Trainspotting was arguably the definitive British film of the 1990s – packed to bursting with iconic scenes, and reflecting the exact state of the nation’s youth in 1996. With the sequel about to be released, just over 20 years after the original, here’s a look at what the key players have been doing in between their stints as Scotland’s most compelling reprobates.
Danny Boyle (Director):
After following Trainspotting up with the forgettable A Life Less Ordinary, Boyle sort-of managed to break America with The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and rolled into bigger and bigger projects from there on. 28 Days Later and Sunshine both became cult classic genre pieces, and in 2008, Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire captured hearts worldwide and earned Best Picture and Best Director at the 2009 Oscars. Since then, his film output has been a little shakier – 127 Hours and Steve Jobs were both really good, Trance was absurdly bad – but he’s got a lifetime of goodwill after he orchestrated the magical opening to the 2012 London Olympics.
Ewan McGregor (Renton):
Originally, breakout star McGregor was meant to take the lead role in Boyle’s The Beach, but the director’s ditching of his then three-time leading man hurt him deeply, to the point where he didn’t talk to Boyle for a full decade. Instead, he became an international superstar, being easily the best thing about the Star Wars prequels as Obi-Wan Kenobi and starring in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!. After Star Wars finished, McGregor went back to some smaller films with varying success. I Love You Phillip Morris and The Impossible were interesting, with plenty of great elements, but missteps like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Mortdecai clouded things. Most recently, he’s starred in the unique biographies of both Jesus and Miles Davis, and while his directorial debut, adapting Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, may not have had the desired reception, McGregor’s recent work has signalled an excitingly creative direction for his future career.
Ewen Bremner (Spud):
Trainspotting’s moral centre, as far as it could have one, Bremner has been working constantly since his name-making role as Spud. A consummate character actor in both film and TV, highlights of Bremner’s resume include Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, two different miniseries about Queen Elizabeth I within a year of one another, and, more recently, a vital role in the superb but woefully underseen Snowpiercer.
Robert Carlyle (Begbie):
After searing himself into the British consciousness as unpredictable psycho Begbie, Carlyle had one of the most interesting post-Trainspotting careers of any of the cast. After winning international acclaim for the smash hit The Full Monty, Carlyle reunited with Boyle for The Beach and eventually took a role in the sequel to 28 Days Later; he also became a Bond villain for The World is Not Enough, and even portrayed Adolf Hitler in 2003. Recently, Carlyle has been a staple of cult genre TV, as part of the core cast in both Stargate Universe and, currently, Once Upon a Time, the fantasy mashup show where he plays Rumpelstiltskin.
Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy):
Following up Trainspotting with another adaptation of a classic novel – the 1997 take on Pat Barker’s Regeneration – the best place to see Miller in the last decade has been on television. Quietly turning in consistent work on shows including Smith, the title role in Eli Stone, and Emma, he broke America with a recurring role on Dexter before landing his current gig as the network TV version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary. Recently, he reunited with Boyle for the stage version of Frankenstein, where he and fellow TV Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of the scientist and the monster, winning an Olivier Award together.
Kelly Macdonald (Diane):
Taking on a series of roles in small projects in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Macdonald made waves in 2003 with her part in the classic TV thriller State of Play. This led to a starring role in the hugely successful Nanny McPhee, before she was tapped by the Coens as part of the supporting cast of the awards-conquering No Country For Old Men, one of the very best of the brothers’ films. Following that, steady work on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire ensued, as Macdonald broke into the blockbuster worlds of Harry Potter and Pixar, with the lead voice role in Brave. Most recently seen in the absurdly wide-reaching third season of Black Mirror, Macdonald is the only member of the ensemble that can rival McGregor for post-Trainspotting success levels.
Kevin McKidd (Tommy):
The least iconic face of the core Trainspotting cast, with his character Tommy most notable for triggering Renton’s “it’s shite being Scottish” tirade, McKidd has nonetheless had a remarkable career following 1996. Consistent and varied work in the early 2000s, from an Anna Karenina adaptation on TV to a voice role in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, led to the lead role in HBO’s Rome, the godfather of lavish American television, and a key part in the medical soap opera Grey’s Anatomy, where he has appeared in 200 episodes. That’s taken up most of McKidd’s time in recent years, but he’s still found room for more voice work in the Call of Duty franchise, Brave, and one of the Toy Story spin-off shorts.