JOE's Film Flashback: Trainspotting (1996) 8 years ago

JOE's Film Flashback: Trainspotting (1996)

JOE's Spoiler Series... Trainspotting.

Welcome to JOE's Film Flashback, where we take you behind the scenes of some of the finest motion pictures ever made. This is your *SPOILER ALERT* warning, no more excuses now.


Ready? Then follow us as we find out all there is know about an iconic classic from 1996, Trainspotting.

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Title: Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle


Irish release date: February 23, 1996

Worldwide box office: $72,001,785

Irish certificate rating: 18

Tag Line: 'Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a starter home. Choose dental insurance, leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose your future. But why would anyone want to do a thing like that?'


Clip via YouTube/Movieclips Trailer Vault

Plot's it all about?

Trainspotting was filmed in just 35 days - owing to a very limited budget meaning that most scenes had to be shot in just one take – and it still became a phenomenon in no time.


Danny Boyle directed, as we followed the lives of some of the most morally bankrupt and hedonistic addicts in cinema history around working-class Edinburgh.

With the sequel finally confirmed by the director and the original cast, here are some fascinating facts that you may or may not know about one of the greatest British films of all-time.

Ewan McGregor considered using heroin for real to prepare for the lead role as Mark Renton

McGregor is one of those method actor folks and so seriously considered shooting up for real in order to get into the mind of ‘Rent Boy’.

Fortunately, he decided against such a move, instead relying on his acting chops alone.



Fair to say that it was a good call. McGregor was fantastic as the main man and it wouldn’t take long before he became a global superstar.

Incidentally, it was Ewan himself who decided to sport the now iconic shaved head look for the film, popping out to chop his then long locks during a break in rehearsals.


Robert Carlyle played the sociopath Begbie as a closet homosexual

Yes, you read right. In 2009, Carlyle revealed to BAFTA that he interpreted Begbie’s terrifying and consistently violent turns as a defence mechanism against the “fear of being outed”.

Irvine Welsh, author of the smash-hit Trainspotting novel which preceded the film adaptation, agreed with this portrayal and admitted to writing the character as sexually ambiguous in the book.


Where the novel and film differ is that, in the former, Begbie is described as being tall and physically intimidating.

After Christopher Eccleston turned down the role, Carlyle stepped in and convinced Danny Boyle that he, channeling the most intense case of small man syndrome ever, would be even more psychotic.


His self-confidence in doing the role justice was warranted; you wouldn’t mess with Begbie, ever. He’s scarier than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas for this writer’s money.

Ewen Bremner had previous with Trainspotting

Bremner starred as Renton in the stage production of Trainspotting. The play was highly successful and Bremner was a revelation in the lead role.

However, when it came to the pre-production stage of the film, the decision-makers wanted a more bankable actor.


McGregor had impressed in 1994’s critically-acclaimed Shallow Grave (also directed by Boyle) and was seen as a more attractive lead man.

Instead, poor aul’ Bremner was consoled with the superb support role as the hapless and harmless ‘Spud’.

Clip via YouTube/picador191

Jonny Lee Miller was the odd one out

The future star of Elementary was born-and-bred in London and was hired on the recommendation of his friend and star of the show, Ewan McGregor.

His Scottish accent was so convincing that many of the cast assumed they were in the company of a legitimate local. That was until he reverted to his true brogue on the final day of filming. Impressive.


Miller had already made a bit of a splash in Hollywood at this stage, starring in the now cult-classic Hackers with his wife at the time, Angelina Jolie.

Kevin McKidd missed out on a lot of post-production publicity

McKidd’s role as Tommy was arguably the film’s most pertinent, showing the true destruction and tragedy that drug addiction can bring to even the most wholesome of characters.

However, Tommy’s importance to the film was slightly undermined on the promotional tour.

Tommy Trainspotting

Appearing in his first feature film, McKidd rather naively booked a holiday immediately after filming was rapped and so was not involved in any of the image or video marketing of the film; as seen on the official poster at the top of this article.

Clip via YouTube/randall57022

Still though, a hell of a debut feature to have on your CV. And McKidd hasn’t exactly done badly since, as fans of Grey’s Anatomy will testify.

Kelly Macdonald’s securing of the lead female role was the stuff of fairy tales

Like Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald can also credit Trainspotting as her inaugural motion picture, however she secured the role through more unconventional methods.

The film’s production crew spent time in Glasgow handing out flyers inviting females to openly audition for the character of Diane. Macdonald showed up in a packed corridor of acting hopefuls, sporting a plain haircut and ordinary look and immediately outshone the countless glamour models surrounding her, according to Danny Boyle.


The casting was inspirational as the chemistry between McGregor and Macdonald was palpable.

Thankfully, unlike the character of Diane, Macdonald was of legal age during filming, turning 20, in fact, on the day of the film’s release. If only Renton had such luck when the two hooked up…


Irvine Welsh had to be convinced to turn his novel into a film, before helping himself to a cameo

It was only when the film's writers Andrew Macdonald and John Hodge met with Welsh that the star author relented, having rejected several previous screen offers.

He was won over by the duo’s passion for the book and their knowledge of the subject matter – Hodge was previously a doctor who often dealt with heroin addicts.

Welsh didn’t stop there. He even helped himself to a wee cameo as Renton’s hopeless drug dealer.

Irvine Welsh

The iconic opening scene almost never was…

The split-second opening frame of Trainspotting is instantly recognisable; the sign of a truly great scene.

The image of the lead characters sprinting from officers on the streets of Edinburgh with Renton narrating his life philosophy, all soundtracked by Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ is genuinely spine-tingling.

Clip via YouTube/Kasatkakit

However, Boyle and Andrew Macdonald were unsure where to place the scene simply known as “Choose Life”. The final decision proved to be genius…

Fun fact: The scene’s choreography and general pace was inspired by The Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ video – a favourite of Danny Boyle’s.

Clip via YouTube/emimusic

Super Happy Bonus Fun Fact: Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller were seriously hungover in real life during this amusing park scene…


Song of the Film: 'Born Slippy' - Underworld

Such a tough choice, this, because Trainspotting is littered with fantastic music. You have 'Lust for Life' to begin with, followed by the unforgettable overdose scene, soundtracked by 'Perfect Day', but we've gone for 'Born Slippy' by Underworld.

In one of the greatest closing scenes in film history, 'Born Slippy' encapsulates Renton's desperation and trepidation in attempting to escape from this suffocating life and start afresh.

The track is timed perfectly with Renton's thought process, while the rest of us are praying that Begbie simply doesn't wake up.

Incredibly tense and forever memorable; an apt symbol of the film.

Clip via YouTube/raving in the boonies