After 1994’s Shallow Grave, 1996’s Trainspotting, and 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary, Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor must have thought this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But they didn’t work together again until this year’s T2: Trainspotting. So, what happened? The Beach happened.
Based on Alex Garland’s book of the same name (he would later write and direct Ex Machina), The Beach is probably best known as the other ocean-set Leonardo DiCaprio movie. But it also ruined Boyle and McGregor’s working relationship and friendship for nearly 20 years. McGregor was originally set to play main character Richard, but the role eventually went to DiCaprio who was, thanks to Titanic, a much bigger star. (He still is, but Ewan McGregor is playing twin brothers in the new season of Fargo, so he wins.) Speaking on The Graham Norton Show, Boyle expressed regret for the casting decision.
“I handled it very badly and I’ve apologized to Ewan. I feel a great shame about it that is difficult to explain,” he said. “He handled it with enormous grace and courage. Someone asked him to present an award to me for Slumdog Millionaire and he did it and made this amazing speech and I was in tears backstage.” McGregor added, “It was a misunderstanding and a mishandling of a situation. It’s a big regret of mine that it went on for so long and a real shame we didn’t work together all those years. I had been in Danny’s first three films and then I wasn’t asked to be in his fourth — The Beach — but it wasn’t really about the film, it was about our friendship.”
No one’s happier that it took this long for McGregor and Boyle to make nice than James Franco, who might not have been cast in 127 Hours (and subsequently been nominated for an Oscar) if Obi-Wan Kenobi was available. It would have been a much shorter movie, though: boulders are no match for a good lightsaber.