Sunday, 13 January 2013

Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd: 'Ecstasy' interview

Natural High: The Making of Irvine Welsh’s 'Ecstasy'
Trevor Hogg chats with filmmaker Rob Heydon about his feature length début along with actors Adam Sinclair and Billy Boyd...

Irvine Welsh and Rob Heydon
“After seeing the film Trainspotting [1996] and The Acid House [1998] in cinemas in Canada with a Scottish writer friend, Paul McCafferty who eventually co-wrote the screenplay for Ecstasy [2011],” recalls filmmaker Rob Heydon as to the when he was introduced to the works of author Irvine Welsh.  “I first became aware of Irvine Welsh when I was at Drama School and the novel Trainspotting had just been released,” states Scottish actor Adam Sinclair (To End All Wars).  “Everyone in the school was doing the famous speech, ‘Choose a job.  Choose a big fucking television.  Choose life.’ All these kids over Scotland were reading books from an author who wrote the same way they spoke. He was very much part of a generation writing about stuff that most of the youth could relate to. It made them feel like they had a voice. Then the film happened and Scotland was put on the map in an international arena.”  The story about heroin addicts resonated with Billy Boyd who is best know for playing one of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 to 2003).  “Everybody was reading Trainspotting.  It was quite a big book at the time the world over not only in Britain.  I read it and then there was a play made while I was at drama school at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh which I missed.  Kelly Macdonald [No Country for Old Men] was working in a bar called the Brunswick Cellars and I remember meeting her there.  I had just left college and was about to do the play of Trainspotting as the film was about to come out.  We were talking about Trainspotting and Irvine Welsh, and how great it was to work on his stuff and what was the difference between the play and the film?  I didn’t audition for the film because I was still at drama school when it was being made but I was in the play and we toured Britain which was amazing.  It was a cross of being an actor and a rock star because the theatres would usually sellout in minutes.  Before the play would go on we would play a lot of Leftfield, a lot of great club music and people were so up for the play.  That was cool.  Irvine Welsh is well known.  It probably is thought about as a cult [following] as he writes about the underbelly of society or the stuff people don’t want to talk or write about.  I love the way he writes.  Like with Lloyd in Ecstasy; it might be people involved in the darker side of society but doesn’t mean that they’re not intelligent or poetic.”

Being a fan and filmmaker, Rob Hayden acquired the movie rights to the short story The Undefeated which was included in the best-selling book Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance by Irvine Welsh.  Lloyd Buist (Adam Sinclair) attempts to start his own enterprise selling ecstasy pills with his buddies Ally (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) and Woodsy (Billy Boyd) which puts him in conflict with volatile drug dealer Solo (Carlo Rota) who feels betrayed.  “It helped and hindered,” admits Rob Hayden when discussing the popularity of the cinematic predecessor helmed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), and starring Ewan McGregor (The Impossible) and Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty).  “People will always compare any Irvine Welsh film to Trainspotting, but Ecstasy is not Trainspotting nor Wizard of Oz [1939] or Lawrence of Arabia [1962].   It is a Cinéma vérité [ala French New Wave]; a style film meaning on location sound, and shot on location with a mostly hand held camera. Ecstasy is a small slice of a life story about a clubber in Scotland.”  Adam Sinclair observes, “The success of Trainspotting was always going to be big boots to fill. A lot of people wanted it to be Trainspotting 2; however, this was never the intention of the filmmakers or even by Irvine himself who said he wrote Ecstasy as his attempt at a twisted love story. We had to acknowledge in the film that this was a brainchild of the same man but then it stands as a film in its own right. But the comparisons will always be made and that is due to the huge success of Trainspotting.”  Co-star Billy Boyd adds, “It did a bit because Trainspotting was the movie of it’s time.  It’s an incredible film.  Beautifully shot and acted, a great story. Coming from the same writer it has to be there.  But we forgot about and because Rob Hayden has his own style and philosophy on life; a lot of that is in Ecstasy as well as Irvine’s incredible writing. There is a lot of Rob Hayden in there so it’s obviously a different thing.  I don’t think we got to caught up with it other than the people are from the same place.”

The project had been in development since 2000.  “Yes and no,” responds Rob Hayden when asked whether the long delay resulted in his initial big screen vision evolving into something different. “The music was better and the only scene that had to be cut from filming was two scenes of special effects.”  A particular literary moment involving Lloyd and Heather, the married woman he falls in love with was a top priority for the native of Toronto, Ontario to adapt cinematically.  “The scene where the couple is opening up on bed after making love for the first time; the delivery by Adam Sinclair and Kristin Kreuk [EuroTrip] mixed with the music was perfect.”  As for the key of retaining the spirit of the source material, Hayden remarks, “Keeping the voice of Irvine Welsh alive in the characters while making a story that works for the screen.”  Despite the delay in the production, certain casting decisions did not change.  “Billy Boyd I met with in Scotland in 2002 and he was always attached to the project. Woodsy was written specifically with him in mind.”  The writer-director gave the performer from Glasgow, Scotland a couple of books to read.  There was a lot of stuff about conspiracy theories, aliens, spirituality, and religion,” recalls Boyd.  “I was reading a lot of that stuff so I could get into the head of someone who was trying to think outside of the box.  Who was trying to get other ideas of what is reality? What is life?   Why are we here?  I read a lot of that kind of stuff and religious texts of from different things such as the Bhagavad Gita and stuff from The Bible.”  Boyd was not alone in waiting for the movie to be made. “I lived with the character of Lloyd for several years before we eventually got round to filming, so over that time I gathered lots of little things that I thought were him,” reveals Adam Sinclair. “When I arrived on set I had his shoes [Very important. Always know what kind of shoes your character wears. It changes so many things], and several items of clothing. I also filled in all the blanks as to his backstory. The audience never finds this out but it does give me more to play within each scene.”

“Obviously after the cult following that came up after Danny Boyle's film, and everything it did for all the cast, doing an Irvine Welsh story seemed like the perfect opportunity for a young Scottish actor,” recalls Adam Sinclair as to what led him to screen test for Ecstasy.  “I read the script having already read the book and related to the character of Lloyd. Many of his life experiences were similar to my own and I was part of the dance culture that was growing in Scotland in the 1990s. Not sure what landed me the role but I do remember dropping my trousers in one audition. Maybe that was the cruncher.”  The native of East Kilbride, Scotland did not rely solely on the screenplay.  “For research, I went back and read Irvine's entire back catalogue. I could see that every character he writes has a little element of him in there, so I decided to take little bits from each of them. The story we did was only a novella so I had to get more information about who this guy was. The book Glue was an extremely helpful read.  The script also had a lot of musical references and with my wife being a deejay I had her make me the film's playlist; that got me back to a time and place I remembered very well from my younger days.”  Sinclair remarks, “When I'm acting, I try not to base a performance on anything I've seen before because then it becomes exactly that, a performance. I tried to relate every scene to a personal experience and deliver the lines as honestly as possible.”  The actor and the protagonist of the tale have become entwined.  “I don't see Lloyd as a character so much anymore; he feels like an old aspect of me, a phase I grew out of. He is the eternal Peter Pan, shunning most responsibilities but with his heart in the right place. A kind of state that most of us are in in our youth, but as we grow older we take on more responsibilities and therefore have to step up and be answerable for what we do in life.  Lloyd was coming round to that by the end of the film.”

Almost every shot in the movie features Adam Sinclair.  “The only test of endurance was doing all of the dancing stuff,” states Sinclair.  “When you have a location for filming you usually only have it for that day so all the dance scenes are filming consecutively. After a 14 hour day of that I could barely walk to the toilet back at my hotel.   Being in most scenes is a great thing for an actor as you really get to live with and be the character, unlike most gigs where you show up for a few days filming here and there; this means you constantly have to find him again and again.  A particular sequence focuses on the facial reaction of the actor who is bent over while the drugs to be smuggled are shoved into a rather painful hiding place.  “To be fair, I was just going for pure comedy in that scene. I was trying to get the timing right for the laugh.”  The central performer of the dark romantic comedy developed a creative partnership with his director.  “Rob and I talked a lot up to and over the course of filming; he was very open to my ideas and personal experiences that I could bring to the table. From here, we would work out what was going to be best for the scene and the movie. The process felt very collaborative so I never felt he was telling me what I had to do.”  When it came to portraying the part of the Woodsy, Billy Boyd remarks, “Before we started filming, I wasn’t sure of the style which Rob was going to film so I was trying to get the character real and believable and as intense as it could be.  Once you get on his set and see what the style is and how everyone else is pitching their performance you become part of that world.”

Getting the costume right was important in helping Billy Boyd to immerse himself in playing Woodsy.  “Rob did an interesting thing that made it difficult but also wonderful; he didn’t say, ‘Look. This is 1992.’  And you go, ‘I know exactly what they’re wearing and the music they’re listening to.’  As a deejay you would want to know that but you wanted it set in a never time, not an exact moment.  In a way you have to be specific and real with your character but also slightly a stereotype of a clubber or deejay.  I went classic. I said to the costume lady, ‘It has to be Adidas Trainers or Adidas Sambas or something like that and top has to be a Fred Perry.  You could wear that now or you could’ve worn it in 1992.”  Reflecting on his character, Boyd states, Although Woodsy is quite intense, dramatic and takes too much drugs which puts him in a different consciousness, he’s real and looking for the truth.  Woodsy is a searcher; if he was born into money and his parents put him on the right path he would have taken a year out in India and found what he was looking for.  But being someone born in Leith with no money, Woodsy found that by taking ecstasy, dancing and getting into the music.”  To research his role, Boyd sought the expertise of a professional deejay.  I did meet with Davey Forbes here in Glasgow who is a big deejay though he is now more of a music producer.  He was a deejaying in the early 1990s all of the big raves here out in fields in Perth.  Davey taught me how to deejay with vinyl.  I went to his studio and we spent a couple of nights as he would do matching all of that stuff which I loved. Some of my favourite moments on-set were between takes when you could play the music and try to mix it.  It was good fun.  Davey was a huge help in finding Woodsy and also little things that deejays do.  How do you slow down a record or speed it up?”  The Hospital Sequence where Woodsy declares, ‘My drugs are better than yours!’ is a favourite of the actor.  “That was one of those moments where Rob let you do your thing. There were some lines for that but it was a small scene.  Rob had set-up the supporting cast to do this band thing; I was supposed to be conducting it and trying to past the days.  I’ve spoken to drug addicts before when doing Trainspotting and they were talking about how your day is based around the drug.  Where to get it?  Where to take it?  His days would have been filled with the drugs, the music, picking up the right records and to be in a hospital which have given him terrible drugs to help him with what he’s dealing with.  Woodsy was trying to find some joy in there and felt he was helping people.  With Rob, when I asked to ad-lib it a bit he let that go.  We did tones of takes of it and I could see him in the corner of my eye giggling away behind the monitor.  It was good fun.”

40 trips to the United Kingdom were required to compose the screenplay which was co-written by Rob Heydon and Ben Tucker with additional scenes supplied by Paul McCafferty.  “Locations in Canada that could play as Scotland or Amsterdam and locations in Scotland that worked for the story,” explains Heydon as to what he looked for during his location scouting which resulted in the principle photography taking place in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  “The Nightclub was a perfect night out in Scotland. John Digweed is from Edinburgh and mentioned in the book; he happened to be playing the weekend we were in Edinburgh.”  The time spent on previous projects had an impact on the production.   “Working on music videos helps you learn how to shoot quickly. We had 14 days of main unit photography which is very short for any film. Then two days + one night in Amsterdam to cover that location and shooting on planes overnight on the flight over to Amsterdam then one another plane to Scotland. We shot in the airport in Edinburgh, and six days of mostly exteriors in Edinburgh; it was a VERY tight schedule for any feature film production. It is a miracle any film ever gets made, but especially hard for independent films.”  The cast had to be prepared for their roles once the cameras started rolling.  “We didn't have a lot of time on this shoot so most people were on their A game,” says Adam Sinclair.  “A lot of the really emotional stuff was given time together right, which I think it needed, but time was not our greatest ally.”  When comparing what it was like acting in a Hollywood blockbuster as compared to a $1 million production, Billy Boyd observes,  “When we were doing Ecstasy there were 50 people at lunch whereas with The Lord of the Rings there a thousand at some points.  Other than that the actual work of standing in front of a camera with other actors trying to get a scene to work with a director, the DOP and the lighting is exactly the same.  There is no huge difference.  In something like Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson there was a lovely feeling where you kept on going until it was right.  If that took two days more than it was suppose to that was okay.  On independent productions you don’t have that but it creates a different energy.  The basic answer is that there is no great difference in being in an independent or a huge production.  It all comes down to getting the characters and scenes right.”

The Canadian Film Centre was a useful training ground.  “I helped produce a couple shorts there,” remarks Rob Heydon.  “It did help to know how to keep a film on track without much of a budget – think creatively!!!”  A number of cinematic influences were called upon during the making of Ecstasy.  “Stanley Kubrick [Paths of Glory], [Jean-Luc] Godard [Breathless], [François] Truffaut [The 400 Blows], and others in the French New Wave along with some Danny Boyle and Coen Brothers [Fargo] for good measure.”  Adam Sinclair states, “It's not so much I'm proud of any particular scenes, but there are scenes I watch and I can see I'm telling the truth. There's not a lot of acting shall we say. All the stuff surrounding his father was very soul bearing for me, as I was going through the same process with my own father at the time, so everything that Lloyd is going through emotionally was the same in my own life. I guess I'm proud that I had the courage to go there.”  Sinclair notes, “It's unique in the fact that fundamentally it’s a love story set against this gritty backdrop. The EDM [Electronic Dance Music] scene is growing again in Northern America so the younger ones will see a love story set in there world. To misquote Mr Welsh, ‘Nobody wants to see middle age rich people looking for love, like Sex and the City.’  Heydon agrees.  “It is a transformational love story from the love of Ecstasy to the Ecstasy of LOVE.”  Boyd points to another key element, the cinematic vision of the man behind the camera.  It was the first Rob Hayden thing that we’ve seen on the screen; he and Irvine Welsh worked well together.”  Hayden enthusiastically advises, “Watch it with an open mind. See where the story takes you!”

Source (including photos and trailer): Flickering Myth

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