Q&A: Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle sits down with Chris Tilly of IGN UK, to discuss directing Slumdog Millionaire.
Danny Boyle discusses directing his critically acclaimed new film Slumdog Millionaire, the rags-to-riches tale of an orphan’s efforts to win back his lost love by appearing on the Indian Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.
IGN: When you initially heard about the project, were you put off by the Who Wants to be a Millionaire hook?
Danny Boyle: They didn’t really pitch it. I don’t think the agent was very interested, he said “It’s a film about Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.” But it was written by Simon Beaufoy, who had written The Full Monty, so you have to read a bit of that, at least, but I didn’t want to make a film about a gameshow. But they didn’t mention it was set in India, and they certainly didn’t mention the way the gameshow was used in the story, so I was in after about 10 or 15 pages of it. I remember thinking, this is it!
And it’s weird, it only happens occasionally that you get kidnapped by a script. You don’t wait till you get to the end or anything, you can feel it happening to you. And when I look back at my decision, it’s not based on the full story – the unravelling of why he’s on the show – so I think it’s based on the city. It’s the set-up – meeting the kid, seeing him on the show, seeing him in the slum, and the city – those ingredients made me do it.
IGN: What was it like shooting in the city – did you feel out of your comfort zone?
Boyle: Yes, absolutely. But you do it for that reason, because your comfort zone is not a good place to make a film in, in my opinion. You should get out of your comfort zone as much as possible, you shouldn’t have a clue what you’re doing, ideally, and yet be able to make sense of it somehow. That’s the kind of equation you want.
With a film in India, you have to hire people. I made a mistake on The Beach. I took hundreds of people from here who knew how to do it theoretically, and it’s not the right way to do those films, especially nowadays. You have to try and build a film from the inside. So we took virtually no one, and got a Bollywood crew. They are the people to deal with, and they are the people that make the film feel like it starts to belong. Now it doesn’t quite belong there, because the culture is different, and there is a Britishness about the film – I think its realism – that gives it its British flavour.
Because our bedrock, mine and Simon’s, is always realism. That’s what we start with. That’s how we judge everthing – do you believe that person would be doing that job at that moment? You judge everything like that as a British director – that’s the culture we come out of. But then it kind of moves on and picks up more of the culture of Bombay, which is coincidence; which is melodrama; which is this extraordinary passion for life; which is violence and beauty at one and the same time.
IGN: Did you have to be careful of striking a balance between plundering the culture, and yet remaining respectful towards it?
Boyle: Yes, and you have to work your way through that, it’s a really good way of putting it. Because you are an outsider, and you’ve really got to get people to trust you, and you have to build that trust over a long period of time as you prepare. There are certain key people that you make that relationship with and they basically become your co-directors.
And I can only credit one as co-director, which is the casting director Loveleen Tanden, because the first assistant director, for Guild reasons, you can’t credit him as the co-director, nor the sound guy, but those three people made the biggest difference for the film. Normally, it’s your cinematographer, or your designer, or your lead actor, or your writer – that key relationship. But for me on this one it was those three people, local people on the crew from Bombay.
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