British director Danny Boyle's latest movie, Sunshine (read the NOW review here), sends eight astronauts on a mission to save a dying sun. He sat down with NOW Magazine to discuss space odysseys, working with Leonardo DiCaprio, zombies and the long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting.
NOW: You've made thrillers (Shallow Grave), family films (Millions), horror movies (28 Days Later), romantic comedies (A Life Less Ordinary), and now science fiction. It's almost like you have a fear of repeating yourself. not repeating yourself
Danny Boyle: You never make a film as good as your first film. They might be technically better, but there's something about the first film, because you don't really know what you're doing. You're in a complete state of innocence and you're working it out, and you can never get that back again. But if you change genres, if you're lucky enough to be able to move around and explore different things, then that gets closer to it. Because you begin a film, like Sunshine, and you are a bit lost, a bit fearful of what are the rules? Do I need to know the rules? Can I ignore the rules. That's why I do it, I think. That's an advantage of being based in London. If you're over here in Hollywood you basically get known as being good at thrillers and that's all you're allowed to make. Back home we set up our own money, keep the price down - except for The Beach - and we keep control. It allows you more freedom to make those changes and do different genres.
NOW: It's funny you should mention The Beach. It's a great Lord of the Flies-type film that had a rather cool reception when it came out, part of which was all the expectations that built up because it was Leonardo DiCaprio's first film post-Titanic.
DB: Yeah, I know. It's very difficult for me to have any perception of it at all. Leo was wonderful. He's a wonderful bloke to work with. But when you work with somebody that famous there is a whole other world that is set up like a parallel universe. Which would be okay if it stayed parallel but it doesn't. It kind of takes over the film in a way. And people's perceptions of it, the politics of it, the stuff about the environment, it became muddied with all of that stuff. But I loved the idea of it. When I look back at it and when I look at Sunshine and a few others, they all sort of fit together in a way. They're all about groups of people in these extraordinary circumstances. People who have found this paradise beach and set up a community and these guys trying to reignite the sun and you seal them in a steel tube and send them off there. So I obviously love that group dynamic, with an individual within that group who is going to do something extraordinary. They're going to implode or their morality is going to be challenged. It's interesting.
NOW: Sunshine is like the version of Armageddon that Michael Bay would make if he were interested in ideas instead of explosions. How important was exploring the spiritual side of life even as you explored space?
DB: If you do them properly you can't help but get spiritual, I suppose. You can't help but begin to explore that. And by properly I mean you seal the audience in that tube with the characters, that was what we set out to do, and you go on the journey with them and then it's natural that the challenges that they face are psychological, physical, spiritual. We didn't want to make it a disaster movie, we didn't want to cut back to Earth. We were absolutely adamant about that although they did try to make us set it up so there was more back story so you could see what was at stake. But we didn't want to do that. That's my kind of taste. It comes from Alien, the first Alien - you don't have any perspective other than that ship. You don't cut back to Earth or a satellite station that's worried about them or anything. It's like submarines, you're sealed in with the action. It's a Heart of Darkness journey, a psychological journey.
NOW: How concerned were you about the baggage that comes with making a serious sci-fi film?
DB: It's the most prevalent thing in making a film like this. Every film you make you're looking for your predecessors to honour them, to ignore them, to inherit things from them. It's an absolute necessity. The way I express it is, you're in this corridor with these other films. It's very narrow. It's not like fantasy sci-fi where you can do anything, free-form really, this is more absolute. When I made 28 Days Later I thought that's quite a narrow corridor, isn't it? Zombies. But this is stricter still. We tried to step outside the corridor here at the script stage, some technical things that were really, really different, but they didn't work. But it's because as an audience the diet has been set and you know what to expect from that diet, how space has to feel and look and you have to work within those parameters. And your goal if your honest, is to acknowledge you're indebted to Alien, to 2001, to Solaris, and you doff your cap to them. After that as you progress down the corridor you can make your own stamp, your own mark, but these films are hovering over you the whole time. It's extraordinary. I've never known anything like it.
NOW: 28 Days Later was such a monster hit. Were you at all protective of it when it was decided they were going to make a sequel?
DB: You have to let them go. One of your responsibilities is to let them go. Especially the successful ones. People have a very strange relationship to them which is not necessarily anything you did and that's just as valid as your own experience. I was quite keen to let go of 28 Days Later, because I thought there was nothing more I could do with it. But once they started I did a bit of second unit directing on it and I loved it. I'd forgotten what fantastic fun it was to make a film like that. I think maybe I should do another one. And there is an idea for a third one, but I don't know if it will come to that.
NOW: Speaking of sequels, is there any chance you'll make the follow-up to Trainspotting that's been talked about?
DB: I get that question a lot. We have a plan. We have a script, a very rough first draft to see if it works, because Irvine Welsh had done a novel and we kind of used it loosely as a basis. And the idea of meeting the same characters again played by the same actors is kind of fun. You read it and they're there right in front of you. What we're trying to do is wait until they're older, noticeably older, not make-up older. Clearly middle-aged. So that invincibility of youth where you can't just pump anything in and get away with it is gone. I think that will give an extra dimension to it. But it does mean waiting for them a bit. Because they're actors especially, and because they've done well, they're closeted. They're looked after. They don't look a day older really, maybe a little bit, but not enough yet. So we'll wait and be ready to move on it.
NOW: What is your next project?
DB: I'm directing film in India next, in Mumbai, an absolutely extraordinary city. It's called Slumdog Millionaire. It's very different from Sunshine. There are 900 million people in India. They're like sand on a beach, they're everywhere you turn. The single most precious thing you can have is privacy. It's an idea based in that. Quite a contrast to eight astronauts trapped in space. It's like a filmmaker going bad in this maximum city. It makes New York look quiet and organized. You have to drop all your values when you get there, all of your morality, as it's completely pointless. If you wanted to shoot in Toronto you basically try - through finance, through bribery, through bullying - you try to stop the city and then recreate a tiny bit of it to film and then you let the city go. But you can't do that in Mumbai. It's unstoppable. It will be a big challenge.