CATEGORIES MoviesDanny Boyle is a hard director to pin down. Unlike his fellow indie-film auteurs, he has neither a signature cinematic style nor has he moved onto helming superheroic blockbusters. Instead, since the one-two punch of "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting" through the one-two punch of "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours" up to his just-released techno-heist flick "Trance," Boyle has jumped genres like he was being chased by the fast zombies from his "28 Days Later" flick.
But what often gets forgotten is Boyle's biggest critical bomb, "The Beach," a Razzie-nominated film from 2000 that was meant to be his Leonardo DiCaprio-propelled entry into the mainstream. That wouldn't fully happen until 2008's Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" but, in an unlikely twist befitting, well, a Danny Boyle film, he tells us during a late-night interview at the SXSW launch party for "Trance" that the former's failure is directly responsible for the latter's success. Moviefone: Do you feel like you've reached a point where people go to see a Danny Boyle film like they go to see a Quentin Tarantino movie? Boyle: That's different, I think. There are some people in our world who go and see my films because I'm involved in them, but Tarantino is a brand, and that brand sells whichever actors are in it. Mine depend more on whether one takes off or not in terms of mass exposure.
Do you think that's because you do a different genre every time? It may be, yeah. But I've always wanted to do that, so you're not taking anything for granted. I love that fear, actually, of not quite knowing how to do it.
What is the same about your films? I never used to look back, but after you make a few you can't help because you do interviews like this where you're encouraged to. And you begin to see patterns in them, and there is one that is present virtually every time, which is the character with insurmountable odds stacked against him.
But the "hero's journey"... ...is that anyway. But it feels very particular to the kind of films I've done. I think that's what gives the sense sometimes of a mixture of grittiness, of suffering and an ordeal. It's not pretty pretty and no matter what the journey is, by the end you always feel exhilarated.
I remember coming out of "Trainspotting" really jazzed, with that "Pulp Fiction" feeling, that "Children of Men" feeling, like, "Well, that was a piece of filmmaking! That was something!" Did you realize that when you made it that you nailed it? No, you never feel that. You never feel that. You're too close to it. But the kind of movies I enjoy, I love that feeling in those movies. And that's shaping you.
But, say, Underworld must have known with "Born Slippy" that they had hit upon a proper anthem, that it was gonna be part of them forever, you don't think? No, because, in fact, when we were cutting "Trainspotting," their album Dubnobasswithmyheadman was like the heartbeat of the film. It wasn't everywhere in the film, but we used it as the rhythmic heartbeat. And I was going home one day and I went into the record shop near the editing room, and I noticed there was a single there called "Born Slippy" by Underworld, and I thought, "That's weird, that's not on the album. What's that?" I took it home, and thought that's the end of the movie right there." It just falls in your lap. They'd released it as a single and it hadn't worked, and then when we put it on the end of the movie, the movie was a hit, it took off and it was massive. So that certainty is retroactive.
You've said you got a lot more freedom after 'Slumdog" won an Oscar. But don't you think that you got a lot of freedom after "Trainspotting"? We did, but we used it. You get one card to play. We played it with "Slumdog," we played it with "127 Hours," and with "Trainspotting" we played it with our own movie, "A Life Less Ordinary," which nobody liked. You're only as good as your last film, and then you're only as good as your next one. And that's healthy.
One of your movies that rarely gets discussed is "The Beach." I spent two years backpacking Asia and I find the subculture really fascinating but "The Beach," the book and the movie, are really the only examples I can think of, outside of a Lonely Planet guidebook, that delve into it. What made you want to do it? When I read Alex [Garland's] book, I thought, "This is wonderful. This will be a wonderful film. I really want to make this film." What I discovered by making it is that I wasn't a backpacker, and that's not healthy. The films I make I feel evangelical about, particularly "Slumdog," particularly "Trainspotting," you know your best work because you have that mad "ancient mariner" look in your eyes, where you've got to tell somebody about it. And I'm sure some backpackers feel like that. I wasn't one of them, so I was always making it at slight distance, I was never integrated into it fully.
Then the whole commerce of it -- because it was a big movie and Leo [DiCaprio] was in it -- that also adds a slight distance. The film can still survive, it can still be a well-told story and good performances, which I think it is. But it hasn't got that heat in it, which is absolutely where you are. You have the brand on you. It's branded on you like India, Mumbai, is branded on me. I love Mumbai. When I left Thailand and I left the backpackers, I didn't ever really want to go back to them.
Fair enough, did you take anything away with you? Yeah, what's really interesting is that movie was crucial to "Slumdog Millionaire" being a good movie.
How come? Because when we went to Thailand, we went about it as colonial filmmakers. We took like 200 crew from London and when you do that with a movie into an economy like Thailand, you arrive like a conquering army. They will just do whatever you say, because the money's there, but you can't do that, it's wrong. It's just like old imperialism. You go there and you rob the country of its riches for your own benefit.
So when we came to do "Slumdog" I said, "Listen, we're not going to take anybody. We're going to hire everybody there, we'll cast it there, we'll do everything there and we'll make it grow out of the country itself. And that's the way we did it. We took eight people.
It's easier in a country that has Bollywood though, right? But the principle is still there, whether it's easy or not, and I'll always follow that principle now. I learned.
Of course, there's also a touch of imperialism to the whole backpacker thing. And we tried to criticize that in the film. But the film doesn't really become about that, it becomes about Leo, and he was great, but that's what the film becomes about, when actually it's meant to be about the Thai farmer at the end who says, "f*ck off, you lot, leave here, leave us. We don't want you, you destroyed the place." That's what it was meant to be about.
So "Trance." Why did you want to do a heist movie? It's not really a heist movie, actually. There are three runners in it: one's like it's an art heist movie, but it's not about a stolen painting, it's actually about stolen memories; the next one is people think it's an amnesia movie but it's not because it's actually about forgetting as a choice; and the other one is the femme fatale and she behaves in a way that manipulates the men in a classic femme fatale way, but it's not a femme fatale movie.
I love that, that we sent three horses running, which are MacGuffins, basically. It's like my first film, "Shallow Grave," where it shifts as you watch it, about who to trust, who to ride with, who not to.
Do you worry that it might be overly ambitious for a mainstream audience? No, no, no, that's the idea! That is what we do, we take a genre and complicate it. You use the tropes of genre and the appeal of genre, and you fuck with it. That's the ideal. So I would regard that as a compliment more than a danger.
And "Inception" did very well, and that's a very complicated movie. If you're going to do mind-f**k movies, if they're not complicated, they're not going to work because they're not a mindf**k, otherwise. It's like "Memento," "Eternal Sunshine," "Inception," that's what they are. They're mindf**k movies. And that's what you buy into, you want your mind to be f*cked with for a bit, and see how you deal with it. That's the joy of it, you know?
"Trance" opened in theatres on April 5.