Twenty years ago, long before the zombies or the Oscar, director Danny Boyle’s sophomore film — a dark comedy about heroin junkies called “Trainspotting” — was blowing up. An instant success and undeniable cult classic, the film launched the careers of numerous actors and shifted the course of popular culture.
Two decades later, Boyle is diving back in to the world of his 1996 hit for “T2 Trainspotting,” which picks up with Renton, the original’s protagonist of sorts, 20 years after his betrayal and follows his attempt at reentry into the world he left behind.
This isn’t, however, the first time the idea for a sequel has been pursued, but Boyle wanted to make sure he didn’t revisit the film until the time was right. Because, of course, there’s nothing worse than a bad sequel to a great film.
“If you’re going to update it you’ve got to have a reason,” Boyle said in a conference call with the Michigan Daily. “And it didn’t feel like there was a reason.”
The first attempt at a sequel was abandoned approximately 10 years ago, before the script even made it to the actors. Two years ago, on the cusp of the twentieth anniversary, Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, source book author Irvine Welsh and their production team reunited in the hopes of pursuing a sequel once again.
“And what emerged was much more personal and gave us a reason to make the film really,” Boyle said. “I think, is that it becomes not just a sequel, it is obviously a sequel, you can’t deny that, but it has its own right to exist … raison d’être”
Much of that reason is owed to time. The entire core cast is set to return in the sequel, and they’ve aged both physically and emotionally since the last time they were all together — something that was not as apparent the last time Boyle tried for a sequel.
“Age is cruel, and you don’t realize that until you get to this point in your life,” said Ewen Bremner, who plays Spud in both films. “In the first film we were full of exuberance and potency, and we thought we were invincible. And it took us 20 years to realize that we’re just running on the spot and time is flying by.”
The opportunity to return to a character after this much time is one not many actors get to experience. The cast recognized the rare chance “T2” presented.
“To come back together and find each other again under the same conditions, if you like, and with the same responsibility for this film was just fantastic,” said Ewan McGregor, who plays Renton. “It just felt like coming home.”
The actors aren’t being thrown into exactly the same world, however. Now all aged 46, the group faces a set of emotional challenges that both stem and diverge from those of the first film.
“The other film is obviously a great celebration of a certain period of your life through the most extreme prism you can imagine, these junkies in Edinburgh,” Boyle said. “Then obviously the update is when they’re 46 and they’re fucked, as Renton says.”
“Trainspotting” became a cult success in ways that no one involved with the film could have imagined. Shot in only seven weeks with a small budget and a cast of relatively unknown actors, the film transcended its humble origins amassing awards and influencing popular culture in ways none could have imagined 20 years ago.
“We worked really hard on it, and we were also all aware that we were doing something really special and important, and so we were giving it our all,” McGregor said, reflecting on the first film.
Much of that cult status is owed to “Trainspotting” ’s iconic soundtrack, something Boyle and his team wanted to recreate in the sequel. From Primal Scream to New Order, the original soundtrack is a celebration of British alternative music at a time when Britpop groups like the Spice Girls were taking over the scene. Boyle describes finding the first film’s “heartbeat” in the Underworld album dubnobasswithmyheadman.
“Coming to do the new one you want to try and find that equivalent heartbeat, and we found this band, Young Fathers,” Boyle said.
The band is from the same part of Edinburgh as Irvine Welsh, which also serves as the inspiration for his novels “Trainspotting” and “Porno,” upon which the films are based. Relatively young, Young Fathers, were just kids when the first film was released.
“And yet their stuff just fits in the film,” Boyle said.
In addition to the soundtrack, “Trainspotting” was helped on its way to cult stardom by the now-famous voiceovers, delivered by McGregor’s character Renton, that bookend the film.
“There’s that confidence and that fearlessness which permeates the first movie and it’s really summed up in the voiceover,” said Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Sick Boy. “Especially in the end speech there, this is what I’m going to do, this is who I am, this is who I’m going to be.”
There’s a certain assuredness in that final speech, but it’s never preachy. There’s no clear lesson or morale to “Trainspotting,” something that the film has been both lauded and condemned for. But ultimately it was something Boyle did intentionally.
“You hope people recognize it as honest really.” Boyle said. He doesn’t make films with the intention of sending a message or proving a point. Instead, Boyle strives for honesty.
“T2 Trainspotting” opens in wide release on March 31.