Trainspotting At 15: Ewan McGregor Interview

On the 1996 cult classic film
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Ewan McGregor joins Clash in a retrospective look over Danny Boyle’s seminal 1996 cult classic Trainspotting.

Fifteen years since its release, Trainspotting is without a doubt firmly positioned at the forefront of most audience’s minds when they think of British cinema. So iconic is the film that it even edges out golden oldies such as The Bridge On The River Kwai in the BFI’s top ten selection of the favorite British films of the 20th century.

Telling the story of a group of junkies in Edinburgh, it arrived amid Cool Britannia, when Britpop ruled the airwaves, and introduced an incredible ensemble cast whose careers were ultimately transformed overnight: Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald and, in the lead role, Ewan McGregor.

“At twenty-four, I was in a brilliant youthful, ruling-the-world kind of mood,” explains McGregor, who played the film’s lovable but disreputable skag-obsessed Renton. “I thought everything I was involved in was going to be some huge hit back then, but truthfully, I don’t think that anyone could have predicted just how successful Trainspotting would be today. I mean, it’s still the main thing people ask me about when they come up to me in the street. I really get a sense that it’s possibly the biggest film I’ve done, or definitely the most successful in terms of being in the human consciousness.”

Yet, despite the film’s infectiously entertaining and quick-witted humour Trainspotting has not always been on the receiving end of positive press. In fact for many years after its release, it was routinely condemned, forever at the centre of debates for its apparent attractive and sexy allure of glorifying drug use. “I’ve never believed that,” an authoritative McGregor proclaims. “The story is right there in front of your eyes to see and there’s a great deal of grief and terrible shit going on in it. I mean, yes, the film had a flavour about it, but that’s because it’s very engaging. In the book, you didn’t want to put it down because you wanted to be in amongst these people - when in actual fact if you met these people it’d be a nightmare - and I think that’s kind of what we achieved with the film."

"There’s something very vibrant about it and something charming about these characters. Yeah, there’s moments in the early scenes when they’re taking drugs and they look like they’re having the time of their lives, but that’s because it is the time of their lives. In a way it’s because they haven’t really got anything else, that’s why people take drugs and why people become addicted to them. It’s an escape, and it’s an escape in their case because of poverty and hopelessness. So to not show that side of it, that moment of high they we’re trying to reach, that wouldn’t be the whole story. Maybe people just don’t like the mix of that stylised look and the subject matter, but I think ultimately it doesn’t matter. The film’s not saying ‘taking heroin is great’, and there’s just no question really; we’re not showing a happy way of life.”

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Since the release of Welsh’s 2002 follow-up novel Porno - set ten years after Trainspotting, with the pornography business providing the central focus of the story - news of a possible movie sequel has been rife; with the latest mumblings coming from Danny Boyle himself, when in December he said simply that “it will happen”.

“You know, through all the years of talking about Porno, I’ve never actually been given a script,” confesses McGregor, who has regularly been suggested to disapprove of a sequel. “I don’t like being the guy that’s making it not happen, especially when all the other guys want to make it. But I wouldn’t want to do a sequel to Trainspotting if it was just for the sake of it, and if I’m honest about it, I wasn’t that blown away by the book. I mean, I love Irvine Welsh’s stuff and I think he’s a brilliant writer - Trainspotting blew me away - but I felt Porno was kinda going over old ground a little bit from the Trainspotting novel. It felt a little bit like Welsh had written a good sequel to the movie, but not a good sequel to his novel. There’s too many poor sequels in the world, and it would be terrible to damage Trainspotting’s reputation by making people remember a slightly poorer, clumsy follow-on.”

“It’s not something that I would completely dismiss off-hand until I’ve seen a script,” he admits. “I mean, it could be excellent, but even then cinema’s moved along so much because of Trainspotting, because of Danny’s brilliance. Some of the shots and the energy in that movie, audiences have become so much more used to that vibe now, whereas then it was new, it was different. So on top of the script, we’d need to feel that sense of originality again, and how would that be created? How would they do that? I don’t know myself but it’d be interesting to see what they could come up with for sure. So I guess the answer is, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Words by James Wright

Read Clash's full interview with Ewan McGregor in the latest issue of Clash Magazine out now. Subscribe to Clash magazine HERE.

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