DETAILS: Your new movie, Trance, is a psychological thriller about hypnotism. Why that subject?
Danny Boyle: Films are hypnotic when they're good. You go to dark rooms with strangers, you watch intensely overwhelming images, and you're mesmerized. The origin of the word mesmerizing is Franz Mesmer, who's regarded as the godfather of hypnosis. In the 18th century, he developed an idea he called animal magnetism, which he regarded as a type of energy that existed between people that allowed you to influence them.
DETAILS: You dated Rosario Dawson, one of the stars of the movie. If I'd asked you before Trance what you think of directors getting involved with their stars, what would you have said?
Danny Boyle: My relationship with Rosario began after we finished shooting the film, so your question is only partly applicable.
DETAILS: Then I'll rephrase it. While you were making Trance, did you realize you were developing feelings for her that you hadn't for, say, Leonardo DiCaprio or Ewan McGregor?
Danny Boyle: [Claps hands] Very well put! I fall in love with all my actors. James McAvoy's part is complicated, because he starts as a warm, attractive narrator, and then there's mounting evidence that he's not reliable. It's not the example of love you want me to talk about, but to watch James track the part, it did make me fall in love with him.
DETAILS: Music factors heavily into your films. For Trainspotting, you revived a punk classic, Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." Were you a punk yourself?
Danny Boyle: I was 20 years old when punk exploded in 1976. I went to some early Clash shows, which were wonderful, and I spat at Joe Strummer, which was the thing to do. He got hepatitis, which they believed was from being showered in spittle from enthusiastic kids. In retrospect, that was hideous. When Strummer died, I felt bereft.
DETAILS: Of course, house music was also a big part of Trainspotting. Is it safe to assume you were in a club dancing on Ecstasy at some point?
Danny Boyle: When we made Trainspotting, it was the absolute height of dance music. And although the Irvine Welsh book is about heroin, the drug that hovers over the film is Ecstasy. The film has an adrenaline rush you wouldn't associate with heroin, which leaves people sitting in a corner for 12 hours. That would be a boring film to watch! My own drug experiences are very limited. I smoked dope in college and fell asleep, so I never bothered with it again.
DETAILS: There's a generous amount of gore in Trance—as there was in 127 Hours, Shallow Grave, and, of course, 28 Days Later. Why do you keep coming back to it?
Danny Boyle: I love that breathless moment when you feel like the air has been sucked out of the cinema. Part of your brain knows it's clever and fake, but knowing that doesn't spoil the effect. We are riveted by pain and violence as much as we desperately want never to have to experience it ourselves. [Laughs]
DETAILS: Are you a fan of B movies?
Danny Boyle: When we took on the zombie movie [with 28 Days Later], I didn't like zombie movies. But I like extremes, where you compress realism and make it much more intense.
DETAILS: Did you have trouble watching the scene in 127 Hours where James Franco cuts off his forearm?
Danny Boyle: I knew, obviously, that would be difficult for some people to watch. I wanted to pull you into it, so you know what it's like. There's footage of me reacting to James on the monitor. Ooh! Ahh! Noooo!
DETAILS: People often use the word affable to describe you. Can you direct while being affable?
Danny Boyle: I remember reading that while Ridley Scott was directing Alien, he didn't speak to the actors. He wanted them to feel isolated, like they were in space. I'm an enthusiast! I hoot and holler and make the actors feel that there's another lunatic on the set who is going through all these emotions with them. And that works.
DETAILS: Under what circumstances are you not affable?
Danny Boyle: I don't tolerate ego bullshit. I turned up early one morning on a film and found an actor screaming at an A.D. who was bringing him breakfast. We had shot quite a lot of material with him already, and firing him was going to hurt the film. But I rang the producer and said, "We're getting rid of this guy." And I have a terrible temper, which I am very frightened of.
DETAILS: What happens when you get angry?
Danny Boyle: I can turn chilly—like when I got rid of that actor—and cut off from enthusiasm and affability. I've never been violent, but there's another place, a darker place. I feel violent. And I am aware that films are full of violence, and I find that cathartic and expressive and valuable—so it's clearly a part of me.