LONDON — British director Danny Boyle calls his new R-rated thriller "Trance" the "mad bad relative" of the crowd-pleasing opening ceremony he produced for the Olympics last summer. And he admits "Trance" served as sort of an exorcism that helped him get in touch with his dark side while working on the summer spectacular.
"It kept us sane," Boyle said of his work on "Trance." ''It was like the night version that you were able to escape to, because the other job is like a family-friendly, national celebration. But then there's the other side of every personality — and ("Trance") is it."
The widely acclaimed ceremony made Boyle something of a national hero in the U.K., but "Trance" co-star James McAvoy says the director had long ago achieved that status in the film world.
"He was kind of a national hero to us anyway, people in the industry and the artistic community," the Scottish actor said. "But after the Olympics, man, he gave such an amazing gift to everybody, a real celebration of what it is to be British."
Boyle's latest gift, the London-set "Trance," follows his Oscar-winning Indian romance "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) and Academy Award-nominated survival drama "127 Hours" (2010). Boyle's first notable film, 1996's "Trainspotting," remains a cult favorite.
"Trance," which opened Friday in the U.S., starts out as an art heist gone wrong. McAvoy's art auctioneer character is the only one who knows the whereabouts of a prized stolen painting — that is, until an injury causes him to forget where it is. With a gaggle of gangsters on his back, led by French actor Vincent Cassel, the auctioneer resorts to hypnosis in the hope of unlocking his memory. Then things get a little strange.
Boyle says to him, the appeal of this project was to make his first film with a woman at the center, a role taken on by Rosario Dawson as the hypnotherapist, who also serves to pull the audience in deeper and deeper.
"I believe in film as hypnotism anyway," Boyle explained. "Every film you make, you want it to be hypnotic, to mesmerize."
"To make a film like this — which is basically a series of trances really — that deepen and lure you into this illusion where you've no idea whether it's perception or reality or what it is — I love that kind of mystery," the director said. "It's a psychological thriller, it's a puzzle of their own making. Those are the kind of ingredients I've always loved in films."
Casting a movie can be "a bit of a dance," Boyle says, but he particularly liked that there are three compelling characters in "Trance" and the audience can't decide until the end of the film who is really the lead.
Plus, he says he wanted to play on the audience's expectations about the cast, with McAvoy as the good guy, Cassel the bad guy and Dawson the femme fatale — or not.
"It's lovely to be able to use, not just three fantastic actors, but for them to parade their kind of stereotype as part of the ammunition of a film and then twist it away from you — I love that," Boyle said.