Irvine Welsh is the mastermind behind the iconic book "Trainspotting," later made into the iconic movie of the same title, the poster of which was most certainly on your university roommate's wall. The prolific author is back on the scene with his new book "Skagboys," a prequel to "Trainspotting," almost 19 years after the original was published.
Moviefone caught up with Welsh to talk about movies vs. books, the strangeness of seeing your characters come to life before your eyes and that damn creepy baby crawling on the ceiling that haunted us all.
Do you ever write books thinking they're going to make great movies?
No, you can't really do that. You've got to keep your eye on the ball. They're two very different mediums so you can't start thinking cinematically when you're writing a book. I just don't think it's going to work out.
But for "Skagboys," having written it after Trainspotting was so popular, when you were writing it were you picturing Ewan McGregor in your head as Renton?
Well, I had to re-read Trainspotting, obviously for the continuity to make it look like a prequel book, but also to get the actors out of your head because, they do, they colorize your head. The images of them supplant the images of the characters that you wrote.
Does that make you feel cheated?
Oh, it's great. It's a testimony to the power of the actors. If they're really good actors, they'll take over.
Are you hoping to do a movie with your latest book, "Skagboys"?
Yes, yes. I've got a slate of meetings in Hollywood next month, people pitching for it.
In what film or production would you say you had the most creative input?
I would definitely say Filth, followed by Trainspotting. And The Acid House, because I did the screenplay which I shouldn't have done, because I don't like doing screenplays for my stuff. I'll do adaptations of other people's stuff, but I don't like adapting my own books.
Why is that?
I just think it needs a fresh pair of eyes. I think The Acid House was a really good film but it would have benefitted from a fresh pair of eyes looking at it in a different way. And there's always a thing in the back of your mind, that you want to realize your book on stage but you can't look at it in that way. The most important thing is the actual story and the book is a resource to bring in that story and the characters. You have to see [the screenplay] very much in cinematic terms, about what people are going to be looking at when they're sitting there.
So do you think the directors of the movies have captured the stories well?
I think they all have. They've all done a brilliant job. Like, Danny [Boyle] has obviously gotten such tremendous accolades for Trainspotting and all the other stuff he's done. He's just done some great films.
And Ecstasy with Rob [Heydon], he's been trying to get it made for 11 years. I think it's a great film, kind of recognizes the story of the book. It just looks great -- Edinburgh is captured really well. It's not a critic's film, it's more of an affirmative film for people who have been through that scene. It is very much a youth movie. That's what we've seen it as. And that's why we've been taking it to music festivals. It relies so much on the music.
Filth -- and I'm not just saying this because I've had a lot of direct involvement -- but I think Filth is going to be such an amazing film. I think [James] McAvoy in this is better than De Niro in Taxi Driver. He's got all that kind of menace, but much more pathos and depth. It's beautifully shot and it's done in this Kubrick-esque symmetrical design and rich colour palette to play off his increasing madness. He just gets crazier and crazier. It's very funny as well as very dark. If we get a nice iconic poster I think it's going to be on every student's wall, same as the Trainspotting one.
What draws you to writing these flawed characters?
My mission as a writer has always been to look at how people fuck up, basically. It's like, my life's going well so I'm going to do something to give it a bit of drama; my life is going terrible let's make some bad decisions to make it even worse. It's that mechanism by which people fail that always fascinates me. I used to think it was about fear of success and wanting to stay in your own little place and all that. And it is, but it's also about fear of failure, fear of trying anything in case you fail, because the stigma of failure seems to be so huge in our society. But to me, fear is a natural state and it's the most interesting thing, because success only comes in one form where you just feel smug, and you don't really learn anything from success, but failure comes in all different forms so you just learn loads and loads.
So when you look at your characters do you see specific people in your life?
Yeah, I kind of see myself at certain times and certain points. It's funny. I was reading an interview with Rob Heydon, the director of Ecstasy, and he said something kind of perceptive. They asked him what we've been doing these 11 years and how we've gotten to know each other and he said, "All the characters of his books, he's been all of them at one time. I've seen all of them over the 11 years." I hope he didn't see Begbie in me. [Laughs]
A lot of people say the Trainspotting movie made the book a cult classic. How do you feel about the film being the first introduction to the story?
When the book first came out, all the cool people, the hip crowds, it was a real accessory to them. But you have to accept that subsequent generations are going to see the film first because film is such a more accessible medium than books. People will kind of hear about it, and people are more interested in movies than books. But it's fantastic because they buy the book after because it's such a good film.
Are there any scenes in the film adaptions that surprised you?
I think you're always really surprised by a movie, because you're surprised by the way the actors get up there, because the characters are so personal to you. When you see someone reading the book on the tube ... people are quite impassive when they're reading and you don't really know what's going on in their heads, and you're wondering if they're getting it in the same way you were when you were writing it. But when you see an actor who has completely internalized that character -- it's like they've just stepped out of your head, like this hologram. It's a really, really weird experience.
How do you get into the heads of these characters? Have you been a skagboy yourself?
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, I've been through all that stuff myself and in some ways it's therapeutic but it's also making sense ... I think everyone in life wants to make sense of what they've been through, and sometimes you only see that through the perspective of distance, so you get that detachment from it.
The Exorcist-headed baby scene in Trainspotting -- the horror! What's up with that? Where did that come from?
You know, the film was criticized because people don't hallucinate on heroin, so the hallucinogenic scenes in the film and book were criticized for not being real. But my argument was when you're taking heroin you're fucked a lot of the time so certainly, me when I was taking heroin, I took loads of speed as well to keep myself going, to get up and get through the day, and when you're on speed you're not sleeping, you're massively sleep deprived. When you're sleep deprived, you get the most incredible hallucinations, worse than acid. Really 3D vivid hallucinations and that just made sense for that character.
And it made sense in my nightmares. Thanks for that.