Why Leonardo DiCaprio Nearly Derailed the 'Trainspotting' Sequel
After 20 years, a major falling out between director Danny Boyle and star Ewan McGregor and a lengthy gestation period, the creative team behind the cult hit aim to reclaim the '90s mojo of the original "Cool Britannia" classic as the sequel gets ready for the gala treatment in Berlin.
In mid-2015, actor Ewan McGregor randomly bumped into director Danny Boyle in a London restaurant. Coincidentally, it was the day before Boyle was to head to Edinburgh on a recon mission that would ultimately decide the fate of the much discussed sequel to Trainspotting — which is getting the gala treatment in Berlin (at 10 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Palast, with Sony TriStar Pictures releasing).
It had been almost two decades since production wrapped on the original, a film that would come to define the '90s era of "Cool Britannia" and catapult both McGregor and Boyle into stardom. Several earlier attempts to bring to life Irvine Welsh's follow-up book, Porno, never made it past the script stage. So it was decided that if Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud were ever to return to the big screen, it was now or never.
"When Irvine wrote Porno in 2002, John [Hodge, screenwriter] had a go, and did a very faithful adaptation. But it just didn't feel like it was right," admits Boyle. "I didn't even send it to the actors, because I knew they wouldn't do it."
Boyle, Hodge, Welsh and producer Andrew Macdonald, the creative team from the first film, had "one last go" and traveled to Edinburgh, living together in a house near the city's famed castle (McGregor says Welsh referred to it as a "Big Brother house"). Over the course of a week, the four went over the unproduced scripts, Porno and Welsh's later books set in the Trainspotting universe. They spent time with the locals, went to "a lot of football games" and even took up boxing together (at a gym whose reformed soccer hooligan owner, Bradley Welsh, ended up landing a role in the sequel).
"You just discuss the shit and say stupid things and say clever things. We didn't come up with any solutions," says Boyle. "But out of that, chemistry happens, and John went away and came back with this script. As soon as I read it, I knew that it was right."
The new script, reuniting the four central characters as they deal with middle age and regret, combines elements of Porno, but with the book published 15 years ago and feeling a little dated, it also contained Hodge's own more contemporary creations (including a revised take on McGregor's now iconic "Choose Life" speech).
Of course, this time there weren't any issues over licensing. Back in the '90s, Welsh admits he was "so f—ing naive" as a first-time author that he accidentally sold the Trainspotting rights to the wrong person, believing him to be Boyle's producer. Rather fortunately, the aspiring producer graciously transferred them back; otherwise one of the most celebrated British films of all time might have looked somewhat different. "He could have played hardball, but was incredibly saintly about it," admits Welsh.
But even with a killer script, the wheels of Trainspotting 2 — or T2 Trainspotting as it became named (a title Hodge came up with as a joke aimed at Terminator 2) — wouldn't have moved an inch without its lead actor.
McGregor was just 23 when he first was cast as Renton, a role he wanted so badly, he even contemplated trying the film's central narcotic. "I thought, 'How can I play a heroin addict without having taken heroin?' " he tells THR. "And I thought I'd do it with Danny. Also, John, our writer, is a doctor, so he could probably get us some and administer it so we didn't die." (McGregor changed his mind after meeting recovering addicts in Glasgow and realizing it'd be "hugely disrespectful.")
But having made their first three films together (Trainspotting sits between 1994's Shallow Grave and 1997's A Life Less Ordinary), the love affair between McGregor and Boyle fell apart when the lead in the director's big-budget adaptation of The Beach, a role McGregor had been led to believe was his, went to Leonardo DiCaprio. McGregor and Boyle didn't speak for more than a decade.
Thankfully, when Boyle embarked on the Edinburgh fact-finding mission, the hatchet already had been buried. "I started thinking, 'Ah, f— it, enough is enough,' " says McGregor. "And I wanted to work with Danny again. He was my first director and always set the bar so high in terms of what to expect from a director as an actor. I missed it. And being on set with him again was like, 'Oh, it's so nice.'"
This story first appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.