beginning to show the signs that we all show, and it’s an extraordinary time. I know you’re going to do something about aging, aren’t you, on the program about the signs of aging. But it’s something that connects us all, president to the homeless. Everybody suffers from it.

So we got together and wrote something a bit more personal than we had, and it was about ourselves really, about fatherhood and kind of like male behavior especially over time is what the film kind of became about. Men are very bad at aging, don’t you think?

Women age well in time. Women age much more sensibly than men age. We are terrible at it. We hang onto the past, which these guys do, and we don’t want to grow up. We never want to grow up. It’s just terrible [laugh]. I mean, it’s admirable in one sense because I’m a bloke, but honestly it’s terrible really. You should be sensible and, you know, mature gracefully.

Tavis: What’s also amazing for me, which is a bit more serious, which is to look at what you were talking about 20 years ago vis-à-vis heroine addiction and how the opioid addiction and heroine is back bigger than ever in certain circles, certain cities. I mean, what do you make of that?

Boyle: I think it’s always going to be with us, you know. It’s a drug that has an incredible power and we use it hospitals obviously in the form of morphine to eradicate terrible pain and suffering. And I think people use it to eradicate an emotional suffering illegally, you know, on the streets.

It often leads to a terrible absence of people. They can’t cope and they just want to erase everything if they can for a while. And its power is very effective, providing you don’t get terrible supply. It’s very, very effective and people are unable to resist wanting to keep using it.

It’s always going to be with us really in a way. And I think society, regardless of your politics, has to organize with that in mind. It’s not about that you’re encouraging people to use it. I think there always will be people who will be vulnerable to it and we have to look after them if we can, you know.

Tavis: What did you learn or what were your takeaways about yourself 20 years later?

Boyle: I worried that I hadn’t put enough time into my kids really. You know, the whole career thing, I could talk about that, but that’s what I have been talking about for 20 years. And you worry that, having done, have you put enough time in for your kids and stuff like that.

I’m very lucky I got three great kids who are grown up now, so they’d be better placed to answer this than me really [laugh], you know, in the way that they are. But, yeah, that’s what I thought. I did admit making the film made me think a lot about that actually, yeah. And that place we just saw in the clip? Arthur’s Seat, it’s called, which is…

Tavis: It’s a beautiful place, wherever it is.

Boyle: It’s in Edinburgh. It’s in the middle of Edinburgh. The city’s built around it. It’s a mountain and you can walk up there. I took my son up there while we were making the film, so we were talking about that, you know. Because when you make these films and you do publicity tours like this and you’re away from home and you’re not there for them and stuff like that, I did think about that for a while, yeah.

Tavis: Well, clearly, I mean, every parent knows that parenting is not an exact science. But your family, I know, had to be as proud of you as all the rest of us were two years when you’re standing onstage and won eight Academy Awards in one night.

Boyle: Yeah, we did okay [laugh].

Tavis: That’s an understatement [laugh]. Eight statues in one night for “Slumdog”. That was a huge night.

Boyle: I know, It’s like that Mickey thing, isn’t it? What did he say? “Seven with one blow”, he says in that cartoon. Anyway, yeah, it was a pretty special evening for us. We were very lucky, but we were blessed because we all believed in the project from the get-go when nobody else did and you go all that way like that. You cannot believe you’re going to get there.

Tavis: Kind of like “Moonlight”.

Boyle: Like “Moonlight” would have been the same because that was very modest origins, but they’ll have had belief. They believe in it in way and that’s essential to it, you know. In this world where there’s so much money, Hollywood, belief is really priceless.

You can’t buy it, you can’t manufacture it. You’ve got to feel it, you know. And when you make films like “Moonlight” or “Slumdog Millionaire”, you have that belief. It’s what sustains you.

Tavis: Speaking of “Moonlight”, we had a guest on this program a few weeks back, Naomie Harris, who sat in this very chair and had something to say about you and the role you played in her career. She, of course, was nominated for “Moonlight”, so I want you to see this. Play this clip of Naomie on our show.

Naomie Harris: “Oh, I love Danny Boyle. I really do. I really credit him. You know, when you’re starting your career, you always need that one person who’s going to take a risk on you. I didn’t really have very many credits.

You know, I’d been at universities and I’d been at drama schools. I hadn’t been working for a long time. You know, he gave me the co-lead in this big movie of his and he has always championed me and believed in me.

He did that then and then he did it like, I think, it was about 10 years later when I did “Frankenstein” at the National. And I hadn’t done theater since leaving drama school and he gave me this part of Elizabeth Lavenza in “Frankenstein” at the National in front of 1,100 people every night. That’s how I got Bond. Sam Mendes was in the audience, yeah.”

Boyle: Amazing.

Tavis: Look at this [laugh]. You discovered Naomie Harris [laugh].

Boyle: Well, I don’t know about — I’d love to take the credit for that. I’m not alone.

Tavis: But you were just talking about in this business how you have to have belief if you have nothing else. What’s she’s saying is you believed in her, but nobody else did.

Boyle: Yeah, because you could tell she’s an absolute thoroughbred. She can really do it. She can sort of do anything. You could sort of ask her to — she’s one of those actors that can sort of do anything really. All I remember is she had this terrible haircut. She doesn’t now. She looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous.

Tavis: You wouldn’t know that now, yeah [laugh].

Boyle: But she had this terrible haircut. I said, “You’ve got to change that haircut.” But she did, and she blew out the part really, and she’s someone I’d love to work with again actually. I was so proud when she got that nomination for “Moonlight”. You know, there’s weird moments in your career that you’re meant to be proud.

Well, I’m very proud of “Slumdog” getting eight and all that kind of stuff, but her getting a nomination weirdly gives you pride. It’s similar really in a way, and yet it’s nothing to do with me, not really. You know, it’s her in “Moonlight” and stuff like that, but I was very proud, yeah.

Tavis: I feel your heart every time you come on this program and I say that because I did not realize the last time we talked that you had thought about becoming a priest, wanted to become a priest, and were talked out of being a priest by a priest. Is that true?

Boyle: Yes, that’s true.

Tavis: Tell me that story.

Boyle: Well, my family’s all from Ireland and my mom was a very devout Catholic, very devout. And her only wish really was for her son to be a priest. I mean, they wanted me to get educated and stuff like that, but she wanted me to be a priest.

I was on the trajectory to be a priest and was at a Salesian college which is an educational brotherhood who teach young men. I was marked out for that and this priest said to me, “I think you should wait really.” I was like 12 or 13 and I didn’t really understand. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about.

And he was saying wait. He was basically saying, “Wait until girls arrived. You should give it a little while until you go through that whole girl thing”, and how right he was [laugh]. Anyway, Father Conway, I owe a great deal to, yeah [laugh].

Tavis: Is it also true — since I’ve got you, I can ask you whether these questions are true or not, these statements, rather — so that story is true. Is it also true that you turned down knighthood from the Queen?

Boyle: Yes, I did, yes.

Tavis: Why did you turn…[laugh]. I ain’t mad at you…

Boyle: You guys love all this stuff [laugh].

Tavis: No, no, no. I just said because Americans do love it. I have a whole different take on that, which I won’t get into tonight. But my thing about the monarchy would take us hours and I would catch all kind of pushback from — anyway, we’ll leave that alone. But it fascinated me that you actually turned that down.

Boyle: Well, we did the Olympics, the opening ceremony Olympics, and it was based on an…

Tavis: Which were amazing.

Boyle: Yeah, and I was really…

Tavis: Bond. I love it [laugh].

Boyle: Bond and the Queen.

Tavis: I love it, I love it, yeah.

Boyle: But it was based on an inclusiveness about everyone and everybody was treated the same, whether you were James Bond, Daniel Craig, or whether you were a lowly volunteer. The idea was that everybody was treated the same. We were all contributing to it. And then to be pulled out of that and to be kind of given this award for it, I didn’t think was right.

I have nothing against the awards, like I love an Oscar [laugh]. Who wouldn’t? But something like that felt like it would kind of elevate me above all the people who’d actually made it work. And my role in it was really important, but also was all there. So I didn’t think it was right really. And it’s not my cup of tea anyway, so it was a no from me [laugh].

Tavis: Had the girls not shown up, you would have been a good priest [laugh].

Boyle: Well, yeah, but everybody says, “Had you turned it down, you’d have pulled” — I remember Aaron Sorkin saying, “You got a knighthood. You would have pulled so many girls with a knighthood.” Aaron was obviously thinking about how much it impressed the ladies [laugh], but, you know.

Tavis: What are your hopes for “T2”?

Boyle: Well, we were very proud to make it because it had been a huge part of all our careers. You know, we kind of all really started off on it, and it felt wonderful to go back to it. It was very worrying to make sure we didn’t let people down because the affection people have for the original is still there.

So we wanted to make something that people would feel could stand beside the original film, not necessarily kind of out-beat it or not compete with it in any way, but sort of complete it really in a way.

There’s a weird thing in the film which you can play them part one and part two like that, but eventually we hope you’ll be able to play part two leading into part one. Because there’s this weird thing, Spud, who’s one of the characters. He was the other character on the hill with Ewan McGregor there.

He becomes the author of the original film. I don’t know whether you feel this, but the only consolation of aging, one of the few consolations of aging that I can perceive is that time isn’t a straight line. It’s sort of a loop really.

Tavis: Oh, yeah, that’s right.

Boyle: And that sort of happens in the film, you know, a little bit. You get this sense of things looping back on themselves, and I love that about the film. So I hope it stands beside the other film as a complement really.

Tavis: If you didn’t see one, can you see two?

Boyle: Yeah, you can actually. There’s no problem at all. I mean, there are also a couple of excerpts of one that are dropped into the film, but you’ll understand where they come from, I think. It won’t confuse you at all. No, it’s satisfying in its own right, yeah.

Tavis: There you have it. Danny Boyle, you’re the man.

Boyle: Tavis, thanks very much.

Tavis: Always honored to have you here, man. I enjoy our conversations immensely. Thank you, Danny. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: March 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm