It's hard to ask you anything about The Beach without immediately
asking the environmental question. Did you wreck the place?
Boyle: No. In fact, we were there last week briefly and were welcomed
by all the people. You know, I think environmental problems in places
like Thailand are worse than the government will sometimes admit to.
In that way, they try to protect the people from bad news, it's like
a more polite Los Angeles. From what I know, from a voyeuristic point
of view, the common people where we were, students, intellectuals,
tend to protest against their government because they get fed a certain
degree of misinformation. I think people there used Leo as a way of
raising the profile for them, which was very hard for him and us,
but we did take a great deal of care while we were there. In the long
run, we as a crew approve of raising awareness in the way the local
TIME: What about the Leo factor? For a start, when I read the book,
the Richard character he ends up playing was to my mind always either
one of two British actors, Rufus Sewell or Jude Law. Why him--pure
Boyle: I think that's very perceptive of you. If I'd wanted a Brit
they would have been inspired choices, but then, you also know I could
have used Ewan McGregor, but I wanted to branch out a bit and make
the story a wider one by using Leo.
Did you consider The Beach a big risk? Did it worry you as it progressed?
Boyle: We always try to take real risks. People have said to me that
using Leo was just playing for the dollar. Well, if I wanted to take
the least risk possible, I'd have made Trainspotting 2. I've been
asked often enough. The Beach with Ewan McGregor would have been too
But what is it about Leo that other actors don't have?
Boyle: We wanted to lure people in. This is a beautiful island, it's
secret, a very sacred place. If you add to that the young romantic
hero of world cinema as he was then, the two were absolutely made
for one another. Using his Titanic persona was obviously attractive
to us. I talked to Leo about this and he felt his options prior making
the movie were either to confirm his standing from Titanic, dynamite
it with American Psycho, or to use what he had and take the audience
with him. The latter was, to both our minds, more interesting.
Did he seem a troubled young lad to you?
Boyle: Well, I felt he didn't want to simply confirm his romantic
appeal. He's embarrassed by how much of a Valentine's figure he's
become. He really struggles with that and it frustrates him everywhere.
You know, after all, he's only 24-25, he's young, he's got a lot of
innocence about him and he thinks he's more clued up than he really
is. That's true of him in real life and when he's acting. I think
he's very idealistic.
Were you ever thinking of anyone else for that part?
Boyle: Well no, but would you believe me if I told you the studio
said at one point, we ought to use Will Smith? It's not that I don't
like him--I'm a fan of his--but I said hang on, Will Smith wandering
onto that beach? Let's be serious about this movie.
Was Leo a better actor than you imagined he would be?
Boyle: I think he's only just beginning to find out what he's capable
of. One of the biggest surprises for me was how much contact you get
with him, you get an immediacy which is frightening when he speaks
to you or when he's acting. That's not something you just pick up.
Some people are born with it and it's just the most immediate form
of contact. Even if he's bullshitting, you believe him and because
of the mystique of cinema, you'd jump off a cliff with him and feel
good about it. Even if it's a lie, you still feel you'd put your trust
in him. Some actors can practice all day long to look more watchable,
but put the camera on them and it's just not interested. All it wants
to do is turn around and look at the other guy--in this case, Leo.
Did he really eat that caterpillar in the movie?
Boyle: Leo told me to tell everyone that he ate it, but that's a lie.
It's a sleight of hand trick, or should that be sleight of mouth.
It would have been tough to do it for real as I'm told it's hard to
find insects over there that aren't toxic.
On an aesthetic level, I watched this film three days after Joan of
Arc with Milla Jovovich and you could almost have had her and Leo
Boyle: I can see that. Leo's a very, very feminine guy. He's very
appealing that way. In fact, the '90s has been so appealing in that
way too. You'd never have had such a feminine guy playing roles like
that in the '80s. It's all so much softer now and less macho. Jude
Law I think has the same feminine touch.
What about Virginie Ledoyen who plays Francoise, well known in France,
but an odd choice, unusual and rather risky? Did you ever think of
a Caroline Ducey or an Élodie Bouchez?
Boyle: Again, that's perceptive of you. I collect books of photos
of people so I always have something to refer to. Sometimes I stick
pictures of actors in it, but often it's just advertisements and magazine
clips. I'd stuck a picture in the book of a girl in a hotel lobby
and when we got to France I asked the casting director if he knew
anyone like the girl in the photo. He didn't even have to think, he
just said Virginie Ledoyen. I did interview a lot of the top French
actresses like Élodie Bouchez, but I was biased toward Virginie
from the start. Alex Garland, the writer [of the novel The Beach],
said the most frightening thing was looking at Virginie and Guillaume
Canet [who plays her boyfriend Etienne] because they looked exactly
how he envisaged when he wrote the book. I was a bit worried about
how the idea of an unavailable French girl would translate to an American
audience, but Leo told me Americans are no different from anyone else
in the world and can't get enough of French girls.
Why didn't she or any of the women appear topless? Any group of backpackers
on a remote island probably would be.
Boyle: We had a big discussion about topless women, as to whether
breasts should be shown or not. In rehearsal, many of the actresses
were topless. We thought the danger was that it would make the movie
prurient and people would watch it for the wrong reasons. There was
one big topless scene in the film, where all the women are bathing
in the sea, but we ended up cutting it.
A lot of people in England say you, John Hodge and Andrew MacDonald,
with whom you always make your films, are like vultures going in after
the kill, looters after the earthquake, as you tend to "steal"
from other movies. Whom did you steal from for The Beach?
Boyle: You're right. Trainspotters was pretty much lifted from Martin
Scorsese's Goodfellas. The Beach certainly references Apocalypse Now,
playing with Hollywood's image of the Vietnam War. It's also got a
lot of Deliverance about it, the 1972 John Boorman film. I consciously
took from that.
What do you want to give back?
Boyle: Well, a private worry of mine is that if you look at the films
we celebrate, virtually none are ever set in rural areas. I know Jane
Campion's new film Holy Smoke is set in the Outback, but it's damn
hard to find a rural film that captivates an audience, which is doubly
ironic when you think the only reason we go to movies is for escape.
But I think audiences want to escape into what they live in, into
different pictures of different urban societies. It seems we only
want to see cities. Ultimately, Deliverance was an urban film and
ours isn't much different--it's about oppression in an urban environment.
I'd like to do something rural.
Have you created something new in this film?
Boyle: I've absolutely no idea. All the films we make we try to do
something different, rather than make the same film again and again.
I think that's in the lap of the Gods. You make your choices and just
hope they work out.
Do you resent that your actors get more attention than you?
Boyle: Not much. We kid ourselves that an audience wants to see a
Spike Lee or a Martin Scorsese film, but ultimately all they want
to see is actors. A mass audience always go to a cinema for actors,
Beach is now playing in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea
and Taiwan; it opens in Thailand March 10; Indonesia March 22; Australia
March 30; India April 8; the Philippines April 22; and Japan May 13.
Release dates are subject to change without notice.)