Byline: NICK CURTIS
AS I wait to meet Danny Boyle in Bow, a short cycle ride from his house in Mile End, I puzzle over his latest career move. Boyle is the director who made murder fun in his debut feature Shallow Grave and heroin chic in Trainspotting: he cast away Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach and reinvented the zombie movie in the international surprise hit 28 Days Later.
Now Boyle, an irrepressibly cheery, 48-year-old Morrisey lookalike, who worked his way into films via theatre and TV drama, has produced - shock, horror - a family film.
Millions, opening next Friday, is the story of eight-year-old, motherless Mancunian, Damian, who accidentally acquires [pounds sterling]229,370 in stolen sterling. He tries - egged on by visions of some very straight-talking saints and held back by his older brother - to give it away where it will do most good in the few days left before the pound is replaced by the euro. The film is sweet and low-key, stars James Nesbitt as the boys' dad, and plucks at the heartstrings rather than punching you in the guts. As such, it seems to be a major departure for Boyle.
"I think Frank [Cottrell Boyce, the writer] had shown it to every director in town, and I was the last resort," he chuckles. "No one would think of me for a warm, family film - they'd expect me to turn it into some horrific, twisted, perverse thing. But when I read the script I just drop-dead fell in love with it."
On many fronts, Millions was a challenge. Boyle had to learn how to work with his uncannily good child stars, newcomers Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon: "You can't direct kids too much, otherwise you leave your fingerprints all over them, and the performance looks contrived."
He had to find a way of making Damian's philanthropy appealing.
"Goodness is very difficult to make interesting and bearable to watch. But I was raised a Catholic, and although I wouldn't call myself religious now, I am an optimist. My mum always brought me up, like Damian, to think the best of people. That feeling is there in my other films, but sort of hidden.
So it was fantastic to make an openly optimistic film, without subterfuge."
As a cinema-goer, Boyle is no stranger to U-certificate pictures. He has three children with casting director-Gail Stevens, from whom he split in 2002, but she still casts his films, they live on the same street, and "have tried to make a reasonable job of bringing up the kids". When I ask if Boyle made Millions for his own children, though, he gives a shout of laughter: Caitlin, 13, Gabriel, 15, and Grace, 20, are "more likely to wanna watch Trainspotting now. I had to take them all along to screenings when I was grading prints of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, and cover their eyes at the requisite bits." So he made Millions, not for them, but to keep himself engaged, interested, or as he puts it "naive again".
A closer study of his resume reveals, beneath the superficial preponderance of violence and syringes, a constant engagement with new genres. "You spend so long researching a topic - zombies, drugs, paradise islands - that you get saturated by it," he says, "so when you finish a film, the last thing you want to do is make another one just like it."
After Trainspotting, he and his regular cohorts, producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge, made the offbeat (and underperforming) romantic comedy A Life Less Ordinary. The Beach was another departure, and not a good one. It caused a rift with the Trainspotting trio's house star, Ewan McGregor, who was passed over in favour of DiCaprio.
Keen to use local talent, Boyle hired a Thai crew member for every Brit on the shoot, leading to endless confusion, and the filmmakers were accused of despoiling their tropicalbeach locations. …