March 28, 2023
"28 days later" at 20: Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy explain why it wouldn't be made today

“28 days later” at 20: Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy explain why it wouldn’t be made today

A a skinny guy in a medical gown meanders across an empty Westminster Bridge; scattered litter, the only remnant of civilization like Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s doom track “East Hastings” plays in the background. No, this is not a confinement scene. These are the first moments of Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece 28 days laterfirst published 20 years ago this week.

“I knew right away that the movie was something very special,” says Boyle NME by video call two months earlier. “I remember reading the first ten pages of [Alex Garland’s script]thinking ‘This is great.’

“It was like a quarter page,” he continues, cheerfully recounting his first impressions of the story. “‘He’s walking around London alone’ and you just thought ‘Oh my God!’ What a brilliant idea: a deserted London. It actually came to haunt us [since COVID]. We complain about overcrowding [cities] are and on stress, then in an instant, life as we know it in so many, many different forms can drain them.

The film stars Cillian Murphy as Jim, who wakes up from a coma four weeks after a dangerous virus rages across the country – turning swaths of the population into murderous, red-eyed zombies. After this atmospheric introduction to London, Jim travels to Manchester with fellow survivors Selena (Naomie Harris), Hannah (Megan Burns), and Frank (Brendan Gleeson). They are promised treatment via a military broadcast, but Major Henry’s (Christopher Eccleston) ulterior motives are soon exposed, leading to a fierce game of cat and mouse. Budget less than £7 million, 28 days later made over £73m at the box office – a massive hit.

For Murphy, who had spent the previous five years making independent Irish shorts and films, success came at just the right time. “It opened doors for me,” he says on Zoom, while making himself a cup of tea. “I managed to have appointments. I met Christopher Nolan through that, so that was huge for me. Murphy and Nolan would go on to collaborate on six more films together, including batman begins, Creation and the next Oppenheimer – but he says he will always remember his big break.

“Jim was written in English – and I had a terrible London accent [in the audition]recalls the Cork-born star. “It wasn’t really a connection, but Danny kept asking me to come back, which was really nice.

(LR) Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris. CREDIT: Alamy

“I was in awe of Danny, having grown up on [his films Shallow Grave and Trainspotting], you know, before I was an actor. Then they said ‘just play him Irish’ and when I played him Irish I kind of unlocked something.

After that, it got a lot easier for Murphy — or harder, depending on how you look at it. For much of his time on the project, Murphy describes “hundreds” of flesh-eating brutes – ragged extras and gruesome makeup – “girdling” him through different ensembles.

“The world changed after [we finished shooting] because of the terrorist attack of September 11,” he continues. “We would never have had access to Westminster Bridge, put a fucking bus there by number 10 [Downing Street] now. We had full access. It would never happen now. That time is over.

28 days later
During the iconic opening scene on Westminster Bridge. CREDIT: Alamy

Boyle agrees: “Downtown security was almost unrecognizably relaxed compared to what you’ll understand as downtown security now. That changed over the millennia and we took advantage of the decision to shoot those early July mornings. »

He adds, “We hired all these girls to be traffic cops. One of them was my daughter who was 19 at the time and they were like, ‘Would you just wait here? We’re making a movie…’ It’s just weird the way it worked out.

It wasn’t just the real world that was about to change. Consciously distancing himself from zombie tropes, Boyle ushered in a whole new breed of rabid, seething dog ghouls, spitting blood from their eyes and mouths while running after their victims. It was far from night of the living dead the brewers people were used to.

The ’28 Days Later’ zombies were a departure from previous versions. CREDIT: Alamy

But who would play these radical monsters? “We wanted [the extras] being athletes, with almost superhuman running abilities, so there was no running away from them,” says Boyle. “We hired a bunch of ex-athletes to play a lot of infected, so we had this power in them that was really quite scary.

“[I was interested in] that moment of incandescent murderous fury that you have when you’re driving a car and you lose it,” he adds. “Plus, there’s a streak in your agony [when you have rabies] where you get this weird thing [scientists] don’t understand what is called “hydrophobia”, which is a fear of water.

“[We had] 1930s photos of people dying of rabies, and they’re approached with a bowl of water and the expression on their face when they see that water is absolutely terrified.

Danny Boyle
Director Danny Boyle in 2002. CREDIT: Alamy

Jtwo lucrative decades (think Slumdog Millionairethe glory of the Oscars and the Peaky Blinders phenomenon) and a sequel later – 28 weeks later came out in 2007 with Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo taking the reins – could the two original actors be tempted to return to complete a trilogy?

“I think there’s a problem with that, in that I’m 20 years older…” laughed Murphy. “But whenever I meet Danny or Alex, I always mention him. Because I showed it to my kids recently, on Halloween about four or five years ago, and they loved it. It really holds up, which is amazing for a movie that’s 20 years old. So yes, I love the idea and I really like it.

Boyle, who recently gave us a series of Sex Pistols biopics, teases how Garland wrote 28 months later a few years ago with “a beautiful idea” at the center of it. “I would be very tempted [to direct it]. It really is a great time. It’s funny, I hadn’t thought of it until you said it, and I remembered ‘Bang, that script!’ which again takes place in England, a lot about England. Anyway, we’ll see… who knows?

“It might come back into the limelight because one of the things that’s going on in the business right now is that it must be a big reason for you to go to the cinema because there’s less and less less reasons. It’s hard for companies that distribute movies and for movie chains to show movies, they have a hard time getting people to come to theaters unless it’s something like Top Gun: Maverick or a miracle. But a third party would attract people, if it was half decent. We would be there in a heartbeat.

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