Luckily, Boyle enjoys working on a relative shoestring; most of his films come in under $20m. The Beijing opening ceremony cost an estimated £64m; Boyle has £27m at his disposal. Beijing was spectacular, sure, but its display had a kind of post-communist clinical feel about it. Boyle, by turn, brings humanity and passion to his work. His ceremony will surely reflect the Britain we’d like to be: inclusive, caring, energetic, positive and quietly ambitious.
Although he supports Manchester United, loves the Tour de France and plays tennis, Boyle is no sports nerd. His skill is rather portraying a version of the world via the camera lens. He may still be an indie film-maker, but he’s resolutely commercial and populist. He’s used to creating pop-cultural moments in his films and will doubtless do the same with the opening ceremony. He’s a breathtaking visual stylist and a game-changer; Trainspotting not only woke British film up from a kind of post-Thatcher stupor, it also proved that British film could be a visceral pleasure, could push boundaries and thrill.
A stage and television director through the late 80s and early 90s, Boyle is experienced enough to think on his feet and to take reasonable risks. Risks in the artistic sense (he returned to the theatre last year for a triumphant staging of Frankenstein after decades away) and in the practical sense (he got used to asking for a kind of permission to film while shooting Slumdog in Mumbai).
If he’s cheeky - who else would think of alternating Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein and the Monster - then his considerable charm takes him a long way. As does his enthusiasm, which is infectious and motivating. Many directors are autocratic; Boyle is amiable and kind. Partly by nature, partly by cunning design, it means he gets what he wants. Those who collaborate with him universally tend to like him and happily accept his orders.
Boyle once told me, while talking about his working-class Catholic upbringing in the small Lancashire town of Radcliffe, how his parents were hugely educationally ambitious for him, his twin sister, Maria, and his younger sister, Bernadette. If we fell below a certain level of achievement or behaviour, we had to be punished. We had to feel guilty. This is, in some ways, the key to Boyle. He doesn’t sit around polishing his Oscar. He doesn’t show off about his achievements. He simply gets on with the next project for fear of the Catholic guilt overwhelming him.
Yet he is not coldly ambitious and there is, vitally, an inherent warmth to his films that hints at a sentimental side. He talks about London with the passion of one born in the capital. He’s only lived there since his early 20s, and with his ex-partner, casting director Gail Stevens, brought up their three kids in London (all now grown-up).
A few days after our awkward moment at the 127 Hours screening, Boyle talked to me about his love of the East End, where he has a modest house. It seemed that the proximity of the Olympic Park to his home had a big influence on his decision to accept the job, almost as though he wanted to give something back to the community that had accepted him so readily from the north of England all those years ago.
So Boyle appears to have the right credentials for the job and the perfect have-a-go mentality. Less straightforward is how his vision will unfold on the day. Part of his masterplan was unveiled at 3 Mills Studios, close to the Olympic Park, on an utterly miserable, wet day in June. The space, where, by chance, the control deck on his 2007 sci-fi epic, Sunshine, had been built, was cavernous and cold. Boyle talked fluently and comfortably to the international press (a surprisingly small number given the hype around this event) and then ripped away the white sheet covering a model of the Olympic Stadium.