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South China Morning Post
Cover: Monday Focus
January 24, 2000

By David Cohen
Related Story: "Looking for the real Leo"
In The Beach, director Danny Boyle set out to do the impossible, or something close to it. He would film on a lovely, unspoiled tropical island but give the scenes there an 'urban consciousness.'

"It's the intensity really," explains Boyle in his exuberant Scottish accent. "The kind of pressure of urban living, which we're all familiar with. You start to bring that in, even to what you've thought of as a rural paradise."

"You start to build. The sensuality that you feel at first, which relaxes you, eventually begins to actually oppress you. You're under a crazy kind of pressure which has to give, explode in some way. "

Boyle and company are experts at turning up the pressure onscreen. Their films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting explored tension and betrayal among friends. The Beach adds to that list.
Yet while Boyle's team like to explore suspicion in their films, they cultivate a family atmosphere offscreen. Their scripts are collaborations, and they encourage their lead actors to add ideas along the way. 

For The Beach, star Leonardo DiCaprio was was able to pitch in on the last six of the screenplay's 18 drafts. "We'd all have good ideas and we all have bad ideas," says Boyle, "and the great thing about doing it as a family is you sift out in yourself. Leo knows when something is a bad idea and when something is a good idea, and likewise us."

One of DiCaprio's good ideas came from the feeling that his character's disconnection rose in part from having nothing to fight for. "He doesn't know what Vietnam is like but he knows how to play the video game," says DiCaprio, so he suggested a scene where he would actually appear as a video game character. The scene made it into the film's final cut.

"Danny Boyle would be one of the few directors on earth that would be open to hearing something like that," says DiCaprio. "You can probably count on one hand how many directors would be open to that kind of surreal idea within a film. That's why he's one of my favorite directors."

Boyle has his detractors, though. Environmentalists protested the shoot, which altered the landscape of a Thai national park (temporarily, the filmmakers insist) to make it look more like a western notion of a tropical paradise. In short,  he tampered with nature to make a film that indicts human insensitivity to the natural world.

The irony is not lost on him. "I can't deny it," he says, " I think making a film is a kind of act of imperialism.  You can't defend it as being a liberal act of goodness which is just spreading munificence around everyone.  It's a selfish act and film crews damage wherever they go.

"One of the themes of the film is that you can't just waltz into nature because it does bite back, and nature got back at us." He points to bad weather and delays in shooting. "You think you'll be able to dominate nature and it teaches you that you're very, very small indeed."

Also unhappy with Boyle, at least for now, is Ewan McGregor, who starred in Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. McGregor was originally to play the lead in The Beach as well but was dropped in favor of DiCaprio.

Boyle defended the decision to McGregor, but McGregor was upset by the change. "I'm sure we'll be friends again and work together again soon," says Boyle. But then, perhaps thinking of McGregor's shooting schedule as young Obi-Wan Kenobi, he muses that "Well, I mean, he probably won't be available ever but..."