Ewen Bremner on skinny jeans, the Scottish referendum and why ‘Trainspotting’ was so ‘radical’

As the long-awaited follow-up to ‘Trainspotting’ comes to cinemas, the actor playing Spud remembers the controversy that hit the release of the first film 20 years ago
Ewen Bremner in T2 Trainspotting
Image: Jaap Buitendijk
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Spud is still alive! Isn’t that some kind of statistical miracle?
‘Well, yeah! But rock ’n’ roll is littered with those characters. There are some well-known statistical miracles you could point to and say: “Wow, they’re still alive despite everything they put in their bodies.” ’

How’s Spud getting on these days?
‘We all accrue damage over the years, physically and psychologically. It takes a toll. Spud has been challenged by the society he’s in. People like him live in a pretty blighted zone. There are traces of that in this story.’

We see social deprivation and poverty in areas of Edinburgh in the film. Do you think it holds a mirror up to life in Britain today in a serious way?
‘Someone like Ken Loach is on the frontline, addressing those issues head on. That isn’t the agenda of “Trainspotting”. At the same time, these characters live in the ghetto and it’s hard to escape from the ghetto. Our film doesn’t shy away from that.’

How would Spud have voted in the Scottish referendum and Brexit?
‘I think if Spud got himself to the voting booth, he would have voted for Scotland to be independent. And he’s a very European cat; he wouldn’t have wanted to leave himself at the mercy of Westminster. But I think the likelihood of him getting to the polling station is a bit low.’

Were you nervous about making sure the film was good?
‘Yes. None of us wanted to be involved in something that seemed opportunist or just something to do. The backlash would be substantial. Most of us can’t walk down the street without someone quoting the film or yelling the character’s name. If the film is a disappointment, for the next 20 years people will be coming up and going: “Oh, that was a bad idea, wasn’t it? Can I have a selfie please?”'

Ewen Bremner in 'T2 Trainspotting'Ewen Bremner in 'T2 Trainspotting'

‘It was radical to show that people taking drugs could still be enjoyable company’

When ‘Trainspotting’ came out, there was a big controversy around its portrayal of drug-taking. People accused it of glamorising heroin. Did you get any of that?
‘No, nothing was ever directed at me. But I think the film had to glamorise. It had to. Twenty years ago, all you heard about drugs was: “This is very bad.” But that’s just one side of the picture. The other side is characters like ours in the film, and also bankers, billionaires and playboys all over London. People enjoying themselves, people making the most of the moment, with a lust for life. It was radical to show that people taking drugs could still be enjoyable company. They weren’t just victims or demons.’

How did ‘Trainspotting’ change your life?
‘It allowed me to take seriously the idea of having a career as an actor. Until then I thought it was a preposterous thing long-term. I don’t fit the mould of the good-looking, well-built guy with good teeth and nice hair.’

How was making ‘T2’ similar to the original?
‘In a lot of cases we were putting on the same clothes, the same trousers from 20 years ago, and it felt good. Actually, our costume designer Rachel Fleming basically invented skinny jeans for men with “Trainspotting”. They didn’t exist before! She would take women’s jeans and restitch them, or men’s jeans and cut them apart and restitch them. That was down to her, that whole movement!’

You should take some credit too. You were the original skinny-jeans guys.
‘True. I’m looking for a modelling contract right now.’

‘T2 Trainspotting’ is in cinemas from Friday January 27.

Read interviews with the stars of ‘T2’

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