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15 Addictive Facts About Trainspotting

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Twenty years ago, a young Scottish actor named Ewan McGregor careened onto the movie screen, daring viewers to “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f***ing big television.” This was just the beginning of McGregor’s star-making turn in Trainspotting, a darkly comic yet harrowing tale of five heroin-addicted friends. To properly mark the film’s two-decade anniversary and prepare you for next year's sequel, here are 15 facts about the film that might make you feel less queasy about the “worst toilet in Scotland.” But only slightly.

1. EWAN MCGREGOR LOST 26 POUNDS FOR THE PART.

In order to look the part of a heroin addict, Ewan McGregor lost 26 pounds. And his diet was surprisingly simple. “I grilled everything, and stopped drinking beer,” he told Neon magazine. “I drank wine and lots of gin instead. The weight just falls off.”

2. KELLY MACDONALD LANDED THE ROLE OF DIANE BY RESPONDING TO A FLYER.

When Kelly Macdonald was cast as Diane, the teenage schoolgirl Renton follows home from a nightclub, she had never acted in a movie. She was just a 19-year-old waitress who spied an opportunity. Since director Danny Boyle wanted an unknown for the part, he sent the production crew through the streets of Glasgow with flyers encouraging girls to come out for a casting call. Macdonald happened upon one of the flyers in her restaurant, and after a few callbacks, the part was hers.

3. ROBERT CARLYLE CREATED A DETAILED BACKSTORY FOR BEGBIE.

Begbie’s defining quality is his rage—once he gets going, it’s kind of unstoppable. Robert Carlyle created an explanation for his character’s anger issues: he was a closeted gay man. In a 2009 interview with BAFTA, Carlyle made his case, citing the scene where Begbie accidentally picks up a trans woman: “He picks up the transsexual in the nightclub and there’s the scene in the car where he puts his hands between the trousers and finds out it’s the real deal. Now why doesn’t he just kill this person? He kills everybody else, why doesn’t he do that? He gets frightened of it and backs away. Back at the flat, Begbie reacts to Renton winding him up about it and says, ‘Don’t you ever mention that again or you’re dead.’ I thought, ‘That’s interesting, that’s really too strong.’”

4. JONNY LEE MILLER HAS A REAL-LIFE JAMES BOND CONNECTION.

In the film, Jonny Lee Miller’s character, Sick Boy, is a major 007 fan. Appropriately, the actor himself has family ties to the franchise. Miller’s grandfather was Bernard Lee, the original M. Here he is in From Russia with Love, ushering in Q to demo a weaponized briefcase.

5. MCGREGOR DID A LOT OF RESEARCH FOR THE ROLE.

To prepare for the movie, McGregor read several books on crack and heroin addiction and spoke with members of the Calton Athletic Recovery Group (who served as consultants for the movie). Along with some of his costars, he even attended “cookery” classes hosted by the Calton crew, who used glucose powder in place of the real thing. But McGregor almost took his research to extremes. As he noted in Neon, “I thought about actually taking heroin—and the more research I did, the less I wanted to do it. I’ve had to die on screen before, and I don’t know what that’s like either. I’m not a Method actor at all, so to take heroin for the part would just be an excuse to take heroin, really. So I didn’t.”

6. A GROUP OF EX-ADDICTS HAD CAMEOS AS SOCCER PLAYERS.

The Calton Athletic Recovery Group didn’t just work behind the scenes. Five of its members appear in that “choose life” chase scene, as the soccer team playing Renton and his friends.

7. MACDONALD WAS DRUNK ON HER FIRST DAY OF FILMING.

Macdonald was excited but a bit overwhelmed by her first movie gig, and it led to a near-disastrous first day. As she recalled to Vice: “I think it was my first day filming. It was a whole day and night shoot. All the boys were quite naughty and were drinking, so I was drinking. I'd been in the pub for hours with various people who weren't filming scenes, and Shirley Henderson [who played Gail] said, 'You might want to stop drinking.’ She was totally right. I think I was actually hungover by the time I did the scene. I didn't know how to stand on a marker, I was all over the place, and I didn't know how it all worked.” Unfortunately for Macdonald, it got only worse. “The sex scene was quite nerve-racking … I was so unthinking and so naive and young that that was the day I invited my mom and my brother to the set.”

8. THE SEX SCENE WAS CUT DOWN IN AMERICA.

When Trainspotting made its way overseas, it apparently lost a few frames from the sex scene between Renton and Diane. Boyle didn’t notice because he never watched any of the U.S. screenings in full, but McGregor trashed the decision in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The American censors cut a few seconds from the movie, from a scene between me and Kelly [Macdonald]. It was a sex scene, which her character was obviously enjoying. They obviously didn't like the idea of a young girl having enjoyable sex, whereas the shooting up and violence was acceptable to them. That's crazy to me."

9. A PROSTHETIC ARM WAS USED FOR CLOSE-UPS.

That wasn’t McGregor’s arm in the many close-ups of Renton shooting up. The props team took a mold of the actor’s arm instead and created a prosthetic with a plastic pipeline of fake blood, so it would bleed upon injection.

10. THE VOLCANO NIGHTCLUB IS A COPY OF THE MILK BAR FROM A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Boyle asked his cast to watch films including Goodfellas, A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist, and The Hustler prior to production. But one of those movies is more obviously tied to Trainspotting than the others. As a nod to A Clockwork Orange, Boyle modeled the Volcano nightclub on the Korova Milk Bar. This is apparent in the nearly identical writing on the walls. Boyle snuck another Clockwork Orange reference into this scene, only it’s tied to the Anthony Burgess novel. Listen closely to the clip above and you’ll hear the song “Temptation” by Heaven 17, a band explicitly named after a fake band in Burgess’ book.

11. THE WORST TOILET IN SCOTLAND SCENE WAS FILMED WITH CHOCOLATE MOUSSE.

The infamous “worst toilet in Scotland” scene is a horror to behold, but it was much less disturbing on set. To create the ghastly bathroom stall, Boyle’s props team simply smeared the toilet with copious amounts of chocolate mousse. This trick apparently stayed with him; in Danny Boyle: In His Own Words, the director revealed that he used the same stuff (plus crunchy peanut butter) for a similar scene in Slumdog Millionaire.

12. RENTON REFERENCES MARGARET THATCHER.

When Renton moves to London, he says in a voiceover, “There was no such thing as society, and even if there was, I most certainly had nothing to do with it.” This is a jab at former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was widely derided in 1987 for observing that “there is no such thing as society.” (Full context here.)

13. THE OVERDOSE SCENE WAS ACHIEVED WITH A TRAP DOOR.

When Renton overdoses at Mother Superior’s, he seemingly sinks several feet into the carpet. This effect was created by a bit of low-budget ingenuity: The crew simply slipped McGregor through a platform with a trap door.

14. IRVINE WELSH APPEARED AS RENTON’S DRUG DEALER.

Irvine Welsh, who wrote the novel Trainspotting, also got a moment in front of the camera in its adaptation. He played Mikey Forrester, Renton’s hapless drug dealer who gives him those fateful suppositories.

15. BOB DOLE CONDEMNED THE MOVIE.

Trainspotting was a huge critical and commercial success. But every movie has its detractors, and for this film, its biggest critic was Bob Dole. While speaking to a school in downtown Los Angeles, the presidential candidate blasted Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction for promoting “the romance of heroin.” This might seem like an odd assessment to anyone who’s watched Trainspotting, which Dole had not. His press secretary later clarified that Dole had not actually seen the movies, but based his critique on reviews he had read.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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12 Facts About the Smithsonian's Collections
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With 19 museums spread along the East Coast, the Smithsonian Institution has become the country’s richest repository of American history. From culture to science, zoos to space exploration, the federally-backed archive has spent nearly 200 years preserving and educating. Check out some facts on its history, how a new species of dolphin was found hiding in its archives, and how the founder eventually became part of the collection.

1. ITS FOUNDER NEVER SET FOOT IN THE STATES.

Wealthy British globe-trotter James Smithson (1765-1829) had acquired an estate worth roughly $500,000 at the time of his death and ordered that all of his assets be inherited by his nephew, Henry James Dickinson. There was one twist: The estate was to be turned over to the United States in the event Dickinson died without an heir of his own so the country could build a hub for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Henry, then 18, died just six years later, and so President James Polk signed the act approving the Smithsonian Institution into law in 1846. Curiously, Smithson had never even visited the U.S. Why leave such a legacy to a foreign nation? Smithson never commented on his decision, leaving people to guess that it was either because he was impressed by democracy or because he wanted to enrich a country that, at the time, had only a few educational hubs.

2. NO ONE WAS REALLY SURE WHAT SMITHSON WANTED.

A portrait of James Smithson

“Increase and diffusion of knowledge” can be interpreted pretty broadly, and it took the United States a long time—roughly 10 years—before anyone could agree on what to do with Smithson’s gift. Educators, politicians, and civilians all had a unique notion of how to spend his fortune, including opening a university, a library, or an observatory. Ultimately, the Smithsonian Institution was a compromise, involving many of these ideas. By 1855, construction on the main building was complete at the National Mall in Washington; it was designated as a National Museum in 1858 [PDF].

3. THEY HAD TO HIDE THEIR COLLECTION FROM AXIS FORCES.

At the height of U.S. involvement in World War II, museum curators knew that Axis forces would have designs on destroying the vibrant culture housed at the museum’s main location at the National Mall. To protect these irreplaceable items, the Smithsonian arranged to have them shipped to an undisclosed location—now known to be near Luray, Virginia—and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. They didn’t return until 1944.

4. SMOKEY BEAR LIVED AT THEIR ZOO.

Smokey Bear takes a bath at the National Zoo

Yes, that Smokey Bear. (And there’s no “the” in his name.) In 1950, a bear cub that survived a raging forest fire in Capitan, New Mexico, was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service and named Smokey after the popular ad campaign mascot of the era. As a living symbol of the effort, he spent his remaining 26 years at the National Zoo, a constant recipient of visitor attention and hundreds of jars of honey.

5. THEY DISPLAY JUST ONE PERCENT OF THEIR COLLECTION.

In order to execute Smithson’s mission statement, the Smithsonian has had to morph into the greatest display of hoarding the world has ever seen. All told, the Institution’s various artifacts, specimens, and other arcana is believed to number in the neighborhood of 137 million, with an official museum estimate of 154 million. Just 1 percent of that is available for viewing at any given time.

6. ONE CATEGORY IS USUALLY OFF-LIMITS FOR VIEWING.

17th century human remains found in Jamestown, Virginia

Evolving public attitudes over the decades have prompted the Smithsonian to be very wary of displaying human remains. While they’ve collected everything from shrunken heads to the “soap man”—a corpse whose body turned to a soap-like substance thanks to a chemical reaction to soil—most of it remains out of public view.

7. AN EXHIBIT ON NUCLEAR WAR STIRRED CONTROVERSY.

For a planned exhibit of the Enola Gay, the bomber plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, museum organizers drew criticism in 1994 for presenting material that some veterans groups and members of Congress felt was politically charged. The museum agreed to omit text near the display that some felt dwelled on the horrific effects of the bomb, as well as references estimating the U.S. and rival casualties that might have been suffered if the bomb had not been deployed.

8. THE WEIRDEST ITEM THEY’VE CATALOGED IS A CRAPPY VIDEO GAME.

The box art for the Atari 2600 game E.T.

Amidst many internet lists of strange Smithsonian catalog items—taxidermied animals, beards, and other miscellanea—nothing seems more incongruous than the 2014 inclusion of a 1982 Atari video game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Renowned for being produced quickly and for helping to fuel the video game crash of the early 1980s, supplies of the cartridge were buried in a New Mexico landfill and only recently excavated. One went into the museum's archives.

9. THEY TURNED DOWN JIMMY DURANTE’S NOSE.

In the 1950s, actor and comedian Jimmy Durante was easily identified by his bulbous nose, a three-inch-long (from bridge to tip) feature that led to his nickname, “the Great Schnozzola.” Sensing a publicity opportunity, Durante’s management arranged for a makeup artist to create a plaster cast of Durante’s nose and offer it up to the Smithsonian as a piece of Americana. Frank Setzler, the museum’s head of anthropology was unimpressed. “Heavens, no,” he was quoted as saying. “Who would want that? The only place we could use it would be in the elephant display.”

10. AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES OF DOLPHIN WAS LURKING IN THEIR INVENTORY.

A dolphin skull from a recently-discovered species

With so many specimens, the bowels of the Smithsonian almost certainly harbor secrets that can surprise even scientists. In 2016, two researchers in search of fossilized marine mammals stumbled across the skull of a 25-million-year-old river dolphin they named Arktocara yakataga. Said to have been found in Alaska, the dolphin may have dwelled in the Arctic. It was estimated that the skull—plucked from obscurity because one of the researchers found it “cute”—sat on the shelf for 50 years before being identified.

11. THEY’RE COMMITTED TO PRESERVING DOROTHY’S SLIPPERS.

Possibly the most iconic pair of footwear in pop culture, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz have become a Smithsonian trademark. In 2016, the Institution successfully raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter to build a state-of-the-art preservation case to protect the kicks from deterioration. While star Judy Garland wore several pairs during filming and the Smithsonian’s are mismatched, it’s clear that visitors want to keep them in condition for any future travels along the yellow brick road.

12. SMITHSON EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF THE COLLECTION.

James Smithson's final resting place within the walls of the Smithsonian

In 1904, some 75 years after his death in Italy, Smithson’s remains were about to be disturbed. U.S. Smithsonian officials were alerted that his grave site would be displaced because of a nearby stone quarry expansion. The Institution took the opportunity to have his casket shipped to America so he could be interred at the site of his legacy—the Smithsonian itself. Escorted by Alexander Graham Bell, the casket traveled 14 days by sea. The body was entombed and topped off by a marker in the Smithsonian, where it remains viewable by the general public.

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