MILLIONS - Q&A with DANNY BOYLE
Movie Interview by Jonathan Harvey
This project's been in the works a while. Did you ever fear that we would have actually joined the Euro by the time you could bring it to the screen?
I was hoping we'd have the Euro! I favour it, really, and think we need to be a bit more European. The guy who wrote it, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who's a wonderful writer - he wrote 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, HILARY & JACKIE, and wrote on CORONATION STREET [TV series] with Russell T Davies and Paul Abbott (he comes from that great stable of writers from the north west [of England]) I think he wrote it a long time ago and tried to get it made with a lot of different directors. I know because I met them all after I accepted it, and they all said they'd turned it down years ago. But it was fine because I loved the script. We went to the financiers, and there's always a look of disappointment when they realise it's not going to be a sequel to 28 DAYS LATER or TRAINSPOTTING, but once they get over that and after you've told them some lies - like it's SHALLOW GRAVE for kids, or TRAINSPOTTING crossed with AMELIE - then they give you the money and you can make it.
Is it true at one point it was going to be a musical?
Well if you got a director to be absolutely honest and say what he'd really like to make, we'd all say a musical because it's the Holy Grail - can you make a modern musical with modern music? You'll never get there but you can take some steps along the way, and this is like a step along the way towards that.
Didn't the kids help the older actors come to terms with their parts?
The kids are amazing, because they don't even learn the lines. They just read the script once, and their brains are so capable that they can just say it straight away. So by the time you come to read it through they don't just know their lines, but everyone else's too - they'd be giving Jimmy Nesbitt cues when he'd forget his after a heavy night out.
Where did you find the lead kid actor?
We looked around the schools in Manchester, and did a child search. Casting directors have a codeword for child searches - 'kissing frogs' - which is fairly obvious, i.e. you hope that one, or in this case two, will turn out to be your 'prince'. When Alex (Etel) came in to audition I did think he'd be the one, I'm not just saying it. It was the same with Kelly McDonald in TRAINSPOTTING - I just kinda knew. It's incredible, you know when you watch him in the film, he doesn't blink! It's amazing. Apparently that's one of Michael Caine's tips about acting, don't blink, and this kid didn't.
The older child actor, Lewis, was also great, wasn't he?
Absolutely, and he had real comic timing. You can't teach that. He'd have scenes with Jimmy Nesbitt and would know when to time a line. And he wouldn't chase a laugh either, he knew how to deadpan. So he was great too.
The caper element was something I admired in the film. Was it important to get the robbery realistic, so everything else could emanate from it?
Well the robbery was the high-energy point of the film (we could tell the financiers that's where the TRAINSPOTTING bit is). It's hard to shoot railways in Britain, because of restrictions - you have to shoot on private lines, or do pirate filming and grab shots when you can - as they're worried about kids copying things and going near railway lines, which is why the film's got a 12A certificate in Britain. But the sequence was important, as a high-octane centre of the film.
Were you worried the film would seem cheesy?
Well you go for it with your full heart, really. You could imagine that some people might see it that way, but you celebrate the boys' vision. Some people would say the boy's naïve, and I think he is, but in a really good way. The idea of generosity in the film was interesting - when the tsunami hit, you could see that spirit of giving was alive, so I stand by it.
What attracted you to the script?
Well you can read a lot of scripts which are technically brilliant, but for which your heart doesn't skip a beat. I've got an American agent who thought I was crazy to do this after 28 DAYS LATER, as I'd had a big hit in the States, but when I read this the first time and read that bit early on when the kid says 'me mam's dead' to get a pack of sweets, that was it, I knew I had to do it! And then even if it's not a big hit you can still be proud of them, whereas when some of those big commercial films aren't hits you can feel wretched, as you've done them for the wrong reasons.
Was James Nesbitt your first choice for the role, given his strong accent?
Yes, both adult leads were, really. Jimmy's a great communicator and he's got a good ordinary sense to him, and I don't think the accent really matters. And it's not that bad either - I've heard worse!
It's the first film I've seen in ages without a single swear word. Was that a conscious thing?
Yes, that's true. And we even had to stop swearing on set, what with two kids wandering around the whole time.
You've just come back from touring the film in the States. How did it go down there?
They were amazed how a film could have religion in it without it being divisive. It's a very divisive issue in America, and they were surprised it was dealt with in such a relaxed way. When the mother comes to Alex at the end of the film she doesn't tell him to believe in Jesus or to go to Church, she just says to have faith in people. Another interesting thing they said was that, given all the saints in the film, was there any significance in all the trains being called Virgin...?
Have you got a taste for family films now, or are you going to go back to the stronger, more adult material?
Well if you can pull off a family film it's amazing. I think films like Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy are great. I'd love to do more, but they're quite difficult to find. My next film's a sci-fi film, which will be quite different.
What was the relationship between the book and script for MILLIONS?
It was a script first, and when we were working on it I suggested to Frank (Cottrell Boyce) that he should turn it into a book, and it got picked up by a publisher. And from that Frank actually got a deal for another book, which he's just finishing. In fact when he'd finished the book, it had some scenes not in the script (like the St Peter scene), and I said we've got to put that in the film! So they sort of fed each other at different stages.
Could you tell us about your next film?
It's a sci-fi film called SUNSHINE, based on a book by Alex Garland, who wrote 28 DAYS LATER. It's set 50 years in the future, with a ship - rather unfortunately named Icarus - on a mission to the Sun, and they're taking a bomb, to reignite a portion of the Sun which is threatening the earth's atmosphere. But it's really about what happens to the minds of the eight people on their journey to the sun, and meeting the source of all creation in the solar system - for some people it's the sun, for others God... We've offered four actors, but we're waiting to hear so I can't say more at the moment.
Could you tell us about the music?
Yes, it's composed by a guy called John Murphy, who was actually a member of Frankie Goes to Hollywood! But now he's a serious composer, and he's great. A template was EDWARD SCISSORHANDS with its score by Danny Elfman, which was actually nicked from Prokofiev, but that was an influence and it's a bit different for me not to have so many songs in my films. But it has got a song by The Clash in, and they were my band when I was growing up, and I always wanted to get one of their songs in so I'm happy about that.
Can you tell us any film directors you particularly admire?
Yes, there's a guy called Nicolas Roeg, who directed DON'T LOOK NOW, and a succession of other films that I think were just great. He's quite dark, and a real iconoclast - you know within three seconds that you're watching one of his movies.
Do you see yourself working exclusively in film in the future, or might you go back to the Royal Court at all?
Actually I've got this idea I'm working on. With a mate of mine we're adapting a book for the National Theatre next spring, hopefully, and it's such an obvious idea that I can't tell you, because if I did somebody else will do it before! I can't believe nobody's done it, so we're holding our breath between now and then.