Arts: A cast more extraordinary

Forget Eton, Cambridge, Rada. The class of 'Trainspotting' are graduating top of them all. By Daniel Rosenthal

At the beginning of 1995, the names Macdonald, Hodge and Boyle meant nothing to British cinemagoers. For all we knew back then, they might have been a firm of solicitors. But that was before they gave us Shallow Grave. And Trainspotting.

Today, the two Scotsmen, producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge, and Manchester-born director Danny Boyle - let's call them MacHoyle for short - have emerged as the British film industry's holy trinity.

With their third collaboration, A Life Less Ordinary, about to be released, they are viewed as standard-bearers for an advancing brigade of home-grown film makers whose hip and comparatively low-budget work stands a good chance of giving Hollywood a run for its money at box offices worldwide. Small wonder that Screen International magazine places the trio at number three on its list of Britain's 10 most powerful movie "players".

Shallow Grave, the chillingly comic tale of three Edinburgh flatmates driven to murderous self-destruction by a suitcase of money won the Bafta for best British film and took pounds 5m here. Trainspotting, MacHoyle's bleak and hilarious vision of Edinburgh heroin addicts, adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel, clocked up pounds 12m at home, and twice as much abroad. The soundtrack went multi-platinum.

For A Life Less Ordinary, the team has moved from Auld Reekie to Utah to produce a lighter, less visceral movie, a romantic fable about a hapless Scottish janitor (Ewan McGregor), the millionaire's daughter he kidnaps (Cameron Diaz), and the angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) who try to make the pair fall in love.

McGregor, so good as the cocky journalist Alex in Shallow Grave, symbolises "the Trainspotting effect", which has done wonders for the careers of the five cast members who peered and sneered at the world from a zillion advertising hoardings. Every month seems to bring a new film, TV drama or play featuring Kelly Macdonald (Diane), Ewen Bremner (Spud), Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy), Robert Carlyle (Begbie) or McGregor (Renton). But as their profiles rise they are all steering clear of Trainspotting clones; there hasn't been another festering bedsit or bloody hypodermic in sight.

There's not much to say about 21-year-old Macdonald's pre-Trainspotting CV because she doesn't have one. She was working at a Glasgow pub when, without so much as a second shepherd in a nativity play to her credit, she auditioned for Diane. Since her schoolgirl seduction of Renton, she's had two equally rough-edged parts: a child-abuse victim in the 1996 Screen Two drama, Flowers of the Forest, and a prostitute in the forthcoming Stella Does Tricks. Her stage debut came as a sexually pliant American hitch-hiker in Hurlyburly, at the Old Vic in March; and her first period role, in a film of Balzac's Cousine Bette, and an appearance opposite Colin Firth in Hugh Hudson's Scottish coming-of-age drama, My Life So Far, are already in the can.

Bremner played Renton in the London stage version of Trainspotting. His jittery performance as Spud in the film has led to roles in forthcoming films of two other recent hit plays: Jez Butterworth's Mojo and Simon Donald's The Life of Stuff.

Miller, the only Sassenach in the quintet, was the American hero of Iain Softley's computer-nerds-are-sexy thriller, Hackers; he married his co- star, Angelina Jolie (daughter of Jon Voigt). Variety has praised his "controlled, intense" officer in the film of Pat Barker's novel Regeneration (out in March), and he is currently shooting Plunkett and Macleane, an action adventure about 18th-century highwaymen. Miller is Macleane; Plunkett is played by Robert Carlyle.

After the psychotic Liverpool fan in Cracker, Linus Roache's gay lover in Priest and the eponymous Highland bobby in Hamish Macbeth, Carlyle's sly grin and wiry frame were familiar before Trainspotting. His ability to act vulnerable or vicious in whatever accent is required is currently shown to full effect in The Full Monty (Sheffield male stripper) and Face (Cockney hood).

Look up "ubiquitous" in the next edition of the OED and it will probably say "Ewan McGregor". Since Trainspotting, the 26-year-old, whom Boyle has likened to "the guy next door", has climbed to number nine on the Screen International chart on the back of Emma, Brassed Off, The Pillow Book and the forthcoming thriller Nightwatch. But if you think he's famous now, just wait until we see him as the young Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.

Come the year 2000, posters of the wet T-shirted Renton will still hang in 10,000 student bedrooms, and George Lucas's merchandising boys are sure to guarantee that young Obi Wan will appear on children's lunch boxes and duvet covers from Kansas to Kyoto. By his 30th birthday, McGregor will be a movie icon for twentysomethings and under-10s. Some guy next door.

'A Life Less Ordinary' (15) is released on 24 Oct.

ROBERT CARLYLE

Begbie

'Priest' (1995), 'Carla's Song' (1996)

'The Full Monty' (above; 1997)

'Face' (1997)

'Plunkett and Macleane' (forthcoming)

KELLY MACDONALD

Diane

'Flowers of the Forest' (1996)

'Stella Does Tricks' (above; forthcoming)

'Cousine Bette' (in the can)

'My Life So Far' (in the can)

JONNY LEE MILLER

Sick Boy

'Hackers' (1996)

'Regeneration' (above; forthcoming)

'Plunkett and Macleane' (forthcoming)

EWEN BREMNER

Spud

'Trainspotting', the stage play (1995)

'Mojo' (forthcoming)

'The Life of Stuff' (forthcoming)

'The Acid House' (forthcoming)

EWAN MCGREGOR

Renton

'Emma' (1996), 'The Pillow Book' (1996)

'Brassed Off' (1996)

'A Life Less Ordinary' (1997; above)

'Star Wars' (to come)

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