Interviewing Danny Boyle on Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle is a quick talker. I listen to all my interviews in slo-mo, so I can transcribe them, but even in slo-mo playback Mr. Boyle is going full speed. Some of that same frenetic energy can be found in Slumdog Millionaire, a film I quite enjoyed.

Here's what Danny had to say about losing his distributor, his Oscar chances, and Jack White.

Laremy Legel: I first learned about the Indian slums in a book called Shantaram. Have you read that one?

Danny Boyle: I've not read it. The reason I didn't was because when we started making this, Shantaram was being made as well. It kept swapping directors, they were gonna come, Johnny Depp was going to come over. We were going to lose a lot of our crew, because they were talking about paying them more money. And I just got f*cking sick of it after awhile. I just thought "F*ck off!" Then suddenly Johnny wasn't going to come film in the slums. Johnny was going to do it in Mexico. I just got sick of it.

Everybody said the book was great, and I'll read the book one day. I read this other book, a different book, called Maximum City which is a book about Mumbai written by this guy who grew up there. Then [he] left, and then went back with a young family and tried to move back. That was an amazing book. I had that book with me everyday. It's absolutely amazing. It was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. How it didn't win I have no idea. This book is absolutely extraordinary. It's vivid, exciting, it's detailed about the place. Passionate, really moving, it really draws you in to these individuals. It's got this amazing portrait of this girl in it that he clearly, as a writer, falls in love with. An amazing book. So that was my reference point.

LL: It seems like American culture is really unaware of Indian culture, even though it's a country with over a billion people. What do you make of that phenomenon?

DB: Well, it's just a long, long way from here. You can't get further away I don't think. Which helped us when we were making the film. The executives, they thought, "Shall we go to India?" Then they looked at the travel arrangements and thought, "How much money do we have in it? Five million dollars? Naah." So it was great. They left us alone. We'd have these phone calls with them. But the phone calls [there] are really difficult, because they are right at the end or beginning of days. I didn't think it would work in America though. I didn't know what connection it would have. But it's the story really. I underestimated how much the idea of a dreamer, someone who has a plan, although he apparently might be unqualified, [that's] really important here. People respond to that.

LL: I read somewhere that you wanted to collaborate with Jack White, of the White Stripes, on this project. Is that accurate?

DB: I did. I asked him to see [it], right early on. I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting?" I love his music, obviously. I love the way he uses influences from different parts of the world in his music. He'd been to Britain and used a lot of influences. But it never worked out. I'm a bit naive and I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if Jack White came and lived with us for a year in Mumbai?" But it doesn't really work like that.

But when I didn't get him I began to work with Rahman and M.I.A. The soundtrack is amazing.

LL: Were you mad when you saw the Pineapple Express trailer? They totally cribbed "Paper Planes" from you.

DB: They used it amazingly, but of course I'd already had it in our film. I thought, "Oh no!!" But then, I've got to tell you, everything about this film, every setback ... rather than letting it crush [us] we've gone with it. We've done that all the time. We lost our distributor; Warner Independent was closed down. Your normal reaction would be to go into a rage of insanity because you've lost your North American distributor so you'll have to go straight to DVD. You just think, "Okay, that's the way it is." Minutes later Fox Searchlight picks it up and you've got a distributor who is much better for this kind of film than anyone in the world.

LL: I feel like this is a sneaky Oscar candidate because it's so life affirming and hopeful in a time where the other candidates are really dark. What do you think?

DB: I can't say. I haven't seen anything. I saw The Wrestler, which is terrific. I really enjoyed that. That's a kind of brutal, amazing, realistic film. I spoke to Darren Aronofsky about it, because he made a space film before it, like I [did], and it's such a release to do something that's on the streets, following a character. So I don't know about that kind of stuff.

It's probably essential for us to be included in this time of year because it's the only time of year that the spotlight will shine on a film like this. You release it any other time and it's going to be difficult. So in terms of awards I suspect we'll be at the back of the hall waving, but if we're even in the hall at all that's fine. Never believe anybody who says they don't dream of stuff like this. Everyone dreams about stuff like this. Once all the films are released we might get swept away because none of them have been released that are gonna be contenders. But we are unique because we didn't imagine ourselves being a contender. That's all I can say, because all of the other guys probably had one eye on the prize.

Slumdog Millionaire is in theaters now.