Danny Boyle will get to all the mistakes he made after ”Trainspotting” in a minute. He’ll explain why he followed up that groundbreaking 1996 heroin saga — the movie that made his reputation as the most daring British director of the decade — with the all too ordinary romantic comedy ”A Life Less Ordinary.” He’ll describe what went wrong on ”The Beach,” how not even the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio could save that troubled tropical idyll. He’ll discuss why his old pal Ewan McGregor stopped speaking to him (short answer: the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio) and what that ill will may do to plans for a ”Trainspotting” sequel (probable answer: Boyle should make other arrangements).
But first, before all that, Boyle wants to talk about zombies.
”I wasn’t looking to make a zombie movie,” the soft-spoken 46-year-old filmmaker announces while pouring himself a cup of tea at the bar in London’s Dorchester hotel. ”I’m not a big fan of the zombie genre. But five pages into the script, I knew I wanted to make this movie. I knew what I wanted the zombies to look like, how I wanted them to move. I actually held a zombie workshop for the actors. I would stand in the middle of the room and have them attack me. Or I would be a zombie and show them how to do it. It was the only way to make sure I got what I wanted.”
He got what he wanted, all right. Boyle’s latest film, ”28 Days Later,” hasn’t just been raising the undead — it’s also reanimating his career. The eerily topical apocalyptic thriller about a monkey-borne virus that turns nearly everyone in England into raging red-eyed zombies is already a huge success in his native U.K. When it opened there last October, it became Boyle’s first No. 1 hit in Britain, even beating out ”XXX.” Its American opening last weekend wasn’t quite as splashy — $9.7 million from 1,260 screens — but was still rather impressive. Especially for a movie without a single star in its cast, made entirely with handheld digital cameras and a budget of only $8.7 million. ”I shot some of it in my garden,” Boyle says between sips of tea. ”And it’s not a big garden.”
Tiny budgets have never bothered Boyle before. ”Trainspotting” cost a mere $2.5 million, and that film managed to pull off stunts the Wachowski brothers never dreamed of (witness McGregor diving headlong into the filthiest toilet bowl in Scotland). It’s only when Boyle has succumbed to the lure of Hollywood — like when he paired McGregor with Cameron Diaz for 1997’s light comic romp about a kidnapper who falls for his victim — that he’s run into trouble. ”’A Life Less Ordinary’ didn’t work,” he admits. ”We made a cold romantic comedy. And you can’t make a romantic comedy work without warmth. You’d have to be a genius.”