Evening Standard, October 22, 1997, p. 27.
The boys of Trainspotting go to America
They're the hottest trio in British films, but Danny Boyle, Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge are ready for an onslaught of criticism after a change of style and location. Neil Norman met them.
At least, people have stopped referring to them as the saviours of The British Film Industry. Not that Danny Boyle, Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge are in any danger of slipping from the limelight. On the contrary, their third film as Britain's most successful film-making triumvirate, A Life Less Ordinary, is hitched to a publicity locomotive that has been thundering along at full throttle for the past few months. But then, as their first American venture in the wake of the home-baked Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, it's in keeping with their current status: New Movie, New Responsibility.
Hodge, the erstwhile doctor of the group and the one who writes the screenplays, began work on A Life three years ago, before Trainspotting had even been committed to celluloid. He says the resulting film is shorter and faster than his script but otherwise the basic premise of a romance assisted by supernatural agency is unchanged. "It was American-based from very early on," he continues. "We needed the landscape to accomodate the story of romance and a kidnap. You cannot disappear in England. It's too small."
The fanciful story of a hapless cleaner who kidnaps his boss's wayward daughter and whose subsequent romance is engineered by a couple of down-on-their-luck angels gleefully plunders elements and ideas from a variety of sources. To their credit, none of the team attempts do deny this. Andrew MacDonald, the producer bit and the one with the impressive film genes - his grandfather was Emeric Pressburger, producer half of the Powell/Pressburger team - agrees there are echoes of his ancestor's A Matter of Life and Death; and director Boyle puts his hands up to other sources, including Coppola's One From The Heart and the films of the Coen brothers. "Yeah, we used a lot of Coen brothers", he laughs. "I feed off other stuff deliberately. That's not unhealthy. You feed off everybody. I'm just a parasite. I love looting people and ideas."
It has been a breathless three years for the boys - though "boys" is perhaps and ingenuous term now. Danny and the Juniors are now well beyond the nightclubbing, drug-taking, twentysomething Turks that appear to dominate the British film industry at present. Boyle is the eldest at 40, Hodge is 33 while MacDonald is the baby of the bunch at 31. All three are now married.
The move into international US-based film-making has necessitated getting into bed with "the enemy", ie Hollywood, and MacDonald hints vaguely at some early difficulties over dealing with 20th Century Fox. But the strength of their track record and their unity as a trio has given them more power than most.
"Fox just asked us for something different," says Boyle. "We still get final cut. It is the same relationship we have with Channel 4."
"It's a one-movie, one-deal arrangement" adds MacDonald. "It is very useful for us because it allows us colete creative control. The idea is to make enough money from each film to pursue the next."
A Life Less Ordinary is a hybrid; depending from which side of The Pond you are standing is either an American film with a few Brits (Ewan McGregor, Ian Holm), or a British movie shot in America. McGregor is already well known in America due to the publicity and his non-stop schedule. Ditto his co-star Cameron Diaz, who seems to have monopolised the cover of just about every magazine on the planet.
To put two of current cinema's most ubiquitous stars together must have seemed like a dream on paper and a potential nightmare in actuality. As the individual responsible for handling the egos and talents on set, Boyle is the one for whom the chemistry mattered most.
"It was impossible to predict," he agrees. "But the most successful decision we made was to cast Cameron and Ewan. They got along like a house on fire." Which is just as well, as it turned out.
"The Americans are very different to work with than the Brits. Ian Holm and Ewan come in and do the script. The American actors use the script as a starting point. They bring this library of information and they are haemorrhaging ideas. It is hard to deal with the two styles."
Given that McGregor has been in all three of their movies - and was therefore a kind of honorary member of the group - would they consider a film without him? The question touches off an eruption of laughter.
"It's pretty mutual. If we all want to work together we will work it out somehow," says MacDonald. "We've never paid anyone full price for anything. He can make his millions in Hollywood."
Inevitably, there have been pressures to split the group; Boyle was invited to direct the fourth Alien movie. Hodge has been courted for rewrites on the new Superman movie and to write a new Shaft film. But their resistance is high. It is a cooperative with, one suspets, a long way to go before exhausting its full potential. Meanwhile, their future projects include a third of the forthcoming portmanteau movie Alien Love Triangle and their adaptation of The Beach, the Alex Garland novel. And they are braced for the critical flak that will almost inevitably result from their abrupt switch of pace and style in A Life Less Ordinary. MacDonald acknowledges that it is particularly hard to gauge the response to their American debut.
Boyle is almost cheerfully pessimistic at the prospect of being third time unlucky.
"It's about time we got some flak," he grins. "Everyone has been too fair to us up till now."