LONG-READ: Jonny Lee Miller talks about his return as Sick Boy in T2

2017-02-22 05:00

Cape Town – Trainspotting makes its return after 21 years. 

T2: Trainspotting reunites Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner with now Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle.

See the trailer here:

Jonny Lee Miller sat down for a Q&A about returning as Sick Boy and reuniting with the cast and director. 

So when did (director) Danny Boyle first tell you that he wanted to do another Trainspotting? 

I got a postcard. I got a postcard last year and it just said that we are going to have a go at T2, script is following.  

That’s awesome!  What happens then? 

I just waited.

And how did that make you feel knowing that Danny wanted to revisit this world again?  

I just waited to see what it was like.  I knew we wouldn’t do it if the script wasn’t good enough.  And when he says that we are going to have a go at it, that is what he means, have a go.  And he wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t satisfied with the script, because I think that happened ten years ago.

What was your reaction to the T2 script when you got it?

It’s great.  It wasn’t anything any of us took lightly, we were all quite nervous about it. I think after reading the script though, it was pretty much ‘yeah we were going to do it,’ because the script was great and we realized that we all felt that and the time was right really. I like that it was very different and I liked what it had to say, and I found it quite reflective and moving, and it’s about a completely different set of issues really.

Where do we see Sick Boy 20 years later?

Well, I think he is a little bit stuck as a person, and I think he has emotionally really not matured very much.  So I think he is at a point of being quietly desperate.  

In this Trainspotting, will drugs still be front and center to the plot? 

There might be some drugs involved.  My character has got a drug habit still, he’s a bit of a cokehead.  Sick Boy has got a lot of personal issues in the movie and he hasn’t really moved his life on too much.  In the first film, they are a group in the same situation, and here they are four individuals in very different places.  

Do you see Sick Boy in a different way than you saw him the first time?

How I see him is one thing, but the credit has to go to John Hodge and his vision in writing it.  I just show up and play it.  But in the first movie, they are all cool. People were like, ‘Oh Sick Boy is cool,’ and he was, the hair and everything.  Now, he isn’t cool at all, because he is kind of stuck.  And that was very interesting for me to show that he is still trying to be that, but it’s not working. And hopefully I think that is relatable to people.  

Have any of the characters matured or are they all stuck in that past? 

They are kind of stuck, but I think I can say that the movie is driven by the story that happens and the way that we find them, it’s really initiated by Renton (Ewan McGregor).  And that comes from him having a realisation, and perhaps being more mature than the others. In the way that the first film was really his point of view and voiceover, I think that he is probably the one that has gotten the most maturity.

Coming back and shooting back in Edinburgh, what was that like for you and what was the first day like on set?

People ask that a lot and there is no first day on set and it doesn’t really work like that.  There’s a few days of, we get together for rehearsals and conversations and some of us are there before others, because of the way timing works out. So the first time I saw the Ewan’s  (Mcgregor and Ewen Bremner) and Bobby (Robert Carlyle) was in a rehearsal space and we sat down and talked and that was pretty amazing.  And we slowly started to catch up and we went out to dinner a couple of times. Just to be there in the same place, talk about a script that we all really dug, cause it was pretty surreal experience to visit something 20 years later with the same group of people.

When was the last time that all four of you were in the same room together

20 years ago.  

Has Danny Boyle changed as a director since he directed you 20 years back? 

I think he respects everybody’s experience and he gives you credit for your body of work and how much more experience you have in the business.  So he is more interested in your opinions I would say.  I mean, not to say that he was disinterested before, but he wants your input.  But the way that he goes about things is very much the same.  Because the way everybody’s lives are set up, there are commitments; we weren’t able to have the same kind of length of rehearsal time that he would have liked as the first one.  So he flew out to visit each of us wherever we were. He went to Canada to visit Bobby and came here to New York to visit me and then to LA to see Ewan.  He will sit down and read a script with you and see what is up and what you think and talk about it and he will go to great lengths.  And then he has still has his vision board and he is trying to feed you information about the feeling. So he hasn’t really changed.  He has still got the same energy and attention to detail that he always did.

In the past you said that Trainspotting was a movie about friendship, but because the movie ended with Renton stealing all that money, what is it about now, redemption or reconciliation?

What was refreshing about that was the hero does that to his friends at the end.  And yet he is still sort of remembered as the hero of the movie.  And it was real.  Like people let each other down and they do selfish things for whatever reason and they have a self-preservation and things aren’t always black and white and there isn’t always right and wrong. That happens in groups of people and I think that was always relatable to people.  And yeah, the movie looks at that.  And it definitely is addressed cause you can’t come back and not.  If you think about it, the first film didn’t have a plot.  It was just a group of friends interacting and then at the end, they get some drugs and go down and do a drug deal.  That really is the plot.  (laughter) And it’s kind of the same model for the second movie.  It’s a group of people interacting and how their actions have affected one another.  

Is it interesting to realise that young people really find the original film influential even after 20 years? 

What’s interesting is a lot of people I work with are in their 20s, the PAs and the crew, and they are obsessed with Trainspotting.  And I am like, ‘how old were you when it came out?’  And they are like six, and it’s kind of depressing.  (laughter) But they are really into it and so I know it’s a good movie, because it still stands the test of time. I do think the films do go hand in hand and there’s a lot of echoes from the first film in the second.  It’s the same guys.  

Do people go mad when you are shooting in Edinburgh because like all of a sudden they see you and then they see Ewan McGregor, and they put two and two together? 

We were getting followed by paparazzi and they were disrupting the filming process and they were trying to shelter our costumes and I was like, ‘What’s the point?’  (laughter) And Danny says, ‘It’s like they are shooting Star Wars up here.’  (laughter) But the people were very respectful and they were very excited. It’s a level of excitement, which is quite alarming.

How strange though, because it was such an indie film back in the day.

You could walk around and do whatever you wanted to and no one cared or bothered.  So it’s now very different and you kind of wish you could still do that. But hey, it’s just a small hurdle to get over in the filmmaking process. 

You being the only non-Scot in the film, did you remember having a hard time with the accent in the beginning?

Well what I did back then was, I just kept it up the whole time in a Scottish accent and when I started towards the end of the filming, I started using my accent, and Ewen Bremner was looking at me like, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’  (laughter) It freaked him out, because he felt I had been lying to him, which I had. (laughter)

Is there anything in Sick Boy’s character that you can see with your own personality?

You know, apart from being a devious crook, yes. (laughter) You know, not really and people always expected me to be like this slick cool guy who just didn’t care. And I am the opposite of that, I am an oversensitive kind of awkward person. (laughs) So yeah, I wouldn’t really want to be like him anyhow.  

What do you think Trainspotting meant for people back in the day and will this new version translate to the sign of the times?

I don’t know.  I think it was just very relatable.  It was cool so that people could sort of aspire to it, but it was also about rebellion and anger and giving the finger to society and doing your own thing.  And it was about executing all that in a very cool and visual way with amazing music and great characters and it was very fun and funny.  And it hit the zeitgeist; hit the nail on the head.  So you can’t do that again, you can’t.  It would have to be like a whole different film made by a whole different group of people now and it will happen again someday, absolutely.  

But are these things applicable to those people now that they’re older? I don’t know, it’s like the million-dollar question, isn’t it? But I think that it’s more about love and loss and what you are left with and what have you got and what have you done?  And it’s more reflective like that.  And I think it does it in a pretty clever way and I think it will be relatable because of that. I hope so.

But are these things applicable to those people now that they’re older? I don’t know, it’s like the million-dollar question, isn’t it? But I think that it’s more about love and loss and what you are left with and what have you got and what have you done?  And it’s more reflective like that.  And I think it does it in a pretty clever way and I think it will be relatable because of that. I hope so.

Back then, the movie outraged a lot of people because it was glorifying heroin addiction because it made it look cool. Will that same sentiment show up in T2?

No, I don’t think we were trying to do that.  I don’t think anybody is trying to make the same movie. Danny’s intention is always really honesty and this is something that you learn when you work for him and in the rehearsal process, his only interest is in what people are saying to each other and how they are saying it to each other and how their characters are interacting.  And the truth then leads you to funny stuff and drama. So I think he was obsessed with showing why people take drugs and then the consequences of abuse; and not in a documentary way. So therefore, these people are having fun on drugs?  That’s the truth.  And the consequence is a whole other thing.  So I think this movie deals with that.  You have some of that, but it’s not going to be, I don’t know if it will be outrageous to people because it’s not presenting the same arguments really.

Was it outrageous to you back then when you were reading the script?

No, it was not outrageous to anyone that has had any contact with that kind of world or who has lived like that.  Was it outrageous?  No. It was truthful.  Maybe shocking to people who didn’t know about it, or people who were like have never taken drugs or gone out or had a good time or all that.  But like I said when it comes down to it and it’s about who are your friends and how you treat each other and what is important to you in life?  Is family important, are your friends important and are you going to screw them over and what are you doing and what are you going to do?  And then now we get to look at what did you do and who are your friends and are you going to make amends to them or are you going to still try and screw people over; it’s just life stuff.

Can you talk a little bit about the music?

Danny says that people ask him a series of questions when they found out he was making the film. The first one was always what is the soundtrack going to be like? And then third down the list is, is Kelly McDonald in it? (laughter) I am not sure if the music is set yet, I think he is using some local bands and it’ll all fall into place.  I know he had center pieced the music by a huge band who shall remain nameless, but I know he used them as the centerpiece in the movie early on in the process before he had even done it, because this person was obsessed with getting into the thing and it’s really good and it’s in the movie and it’s epic. 

There is some original music that Rick Smith of Underworld is writing, and he has been our musical supervisor throughout the process and he is genius.  And then you have some new music and then you have got old music as well, which is really a bit like the first film, but what was really surprising to me, some of the choices.  But then it’s about the lyrics and why they are listening to it in their heads. It’s cool.  But it’s like I said to Danny, it’s like maybe we are not cool anymore and who says that you are going to choose the best music?  (laughter) Are you cool anymore for it?  But Danny’s musical taste is impeccable.  And it’s better than mine and he is way older than me.  

Going back to Trainspotting, has there been shooting a scene for you that was particularly challenging in an emotional way? 

We only revisit a couple of the locations from the first movie and one of them was very recognizable from the first movie and there we were again.  And Spud (Ewen Bremner) has written something and he has Ewan (McGregor) read it out loud and it was pretty amazing because of what it’s about. That was very reflective and I can’t really tell you any more than that, because it would just spoil it.  But it was a big moment for all of us there cause it just hit us what we were doing.  So I wouldn’t say that it was challenging, but I would say yeah, it was an amazing moment, because you saw the look on Danny’s face and he is not really an overly emotional guy.  But it really hit us all and it was pretty cool.  But challenging would be the wrong word, but emotionally, yeah.

Did you ever have a moment where you are sitting there and the whole cast is around and say we are twenty years older?  

Yeah I had that every morning. (laughter) Right before coffee, but totally, every day.

The film releases in cinemas on Friday, 24 February.

(Photos supplied)

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