As of mid-November, Danny Boyle's latest movie - Slumdog Millionaire - is one of the few films of 2008 to generate serious, legitimate Oscar buzz. Slumdog Millionaire is set in Mumbai and tells the story of 18 year old Jamal Malik (played by newcomer Dev Patel), an orphan who grew up in the slums and whose shot at climbing out of poverty comes with his appearance on India's version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?.
Boyle shot the film, which is based on the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, on location. His experience, and that of the cast and crew, was a positive one and Boyle – in this exclusive interview – says he'd love to return to India to film a thriller.
Danny Boyle Interview – Slumdog MillionaireSo what was the attraction of a movie with Who Wants To Be a Millionaire in it?
Danny Boyle: "There wasn’t one, really, because I thought I don’t want to make a film about that. I mean I watched the show on TV. I’m not addicted to it now, but when it first came out in the UK I was addicted to it like everybody. It was like so compulsive. But I thought, 'I don't want to make a film about that.' And the only reason I read it was because the guy’s name who'd adapted it I noticed. I didn’t know him but he’d written The Fully Monty, which is one of my favorite kind of films really. So I thought, 'Well, I should really read a bit of it,' so that when I talk to him, I could ring him up and say I enjoyed the script. I can sort of pretend I’d read it all. But I read it and I was like, that was the first time I knew it was set in India, reading it, and it was an absolutely extraordinary experience. And 10/15 pages in I was lost in the story."
"And that is true - I knew after that that I was going to make it. And that must have been not so much the story, because obviously by 10/15 pages the story’s not really even got going yet, but it must have been just the city that it’s set in. So that became the star of the show for me, is not the show itself, not the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, but the city and this love story set in the city. And that was what was clever about what Simon [Beaufoy]did, is that he created this love story. Because in the book the spine of the story is the show, whereas in this it’s really the love story because that's his real agenda. It’s not the show; it’s his lost love, really."
I would imagine there was never even an option of not filming it on location, right?
Danny Boyle: "Yes. I wanted it to be… I mean your only chance as a Westerner going in to make even a half-convincing film is to film it in real places. They don’t tend to do that in Bollywood. They tend to film in the studios because the crowds get out of hand with the movie stars there. But we were lucky because none of our actors were known apart from Anil Kapoor who plays the host of the show, and all of his stuff was done in a studio anyway because he was on the game show. And the policeman, Irfan Khan, and all his stuff was done in the police station. So, again, it’s controllable and manageable."
And you don’t storyboard…is that true?
Danny Boyle: "No, definitely not. As little as possible."
Why don’t you storyboard? Did you have to do some on Sunshine?
Danny Boyle: "There were bits occasionally you have to storyboard, and they're usually to do with CG or with a highly technical requirement like a stunt or something like that, but even then I warn them that I won't keep to it necessarily. And I don’t like storyboarding at all."
"You have to have Plan B because there's so much money involved even on a small film, a low budget film like this, but Plan A is always to see what happens on the day. You turn up and see what happens. And I've got to tell you that is the way to film in India, is not to have any plans because they… Woody Allen says, 'How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.' But in India there are many gods and they all roar laughing when they hear your plans. Because it ain’t a city about planning and control and organization and discipline and rigidity. It’s actually about being like you've got to be as wide as possible and just open yourself up to it and see how you get on. And so it suited me down to the ground because storyboards are laughable there, laughable on the streets, because nothing’s the same at any moment let alone you've done a storyboard a month beforehand or a week beforehand. The whole place is completely different the next week. I mean it’s just like insane, you know?"
So do you direct on the fly then, with that kind of circumstance?
Danny Boyle: "Yes, absolutely."
Because you don't storyboard things out, is it easier for you to adapt to the situations presented?
Danny Boyle: "Oh yes, because I always think you turn up and an actor, you know, they’ve got a scene to play which is written, okay, but that actor the previous night could have been told that his father had died or could have met the love of his life, so he’s going to be a completely different person each day he turns up. That's the live-ness of it. So they're going to play the scene in a slightly different way because they're different. They're not just going to abandon themselves, whatever’s happened to them the night before, and come in and go, 'Right, here's the character.' I always think that it’s always going to have a different dynamic. And it’s scary sometimes because if you can't quite come up with it, then it’s a bit scary. But then that's when Plan B might kick in. But most of the time you don’t know."