Trainspotting: Behind the Scenes

Irvine Welsh’s verdict on the script (‘too effete’), the problem with the excrement scene … the cast and crew relive the making of the classic 1996 film

Photo: Ewan McGregor as Renton

25 October 2021 | Jay Glennie | The Guardian

All photographs courtesy Jay Glennie/Trainspotting Team

Danny Boyle’s annotated copy of Trainspotting

Such was Boyle’s love of the novel, he was reluctant to drop anything, and remembers pleading with scriptwriter John Hodge to leave in scenes. He thinks Hodge’s background in medicine was vital. “John was brutal. I’d hate to have him tell me bad news if he was my doctor – because he’d tell it to you straight! He decided straight away that Renton was our principal voice, which was inspired.”Trainspotting: The 25th Anniversary by Jay Glennie is published on 6 December by Coattail Publications

Letter from Irvine Welsh with his thoughts on Hodge’s screenplay

Welsh had reservations about some of the characters and the dialogue. “Begbie needs to be totally fucked up and uncompromising,” he writes.

Kevin McKidd (Tommy) and Pauline Lynch (Lizzy)

McKidd says: “Trainspotting wasn’t my time to pop, I wasn’t ready. Eighteen years later I landed the role in Grey’s Anatomy and I was ready.”

Casting brief for Diane, the role eventually won by Kelly Macdonald

Casting brief for Diane, the role eventually won by Kelly Macdonald

Set for the flat of Mother Superior (played by Peter Mullan)

Set for the flat of Mother Superior (played by Peter Mullan)

Costume continuity Polaroid of Kelly Macdonald as Diane

This was Macdonald’s first film role. “I was a nervous wreck,” she says, “and hid in the toilets when I wasn’t filming. I was just so young.”

Boyle, McGregor and Welsh rehearsing

Welsh had a cameo as drug dealer Mikey Forrester. “I was the shittiest actor,” says Welsh, “not just on the set, but ever!” Boyle: “Thankfully Irvine has other talents.”

Animatronic baby built by special-effects artist Grant Mason

On seeing the dead baby walk across the ceiling, an audience member at the Glasgow premiere of Trainspotting shouted: “That’s bloody sick!”

Costume continuity Polaroid of Ewen Bremner as Spud

After playing Renton on stage for two years, Ewen Bremner was dismayed not to be offered the role in the film and initially turned down the opportunity to play Spud. “I let my ego get the better of me,” he says. “Thankfully I came to my senses.”

Production design sketch for the ‘Worst Toilet in Scotland’ sign

A few short lines from Welsh’s novel had intrigued screenwriter Hodge. With the fantastical nature of their film, this could be an opportunity to take things to another level. “Initially it was just a way for Renton to enter and leave a scene,” confesses Hodge.

Costume continuity Polaroid of Dale Winton as the game show host

Winton, then the host of ITV’s Supermarket Sweep, wore a suit designed by Esme Young. “He was great,” says Boyle, “and really entertained us all. His orange tan and that great pink suit really played up the fantastical nature of the scene.”

Shirley Henderson, Billy Riddoch and Danny Boyle

Producer Andrew Macdonald: “That scene was a pain to shoot. Danny wanted to shoot it in one. It was a nightmare. The shit just would not cover Gail and her parents. Thankfully we managed to convince him to cut it all together. The prop department seemed to be mixing the secret shit formula forever that day.”

Costume continuity Polaroid of Ewan McGregor as Renton

McGregor: “Renton was literally the only role for me.”

Production design sketch of Renton sinking into the ground

Danny Boyle: “We were obsessed with having the camera on the floor, waiting for them to return there – the natural place for the characters other than when they needed fresh supply.”

Trainspotting poster artwork

The poster was designed by Blam with photography by Lorenzo Agius. Robert Carlyle: “I just decided to have a laugh, swear a lot and crush a few beer cans. Everybody joined in.”

Miramax memo with Trainspotting audience response

Harvey Weinstein successfully released Trainspotting in the US, but on learning that he would not get A Life Less Ordinary (Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald’s next film), Weinstein exploded with rage. He threw Macdonald against a wall, pinning him there with his arm across his chest, spraying him with spit as he raged. “He was a bully,” says Macdonald. “And we didn’t want to work with him again. It was as simple as that.”

Ewan McGregor, Andrew Macdonald, Danny Boyle, Irvine Welsh and John Hodge at the Cannes film festival in 1996

Irvine Welsh: “I was determined to fucking have it, and I did right through the 90s. So I cannot remember too much.”


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