The making of Danny Boyle

Seven friends and colleagues explain what makes the director so special

© Rob Greig

He’s an Olympic hero with a reputation for being an all-round nice bloke. But why is ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and Opening Ceremony director Danny Boyle so influential? As his new film ‘Trance’ hits cinemas, Cath Clarke and Dave Calhoun asked the seven people who know him best.

‘If Danny thinks it's okay, you trust him.’

Frank Cottrell Boyce, writer, ‘Millions’ and the Olympic Opening Ceremony

‘Danny's real superpower is to build loyalty. He asks people that he trusts rather than finding the most prestigious person. For the Olympics, he needed someone to write a percussion concerto and he didn't ask Philip Glass or Michael Nyman. He asked Rick from Underworld. That's his magic.’

‘When he asked me to do the Olympics, I immediately said yes. That’s another thing about Danny. I had no idea what it meant or if I’d get paid, or even if it would be career suicide. I just said ‘yeah’. If Danny thinks it’s okay, you trust him.’

‘He's a bit of an animal when he's shooting.’

Christian Colson, producer, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Trance’

‘Really, we produce the films together. He’ll deny that because he’s kind. And he’d flinch at the word auteur. Shooting our new film ‘Trance’ we were working six-day weeks. We’d schedule the day off to be a Thursday. So when everyone else collapsed Danny could go and do Olympics work. But the thing about him is he thrives on the very cusp of exhaustion.’

‘On ‘127 Hours’ he was often working from 6am till midnight, seven days a week, for eight weeks. He was completely fried at the end of it. He tends to lose two stone shooting. He doesn’t eat. I think adrenaline keeps him going. He’s a bit of an animal when he's shooting. Then, as you go into post-production, the weight comes back on, you see him munching pizzas.’

‘He’s the brickie of the British film industry.’

Anthony Dod Mantle, cinematographer, director of photography on ‘28 Days Later...’ ‘Millions’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Trance’

‘My introduction to Danny was on my answerphone, this lovely affectionate Manc voice. Within a year we were ripping London apart in “28 Days Later…”, turning a double-decker bus upside down at the crack of dawn in the middle of Whitehall. How insane can you get?’

‘We were running around trailing newspapers and toilet roll on the pavement, being scolded by the special branch. We had to run around like naughty school kids picking up litter. Of course we picked it up ourselves! Danny is the first person to muck in. That’s the way he is. He’s the first on set in the morning and usually the last to leave. He’s very hard working. He’s the brickie of the British film industry.’

‘He doesn’t suffer fools.’

Seb Coe, chairman of London Organising Committee of the Olympic & Paralympic Games

‘When I first met Danny I was on the Simon Mayo show [on BBC Radio 2] one Friday. Danny had just won the Oscar for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. We had a conversation on air about the Games and Danny said he thought they were fantastic. I said he should help. And he said, “Yes, I’ll make tea!” A few weeks later, we had a proper conversation. That’s how he came on board.’

‘One of the memories I will always treasure is Danny at the dress rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony. Remember the weather? London was under water at the time. The volunteers were cold and wet and Danny was among them, talking to them and going round chatting and thanking them. He was Pied Piper-like in that respect.’

‘He doesn’t suffer fools. I’ve seen him in full flow when he’s not getting what he wants out of a shot or an angle. He doesn’t pull his punches. But I like him. He was in it for all the right reasons. Apart from anything else, I just got on with him. He’s bloody good company.’

‘He never sits down, he just keeps walking.’

Tessa Ross, controller of film and drama at Channel 4, executive producer of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘127 Hours’

‘The minute Danny was on board with ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ it took on a whole other life. Danny on a film is a motor unlike any motor I’ve seen. He just has this unbelievable adrenaline, unbelievable leadership, unbelievable inspirational quality. He never sits down, he just keeps walking. He just keeps going. And everybody wants to go with him. And he’s very, very honest. When I need to be brave in my job I think of Danny Boyle. What would Danny do?’

‘He really trusts people.’

Ewen Bremner, actor, ‘Trainspotting’

‘I met Danny when he was doing “Shallow Grave”. They wanted see me about a part. And I was a real snob about the script. Then I saw the movie and really kicked myself. What fantastic, sexy filmmaking.’

‘They got me back in when they were dong “Trainspotting”. It was a fun set, “Trainspotting”, it really was. There was a real chemistry between the actors he got to work together. It was a lucky film. Everybody was on this mission. There’s always a lot of fear on sets because you’ve not got much chance to get it right. But with Danny he doesn’t worry about that. He really trusts people.’

‘He always wants to make something as visceral as possible.’

Mark Tildesley, production designer, ‘28 Days Later...’, ‘Millions’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Trance’, ‘Frankenstein’ and the Olympic Opening Ceremony

‘Working with Danny is always fun, but the most fun I had was on “Frankenstein”. We were doing it the same time as the Olympics, in this little office in Soho. We just stuck pictures on the wall. One end of the room was the play. The other end we had the Olympics.’

‘Danny always wants to make something as visceral as possible. We built a ceiling full of old light bulbs [3,100 in total]. It was very hot, giving this a sense of the force of electricity harnessed by Frankenstein and the discoveries of the nineteenth-century. It wasn’t period correct at all! Frankenstein was earlier than that. But we just thought: it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s going to be coming in the new age.’

‘It was good to practice on “Frankenstein” for the Olympics. In theatre you’ve got the sense that there’s no way any of this can fail.’

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