Filmmaker Danny Boyle

Guest interviews are usually available online within 24 hours of broadcast.

Oscar-winning filmmaker and co-producer of 127 Hours describes the challenge that he faced creating a film with one actor in one location.

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.


Tavis: Please welcome Danny Boyle back to this program. The Oscar-winning director of films like Trainspotting and, of course, Slumdog Millionaire is once again in the middle of the conversation about this year’s best films. His latest is called 127 Hours starring James Franco. Here now a scene from 127 Hours.
Tavis: I was just whispering to you in that clip. I’m glad they chose that. That clip’s a good example of what I was just sharing with you. This movie really made me appreciate – we see these awards – you know, we see these categories, rather, at the Academy Awards for sound and music score and those kinds of things that may not be as fancy as Best Actor or Best Picture.
But that scene underscores how important sound and music are to a film. Franco didn’t say a word in that clip, but you can feel the energy because you can hear the sounds and the music. I mean, talk to me about that as a director.
Danny Boyle: They say 70 percent of a movie is sound. You don’t think it is, but it is. If you take the sound off, forget it. It’s amazing the way it develops the film and the character. Like in this film, there’s no one there for him to talk to, so all he has are these possessions. Things that we take for granted like nothing like a water bottle and a burrito, you know, suddenly become everything. They become kind of almost of religious importance to him, you know, as he tries to spread out the water through the time that he’s trapped.
So you emphasize that with the sound. You just trickle the sound of water and you use the sound of water through the film. They kind of trace it through the film and it drives him mad, you know, because all he wants is more water if he could have it. You can use it to tease the audience in that way as well and make them feel dry. The other thing is you can use sound to make things feel dry. You can dry everything up. Every sound is like rustling, like it’s drying. You start to feel what he’s feeling, which is this terrible kind of tongue-swelling need for water.
Tavis: This is inside baseball, but as a director, you realized all this? You figured all this out before you went into the project? You knew that it was gonna really rely heavily on these kinds of factors? Or as you get into it, you start to figure out, you know, this is not what I thought it was gonna be?
Boyle: You discover it as you go along. I mean, you hope that you’ve made the right decision about wanting to do it. Because some stories deepen as you do them and, other ones, you kind of discover their bottom quite quickly. This one got deeper as we went into it. It was weird actually. The guy I wrote it with, Simon Beaufoy, who wrote Slumdog Millionaire, we talked about how personal this film was for us. Although it’s about this guy who gets trapped, it’s a factual episode of what happened.
Tavis: True story.
Boyle: Yes, a true story, but it felt very personal to us in the way that he grows to appreciate people. He has this 127 hours in which he grows to appreciate how important these people are in his life, people that he’s taken for granted or he hasn’t been careful enough with their affections. Both the writer and I felt that very deeply about the film and it become more and more personal the more we explored it, you know.
Tavis: Since it is a true story, the true story is?
Boyle: Aron Ralston, 27-year-old Intel engineer, turned his back on a promising career in computer engineering and he embraced the wilderness. Climber, canyoneer, adventurer, really. He goes into this canyon in a remote part of Utah and he has a slight fall and gets trapped by a boulder. His right arm gets trapped.
He lands standing up and everything’s in place. Everything’s fine except for the fact he can’t move his right arm. And he spends the next six days, 127 hours, trying to get out of there doing anything he can to get out of there. Eventually, he has to amputate his right arm with his pocket knife that he has to get him out of there.
But what’s extraordinary about the story is that the redemption you feel having gone through this is deeply earned. You know, you feel like you’ve earned it. Feel-good films are – you know, I’ve done one of them. Slumdog is a kind of feel-good film. But there’s nothing easy about this.
This is deeply earned, this journey that you go on. It’s a wonderful use of the intensity of cinema to take you somewhere where you would rarely want to go yourself, but it actually makes you appreciate some of the things that are important in your own life as well, like the value of other people, to don’t give up. We will all face things that we might despair sometimes, but never, never give up. Because he achieves rebirth, life is given back to him at the last possible moment. It’s extraordinary.
Tavis: I’m fascinated by your phrase. I love it that he earns redemption in this film.
Boyle: Yes, he does, he does. There’s a wonderful phrase by Cormac McCarthy and he says, “He achieves – rescues men when all other resources have been exhausted.” He has done everything to get out of here and he has this vision. He started to hallucinate, which you do when you dehydrate, and he sees this child. He knows it’s not Jesus or Mohammad or Buddha. He just knows it’s his child in the future.
Now he’s 27. He’s not a guy who’s thinking about settling down, I mean, a family or anything like that, but he knows that’s his child in the future.
This child gives him a way out of this place that he’s in, this hell that he’s in, and it’s extraordinary. So it comes out of not physical courage in a way. It becomes a spiritual, a grace-like, acceptance that he has a role to play in life much more important than all these adventures and his conquests and, you know, the challenges he sets himself in life.
There’s something much more important, which is actually – I mean, like any parent really – selflessness, just to give over his self to someone else. He realizes he must live for this child and so he does what, at the beginning of the film is unthinkable, he actually manages to do and get out of there and he lives, extraordinarily enough.
Tavis: Again, inside baseball, because when you see this film, it’s fascinating. It kind of reminded me – you know, I’m not a director, obviously – it kind of reminded me, though, because of the acting. What was the Tom Hanks film? Was it Castaway?
Boyle: Castaway, yeah.
Tavis: I love Hanks as an actor. When you see him in that movie, though, you know how good this guy really is. He’s carrying this film all by himself. He’s on an island and all he has is – you know the story.
Boyle: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: So you love Hanks for how he’s doing this all by himself. Franco is the same way in this film. I mean, this guy is in this hole. His arm is trapped and the only thing is, he’s working with himself. Tell me more about how you direct that. I’m just fascinated by, when you’re directing one guy basically, and that’s it.
Boyle: Well, the thing – well, Tom Hanks had a football, didn’t he, that he called Wilson?
Tavis: A soccer ball, yeah, yeah.
Boyle: A soccer ball that he calls Wilson.
Tavis: Exactly.
Boyle: So in our case, what Aron Ralston had, he had a video camera with him and he left a series of messages on it to his loved ones. Every day he left a message and that was our ammunition. What, of course, he can do is he can talk directly to the camera because he’s leaving these messages.
You can go inside the camera and literally look at this guy who knows he is dying and he wants to leave these messages to people to, yeah, basically apologize for the way that he’s been in his life or he hasn’t appreciated people as much as he knows that he should have. It’s wonderful, moving. And it leads him towards redemption.
Of course, there’s a journey he has to go on in his heart to find himself to be a better man really and it’s only then he’ll get out. He can’t get out in the beginning when it’s just all about his power and his might and his achievements. None of that will help him, all those skills. It’s only when he achieves this change of heart that he will actually get out of there.
Tavis: I was teasing you when you walked on the set about the fact that Franco, this guy’s everywhere. He’s on the cover of every freaking magazine [laugh]. He’s hosting the Academy Awards this year, he and Anne Hathaway. Everywhere you look, you cannot avoid James Franco and all these James Dean [laugh]-
Boyle: [Laugh] He could be anywhere.
Tavis: He may be here, yeah. All these James Dean comparisons. I raise that only because he’s obviously a fine actor, but how do you know the kind of actor you need for that kind of role?
Boyle: You need somebody who’s good at comedy, funny enough. Not a comedian. You need a serious actor.
Tavis: I didn’t expect you to say that part.
Boyle: You need a serious actor who’s good at comedy. Do you remember when De Niro did all those films with Scorsese, the early films, and then he did King of Comedy? It was like funny, like weirdly funny. You need an actor like that. I’d seen James do the serious stuff. He did the James Dean we were talking about before. But then I saw him do Pineapple Express, which is hilarious.
When you’re gonna dominate a film like – you’re talking about Hanks in Castaway or him in this – you’ve got to be able to have a whole range of emotions to go to different tones because you’re setting the agenda. There’s no other characters walking in. You’re creating the changes of tone and rhythm and you need to be able to do that, really.
You need that kind of guy. You don’t know until you make the film whether he’s gonna achieve it or not, but we had to hope that James would be able to pull it off.
Tavis: We mentioned Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting. As a director, what made you want to do this? What attracts you to this script, this storyline?
Boyle: I read his book and I could see it. It’s funny you don’t always get that, but I could just see it in front of my eyes. People say is it like what you imagined it would be, and you can’t say that really because you forget what you saw when you make the film. It becomes what it is. But I could see it very clearly.
When you get that feeling, it doesn’t matter how unappetizing the prospect of the film might be – and it was very difficult to make the film. You should go with that really because then you can kind of persuade people to come with you because you have a vision of how it should be and you can persuade people to come and share that vision with you if they want to, you know.
Tavis: When you say very difficult to make, you mean by that what? Difficult to make in what way? In terms of the financing? In terms of the shooting? What do you mean by that?
Boyle: A bit of both really. The financing, you know, is a challenging one for a studio to get behind.
Tavis: Why so?
Boyle: Why? Well, because, I mean, I remember –
Tavis: – you got Danny Boyle [laugh].
Boyle: No, no, no. I remember describing it to them and saying, “Yeah, he’s on his own.” They said, “Yeah, so he’s on his own for six days and then he cuts his arm off?” They were like, “Okay, sounds like it might be interesting.” [Laugh]
Then there’s obviously making it. We wanted to film in the real place and we did for a week. But it’s so remote that you can’t get there. I mean, you can’t go there in the summer because it’s too hot and, at any time, it’s a very dangerous place for a crew to be. People can fall and all sorts of things can happen. So, yeah, it’s challenging. Mentally, it’s difficult for James, I think, to feel that he’ll just be in that place for the whole time.
Tavis: How do you get him into character? You made him stay there for a while?
Boyle: I mean, he was there for six weeks. He’d walk in every day –
Tavis: – just fall in a hole.
Boyle: You’re on this show. Every day you come in and sit in that chair. So he couldn’t sit down. He was in this canyon and that was a challenge for him. You know what actors are like. What you’re like, you bounce off guests. Actors bounce off each other and he’s got nobody. He’s got a rock. Once you’ve looked at a rock once [laugh], it doesn’t give you very much. It’s not gonna change and give you very much more back, you know.
Tavis: But I take it you’re pleased with the final product.
Boyle: Yes. I think it’s a really great performance personally. I mean, I know I would say that, but it’s quite rare to see – I learned a lot about acting from working with him. These guys do come of an age when they’re in their 30’s, I think, these young turks, where they just become – they suddenly take a big stride forward in acting. It’s a very compelling performance and I’m very proud to be associated with it, yeah.
Tavis: I’m sure you feel the same way about you [laugh]. Danny Boyle is no slouch himself. The movie, in case you ain’t seen it or ain’t seen Franco everywhere, is called 127 Hours. It’s quite a remarkable story based on a true story. It stars James Franco and this rock [laugh], directed by Danny Boyle. Good to have you on.
Boyle: Thanks, Tavis.
Tavis: You’re always welcome here.
Boyle: Thank you.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]

Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm