Trainspotting dealt with drugs and youth culture and caused huge controversy on its release in 1996. But it went on to become a cultural phenomenon, and now, 21 years later, the gang – Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud – are finally back on the big screen.
T2 Trainspotting is an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Porno, as well as a direct loop back to Welsh’s original Trainspotting, and once again, directed by Danny Boyle.
“We always knew there would be a pleasure in seeing these four characters together again,” says Boyle. “But the big surprise is the emotional impact. It’s to do with our awareness of what time has done to them, and to us.”
At the end of the original, the four had travelled to London to sell a bag of fortuitously obtained heroin. While the rest of them slept, Renton sneaked out with the entire proceeds, leaving Spud’s share in a locker; a mixed blessing for a man with an unshakable heroin addiction. Simon (aka Sick Boy), never one to be troubled by feelings of loyalty, is still seething he didn’t take the money instead, while the psychopathic Begbie’s spent the last 20 years at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but is intent on freedom, and revenge.
Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, along with Boyle, reveal what it was like to reunite two decades after making the definitive Nineties film…
Trainspotting was made “in a state of blissful ignorance”, Danny Boyle recalls. “We basically just tumbled into it,” says the 60-year-old director.
The delay on the sequel “wasn’t exactly deliberate”, he adds, but it’s now “what gives the film a raison d’etre”. That’s because one of its themes is reflection – on what you’ve achieved (or not), and the decisions you’ve made. “We’re all ageing,” notes the film-maker.
“It’s a reminder of our common destiny. It has a finite point and, before you reach it, try and make some amends if you can.”
The soundtrack, with its teasing needle drops, and flashbacks only emphasise the poignancy. “You think, ‘It’s Trainspotting’, you’ll have a good laugh, it’ll be a bit obscene and horrible, and there will be really ugly things in it – and there are,” says Boyle. “And there are fun bits and some music, and then there’s f**king heart-break.”
There was, he adds, an “obligation” to return to Scotland and make the sequel. “To tip our hat and say, ‘Thank you very much, this has been amazing, here’s our update, hope you like it’,” he says.
And people do. “The characters are revolving on the same spot, which is part of their appeal,” remarks Boyle. “They’re hugely entertaining and interesting and yet they’re actually very simple folk, and I think we can all relate to that, in a way.”
Two decades on from the original Trainspotting and still, “literally weekly for the last 20 years, there’s been somebody, somewhere who goes, ‘Hey Begbie!’ They shout the lines and want to talk to you about the film, but it’s never been an irritation,” says Robert Carlyle, 55.
He watched T2 for the first at the premiere in Edinburgh, and couldn’t believe the reaction it got. “There was crying all around about me, which doesn’t mean to say it’s sad, unhappy crying; I think actually, if there is such a thing, it’s good crying,” says the actor, who felt a gamut of emotions going into the sequel.
“Nervous and excited, mostly,” he admits. “I expected it to be tough but it genuinely wasn’t. It’s a corny thing to say, but it was like an old pair of shoes. I know this guy Begbie so well.”
Enough to know he didn’t want to spend too much time with his family during the shoot.
“I remember the first time I played Begbie, I had a terrible fight in a restaurant with my wife, who was my girlfriend back then, and we never fight. But it wasn’t me, it was this maniac that came out of me,” he reveals. “So I only saw Anastasia for maybe one or two weekends for the six or seven I was there, just to make sure there wasn’t any kind of overspill.”
Ewan McGregor couldn’t be more thankful his first scene was the fight between Renton and Simon, after they meet for the first time in two decades.
“It was quite rough and ready,” remembers the actor, 45. “For me it was perfect, because it starts off with a bit of dialogue and a bit of acting, but it was super physical and that was quite useful.”
He thinks it will be interesting to see what today’s 20-somethings make of T2, “if they don’t have a relationship with the first film”.
However, he observes that “in the way Trainspotting made us go, ‘What is this?’ in the Nineties, I felt this was a truly modern film. Danny Boyle’s kicked it out the park.”
Seeing himself in flashbacks was “shocking, and quite touching”, he confesses.
“It makes you look back on your youth and yearn for it, I guess. It seems quite far away now,” muses McGregor.
“The characters are looking forward as well, thinking, ‘Where do I fit in, what’s the rest of my life going to be like, what am I going to do with it?’ And it’s also doing that with the audience, it’s causing them to look back.”
Jonny Lee Miller
Jonny Lee Miller admits there were initial reservations about making a sequel, but simply because “you don’t want to tarnish the reputation of the first film”.
“It means a great deal to all of us,” says the actor, 44, who reprises the role of Simon. “I don’t think any of us wanted to do anything we didn’t think was really worth it, or for the sake of it. It just had to be something striking, and that took 20 years to happen.”
Bigger issues needed to be examined, rather than simply being “a straightforward sequel to a caper”.
“The only way you could make it interesting, is to put people’s lives in between [the two movies],” states Miller, who adds that while he’s seen Boyle passionate on projects, “I haven’t seen him so engaged before”.
“To get the chance to come back and not just reminisce with Danny and the guys, but actually do another piece of work with them, that’s really a huge blessing – and it’s not lost on any of us.”
Like Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, who plays Spud, was in tears when he first saw T2. “And I laughed a lot as well,” adds the 45-year-old.
“It was a kind of beautiful. The power of Danny’s film-making is he can take you from something really tragic into something ridiculously comic. It’s almost like you’ve been hit by a boxer.”
Bremner describes day one of the shoot as “profound”.
“It was quite emotional, almost surreal, for all of us. I think we all felt quite tender,” he comments. “We were given such a gift 20 years ago, and now it feels even more precious.”
A proud Scot, he recalls how his native land “became exotic” after the film’s release. “Like Leith, the most forlorn corner of Edinburgh, became this place that was so juicy and exciting.”
But Trainspotting was more than just a film, he notes. “It was an expression of a culture that had been invisible up until that point Irvine wrote what he saw and what he enjoyed. It started this re-evaluation of our culture.”