On the surface, Danny Boyle’s movies could not be more different — from the heroin-infused Trainspotting, to the aesthetically entrancing Slumdog Millionaire, to the solo character study 127 Hours. But the Oscar-winning director told the crowd gathered at his SXSW Q&A with New York Times media reporter David Carr that he doesn’t quite see it that way.
“You try to make a different film every time, and often you end up making the same film again and again,” Boyle said. The through line, he said, is that all of his characters have huge odds to overcome.
That statement holds true in Trance, Boyle’s upcoming film about hypnosis, art theft, and memory, starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Rosario Dawson. The audience was treated to an extended clip from the film, which seemed to include some pivotal scenes.
In particular, Carr seemed surprised that Boyle chose to show a long, integral sequence. “I don’t think you should say anymore. You just opened the kimono a little bit there,” he joked.
But Boyle disagreed, addressing the current industry obsession with spoiler alerts. “There is an amnesia effect when a movie starts,” Boyle said. “Hopefully that will happen when you see it.”
Trance premieres in Europe next week, and will be released in the U.S. on April 5. The clip we saw — no spoilers here! — featured a gruesome showdown between the main characters. Carr, who said he had seen the entire film, noted its similarity in tone to Christopher Nolan’s Memento, in that it plays with time and reality. “What happens in the film is ethically dubious,” Boyle said, “but possible.”
The presentation also took a look back at Boyle’s early films, including Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, both starring Ewan McGregor.
Carr asked Boyle if it was true that a director’s first film is always his (or her) best. It’s hard to imagine that being true, looking at Boyle’s body of work, but the director said the innocence of any first film is unique.
“I think there is something wonderful about your first time, as in all walks of life, which hopefully you know, or if you don’t, will know soon,” he joked. “There is a danger of losing that innocence after your first time.” Boyle stressed the importance of continuing to learn as you go along. “Try and change genre, do something different each time,” he advised first time filmmakers. “You should be discovering.”
Peaking too soon, however, is not something Boyle is familiar with. He said he was 37 or 38 when his first film, Shallow Grave, came out, after many years of working in the British theater. He talked the audience through one of the iconic scenes in the film, where McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston are sitting at their kitchen table, deciding what to do about the suitcase of money.
“What you shouldn’t do with a scene like that is keep cutting,” Boyle said. “I remember not really planning that.” He added that risk-taking at those moments should be encouraged, but “you should probably cover your back in case it turns out to be crap.”
Carr asked about discovering McGregor and how Boyle seems to have a sixth sense at picking good actors. Boyle was modest about his talents as director, and said he is well aware that it can be hard to describe what directors actually do. “In that [Shallow Grave] scene, the actors didn’t quite know how to play it, and I said, ‘Do it as though you’re desperate to go to the toilet.”
Of course, as we now know, two of the stars of that film went on to play Obi-Wan Kenobi and Doctor Who, or as Boyle joked “masters of the universe.”
Boyle later brought out Rick Smith, a member of the techno band Underworld and frequent collaborator of the director’s, to speak about creating the music for Trance. They first worked together on Trainspotting, which came out just after rave culture had taken off in Britain, and Boyle said while the film is about heroin, “the spirit is about dance culture.” Smith remembered that, at the time, Underworld had been turning down offers to have their music featured in drug and violence-themed films, but after seeing 15 minutes of Trainspotting, he was sold. “We were like, ‘You can use anything,'” Smith said.
And continuing the music focus, Boyle will also be DJ’ing a party in Austin tonight.