Danny Boyle: Never Mind the Olympics, Here's the Bloody, Kinky 'Trance'

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Danny Boyle: Never Mind the Olympics, Here's the Bloody, Kinky 'Trance'
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Danny Boyle: Never Mind the Olympics, Here's the Bloody, Kinky 'Trance'

When Danny Boyle burst on the scene in the mid 1990s with the dark crime film "Shallow Grave" and the jarring drug comedy "Trainspotting," savvy viewers might have been able to predict that someday he'd make a movie like the new "Trance."

A violent, kinky, sexually explicit and mind-bending thriller about an art dealer (James McAvoy), a thief (Vincent Cassell, below) and a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) who tries to retrieve McAvoy's memories, it has the drive and darkness characteristic of Boyle's early work.

But it would have been harder to predict that in between his first movies and his new one, the 56-year-old British-born director would win a Best Director Oscar for the vibrant "Slumdog Millionaire," or receive another Best Picture nomination for "127 Hours," or be chosen to oversee the lavish opening ceremony of last year's London Olympics.

Also read: 'Trance' Review: Danny Boyle's Hypnotic Thriller Makes Twists Fun Again

Boyle, though, has turned into a director who is hard to pin down -- a man with a taste for genre kink but also a foot in the mainstream. In a way, he still seems more excited to be on the fringes: He's proud of the Olympics (after which he turned down a knighthood because he didn't think he deserved all the credit) but giddy with enthusiasm over the blood and flesh and mind games of "Trance."

And he can't wait to dig into a new "Trainspotting" movie.

It's hard to imagine you shifting gears from the Olympics opening ceremony to "Trance." But they overlapped, didn't they? Yeah, they did. And when you think about it, it was partly a response to the Olympics. You're doing a national celebration, endlessly optimistic, a family friendly event. And it's lovely to be able to in the sabbatical to go off and make a film more from the dark side of our imaginations. The pleasure that you get in making an adult movie with sex, violence, crime, it's lovely. And it kind of refreshed us, actually, for the national-celebration job.

You bookended the Olympics with two very dark projects: "Trance" and your production of "Frankenstein" for the National Theatre. I knew that if we did nothing but the Olympics, we'd go insane. The Olympics were so procedural, so committee-led, and they were like a two, two-and-a-half-year job. So the first year, our sabbatical was "Frankenstein," and the second year it was shooting "Trance." And they were both very dark and delicious.

We wanted this to be a visceral ride and a thrill. An extreme film.

Was it particularly fun as a director to tell a story that gives you the license to mess around with the idea of reality, to deliberately confuse the audience about what's happening and what's hallucination? Yes. There's a great tradition of that in the movies, and movies are the unique art form where you can do that. Cinema is wonderful at deconstructing, blurring those boundaries that people imagined exist between reality and illusion. And in a way, cinema is all an illusion, anyway. It's part of our makeup to want to disappear inside stories, and then you have extra delight in a film like this, which is a series of trances that you can get wrapped in, and the characters get wrapped in them and can't differentiate. That's the joy of it, yeah.

At the same time, you run the risk of getting the audience so confused that they give up on the movie. You want to leave clues, a trail of breadcrumbs. If you go back and see it a second time, all those breadcrumbs, which you sense the first time, all make complete sense the second time around.

And you rely on the actors. Luckily we were able to get three terrific actors to take you on that journey. They're living those moments thinking "This is happening to me," and then the rug is pulled from under their feet and from under your feet.

You've made a lot of what you might call "boys' movies." This isn't that. No, and it was a huge attraction to do a movie where a woman is in the engine room, even though she doesn't appear to be at the beginning. That's a problem for women in the movies – they're not in the engine room enough.

They're 51 percent of the population, you know. And so it's wonderful to see movies that do that. You think of Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty" – when they get the opportunity, they seize it. It's a disgrace that I haven't done a movie like this already.

I think a lot of my films are actually about a character who's facing insurmountable odds and somehow manages to overcome them. "Slumdog" and "127 Hours" were definitely like that, and so is "Trance."

Those two films are not conventional movies, but they are mainstream in the sense that they were embraced by the Academy with Best Picture nominations – and in the case of "Slumdog Millionaire," a win. With "Trance," you're working in what you might call a more disreputable genre – it's not an awards picture. [laughs] "Disreputable," yeah. You can find yourself in a place where expectations are of a certain kind, and it's lovely to sidestep them. There are so many types of movies. The redemptive, triumphant movies are important, and awards season is a wonderful way of presenting movies like that. But there's a dark side as well, a delicious side, or disreputable as you said, and we love to do that as well.

Obviously, my first few films were like that. And it's lovely to return to that hunting ground of pleasure.

Did you try to be accurate to what hypnosis can actually do, or did that not matter? It did. We had experts checking it the whole time. What happens in the movie is ethically very dubious, but clinically it's possible. For most people, hypnosis remains a very benign, meditative, positive experience. You never forget where you are, and you'll never do anything you don't want to do.

But there's a small percentage, 5 to 10 percent, where it's a much more powerful tool. And we know so little about the hundred billion neurons that are crashing around constantly in your brain.

The three main actors all underwent hypnosis during pre-production. Did you? I didn't, no. I was terrified. I'm a director – suppose I'm one of the highly suggestible ones? Suppose I started talking about who we were going to cast, or what everybody was getting paid? There's too much stuff you could say.

You're a control freak as a director, so you never want to abandon that. You never want to take the risk of abandoning that sense of control that you imagine you have.

There's been talk of a follow-up to "Trainspotting." What's the status of that project? We are working on that longterm. It's definitely an ambition. We're hoping to get a script together to get all the actors to play the same guys, but 20 years later.

The story is, a generation has passed. They're no longer hedonists in their 20s, they're guys in their 40s. What has happened to them? Have they loved and lost? Have they left the town? Are they back together again? What other factors are driving them? And what have you done with your 20 years? Those are questions we all ask ourselves, and they'll be great question to ask, I think, if we can pull it off. And I'm really sorry, on a day like this, that Roger [Ebert] couldn't have seen that film.

In the meantime, we're working on a couple of period movies, weirdly enough. We're working on scripts at the moment, so I can't really talk about them.

Speaking of the passage of time, you could do the same thing with you and your career. I mean, who would have thought 17 years ago that the guy who made a dirty, profane, frenetic movie like "Trainspotting" would go on to win an Oscar for Best Director and oversee the opening ceremony of the Olympics? [laughs] I know. I've been very lucky. We've all been very, very lucky, it's been an extraordinary journey. And coming coming to America, that's also been part of it. To be able to come here, and present any movie. Some of them take off like "Slumdog," some of them don't. But you always get people taking movies seriously.

You show up with something new, and it's, "Right, what you got for us? Let's have a look today."

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