Danny Boyle and John Hodge remember the precise moment when Trainspotting grabbed the United Kingdom by the throat.
”When they put up the billboards,” Boyle groans.
”The billboards,” echoes Hodge. ”Oh, what a terrible sight that was, just seeing these huge, 100-foot-long Trainspotting billboards. They were all over London. It just seemed like excess.”
”The British tend to be very embarrassed by things like that,” Boyle explains. ”But when those things went up, we thought, This is serious.”
Serious indeed. If success makes a Brit blush, then Boyle and Hodge — Trainspotting’s director and screenwriter, respectively — went from herring white to beet red in a heartbeat. By the time those billboards started looming over London last February, Trainspotting — a scrappy, grimy, and madly entertaining flick about a pack of heroin addicts in Scotland — was threatening to become the second-biggest homegrown film in Britain’s history, after Four Weddings and a Funeral. Shot in just seven weeks in the summer of ‘95 and slapped together for $2.5 million, the unlikely phenomenon has since grossed more than $18 million in the Isles, turned Boyle into a kind of Tarantino-on-the-Thames, shouldered the blame for greasy fashion shoots that make the models look like smack fiends, fanned the flames of controversy for ”glorifying” drug abuse, incited a standing ovation at the Cannes film festival, and set a new standard for hip hysteria in the U.K.
”It’s refreshing,” sighs Trainspotting’s costar Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Sick Boy, a junkie with an equal passion for smack and Sean Connery films. ”You can make a film the way you really want to make it and if you do a good enough job, people will respond.” Maybe so, but like the Beatles before them, Trainspotting’s maverick creators now have to contend with one nagging question: Will the colonies respond?
So far, they have. Trainspotting splattered into a handful of American theaters last weekend and took back a whopping $33,000 per screen. That’s no mean feat, considering that its band of scrawny, drug-dazed hooligans were going head-to-head with the finest athletes in the world. Sure, the movie does have its fair share of running (from the cops), shooting (at dogs in a park), and swimming (in a muck-encrusted toilet), but whether this decathlon of decadence will grab a gold medal at the Yankee box office remains to be seen. Boyle, lounging in his spartan London headquarters, knows one thing. ”There’ll be as many drugs taken at the Olympics,” he jokes, ”as there are in Trainspotting.”
Boyle has a right to be brash. The more he, Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald buck the Hollywood establishment, the more the establishment comes calling. The courtship started in 1994, when the trio’s Shallow Grave — a thriller about three Scottish yuppies who stumble upon cash and a corpse — raised eyebrows and an estimated $23 million worldwide. Suddenly, people with deep pockets and even deeper tans wanted to meet the pale triumvirate. ”When you start off making films, you think the pressure is that you’re never gonna be able to raise money,” says Boyle, 39. ”And you realize as soon as you start making films that the pressure is to resist people giving you money.”