Capone With THE FLYING SCOTSMAN's Jonny Lee Miller!!
Published at: April 30, 2007, 12:06 p.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago, with my conversation with actor Jonny Lee Miller, star of a different kind of sports-related drama opening this week called THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, about Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, who broke a few world speed records in his prime but also struggled with severe depression. Failing on any level didn't just bum him out; it took him into the realm of suicide.
Miller is probably best known to the world at large for playing Sick Boy in his breakthrough film TRAINSPOTTING. But the year before that he co-starred in a film called HACKERS with an emerging young actress named Angelina Jolie, who went on to become his wife of four years. Since that time, he's starred in such films as PLUNKET & MACLEANE; AFTERGLOW; MANSFIELD PARK; DRACULA 2000; Woody Allen's MELINDA AND MELINDA; AEON FLUX; and last year's short-lived television series "Smith," opposite Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen. He's also just finished shooting a pilot for ABC called "Eli Stone," which we discuss a bit. We also get into those pesky, always re-emerging rumors about a TRAINSPOTTING sequel, which are running hot right now as Danny Boyle does his press tour for SUNSHINE and is telling anyone who asks that all four leads are on board to do it. Hmmm. Here's Mr. Miller.
Capone: I really enjoyed THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, and here's why: Over the years, I've certainly seen my share of films about athletes overcoming obstacles, but I don't remember seeing a film before where the main obstacle is suicidal tendencies. It adds a very dark elements to the movie that I wasn't expecting. In terms of that aspect to Graeme Obree's story, how accurate is that depiction of his life at the time?
Jonny Lee Miller: It's very accurate. He actually wrote an autobiography of the same name, and he wrote it himself; he didn't hire a ghost writer, which is quite rare for athletes. He's very frank in that as well. There are episodes in his life that are even darker than what is in the film. It's difficult subject to tackle sensitively, but it very accurate.
C: Certainly having that be a part of Graeme's story makes the consequences of his losing or not reaching a goal in his career all the more nerve wracking. We don't ever know how he's going to react.
JLM: Graeme has said he would feel totally useless at those times, when he failed, so yes you're right, that was very tough for him. On the one hand, it gives him this enormous mental edge, if you like, when he's competing. But the consequences were so much worse for him if he failed.
C: Were there other aspects of his story that were important to you to keep as authentic as possible?
JLM: The choice of which parts of the story and the chronology is not in doubt to me at all. I tried to get a few of his mannerisms and speech patterns in there.
C: So obviously you spent time with him…
JLM: Yeah. We spent a lot of time together actually. It was important for us to show how supportive his wife was and what sort of team they were and still are. She was a huge, huge help to him. That was the most important thing.
C: The other aspect to the film that separates from more traditional sports-themed works is that it focuses on Graeme's attempts at breaking cycling records on an otherwise empty track. He's not a part of a team sport, pitted against other players. He's out there alone with his troubled thoughts.
JLM: It helps to tell his story very well. But one thing to remember is that Graeme did a lot of road racing and road time trialing, which is also you against the clock. Then you're getting into the pursuit; it's you and one other guy. Even when you're doing pursuit track riding, the other rider is on the other side of the track to you. You're actually getting hand signals from your assistant as to whether you're one second up, one second down. In a way, it's still a solo thing against these numbers. I think it served the story very well, when you're trying to show the contrast between the athlete and the guy in trouble. The solo racing part of it does become more interesting.
C: I can't imagine what that must be like, to have your life come down to a fraction of a second sometimes. That must take such a toll on these riders, having these micro-seconds be your adversary.
JLM: Yeah, but they love it. They'd have to.
C: One of the other interesting things about Graeme were his skills as a bike designer. He probably could have made a career out of that. Why wasn't that enough for him?
JLM: In the film, you see he did have a bike shop that went out of business. He built these bikes for us. The bikes that Graeme built, the position you have to sit in to ride was banned for many years. And the bikes are extremely difficult to ride, believe me.
C: One of your co-stars in the film is one of the hardest working men in show business right now, Brian Cox. I feel like every third film I see, there he is.
JLM: Yeah [laughs].
C: Did you get much time to spend with him during shooting?
JLM: I've actually worked with Brian before on a film that went straight to video, called COMPLICITY. So I know Brian a bit; we have the same agent as well. I was working pretty hard in the making of this film, and Brian was only on set for about two weeks I think. When I wasn't shooting, I was usually cycling. [laughs]
C: Fair enough. The other person you're on camera with almost in every scene is Billy Boyd playing your best friend/manager. The friendship that the characters have seems absolutely genuine. You almost forget that the two haven't known each other that long when these events take place. What did the two of you do to make that relationship seem authentic?
JLM: Well, you know, we went on a few romantic dinner dates [laughs]! Billy's just one of those guys that's easy to get along with; we got on really, really well. It's a big relief when you have to do a film like that where you're playing friends, because you never really know. You know you'll be civil with someone, but you really don't know if you'll get on with someone, and Billy's a fantastic guy, so we didn't have to work that hard at making it look real.
C: Were you familiar with director Douglas Mackinnon's television work before doing this film?
JLM: No, I didn't know his work at all. I was really interested in the project anyway, and I trusted the producers to hire someone competent. So I didn't know Douglas, but I did enjoy working with him thoroughly. We were about to start shooting a few years ago, and we had to stop because we lost the financing about six days before we started. And Douglas stayed with the project and so did I, so we had a little mini-journey before we'd even started. But I just had to trust other people when it came to selecting the director.
C: I was curious about the way to captured the actually cycling, the way the camera seems to be positions right there next to you. Is that just you on that bike, or did he capture that some other way?
JLM: It's pretty much all me. There are two or three shots in the film in which Graeme is actually doubling for me. He's a great stunt double [laughs]. You have to do so much cycling when you're filming on the track, and track riding is exhausting. There are a couple of whizzes past that are him. I'm proud to say it's mostly me.
There's actually a shot used in the first scene. You see Graeme riding from behind, you see the cyclist's number on his back, like you're following from behind. That's actually, we experimented with several different ways on how to shoot on a track. Were we going to use a motorcycle or a quad-bike? It's very difficult because the track is so steep. What they came up with was to get this very small camera and strap it to a bicycle handlebars and set it running. And since its very, very hard to ride a bike with a camera on it. The only person who could do it was Graeme. So he's actually operating the camera and following me around on the bike for that shot.
C: I'm forced by law to ask this question, so forgive me if you're tired of fielding this line of inquiry. But Danny Boyle has been out doing press for his new film SUNSHINE, so it's on people's minds again. I'm sure people have been asking you for years, especially since Irvine Welsh published his TRAINSPOTTING sequel PORNO, if a filmed sequel was in the works. So now, Danny has been quoted on more than one occasion as saying that all the cast members are on board for a sequel. Is that true, as far as your know?
JLM: I think he knows that people would be into it. There's nothing official. We were asked a couple of years ago if we'd be interested, but it all depends on what the script is like. I can't speak for any of the other lads; I haven't spoken to them in a while. It's a very precarious thing, it's such a treasure, that film. It would have to be very carefully handled.
C: Speculation on a sequel was cranked up quite a bit when Welsh's book came out. Presumably the movie would be based on that book. Is Sick Boy a character whose future prospects you're thought about much over the years?
JLM: Honestly, no. You tend to sort of move on. He's still back in that moment really. That being said, reading the book PORNO, you can't help but think of it again.
C: I understand that you've just shot a television pilot for ABC called "Eli Stone," which looks like it has a great cast, especially the female cast members [including Natasha Henstridge, Joanna Gleason, and Loretta Devine; I have no idea which of these actors would be regulars]. Was is that about and what are the prospects for that getting picked up? I know ABC hasn't officially announced its new shows for next fall, but what have you heard?
JLM: They don't do that until the middle of May. I play Eli Stone, a high-powered San Francisco lawyer, who seems to have it all. And then one day, he starts hearing music and having hallucinations. And it leads him to take on this case on behalf of this woman who's suing this large pharmaceutical company on behalf of her autistic little boy. Against his better judgment, he is coerced into taking this case because of these visions. He discovers he has an inoperable brain aneurysm. So it's ambiguous as to whether he's getting these visions because of that or is there something more spiritual to it? And he ends up re-evaluating his life and changing the way he practices law. It's also pretty funny actually. I know it doesn't sound it, but it's sort of a magical story.
C: So is the premise that each week he would take on these seemingly unwinable cases?
JLM: Maybe, I don't know really. Obviously, I haven't seen any more scripts, but I think there are many different things to explore: his past, the relationship with the woman whose child he helps. There are all kinds of possibilities, which is why I was sort of ready to take on some television again, because this story had so much great potential.
C: Hey, I watched every episode of "Smith" they put on the air, and it almost seemed that with a cast that strong, it seemed too good to last. But clearly the experience of being canceled abruptly didn't sour you to doing more television.
JLM: Initially it kind of did, but the thing is, this script was too good an opportunity to say no to.
C: Well, good look with that. And we're all keeping our fingers crossed for a movie in theaters in the near future called PORNO. That would look great on a marquee.
JLM: [laughs] Indeed. Thank you very much.