When we attended a Danny Boyle panel at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month, they played a kind of highlight reel before the it began, with clips covering his film career to date. As they flickered by, it was hard not to be impressed – this is a man who has won an Oscar for Best Director and one for Best Picture and yet, when you see images from “Trainspotting” or “Sunshine” or “127 Hours,” you can’t help but feel like he’s still underrated. His newest movie, a twisty, turny, deliciously sexy thriller called “Trance,” just opened in New York and Los Angeles, and will be expanding in the coming weeks across the country.
“Trance” is the tale of an art theft and the bloody, hypnotic aftermath, which Boyle chooses to tell in the most achingly stylized way possible. Working with his “Slumdog Millionaire” cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, he creates a world lined with blazingly bright neon, where fantasy and reality mash together in vibrant streaks (the other night someone called it a “film noir rave,” which is pretty good). We wanted to ask him about the psychosexual thriller genre, what the unconventional approach to shooting and editing “Trance” was like, his relationship with writers, and whether or not he’s running out of genres to tackle. And please note, there may be some mild spoilers below.
You were talking about challenging yourself by attempting different genres. What made you pick this kind of psychosexual thriller piece?
Yeah, I love them, there aren’t enough of them. And it’s interesting doing one. You kind of go, “Body Heat”? I mean I remember seeing “Body Heat” and thinking, “Fucking hell” and you wait another five years before there’s another “Body Heat.” Now maybe there’s loads and they’re not very good and you don’t see them, but it’s wonderful… Look, I’m a guy, and I’ve grown and matured in cinema, and that sensual sexuality that’s used in manipulating men, so men who appear to have all of the power are just manipulatable.
I never really made a film with a woman at the center of it, so I can’t make a feminist film. I’m just not going to do that, am I? The closest you come to that is to use the woman as the femme fatale…lots of people say femme fatale is a misogynist concept, it’s a male construct. So you try to use it in a way that it’s actually interesting and actually has an emotional truth to it instead. If you want the story in chronological order, Rosario Dawson‘s character is the one facing insurmountable odds because not only has [one of the characters] behaved poorly to her and not only will nobody else help her, but he comes back into her life with four other violent men, as well. So it’s like, “What is she gonna do?” She somehow succeeds by the end. So that’s the stuff I loved and attracted me to the movie and also the use of trance, the use of cinema as hypnotism. Cinema is hypnotic if it’s half-decent. We go in a dark room. We watch flickering lights. We forget about the world for 90 minutes. You forget reality. That’s hypnotism. You’ve just been taken to places you wanna go which is sort of what hypnotism is meant to do.
In the movie you see what one of the bad guy’s worst fear is. Did you film the other guys’ nightmares?
No, it was scripted, but we didn’t shoot it. It was interesting.
Can you tell me what Vincent Cassel’s nightmare was?
Oh my God, what was it? [Screenwriter] John Hodge wrote this sequence where they all jumped, where they all had a fantasy, like their fantasies were deeply obvious and disappointing. You know like cars and girls and coke, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, things like that. And then there was another sequence, which was their deepest fears. I think one of them was a plane, you know, an out of control plane and stuff like that. And they kind of morphed and we replaced them into the sequence where you see Rosario’s daily work was like — she’s dealing with people who are frightened of spiders or frightened of jets.
Now, you shot this before the Olympics and came back and edited it?
Yeah. We took a sabbatical from the Olympics. A lot of people speak very highly of those Olympics, and dark though it is, “Trance” was partly responsible for keeping us sane in the Olympics, ’cause the Olympics would drive you nuts. But to be able to take a break and to make something dark and delicious really keeps you sane for your family-friendly kind of entertainment that you’re working on. For the pride of the nation entertainment that you’re working on, you need to be working on the dark nightmares at nighttime.
Did you have sort of an idea of how you were going to edit it? Because it seems like there’s a certain color motif and other things like that. Or was that something you sort of discovered?
No, it was interesting. Very few filmmakers get a chance to shoot a film and then put it away without properly editing it. The only chance it ever happens is if an actor has to change shape, like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” or [Robert] De Niro in “Raging Bull,” where you have to stop for nine months while they change shape, but even then you haven’t shot the whole movie. We’d shot the whole movie and had put it away and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea at the time.
Afterwards I thought it was wonderful, because when we did come back to it, which was like 8 months later, when we first watched the rough cut, I didn’t know what was going to happen and that’s as close as you ever get to the innocence of an audience. By being entrusted [to direct the movie], you know way more than anyone else is ever going to know about everything and yet they expect you to tell the story. Whereas surely somebody needs to be consulted who doesn’t know anything about what’s going on because you’re only going to see it once. Hopefully, people go and see “Trance” twice because it’s an interesting film to see twice. But I loved it, getting back to that innocence. I didn’t know what was coming, I’d be watching a scene thinking, “What comes next? I have no idea.” And that’s weird for a filmmaker on his own film.
Did you go back and shoot anything else?
Yes, we did a few pick-ups. We did a couple of days of pick-ups, just a few bits and pieces…Woody [Allen] used to shoot and re-shoot the whole thing [ed. note, he’s talking about “September” which Allen shot and then reshot with an substantially new cast], which is interesting, if you have that kind of power.
I wanted to ask you about the Olympics. Did you see the presentation in America?
No, I heard there was gaps and things were left out and stuff like that. You can get freaked out about stuff like that, but you can’t, you just got to go with it and it’s such a huge thing anyway that you — it’s enough dealing with it for your home audience as it is. We did some touch-ups of the DVD, so everything’s included in that. So the record of it is there.
Now, did you see “Side Effects”?
No, it’s just opened in the U.K. I’m going to see it when I get back.
It’s interesting because you both did a sort of psychosexual thriller. Now you’re sort of running out of genres though at this point. I hear you want to do a historical piece next, right?
We’re working on a couple of period movies, but they won’t be like “Downton Abbey” period movies, obviously. John Hodge is writing one of them and the other one is a book that we’re working on and they’re very interesting. I never thought I’d…you know it’s weird the way it kind of like, maybe it’s because we’re running out of genres…. I don’t know. I don’t think it is. I think it’s more like, “Ah, that’s interesting, should we do that even if it is set in such a date?”
Can you tell what the periods are?
No, because it gives it away.
Well I wanted to ask you about John Hodge, so you haven’t worked with him in a little while.
No, and that’s one of the wonderful things about doing “Trance” as well.
It was kind of interesting. Are you gonna bring the whole band back together and get Ewan McGregor back?
There’s always been this long-term plan to do “Trainspotting 2.” If John Hodge can produce a decent enough script, I don’t think there will be any barriers for Ewan coming back or the others. I think they’ll want to know that the parts are good, so that they won’t feel like they’re letting anybody down because I think like the reason for wanting to do it again is people still cherish the original. People remember it and people have caught up with it if they’re younger and they really like it so you wanna make sure you don’t disappoint people. That will be the only criteria I think.
And would that be based on the book or would this be sort of like a new –
It’s very loosely based on the book, but “Porno”, we’d have to have Irvine Welsh on board whether it resembled the book.
Would that be something that comes after these period movies?
The ideal time to would be 2016 because I think it was 1996 so…20 years. It’s like, “Wow, where did that go?” But it’s gone and you won’t get that back again.
I wanted to ask you about your sort of relationship with these writers. Cause you use several of them frequently. Alex Garland, obviously went on to great things. Did you see “Dredd”?
I saw “Dredd.” It was very interesting, yeah. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with very few, literally just a handful, who are remarkable writers and I’ve tried to get the best out of them. I’m not a writer, I think that helps. I think it must be hard if you’re a writer as well, but I think they kind of know I respect their work and try to do it to the best of my abilities. You kind of drift away from each other for a bit and then drift back again. So hopefully, we’ll get back with Alex again at some point as well. But it was great to reconnect with John Hodge on this because we haven’t worked together since “The Beach” and, also when Christian [Colson, producer] and I had done “Slumdog Millionaire,” we started looking at this idea of him coming and working on “Trance” and he’s been fantastic throughout.
So you’ve been working on this since ‘Slumdog’?
Yeah, we worked on the script for a couple of years. You always spend a couple of years on a script, at least. I mean you have to. You try to work out as many of your ideas in script-form as possible cause it’s the cheapest time. It’s the only time film is cheap. Cause it’s just the cost of paper you’re working on.That’s when you can get all of your ideas out and kind of give them a run-around and see what they feel like and you know you leave it for a couple of months and come back to it and think, “Oh, it feels like this.” And that easily becomes a couple of years, you know.
Were you looking for something a little bit more kind of rock ‘n roll?
Yeah. I mean I felt very strongly about its presentation too. You got a responsibility to say to people, “Don’t wander into this thinking it’s like ‘Slumdog’ or ‘127 Hours’ or the Olympic Opening Ceremony.” It’s like, “No, this is much more like when he was dark, delicious, fuck with your head kind of filmmaking” kind of thing and you know you have a responsibility to do that because I love that sort of storytelling and I know people out there who do love it as well. Other people love a different kind of storytelling and there’s people that like both, well I’m one of those as well, though you’ve got to be careful you present it properly.
So you’ll continue to go back to the darker stuff?
Yes, it’s also just the pleasure in storytelling is really rich when you’re in that darker territory cause it’s not like you’re kind of trying to teach anybody any lessons. It’s just, this is the pleasure of cinema – we love going to places and watching, like you said, sexy psycho-thrillers. [Laughter]
“Trance” is out now in New York and LA, and goes expands nationwide this Friday, April 12th.