BOP Interview: Danny Boyle
By Ryan Mazie
November 4, 2010
When people have fainted and walked out, do you feel that the arm cutting scene is accomplishing its purpose, in a way?
I understand, it is very intense, but for most people, it’s an experience they go through. It’s not like a horror movie where you're thinking, “Oh great, here it comes. Let’s see his arm get cut off. Right.
A lot of your films feel like fairytales, and now you do one of the grittiest and most real films you could ever imagine. So how did you come to direct it?
You try and seek out, consciously and subconsciously, different stuff really. I never wanted to be a director who specialized in one thing and just do that. Studios like to do that. If you have a hit thriller, they want you to do another thriller straight away, because they can sell it. But I never wanted to do that. If I was lucky enough to have a hit, I always wanted to do something different. I think the danger with success and familiarity is that you become complacent. You go, “I know I can do this.” And whenever I felt like that, I’ve always made mistakes. Whereas when you feel a bit naked, when you are not quite sure how to shoot it, I think you discover it as you go along and it feels more organic to the story you are trying to tell.
When we started this, I didn’t really know how to do it. I knew the circumstances I wanted to stay within, which was create a real canyon, with no moving walls. It was absolutely limited, really reductive circumstances, only one actor throughout it, really. And then you find out how you are going to shoot it. We did these long, long takes. We didn’t do it bit by bit like a normal film. We were like, “James's task today is to move this rock.”
Really? The editing seemed so snappy. How long was a take?
James would do a 22 minute take trying to move the rock. We’d shoot it all and you’d cut it down, using 90 seconds of it. But the 90 seconds you get is James at his absolute ultimate of trying to move that fucking rock. It’s not like faking it, pretending to hurl himself at it. He actually was hurling himself at it. I thought with something this intense, if you ever thought we were faking it, it would just disappear. It was unusual editing. The rock is boring since it doesn’t do much so James just had to lose himself.
Speaking of choosing that one actor, why did you decide on James Franco?
I was very interested in him to begin with. Unusual for lead actors, his work has real variety. Because if you think of the contrast between the comic performance of say, Pineapple Express, and then a serious film like City by the Sea or Spider-Man even or Milk, it is quite unusual for a lead actor to have that range. I thought that would be important, because there is no villain coming into the story. There is no comic character. James has to do all that characterization himself. That literally ended up with him playing multiple characters, like in the scene of him playing the talk show host. Because the film is static, the danger is that it becomes inert. And the only way it won’t become inert is if he can create contrast. So you feel movement.