Success changes a lot of people, but not Danny Boyle. He’s still the same gregarious, unpretentious bloke he’s always been. Which is saying something considering all the awards and adulation heaped upon him thanks to “Slumdog Millionaire.”


Success changes a lot of people, but not Danny Boyle. He’s still the same gregarious, unpretentious bloke he’s always been. Which is saying something considering all the awards and adulation heaped upon him thanks to “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Winner of eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, “Slumdog” has earned Boyle a well-deserved place among the Hollywood elite, a true artist with a clear vision and an even clearer moral conviction toward making quality pictures that celebrate the human spirit. But he insists he’s still the same Danny Boyle he’s always been. It’s the people who’ve changed.

“Everybody now calls me ‘Mr. Boyle,’” he says with hints of awe and consternation in his voice. “That’s the weirdest thing to me. I did a Q&A last night (in Boston), and every time somebody started a question they would say, ‘Mr. Boyle.’”

Humble or not, he’d better get used to it, because judging by the buzz his latest endeavor, “127 Hours,” is generating, there will be even more of those respectful salutations headed his way. And that cheering throng will probably only grow louder after they get a gander at what he’s planning as producer of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Who knows, he might wind up more popular than Michael Phelps.

If there’s one thing that fame has taught him, though, it’s to strike while the iron is hot, using that hard-earned clout to get a small, intimate movie like “127 Hours” made.

“You have a very short time to take advantage of it,” said Boyle while in Boston promoting the movie. “Under normal circumstances, unless you’re someone like Spielberg, you’re never going to get a film like this made because it’s a very difficult sell for the studio.”

At least in theory it is. But in actuality, “127 Hours” could end up being just as popular as “Slumdog” once word-of-mouth builds for his riveting recreation of the five harrowing days mountaineer Aron Ralston spent in the Utah wilderness literally caught between a rock and a hard place with a boulder trapping his arm against the wall of a narrow canyon.

Even if you think you know every gory detail about how Ralston opted to cut off his right arm rather than just stand there and die, “127 Hours” will astonish you with its deeply moving insights into the power of the human spirit. Not to mention serve as a reminder to always tell people where you are going for the weekend, which Ralston never did.

“He’s a supreme individualist at the beginning,” Boyle said of Ralston, flawlessly portrayed by James Franco. “It’s not that he ignores people; he’s just very casual with everyone else’s affection for him. And he learns his place. But it’s not a story of supreme individual courage, as it is often portrayed in the media. The real moral is that we’re all capable of this. We might not survive – it all depends on your luck and timing – but we’d all do it if given the choice.”

I doubt we’d look as sexy as James Franco or be as articulate as the screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (an Oscar winner for “Slumdog”), but Boyle has a point. And perhaps that’s why the film elicits such an intense emotional response, both when we see Boyle’s graphic depiction of the amputation and when Ralston, battered and bleeding profusely, is again in the presence of another human being.

“Even though the amputation scene is very graphic, most people actually celebrate it because it is freedom for him,” Boyle said. “He proves that his spirit is much more important than all his bits. Like Aron says, he left something behind there, but he emerged a more complete person.”

And who better to portray Ralston than an actor as complete as Franco, even if he failed to make a strong first impression.

“Our initial meeting (in New York) was not great,” Boyle said. “He has this front, which is like he’s stoned or half asleep or something. I think he does it because it keeps all of the Hollywood press at bay. Then we met him in L.A. and he read a bit of the script for us and he was fantastic. And I remember thinking, ‘It’s him!’”

“I also like that his work has a variety to it that not a lot of lead actors have. Like, he’ll do high-comic parts like ‘Pineapple Express’ and do serious stuff like ‘City by the Sea’ or ‘James Dean’ or even ‘Spider-Man.’ And then he’ll do ‘Milk,’ which is kind of a character impersonation built on observation and meticulous detail. And that kind of variation for a film like this is essential because there’s nobody else in it. I help a bit with music and rhythm and things like that, but it’s him that’s creating a palette that stops the film from being inert.”

Beaufoy’s screenplay, which encompasses flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmarish situations, also helps the movie from growing claustrophobic. But, like Franco, Beaufoy almost didn’t make the cut, so to speak.

“I’m not really a screenwriter,” Boyle says modestly. “I had a very clear image of how I wanted this to be. And when I asked Simon to write it, he told me he’d only be willing to do it if I wrote out a detailed outline. So I did a couple of drafts, and then he said, ‘Now I see it,’ and he started working on it.

“And I was very glad to get back to my day job – directing. I feel much more comfortable doing that. It’s quite lonely, screen writing; you sit alone in a room and it’s like either things come to you or they don’t. Where with directing, there are so many people around, there’s so many ways you can get inspired. ”

“I was very grateful for him to take the job,” he said.

Besides, Boyle has bigger fish to fry, like the opening ceremony for the Olympics, which will draw an estimated 4 billion TV viewers around the world. That’s mighty intimidating, even for a director as supremely confident as Boyle.

“You’d freeze if you think about it too much,” he admits. “I try to think about it as just the 18,000 people in the stadium.”

The downside is that the gig will take him away from filmmaking until 2013, but he’s more than willing to make the sacrifice.

“I’m in a position now where I should do this sort of thing,” Boyle said. “It’s hard work and terrifying and all that, but I regard it as a privilege and a public duty. So I do it.”

Contact Al Alexander at aalexander@ledger.com.