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15 Facts About Trainspotting

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In 1996, 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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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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iStock
The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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iStock

Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare

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