For die-hard fans of Danny Boyle’s 1996 hit Trainspotting, the just-released sequel, T2 Trainspotting, could also be called Easter Egg Spotting. That’s because this sequel — which opened in the U.K. in January and crossed the pond to U.S. shores on March 17 — is overflowing with subtle and overt callbacks to the original movie.
Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, the first Trainspotting followed the tragicomic antics of a group of young junkies in Edinburgh, headed up by Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor). In T2, a clean and sober Renton returns to his former stomping grounds two decades after making off with the cash he and his former mates earned from a small-time drug deal.
Besides catching up with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremmer) — and avoiding the violence-prone Begbie (Robert Carlyle) — Mark also inadvertently revisits familiar locations from his junkie days, including the staircase where he ran headlong into a car and the resplendent Scottish countryside where he memorably declared, “It’s s*** being Scottish.” But the callback that viewers will be most anticipating (and dreading) involves the least picturesque of spaces — a toilet stall. Early on in Trainspotting, a detoxing Renton experiences a serious case of diarrhea while attempting to kick the heroin habit cold turkey. Racing into a pub in search of relief, he instead finds himself in “The Worst Toilet in Scotland,” a disgusting hovel with missing toilet seats, no overhead lighting, and filth all over the stalls. Desperate, he plops down on one of the toilets and does his business.
Watch the scene — if you dare:
In the process, though, he accidentally evacuates the opium suppositories that he’s tucked away in his rectum and literally dives headfirst into the murky toilet water to recover them. On a commentary track that was originally recorded for Trainspotting‘s Criterion Collection laserdisc in 1996 — and has since been ported over to the Blu-ray edition — Boyle describes the motivation for this audacious, if gag-inducing, scene: “It fulfills two elements of [the character’s] life, one of which is the degradation that they’re prepared to go through. It also allows you to see some of the beauty that they find eventually in their search.”
Beyond its metaphorical intentions, the visceral reaction this sequence provokes gave Trainspotting immediate notoriety upon its release, in 1996. And the scene has its roots in an unlikely source: Wes Craven’s horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the Trainspotting novel, Welsh keeps Renton’s toilet moment grounded in reality, describing in slang-heavy Scottish dialect how the junkie rolls up his sleeves and roots around in his own mess in search of his suppositories: “Ah gag once, but get ma white nugget ay gold, surprisingly even better preserved than the first.”
When it came time to translate that moment to the screen, screenwriter John Hodge felt that it was simply too gross to keep in the real world. “It’s so extreme,” he remarks on a video interview featured on the Blu-ray. “I knew he just couldn’t stand up and walk away. So what comes next?” That’s when he remembered the famous Elm Street moment when dream-stalker Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) comes for Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) after she dozes off in the bathtub, his gloved hand reaching out of the suds and dragging her into its depths. “I was terribly moved by that scene,” Hodge explains in the interview, adding that inspired him to think: “Maybe [Renton] just goes down the toilet.” Hodge included that fantastical version of the scene in the initial batch of 40 script pages he submitted to Boyle and producer Andrew Macdonald, and they immediately gave him the green light to keep going. “It showed us that John could hit the [right] tone,” Macdonald says in another Blu-ray featurette.
Upon Trainspotting‘s initial release, the cast and crew were reluctant to spoil the shock and awe of the toilet sequence by revealing too much about how it was accomplished. On the commentary track, a young McGregor remarks: “In interviews, this is the most frequent question I’ve ever gotten. ‘Tell me about the toilet scene.’ [And I say], ‘I’m not going to tell you about it.'”
Flash-forward two decades, though, and the actor has fortunately become more revealing. Speaking to Yahoo Movies recently, McGregor provided some insight into his trip through the toilet bowl. (Watch the full interview at the bottom of this post.) “We had a toilet that was cut [in half], and our [cinematographer], Brian Tufano, was underneath the toilet. We had bags of water in [the toilet], and people had their hands up next to the bags. As I slid down, people were patting the bags to make it look like water was splashing over the side.”
Tufano offers his own description of the toilet trick in a 2015 video recorded for an online filmmaking course. As he explains it, after cutting the toilet in half, the production rigged up a wooden chute behind it that McGregor could crawl down. The camera was then positioned so that viewers would only see the intact half of the toilet, and not the chute on the other side. “I suggested to Danny that as Ewan’s feet were going down, if you just twisted them, that people might think he’d just gone round the bend in the toilet,” Tufano says. “And then, of course, he ends up in what appears to be a beautiful lagoon, which was a swimming pool in Glasgow.”
Speaking of that pool, Macdonald remarks on a Blu-ray featurette that, over the years, critics have read a little too much into the fact that Renton’s journey takes him from a stained toilet (which, in reality, was just filled with chocolate syrup, as Boyle reveals in a separate featurette) into crystal blue waters. “People think it was finding glorious salvation in the midst of horror,” he says, chuckling. In fact, there was a more practical reason for that aquatic transformation. When the production initially showed up at the swimming pool, they hoped to dirty it up by putting fake “turds” in the water, but were immediately overruled by the pool’s owners. “We would have had to drain it, and it could have cost a fortune.”
Chatting with The Telegraph in 2013 before shooting even commenced on T2 Trainspotting, Boyle noted that any sequel would be obligated to reference what’s arguably the defining moment of the original film. “There will be a toilet scene. There’s got to be.” And, sure enough, Renton does find himself in a grubby loo midway through T2, although this time he isn’t forced to take a deep dive. He’s too busy hiding from Begbie, newly escaped from prison and eager for a little revenge. On the other hand, this is one situation where you might want a toilet that comes equipped with its own escape chute.
Watch our Role Recall with Ewan McGregor:
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