July 28, 2012 / 9:00 PM / in 5 years

Danny Boyle shifts from drug dens to royal court

LONDON (Reuters) - Danny Boyle stunned the world with his spectacular Olympics opening ceremony but the Hollywood-feted filmmaker has won over his own country and enhanced his place among the nation’s cultural elite with his unpretentious approach to life.

Danny Boyle, the director of the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony reacts during the ceremony at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Boyle, 55, was initially considered an odd choice to devise the ceremony that would showcase Britain to the world and set the tone for the 2012 Games.

After all, he had shot to fame with the stark 1996 film “Trainspotting” with its gritty portrayal of heroin addicts in working-class Edinburgh and an unforgettable Ewan McGregor diving into a filthy toilet to retrieve drugs.

His rags-to-riches movie “Slumdog Millionaire”, which won him an Oscar in 2008, also depicted the harsh reality of life, with graphic images of Indian street children woven into an upbeat story about an underdog beating the odds.

But Olympics organizers insisted Boyle’s experience, energy, passion for England and unusual vision made him the perfect man for the job. They were proved right.

Boyle’s 27 million pound ($42 million) extravaganza was acclaimed internationally for highlighting the essence of Britain by mixing history, culture and humor in a technically stunning show.

It was tough to follow the extravagant opening ceremony by Beijing four years ago but Boyle pulled it off.

As with his movies, he used a frenzied, high energy and compulsive soundtrack during the opening ceremony, deploying self-deprecating humor to highlight Britain’s quirkiness with fake clouds, dancing nurses and neon doves on bikes.

But his coup of the evening was starring Queen Elizabeth in a film with James Bond actor Daniel Craig, with this link to royalty cementing the position of the independent filmmaker unfazed by Hollywood glitz in the top echelons of British popular culture.

QUEEN‘S FRIEND

Boyle has modestly played down his role in the Olympics, saying his part was just the warm-up for the main show -- the athletes -- while praising the thousands of volunteer performers. His volunteers have in turn praised him, amazed at his down-to-earth manner as he chatted with them all.

Despite much media scrutiny by a harsh British press, no one has stepped forward to say a bad word about Boyle who has discarded a religious upbringing along the way but talks about the values and work ethic he derived from his working class background in northern England.

He said at the Olympics he wanted to give back to Britain and to London and included workers, unions, and hospital staff in the show as they are so important to the country.

“This country and this city ... has given me everything I’ve got in my life, apart from my upbringing which was in Manchester and the values I got from that,” he told reporters.

Danny Boyle, director of the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, speaks before the start of the ceremony at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

“In terms of opportunities I’ve had in my life, this city, which I‘m very proud to live in, has given me everything.”

Boyle was born into a working-class Catholic family with Irish parents in Radcliffe in Greater Manchester where he recalls growing up going to the cinema.

After being an altar boy, he considered becoming a priest but instead went to university to study English.

Boyle has said he had never been in a theatre until he was 18 but it seemed an easier way to get into the arts so he left university without completing his degree to join London’s Joint Stock Theatre Company, known for cutting-edge plays.

From there in 1982 he joined the Royal Court Theatre in London as artistic director and also directed five productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1987 he began directing for television, making TV films and serials.

But his break into movies came in 1994 with “Shallow Grave”, a darkly humorous thriller about three friends who find their roommate dead and loaded with cash. It was a hit in Britain and won several European film festival awards.

“Trainspotting” two years later brought Boyle fame and was credited with changing the image of British cinema which was more known for its lavish, literary film productions.

But despite finding fame, Boyle wasn’t dazzled by the bright lights of Hollywood. He turned down several high-profile offers -- including a chance to direct a film in the “Alien” series -- to concentrate on his own work.

He brought out “A Life Less Ordinary” in 1997, a romantic comedy but it did have the same success as his earlier films.

A foray into Hollywood in 2000 with “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio about an American looking for a secret island in Thailand inhabited by marijuana farmers, stumbled.

His career took an unexpected turn with a sci-fi horror movie, “28 Days Later” in 2002 about a deadly virus spread by chimpanzees and he moved into full sci-fi mode in 2007 with “Sunshine” which failed to impress at the box office.

But he made his mark again in 2008 with “Slumdog Millionaire” which was rewarded with eight Oscars.

Since then he can do no wrong with high praise for his 2010 movie “127 Hours” about mountain climber Aron Ralston who severs his own hand to free himself after getting trapped by a boulder.

Last year Boyle returned to the theatre with rave reviews for his version of “Frankenstein” at the National Theatre.

Now his Olympics showpiece has won him plaudits across Britain -- and a flurry of bets that he will be knighted by the queen in the New Year Honours List.

Editing by Jason Neely

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