Back in 1996, Kelly Macdonald’s Diane observed in Trainspotting, “The world is changing, music is changing, even drugs are changing.” Just how much has changed over the past 20 years for the Scottish foursome of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), Simon/Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is revealed in T2 Trainspotting.
With Renton’s “minor betrayal” the perfect ending to Trainspotting, did screenwriter John Hodge initially resist the idea of doing a sequel?
“We did put it off, but there were various conversations about doing it over the years,” he says. “At the same time, those characters all had very distinct personalities and the actors playing those parts had very distinct voices. How would they have changed over the years?”
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh had published a sequel novel, Porno, in 2002, but that didn’t mean the groundwork was already done for Hodge. Nor was it an option to write a straight adaptation of the book for the screen.
“Simon gets involved in a get rich quick scheme making porn films – as the title suggests,” he explains. “Renton’s not in the book much and it’s very dated. Technology has moved on. I did a speculative draft in the early 2000s, but it didn’t feel great and had the problem of being too soon. But the framework was there, and I built on it.
“Within five years wasn’t appealing, because there was no great shift – the characters were essentially in the same situation,” he continues. “Twenty years later, it’s youth straddling middle age and that’s of enormous significance. A lot could happen, like Begbie’s prison term and his son, Spud still stuck in heroin addiction while life goes on around him…”
T2 is a much more sombre and melancholic film when compared to the reckless spirit of Trainspotting, which comes with reflecting on life in middle age. “When you’re young you can cope with catastrophes, but at 40 to 50, the future isn’t too bright anymore and you have to reflect on the past,” agrees Hodge, “and that’s what we wanted to do in this film.”
Indeed, one of T2’s most self-reflexive moments sees Simon tell Renton: “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth” – which also applies to the viewers who grew up loving Trainspotting. “It was the same with the screenwriter,” laughs Hodge.
Prior to writing T2, Hodge says he deliberately avoided revisiting the original film for about 18 years. “I was kind of over it, but it was a pleasure to come back to it,” he adds. “I also re-read the book and started to hear the actors’ voices…”
While it was a daunting prospect to reunite the Trainspotting foursome after two decades, Hodge did have the advantage of knowing what the actors would bring to their characters this time around.
“The characters really do tell the story for you. You just imagine the actors speaking in your head, like the scene where Begbie meets his parole officer. That was easy [to write].”
Where Renton was the focus of Trainspotting, there’s more for all four characters to do in T2. “The others don’t really exist outside of Renton’s voiceover in the first film,” notes Hodge. “This one’s more democratic and less of an insight into Renton’s mind.”
Were there certain scenes he felt had to be in the sequel, like Renton’s updated ‘Choose Life’ monologue, for example? “When Veronika asks ‘What does Choose Life mean?’ it’s like a bucket of cold water on his head that galvanizes him and reveals what’s inside, and encourages him to express himself.”
Hodge confirms that two of T2’s best moments come from Porno. “The 1690 scam is in the book, which we embellished with a song,” he says, referring to the pub scene in which Simon and Renton fleece a group of rowdy Protestants. The volatile reunion between Begbie and Renton in adjacent toilet cubicles is also staged differently in the film. “In the book it’s in prison, but I wanted them to be divided by mere inches.”
Irvine Welsh – who reprises the role of drug dealer Mikey Forrester in T2 – was very much a part of the collaborative process on the sequel, says Hodge. “He was very supportive. He’s a very generous guy and not at all precious.”
Hodge began writing as a hobby whilst studying medicine and cites our own Dr. George Miller as a big inspiration on his move into screenwriting. “I was always interested in writing. After I qualified [as a doctor] I thought I’d have a serious go at it and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter. The first thing I wrote ended up getting made!”
That particular ‘thing’ was Shallow Grave, which became the Danny Boyle-directed thriller in 1994. As well as Trainspotting, for which Hodge received an Oscar nomination in 1997, he has also adapted Alex Garland’s novel The Beach for Boyle.
As to which is the more challenging from a writer’s perspective – the adaptation process or an original screenplay – Hodge leans towards the former. “The hard work is already done – the great idea and the characters,” he admits.
“You’re offered more adaptations because they know what they’re getting. Original screenplays are speculatively more fun – all the power – but it’s a gamble if no one is interested in it.”