Trainspotting’s Spud morphs into the man who built Britpop
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | July 8, 2021
The first thing you notice when you meet Ewen Bremner is how radically different he is from the high-strung, manic characters he often plays — most notably Daniel “Spud” Murphy from the Trainspotting movies.
His latest film, Creation Stories, is a biopic of sorts. It follows the rise and (partial) fall of Alan McGee, cofounder of the Creation Records label, the independent outfit that first signed My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and — most notably — Oasis.
Born to a working-class Scottish family, McGee has no musical talent but he’s unbeatable in terms of hustle and commercial instinct. Eventually, decades of recreational drug intaking and high stress catches up with him.
Reportedly, McGee didn’t see himself in Ewen Bremner’s performance, but the actor wasn’t going for mimicry, rather the embodiment of an idea: the combination of being born in poverty, having an all-consuming passion and the need to constantly prove yourself.
Bremner keeps McGee likeable and his unravelling, inescapable. As he describes it, “this is not a documentary. It’s a fantasy version of that guy. I made certain choices about who he was based on what I knew. [Director] Nick Moran was very clear about how dynamic he wanted the movie to be, so we made our version of Alan as dynamic as we could.”
Two of Bremner’s Trainspotting collaborators are involved in Creation Stories. The film was scripted by Irvine Welsh and exec. produced by Danny Boyle. Bremner had an idea who McGee was based on news, but he didn’t know his entire story and wasn’t infatuated with the bands he represented.
Zooming from Los Angeles where he’s shooting a series with Taika Waititi (HBO Max’s pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death), Bremner is soft-spoken and deliberate. He’s even up for dispensing some parental advice.
This is the fourth movie written by Irvine Welsh you’ve been involved with. Do you enjoy delivering his words?
Absolutely. He’s a subversive writer. The characters that he writes are very visceral. His aesthetic is a mix of the grotesque and the absurd. Dramatically, you’ve licence to play with an idea and take it quite far. He has some level of trust with me because we’re from the same town [Edinburgh]. If I’m adjusting or augmenting his dialogue, he knows it will be faithful to that world.
[A delivery interrupts our conversation]
It’s been a year of deliveries. Everything comes in a box.
I didn’t want to ask how your pandemic was, but I’m curious. For an actor as active as you [over 70 film credits, stage work], how did you manage?
In my experience of being an actor, it becomes important for your mental health to regulate your energy and to be patient. There are scenes in Creation Stories that are very energetic, and you may have to do that scene 10 times and from different camera angles. I have to go from operating at that level to complete disengaging. I’ve been doing this since I was 14 and you get quite good at switching off and going into hibernation mode. I feel I had an easier time than some of my friends at dealing with isolation.
You recently had a small part in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. How was that experience?
I’m a huge fan of her. It was wonderful to witness how she puts things together and what she chooses to focus on. So often in her films, the camera is at a very low angle, and her cinematographer [Christopher Blauvelt] is this really tall guy and she’s petite. Whenever she sets the shot, it would be four feet below where [his POV] was. But this creates a more intimate vantage point — closer to the earth and the heart of the people.
Is there any movie of yours you feel didn’t get a fair shake?
A long time ago I did a film with Harmony Korine, Julien Donkey-Boy . At the time it played in a couple of cinemas in each coast, maybe for a week. It was very disappointing. It had been such an intense experience making it, it felt like a year of your life was gone in a weekend. Nobody cared. Since then, plenty of young people have come up to me to talk about it. For them, it’s a seminal film.
You’ve worked with Bong Joon Ho, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle and others. Can you single out a director who got something from you that you didn’t know you were capable of?
Mike Leigh. He was the first person to break through my limitations as an actor [Naked, 1992].
How often does Trainspotting come up?
Sometimes it comes up every day, other times I can forget about it for months. I feel fortunate. I don’t feel any frustration from being known for that film. It opened doors for me to get to work with good filmmakers and have access to interesting parts. A lot of people find it hard to see me as anything else other than that character, but as I get older I’m getting more opportunities.
As a viewer, Trainspotting is a movie that comes back into my life regularly. Right now, I’m expecting my first child, and I keep thinking about the baby in the movie. I don’t want to be a terrible father.
When T2: Trainspotting came out, I was at the premiere in Edinburgh. There was a party after the screening. These two twins came to say hello, they were like 21 years old and introduced themselves: “We were the baby!” [laughs]. Really nice people. That fear that you have is good, because that’s your sense of responsibility kicking in. It will always keep you from being that negligent parent.