MMKF Trainspotting interview
Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy)
"Controversial subject matter! That always scores a lot of points,"
says Jonny Lee Miller when discussing what attracted him to TRAINSPOTTING,
"What could be better than doing something that's challenging
and breaks a few taboos? You don't get a chance to do that very
often and it gives an actor a real kick to get people arguing
and discussing the film."
Jonny left school at 17 to pursue an acting career. "I got a
day job and went to auditions and started getting little walk-on
parts here and there and one thing slowly lead to another and
the parts started getting bigger." His recent television work
includes Cadfael, Prime Suspect 3 and Meat. Before coming onto
TRAINSPOTTING he had just finished playing the lead role in lan
Softley's United Artists film Hackers. Acting is a profession
which runs in the family. Jonny's great grand-father was a well
known Edwardian stage actor and his father was the distinguished
stage and screen actor Bernard Lee, best remembered now for his
role as "M" in the James Bond films.
Jonny points out the irony of the fact that Sick Boy is obsessed
with James Bond and Sean Connery in particular. "He's a very obsessive
character," Jonny says, "and is always drawing up mental lists
of things, but he is not a particularly pleasant individual, in
fact his friends call him Sick Boy because they say he's 'one
sick individual'. Unlike some of the others he seems able to slip
in and out of drug addiction and that whole world quite easily.
He's a very shadowy character. He has a major turning point in
the middle of the film after which he decides to clean himself
up drug wise, but morally he just goes completely down hill, he
seems to make a conscious decision to be bad, you know, and starts
pimping and fashioning himself into this 'drug dealer extraordinaire.'
As the only non-Scot in the cast Jonny has had to master the
accent. "I had to do a lot of work," he confesses, " I read and
re- ead the book and I pretended to be Scottish all the time I
was in Glasgow, hanging around with Scots, picking up bits and
pieces on the street and in bars. Everyone's been very encouraging
and Danny thinks that I've got it about right. Of course, the
others are from all over Scotland and have different accents themselves,
so I've tried to just pick up a general, composite accent."
By Roger Ebert
Those who have ventured into the darker corners of addiction
know that one of its few consolations, once the fun has worn off,
is the camaraderie with fellow practitioners. Substance abuse
sets the user apart from the daily lives of ordinary people. No
matter how well the addict may seem to be functioning, there is
always the secret agenda, the knowledge that the drug of choice
is more important than the mundane business at hand, such as friends,
family, jobs, play and sex.
Because no one can really understand that urgency as well as
another addict, there is a shared humor, desperation and understanding
among users. There is even a relief: Lies and evasions are unnecessary
among friends who share the same needs. ``Trainspotting'' knows
that truth in its very bones. The movie has been attacked as pro-drug
and defended as anti-drug, but actually it is simply pragmatic.
It knows that addiction leads to an unmanageable, exhausting,
intensely uncomfortable daily routine, and it knows that only
two things make it bearable: a supply of the drug of choice, and
the understanding of fellow addicts.
Former alcoholics and drug abusers often report that they don't
miss the substances nearly as much as the conditions under which
they were used--the camaraderie of the true drinkers' bar, for
example, where the standing joke is that the straight world just
doesn't get it, doesn't understand that the disease is life and
the treatment is another drink. The reason there is a fierce joy
in ``Trainspotting,'' despite the appalling things that happen
in it, is that it's basically about friends in need.
The movie, based on a popular novel by Irvine Welsh, is about
a crowd of heroin addicts who run together in Edinburgh. The story
is narrated by Renton (Ewan McGregor), who will, and does, dive
into ``the filthiest toilet in Scotland'' in search of mislaid
drugs. He introduces us to his friends, including Spud (Ewen Bremner),
who confronts a job interview panel with a selection of their
worst nightmares; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), whose theories
about Sean Connery do not seem to flow from ever having seen his
movies sober; Tommy (Kevin McKidd), who returns to drugs one time
too many, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who brags about not using
drugs but is a psychotic who throws beer mugs at bar patrons.
What a lad, that Begbie.
These friends sleep where they can--in bars, in squats, in the
beds of girls they meet at dance clubs. They have assorted girlfriends,
and there is even a baby in the movie, but they are not settled
in any way, and no place is home. Near the beginning of the film,
Renton decides to clean up, and nails himself into a room with
soup, ice cream, milk of magnesia, Valium, water, a TV set, and
buckets for urine, feces, and vomit. Soon the nails have been
ripped from the door jambs, but eventually Renton does detox (``I
don't feel the sickness yet but it's in the mail, that's for sure''),
and he even goes straight for a while, taking a job in London
as a rental agent.
But his friends find him, a promising drug deal comes along,
and in one of the most disturbing images in the movie, Renton
throws away his hard-earned sobriety by testing the drug, and
declaring it... wonderful. No doubt about it, drugs do make him
feel good. It's just that they make him feel bad all the rest
of the time. ``What do drugs make you feel like?'' George Carlin
asked. ``They make you feel like more drugs.''
The characters in ``Trainspotting'' are violent (they attack
a tourist on the street) and carelessly amoral (no one, no matter
how desperate, should regard a baby the way they seem to). The
legends they rehearse about each other are all based on screwing
up, causing pain, and taking outrageous steps to find or avoid
drugs. One day they try to take a walk in the countryside, but
such an ordinary action is far beyond their ability to perform.
Strange, the cult following ``Trainspotting'' has generated in
the UK, as a book, a play and a movie. It uses a colorful vocabulary,
it contains a lot of energy, it elevates its miserable heroes
to the status of icons (in their own eyes, that is), and it does
evoke the Edinburgh drug landscape with a conviction that seems
born of close observation. But what else does it do? Does it lead
anywhere? Say anything? Not really. That's the whole point. Drug
use is not linear but circular. You never get anywhere unless
you keep returning to the starting point. But you make fierce
friends along the way. Too bad if they die.
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