Danny Boyle on Trance, Trainspotting 2 and why he turned down a knighthood

The Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner also discusses juggling preparations for the Olympic opening ceremony with filming his new psychological thriller

As befits a film fanatic and music buff, Danny Boyle can recall even the most obscure of this year’s Oscar winners. The 56-year-old, who four years ago scooped eight Oscars – including best director – for Slumdog Millionaire, declares himself a fan of the winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. He’s also an advocate of British animated short Head over Heels. “The upside down one should have won. Oh, it was very clever!” he says, his voice sliding, as it often does, into a hushed reverie. “Oh my goodness me!”


Given his giddy enthusiasm, one wonders: didn’t he have a twinge of regret that he wasn’t there, tuxedo’d up and representing the best of British, at Los Angeles’s Dolby Theatre?

“No!” Boyle exclaims. “Seriously, there’s no point in being there unless you’ve got something to promote, or you’re hoping that your film is in there… No, it’s nice to be home actually.”

It seems like Boyle has been running about for a while now. Obviously he spent much of last year – and the year before – wrapped up in the Olympics, his role as Artistic Director of the Opening Ceremony taking him all over the place as he called in the help of the great and the good of the British arts world. And more recently he’s been spending time in America, publicising his latest film, Trance (in cinemas from Wednesday 27 March).

For, mind-boggling though it is to contemplate, even as he was preparing the spectacular that was Isles of Wonder, Boyle had other things on his plate besides London 2012. In late 2011, the Lancashire-born director was juggling preparations for the Opening Ceremony with the shoot of Trance, a London-set thriller involving an art heist and the “oops, where did I stash the painting?” amnesiac aftermath. The three central roles are taken by James McAvoy (auction house employee), Vincent Cassel (gang boss) and Rosario Dawson (hypnotherapist). And that, pretty much, is all we can say about a gripping film with nerve-jarring plot twists and turns. Other than: how on earth did Boyle manage those jobs simultaneously?

The fantastically chipper Boyle gives a giddy laugh and describes making Trance as an “antidote” to the Opening Ceremony. “You’re full of these obligations and responsibilities, and [the need to be] family-friendly. And at night we were making this deranged, delicious, f***ed-up idea of a film. And I love that about it.”

McAvoy recalls the director’s wide-eyed energy and ability to compartmentalise with awe. “He likes to just embrace that, which is great,” says the Scottish actor. “Danny loves to marshal the whirlwind, and see whatever cool things come out of that. I think he also likes to go into it slightly not knowing the answers,” he adds, which seems fair comment of a film with layers of meaning and double-meaning.

One thing, though, about which Boyle was clear from the outset: he was gripped by the idea of making a film where a woman was “at the centre of it. There have been some decent women’s parts in the films I’ve made,” he offers, referring, no doubt, to A Life Less Ordinary (Cameron Diaz), The Beach (Tilda Swinton) and Slumdog Millionaire (Freida Pinto). “But I’ve never made a film where a woman’s the key component. And I loved that about it.” He certainly did – Boyle and Dawson became an item, although they have reportedly since split.

Of course, he could also have been referring to his Olympics mini-epic, which parachuted the nation’s leading lady into the stadium strapped to James Bond. Was landing (in both senses) Her Majesty a challenge? He recounts how he and his team sent their “script” to Buckingham Palace. “And basically we thought there are two scenarios: they’ll either agree, provided we do it with a good double (and we promised them that we’d either get a really good actor, a Helen Mirren-style actor, or we’d get a cracking double, so it wasn’t poking fun), or it will be a no.” To their surprise, the Palace wrote back in the affirmative.

All that royal chumminess, and then Boyle went and spoiled it. The principled, populist auteur reportedly turned down the offer of a knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. True? “Aye, I did. They’re not really… You know,” he sighs, “it’s just not me. I also thought it was wrong, actually. You can make these speeches about ‘this is everybody’s work, blah blah blah…’ And you’ve got to mean it, and I did mean it, and it is true, and it’s the only way you can carry on something like that: through the efforts of all the people.”

The modest, egalitarian and endlessly creative Boyle wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if his lead actress might still be in a huff. He laughs. “I don’t know whether I’ll ever get invited back to the Palace!”

There’s one relationship, though, that sounds like it might be back on track. Ewan McGregor and Boyle famously fell out after the director opted to cast Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach rather than his Trainspotting leading man. Talk of a follow-up to 1996’s ground-breaking “Cool Britannia” tale of Edinburgh junkies has swirled ever since author Irvine Welsh published the sequel novel, Porno, in 2002. But McGregor was reportedly loath to take part, while Boyle never felt the actors had aged sufficiently to give verité to a story set ten years after the original.  

But Boyle reveals that he and Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge – who co-wrote Trance – have rebooted their relationship and are working on a couple of projects. Is one of them Porno? “Not at the moment,” he says with a slight hesitation. “But you know, I’d love that to happen at some point.”

So, is Ewan coming around? “I just think the idea of getting all those guys back together again…” he says, referring to McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner. “And we know those characters’ names in a way that’s very rare: Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy, Spud… I can’t remember the character names in some films, even though I’ve made them!” he laughs. “So to get them back, Likely Ladsstyle, 20 years later, carrying that experience as people and as characters… If we can get the script right, I think they’ll do it. But we’ll see.”

Hodge, he admits, has written a “loose” first draft script of Porno. And the pair are also working on two other scripts, “both period. Serious period. Like, not ten years ago. If I gave you one of the dates you’d be like, ‘what?’” he grins.

“But the 20-year anniversary of Trainspotting looks favourite to me. So, make it in 2015, then release it a year later. So there you go – 2016!” he smiles. “That’s the publicity angle taken care of! All we’ve got to do is get a decent script out of John, get the actors together, get Irvine to sign off on it and agree to play a small part, and we’re there!” Danny Boyle declares, clapping his hands and stamping a delighted foot. “What could be easier?”

Well, if anyone can pull it off, it’s the director who turned the Queen into a Bond Girl.


Trance is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 27 March