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Danny Boyle is determined not to repeat himself. Having won the directing Oscar for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, set in the teeming slums of Mumbai, and then followed that up with 2010’s 127 Hours, focused on one man trapped in a canyon in the American Southwest, he takes on a psychological thriller in his newest film, Trance, which Fox Searchlight is releasing April 5.
Starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel, the movie combines an art heist with a case of amnesia and a femme fatale.
But, said Boyle, “it’s not really about a stolen painting. It’s actually about stolen memories. It’s not really about amnesia. It’s actually about forgetting as a behavioral choice. And it’s not really about a femme fatale in the classical sense.”
Speaking Wednesday night at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood at Behind Closed Doors, an ongoing series of one-on-one conversations with film and TV artists conducted throughout the year by BAFTA/Los Angeles, Boyle explained that he’s constantly testing himself against the demands of different genres because it allows him to return to the experience he had making his first film, 1994’s Shallow Grave, when he didn’t know any of the rules.
“We always try to do films that are slightly different than the last one, and that’s partly trying to chase this dream of getting back to that place of not knowing what you’re doing,” he said, adding, “You’re trying to get back to an innocence where there is something wonderful about having to research a particular genre.”
As the evening’s moderator, Sandro Monetti, led him through a reconsideration of his film career, Boyle cited both Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Britain’s punk movement as formative influences.
Of Coppola’s journey into the heart of darkness, he said, “For me, it’s the greatest film ever made. It’s not perfect, but it’s the purest action movie ever made. There’s continual movement.”
As for punk, he admitted, “I was a punk, and that movement was really crucial to me and still informs me in the way I behave, the way I make films.”
It especially influenced his second feature, 1996’s Trainspotting, based on Irvine Welsh’s novel about drug addiction. But while the book centers on heroin addicts, Boyle and his screenwriter John Hodge decided a film about heroin addicts would be unwatchable because the characters would spend so much time zoned out, so “we made it more in the spirit of rave culture, of ecstasy culture.”
For some time, Boyle has been considering a sequel. Welsh himself wrote a follow-up novel about the Trainspotting characters called Porno, published in 2002. But Boyle said that while he likes the idea of returning to the same characters, he’s been waiting for the Trainspotting actors to begin to show some signs of aging before moving forward.
“We’ve always had the idea, because the actors and characters are indelibly marked in people’s minds. We thought rather than make a quick sequel, we’d try to do something with it that had a real reason to go back to it,” Boyle said. “These guys who had pushed their bodies to the absolute limit when you can, when you’re in your 20s, then they hit their 40s. What have they made of their lives, what happened to them? The problem has always been that actors don’t age. They look after themselves. They look like Dorian Gray. They’re timeless. But,” he joked, “we will be there waiting for them when they finally crash.”
While he is looking at a possible start date on the sequel in 2016, he’s considering a couple of period projects, which he didn’t specify, for his next movie.
That would mean that Boyle would be wrestling with yet another genre he hasn’t worked in before, but he does see continuity in his varied body of films.
“We don’t make abstract movies,” he said. “We try to make extreme films.”
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