Interview: Danny Boyle on his new mind-bending film 'Trance'
The Oscar-winning director is worried about keeping his tense thriller spoiler-free
Danny Boyle is becoming a master of all film genres. From the crime drama “Shallow Grave,” his first feature, to black comedies like “Trainspotting” and “A Life Less Ordinary” to adventure films like “The Beach” and zombie horror films like “28 Days Later” to the sci-fi thriller “Sunshine.” His biggest success, “Slumdog Millionaire,” for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director (as well as a Best Picture Oscar) was followed up with “127 Hours,” a taut biographical drama that gave James Franco the best role of his career. Now, after a theater stint in London’s West End and a high-profile gig directing the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Boyle is back with “Trance,” a wildly twisting mind puzzle starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassell, and Rosario Dawson. I spoke with Danny Boyle in Los Angeles.
MSN Movies: I so enjoyed this film but I’m almost afraid to write anything about it for fear of giving away unexpected plot points. Has this been more difficult for you to talk about than your other films?
Danny Boyle: It’s been a nightmare, an absolute nightmare! That “spoiler sensitivity” is just so intense on this one! But, you know, I think we’ll be okay. In my experience, when you walk into a cinema you get a little bit of amnesia about everything you’ve read about a film. I know I do so I hope that's true for others no matter what they read beforehand!
I’ll try not to reveal much but I’m happy that I went into the film completely oblivious! I thought, “Oh, cool, Danny Boyle made a movie about the art world and about hypnosis!” Boy, was I fooled!
I love how each of the three actors you chose brought elements of their existing personae to their roles only to have those completely shaken up.
Yes, that was the idea! I’ve always loved the set-up of a three-character film. I think most people are sure that McAvoy is going to go a certain way at the beginning. He’s narrating, he’s looking into the camera, he seems to be very on top of stuff and then…BAM, it all shifts. Same thing with Vincent and Rosario. (Portion of conversation deleted to avoid spoilers!)
I know some other people were attached to that part early on but I thought James McAvoy did such a great job.
My only concern with James at the beginning was that he might be too young. But you know, he’s changing, he’s 33 now and doesn’t want to play that cute nice boy anymore. I think that’s what attracted him to this part because he knew he could use that perception people have of him at the beginning and then show change. Most movie actors don’t get that big a journey in a film, but for James’ character, it’s enormous so that was a really lovely part for him. And Vincent, for me, is one of the world’s great actors, and we associate him so strongly with gangsters which was an advantage for us. And Rosario is just great—you know, it’s tough for the girls, there’s such talent there but they just don’t get the roles, they’re usually playing the girlfriend or the third part, so it was wonderful to make a film where she increasingly becomes the engine of the film. She’s partly a femme fatale, she manipulates these guys, she’s obviously very beautiful and the character uses her sensuality and allure, but it’s really a film about the damage that’s in her and how she decides to rescue herself by unwitting these men.
It’s so cool to see a three-character film where all three are truly lead roles. And one where our take on each of the characters radically changes every ten minutes!
I did my first film, "Shallow Grave," with the same writer, John Hodges, and that had the same premise of three strong characters—you’re not quite sure who to go with and who not. It was fun to go back to that, including having three such attractive actors! I mean Vincent is HOT, girls are loving it when he gets his kit off in this film! Rosario is extremely beautiful, and James has enormous appeal as well, so it’s been lovely and delicious to mix them up.
Did researching the hypnosis angle of the film change any of your own beliefs about that?
Yeah. You know, hypnosis was really coming into the mainstream years ago—in the 70s it had started being used as admissible evidence in court. But then there were all of those “recovered memories” that were proven to be false and hypnosis got completely discredited. I think they’ve been trying to rebuild the image of the profession ever since. What's interesting to me is that you always hear how when you’re hypnotized you’re still aware of where you are and you won’t ever do anything you wouldn’t have done anyway. Well, that’s true, but only for about 95 percent of the population. There’s this much smaller group who are what they call “extremely suggestible.” These are the people that stage hypnotists pick out in an audience.
How do they find them?
What they do is run a series of games at the beginning of their show and through those they’re able to determine the people who are really suggestible and bring them up on stage. We had this example, this hypnotist in Yorkshire who brought these four people on stage and put them in a trance. He was a very vigorous performer, he had all these props and stuff, and during his act he hit his head on a scaffolding pole just offstage and was knocked unconscious. The stage manager came out and stopped the show but they couldn’t do anything with these four people! I think everyone thought the deceit would be revealed, that the four people were faking it somehow, but it wasn't true! The guy recovered after 15 minutes and brought them out of trance.
I was always a little skeptical about hypnosis but I also get that the subconscious is very complex and can be quite deceiving. I'll often be completely sure about something that happened to me and then find out that I was dead wrong.
Right. And as Rosario says in the film, identity is made up of a series of memories that we string together.
And what we remember is not always the “Truth” with a capital “T.”
Absolutely not, and if our memories are damaged, our personality is also damaged. Or if our memories disappear like with Alzheimer’s, people say that the body is still there but the person is gone. We’re nothing if we stop being able to continually loop together our choice of memories—it defines who we are!
You’ve mastered so many different genres in your career. Are there any left that you’re still dying to get your hands on?
It’s funny—it just kind of happened by accident, but we’re working on a couple of period movies right now. Proper period stuff, serious historical movies!
Oh, great. Do you have any interest in doing a musical?
I’d LOVE to do a musical. “Millions” was a film I did in 2004 that should have been one. The thing about musicals is you need to find a vehicle that gives you a natural outlet for singing. We had kids in that movie and it would have been lovely. I hope I bump into a vehicle that lends itself to that some day.
I was excited to hear that a third film in the “28 Days Later” series might be happening.
We have an idea in the works. It’s extraordinary to have played a part in revitalizing that whole genre, “Walking Dead” is such a huge show now! We have a pretty strong idea for a third part. We’re also developing a sequel for “Trainspotting” which will probably happen first.
Fantastic! And congratulations on the great opening ceremonies for the Olympics last year. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to top directing Daniel Craig in a scene with the Queen of England!
I don’t know, those directors in Rio will probably think of something really great!
“Trance” opens in theaters on April 5, 2013.