ASIANCE: You just came back from promoting in India? How was it returning now after all your accolades? Was there a big difference?
Danny Boyle: Well it’s where it was created so no one apart from the immediate people who were involved were interested. It wasn’t a Bollywood film. It was a weird film and we were shooting in a weird location.
Of course we go back and now this world attention the film has is extraordinary. As you would expect, it was absolutely full on, passionate. It was a red carpet like I have never seen it. They had these Bhangra drummers playing with us and you couldn’t hear a thing. You couldn’t hear what anyone was saying to you! You couldn’t hear the questions! So you are giving answers which you hoped are linked to the questions, but you know they couldn’t hear me anyway. (laughs)
ASIANCE: Now, you probably can’t even go back to the slums now. They’ll mob you.
Danny Boyle: Well, I tell you that in India, they give attention to the Director, which you don’t get anywhere else in the world…..even in America, which shares a lot of the same things with India about movies.
Maybe Steven Spielberg is a star but there are no “star” directors in America. Maybe Steven Spielberg, maybe James Cameron, although I don’t think he makes enough movies.
I use to love the fact that every movie poster in India had the director’s name on it. I use to cheer that. But you are also the spokesman for the film.
We like to come here (America) for the PGA (Producers Guild of America) and now people notice me in the airport and come up and ask for my autograph.
ASIANCE: How is it adapting to that fame? .
Danny Boyle: It’s scary. Because I think, I’m never going to make this plane. I’m going to have to be really rude to someone and say “NO” or I’m not going to make this plane. (laughs)
It made me realize.
I was traveling sometimes with Anil Kapoor and I realized how gracious he is. He has had it every day. Every time he steps out of his house, for so many years, he’s so gracious of people. He never turns anyone down, does everything people ask of him. Sooo gracious and it’s very important to be that gracious.
Actually Dev and Freida who are the main focal point had to learn to do it because it’s their first exposure to it and they have been lovely. They dealt with the press, with interviews live and recorded and all the pressures of that. They also did all the print advertising, taking pictures, photoshoots, interviews but they always remembered.
We were in New York going to some glitzy National Board of Review and the fans are standing outside for hours, freezing. And I remember they went over and signed autographs for them.
They have dealt with it beautifully. I’m really proud of the way they’ve grown. Because I watched them literally grow from absolutely nothing into this public exposure. I saw it start at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and watched them grow. And obviously cameras aren’t interested in the Director, especially here (Los Angeles). They are in Freida particularly, and Dev. It requires real professionalism.
ASIANCE: Have they now been approached with anything in terms of offers? Anything that you know of? I know we interviewed Freida in November.
Danny Boyle: I think they have. I would love to have 10% of their future earnings, so it’s really lovely for them. It’s a whole other skill that’s called for once all this attention is over, of course, you have to learn to handle it. It’s a little bit like handling a film, suddenly you’re part of family, then everybody scatters.
Last night at the SAGs, they received the Ensemble Award, and that is something directors/producers don’t understand. They are a big family in a way. They are very vulnerable. They are always the ones up there. It’s lovely to see them applaud themselves. They kept saying, “Come up on stage, come up on stage.” And I said, “Absolutely not.” There is no place for directors up there, just screen actors.
ASIANCE: I know that you are theatre trained? I didn’t read that you went to an actual film school, so what advice would you give to aspiring film makers who don’t have the money or opportunity to go to film school? Any advice? .
Danny Boyle: No, I didn’t go to film school. I was actually trained in theatre. I was lucky enough to transfer to television to learn how to use a camera and eventually I got a feature film. I’ve been through the three platforms of the industry.
I do really. There is no magic door, which if you can’t afford it, you’ll fail, if you can’t go through. If there was a magic door, there would be a huge line, the rich would be at the front and the poor would be at the back, as always. But there isn’t. There absolutely isn’t. So film school is not the magic door. But that is not to say that it isn’t a good thing. Everything is a good thing and everything is a bad thing.
There isn’t one particular way of doing one thing or the other thing. What you have to do is persist. If you are really lunatic for it, you will get there. Because what happens in the industry, it seems like some sort of self survival technique to get rid of the people who are only in it for the glamour. They just get bored with having to wait and they just go on and do something else, but it’s the survivors and lunatics that can’t live without it who suddenly find themselves in an interview on the telephone being asked what advice would you give (laughs).
So just follow your nose. Be passionate. Don’t be frightened to actually tell people what you think of their work. I think that is always very important because I think you always just imagine that people don’t want to hear from you. But if you love somebody’s work, find a way to tell them. If it means something to you, find a way to tell them. And when you do get the chance, Be Bold!!
Don’t be intimidated by anyone. If you start off, what you’ve got are things that are indispensable to movies, you’ve got energy, youth, things that look like you might never break in. That is what the industry desperately needs a constant renewal of.
ASIANCE: You really are the first film maker to bring an Indian Inspired film to America.
Danny Boyle: Well, our film has had an enormous amount of attention but there have been some other filmmakers who have worked hard; Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur, who you have to pay respect to.
But it’s lovely the way people have embraced the film. We’ve been lucky and encountered a bit of change. Things are changing a bit. I don’t know how many years it takes to work out but it never works out fully. It always evolves and evolves. You can feel a change.
ASIANCE: Well you are the one who sort of brought this to the forefront, mainstream America, don’t you think?
Danny Boyle: I think there is a lack of knowledge here in just how talented Bollywood actors are. I benefited from that, I think partly because of my background and extensive knowledge of working with actors. And I was able to make that transition from a style in Bollywood to a style kind of Hollywood film, a transition between those two industries.
It was an adjustment in terms of tone and style but the talent is there, as huge as you’d expect it to be. It’s a nation that loves movies. Arguably, movies started in Bollywood. There’s an argument that the Warner Brothers went there first in the 1890s. They went to Bombay first. Any industry that has grown for that long and with such popular success and a love, is always going to have huge talent. I was lucky to benefit from that.
That is what helped me a lot, the city itself. It’s indigenous….the potential storytelling of the city. That’s also something you benefit from. So in terms of my career, it’s been a huge boost for me and revitalized me working there.
ASIANCE: Did you meet Shahrukh Khan, the “King of Bollywood” and host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in India?
Danny Boyle: Yes I did. I went to see him do the show at KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati – an Indian reality/game show based on the UK gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? This version’s title literally translates to "Who will be a ten-millionaire?"). He recorded an episode of the show. He was excellent at doing it. He has a different style to those who have done it before him. That was really interesting. I went to see him. We had lunch afterwards. He was very, very gracious and lovely to meet him. It’s very difficult to convey just how big he actually is. I wonder what that pressure is like for him. I have no idea but again, HUGELY gracious man. Those guys take the privilege and responsibility of it seriously.
He is so busy. It’s impossible to get an answer from him, or get his schedule. We’re lucky we moved on to Anil Kapoor who’s a superstar in his own right. It makes sense that the host of the show is famous. You’d expect it to be somebody famous in India but also it allows you to fictionalize it a bit. Like in the beginning where he makes fun of the kid a bit, that helps us dramatically. You wouldn’t have that in the real show.
And then you have this extraordinary idea that he has also come from a poor background and has made it to be a superstar. Until you get an extra dynamic later on in the film, it makes the show more than just a vehicle upon which the narrative is riding. I’m very pleased.
ASIANCE: Is there anyone that you really want to work with?
Danny Boyle: I’d love to work with Anil Kapoor again. He is a serious, heavyweight, proper commanding actor. I would love to do a thriller there. There are so many actors I would like to work with again. I want to do something with Irrfan Khan. He was playing a police officer. I had to persuade him.
I would love to do a thriller in Mumbai. It was such a picturesque film. It has bits of elements of thriller in it and gangsters and all the different elements that make up the city. When you are working in the East, you can’t help but think, “What a place for a thriller!” The new money, the disparities in the city, the role of the police in the city, the gangsters from Dubai or from Pakistan or from wherever they are from Malaysia or wherever these gangsters are who are running these slums. It is just incredible and then this complete and total devotion of everyone to Bollywood.
They are full of dance. The devotion to Bollywood stars just unites the whole country. Those are the elements where you think a great thriller can be done there and can play everywhere in the world. India has to get use to that kind of attention. It’s going to become, not just as an exotic place, it’s going to become the center of people’s attention, the way America is at the moment, how there are so many movies set in America. It’s such a landscape for movies. India is going to have to learn to accept that kind of attention given in this next century.
ASIANCE: What do you think of critics who say you are glamorizing slums and saying you reinforce stereotypes or reinforce Western stereotypes about the country?
Danny Boyle: You can’t help that Jaymie. It’s an inevitable part of anything that the film focuses on. It slightly distorts it just by giving it attention in a way. We worked in the slums because we wanted to work with real locations. I found them incredibly resilient despite very tough lives, very little lack of infrastructure and provision. The people are resilient, breathtakingly resourceful. And I wanted the feeling of the film to reflect that spirit because it’s about a kid who comes from that background and rises. I wanted that to somehow be conveyed in the film.
Inevitably, people think you are glamorizing poverty because it’s actually an exhilarating story in the end. But I didn’t try to do that. There is nothing funny about poverty. I also think you have to be respectful about what people think. A few people said to us, “You’re not going to show us as poor are you?” And you go, “Wow! That is an impossible question to answer.” But if you put it on film, it’s going to look poor.
I also wanted to show the energy and resilience of the energy and places we worked. I wanted them to feel proud of their lives, as well as the other people to feel that they should have better provision as well. That debate could be continued. An outsider should not get involved in that politically. India will answer its own questions, politically, economically and culturally. I’m just a visitor and I’m very privilege to make a film there.
I’m quite happy now to accept and absorb whatever criticism comes as well. I’ve done enough films now where that is part of the deal. I’m in such a lucky place to be able to make a film like this. You have to stand there and take whatever comes. I have had failures as well that no one wants to see. But you have to stand up and don’t run away.
At first there was some worry about the word “Slumdog”. People regarded that as insulting but people hadn’t seen the film yet. It’s a hybrid word of underdog which we take great pride in, us storytellers, because there is a huge underdog in slum. The triumph of that is that there is a triumph of the underdog. That is what generates its love around the world. It’s wonderful to see Mumbai but the real triumph is the heart of the underdog. We love that story because it gives everyone hope. And now we face a tough couple of years, so it’s great to have a story like that that generates that kind of buzz.
ASIANCE: Regarding AR Rahman. Did you know he was planning to use M.I.A? We thought she was perfect. What did you tell him about the music? I know you said you wanted it loud.
Danny Boyle: I always wanted to use Paper Planes from way back because it’s a song I love. There’s something extraordinary about the fact that she’s part Sri Lankan, from London and part New York. She’s part of modern life. She comes from all over, like so many people now.
Then they used her in Pineapple Express, the trailer and I thought, “Oh NO!” if anyone is supposed to introduce the song to people the way you do (Slumdog should)……anyway.
I invited her into the cutting room to watch the trailer. She was very please in the use of the music and she liked the film a lot. And she gave me really good notes, very smart. She watched it, we talked about it and then she said, “Do you want some notes, as well?” I went, “Oh ok!?” She gave me two notes, printed notes, which were excellent. You wait for months for notes like that from executives. Well you get hundreds of notes which aren’t very good for you. Then I told her I was going to use Rahman to do the music, and she said “I grew up devoted to Rahman”.
So we worked out a way they could work together and they did this song, “Oh Saya”, which is the first song of the film. The way the film has worked and the way different things aligned beautifully for us, where you have some role to play, but you don’t have the ultimate role to play, which are constellations aligning. You don’t quite understand but just working out is really bizarre. I don’t expect it to always be like that. But I just stare and wonder at the way it has worked for us.
The soundtrack last week went to number one on the Album charts on itunes! The Album charts! Not the Soundtrack charts. I just think that is so wonderful for him and three nominations for him! And a Golden Globe! I know what he means to India and I know what he means to film goers in India. It is totally justified. He can’t say that, but I can. He is the Mozart, the Dvorak, the Tchaikovsky, whatever you call it (laughs). He is a genius at it and so the acknowledgment that they are giving him is totally worthy.
ASIANCE: Well you have all these Oscar nominations, odds are that you are supposed to win the Oscar. Do you have your speech ready?
Danny Boyle: Absolutely not! (laughs) You never ever, ever have a speech ready. Even if you make a fool of yourself because you don’t know what to say or you forget people, all those sorts of terrible things. Do NOT get a speech ready because as Benjamin Franklin said, and he’s also featured in the film, “Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes”. I think that is absolutely true.
ASIANCE: Well good luck, of course we’ll all be watching.
Danny Boyle: Nice to talking to you Jaymie.