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talking trainspotting 1996 and 2016 with sick boy, renton, begbie and spud

The four actors reprising their iconic roles talk the music, style and lessons learned between the original and sequel

by Colin Crummy
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27 January 2017, 8:45am

"The last ever British youth movie." That's how author Irvine Welsh described the 1996 film adaptation of Trainspotting, his novel about disillusioned, strung out and impressively sweary Scottish youth. So the decision, to bring back the drug addicted, crime friendly boys of Leith - Renton [Ewan McGregor], Sick Boy [Jonny Lee Miller], Spud [Ewen Bremner] and Begbie [Robert Carlyle] - for a sequel some twenty years on presented a problem.

"These characters are back and it's a bit sad, we're all older now, there's pathos, but we're all still going for it," Welsh told i-D last year. "The worry is that for the kids of these people, or even grandkids maybe, it could be like watching their uncle dance at a wedding…"

As it turns out, Welsh needn't have worried of what director Danny Boyle and John Hodge - working off the author's own sequel, Porno - had in store for the Trainspotting boys in contemporary Edinburgh 2016.

T2 Trainspotting, which sees Renton return to Scotland all those years after he ran off with all their stolen swag and reconnect with Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie in funny, shocking, drunk, drugged and violent fashion, makes as much sense if you're 17 or 37, nostalgic for the 90s or living it for the first time.

It does for 2016 what the original did for 1996, putting all of now - from Facebook to fitfams - in the frame. It even includes a fresh rendering of Renton's Choose Life soliloquy, which is as a deft an exposition of modern living as the 1996 original. And throughout, the film's characters have flashbacks to the original, allowing both newcomers and long standing fans to live in the Trainspotting universe once more time. Here, we delve into that world, now and then, with its four stars.

Read: How Trainspotting schooled a lost generation of Scots in the power of patriotism.

The original Trainspotting is now a late 90s period piece. How do you feel about that?
Ewen Bremner:
My daughter is 17 and she and her mates have really been getting into that world, using the film. It doesn't feel like a distant story from before they were born. It feels relevant and speaks to them. That's Danny's filmmaking, using the language of music videos and documentary, balancing realism with surrealism. He opened up a very modern means of expression.

What themes resonate between the two films?
Ewen B:
The first film was about friendship, the exhilarations and tensions of friendship especially at high school and in your twenties. You try to work out if this person is good or bad for you, if you should indulge them or get away from that influence. These are brilliantly drawn in the first film.
Robert Carlyle: Maybe some lessons are learned
Ewen B: How to shoot up… [laughs]
Robert: How not to shoot up… just to be careful with friendships, to ask if they will be worth anything to them 20 years down the line. It's difficult for young people to look that far ahead but I think this film might give them the opportunity to do that.

In Renton's original Choose Life speech, he summed up a generation's angst. What about the new speech really sums up where we're at in 2017?
Ewan McGregor:
I don't know what the key thing about our era is except massive confusion. It's a bit scary at the moment.

Do you think that bridges the films, people not knowing what to do with their lives?
Jonny Lee Miller:
The characters are all stuck in different ways and you have to see how the world has changed around them and perhaps how they haven't changed as much as they could or should have.

The original is a defining film of the 90s. What for you defines the era?
Ewan M:
Oasis. I was a massive Oasis fan and there was something about them, their attitude. They didn't give a shit. There was something very specific about the way in which they dealt with fame and didn't care very much for it at the time that I thought was very cool.

Do you have a favourite song from the original soundtrack?
Johnny:
I switch between Lust for Life, Perfect Day and Born Slippy. Those are the three which leap out at me. But I've been listening to a lot of Pulp recently in order to get ready for this and since, I've really discovered Pulp again. You get a massive 90s blast, memory flashback when you listen to Pulp.
Ewan M: I have the same affinity with Pulp too. Or if I ever hear Born Slippy, I feel like I want to walk over a bridge with a lump sum of money in a bag. From the new film, musically it's Young Fathers, who Danny has fallen in love with, and are the musical backbone of it. Danny needed contemporary music to stop the film being too retrospective because there is a lot of looking back in it.

Do you have a favourite item of clothing from the original film?
Ewen B:
What was amazing about the first film was that the costumes were drawn from a rich spectrum of culture, from the 50s onwards. Looking at the film, you couldn't pin it down to the late 90s. It drew on the best and worst of the 80s, 70s and 60s. It drew on all of those and created a world that you couldn't say was 1995. It created its own cinematic world.
Robert: I've nicked some stuff. For me, Begbie in the first and second film dresses almost exactly the same because in the second film he is in prison to begin with. It doesn't give too much of the film away to tell you he escapes from prison. He comes home and his wardrobe hasn't changed at all.
Ewan M: For me, my favourite one was the 70s bri-nylon shirt with giant disco collar and this print of a Red Indian in Manhattan on horseback among the skyscrapers raising his fist to the air with his headdress on.
Robert: I would go for Begbie's pink Pringle sweater because it's what he's all about.

Read: Return to 1995 and i-D's Tough Issue, to talk Edinburgh, ecstasy and the art of the expletive with Irvine Welsh

T2 Trainspotting is out 27 January

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Text Colin Crummy