Trainspotting‘s Jonny Lee Miller: One Sick Individual

February 8, 2017
Jonny Lee Miller is back as the too-cool-for-school Sick Boy in T2: Trainspotting, director, Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated follow-up to his 1996 game-changer.

Did anybody have hesitations in taking these roles for the first time, with the original film? “No, no! It was a cracking script. I think that I would have got an audition anyway, through my agent, but Ewan McGregor put a good word in for me, like, ‘Oh, you should see this guy.’ We were friends at the time. It’s not the kind of project that you’re going to think twice about doing, especially as a young actor.”

And now with the sequel, was there any pause? Any hesitation? “It wasn’t anything that any of us took lightly. We were all quite nervous about it. After reading the script though, it was pretty much, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it!’ The script was great, and we realised that we all felt that, and the time was right. We’ll see!”

How was it to work with Ewan again? “Yeah, amazing. We were close, and I hadn’t seen him in a very long time. Life just took us in different directions. And I was very close with Robert Carlyle as well. I hadn’t seen him in ten years either, and it was amazing to come back together again. It’s very surreal, but really wonderful to have that opportunity to do it in a work situation. To suddenly be able to reconnect as friends and colleagues as well was pretty amazing!”

Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in T2: Trainspotting

There were a lot of drugs in the first film…have times changed? “There might be some drugs involved. My character’s got a drug habit…he’s a bit of a cokehead! [Laughs]”

Oh, so it’s not heroin this time? “I’m not ruling that out of this movie! But I’ve got a lot of personal issues in the movie. Sick Boy hasn’t really moved his life on too much. All of the characters are in very different places. In the first film, they’re a group, in the same situation, while here, they are four individuals in very different places.”

After 20 years, do you see Sick Boy in a different way than you did in the first film? “Yeah, because he is different. How I see it is one thing, but the credit has to go to [screenwriter] John Hodge, and his vision. I just show up and play it. In the first movie, they’re all cool, but people were like, ‘Oh, Sick Boy’s so fucking cool!’ And he was! He had the hair and everything. Now, he ain’t cool at all! He’s kind of stuck. And it was very interesting to show that if you get stuck, and he’s still trying to be that, then it’s not working! Some of the characters are really stuck in a place, and hopefully that’s relatable to people. We’re not trying to recreate the cool vibe of Trainspotting…what’s the point in doing that?”

Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in T2: Trainspotting

Have any of the characters matured? Or are they all stuck in their past in a way? “They’re kind of stuck, but the movie is driven by Renton. It comes from him having a realisation, and perhaps being more mature than the others. The first film was really his story, with the voiceover and everything, and now he’s probably the one that’s got the most maturity.”

You’ve said that Trainspotting was a movie about friendship. But because the movie ended with Renton stealing all that money, what is the sequel about? Is it about reconciling, or forgiving friends, when they fuck up? “That can happen in all relationships, and friendships. What was refreshing about the first movie was that the hero does that to his friends at the end. And he’s still remembered as the hero of the movie! There was a realism to that. People let each other down, and they do selfish things, for whatever reason, or they have a sense of self-preservation. Things aren’t always black and white, and there’s not always right and wrong, and that happens in groups of people. That was really relatable to people. The movie looks at that, and it definitely is addressed. But that’s the whole thing about the movie…there’s no real plot. The first film didn’t have a plot! It’s just a group of friends interacting, and then at the end, they get some drugs, and go down and do a drug deal! That’s really the plot! [Laughs] That’s it! There’s no plot! And it’s the same model for the second movie. It’s a group of people interacting, and how their actions have affected one another.”

Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller in T2: Trainspotting

Everyone was young and crazy in that film. Now everyone is 20 years older. Does that mean the sequel is also targeting people who are 20 years older? “We’ll see. I don’t know, but that’s definitely a maybe! What’s interesting is that a lot of the people that I work with – the PAs and the crew – are in their 20s, and they’re obsessed with Trainspotting. I’m like, ‘How old were you when it came out?’ They’re like, ‘Six.’ It’s kind of depressing! [Laughs] But they’re really into it, so you’re like, ‘Oh well, a good movie stands the test of time!’ So there’s still an interest, and the films do go hand in hand. There are a lot of echoes of the first film in the second. It’s the same guys, of course. We’ll see who it strikes a chord with.”

What was it like shooting in Edinburgh? Did people know what you were shooting? “We were getting followed by paparazzi, and they were disrupting the filming process. The crew was trying to shelter our costumes, and I was like, ‘What’s the fucking point?’ They had the umbrellas out, and they were saying, ‘Put your hood on when you get your hair dyed.’ I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ Danny Boyle’s like, ‘It’s like fucking Star Wars up there.’ But it’s true. It brings a lot of people. And they were very respectful, and they were very excited, and they would stand and watch. The people were very respectful, but the photographers…well, not at all. There’s certainly a level of excitement which is quite alarming! Shooting the first film, you could run around doing whatever you wanted to, and no one cared or bothered. So it’s very different. You kind of wish you could still do that. But hey, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a small hurdle to get over in the filmmaking process.”

Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle in T2: Trainspotting.

Do you think that the Trainspotting sequel can be as outrageous today? In the political climate we’re in now? “No. I don’t think we’re trying to do that. I don’t think anybody is trying to make the same movie. I say ‘We’, but I mean ‘They.’ I didn’t make the movie, but I stand by it 100%. Danny’s intention is always about honesty, and this is something that you learn when you work for him. In the rehearsal process, his only interest is, ‘Is this truthful?’ In what people are saying to each other, and how they’re saying it to each other, and how their characters are interacting. And then the truth then leads you to funny stuff, and sad stuff…it leads you to comedy and drama. If it’s truthful, right? He was obsessed with that. He was very curious about why people take drugs, and then the consequences of abuse. It was not a documentary, and it was not intended to be. But then people were screaming, ‘Oh my God! These people are having fun on drugs?!!?’ That’s the fucking truth! The consequences are a whole other thing. This movie deals with some of that. I don’t know if it’ll be outrageous to people, because it’s not presenting the same arguments.”

Was it outrageous when you were reading the script for the first film? “No, not outrageous. That would not be outrageous to anyone who’s had any contact with that sort of world, or anyone who’s lived like that. Is that outrageous? No! It was truthful! It might have been shocking to people who didn’t know about it, or people who had never taken drugs, or who had never gone out or had a good time. But it’s really about who your friends are, and how you treat each other. And what’s important to you in life. Is your family important? Are your friends important? Are you going to screw them over? What are you doing? And what are you going to do? And then now, we get to look at, ‘What did you do? And who are your friends? And, are you going to make amends to them? Or are you going to keep screwing people over?” It’s just like trying to deal with just life stuff.”

Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor and Anjela Nedyalkova in T2: Trainspotting.

Can you tell me a little bit about the music? The first film was famous for its soundtrack. “I’m not sure if the music is set yet. I think Danny is using some local bands, it’s always like…he said it comes afterwards, like you get like one person involved, you. I know that he was sent a piece of music by a huge band, who shall remain nameless, because this person was obsessed with getting it into the thing. It’s really good, and it’s in the movie, and it’s epic! There’s some original music that Rick Smith from Underworld is writing. He’s been our musical supervisor throughout the process. He’s a genius! And then you’ve got some new music, and you’ve got old music as well. It’s a bit like the first film, but some of the choices were really surprising to me. It’s cool! I said to Danny, ‘Maybe we’re not cool anymore’, but Danny’s musical taste is impeccable! It’s better than mine, and he’s way older than me!”

Did you ever have a meta moment on set, where you looked around and realised what you’d created with the first film in terms of its pop cultural impact? “Yeah! Every morning! A good morning! A meta morning! A meta moment and a coffee! It’s a good way to start.”

T2: Trainspotting is released in cinemas on February 22.

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