Tackling only his second feature project as director, Scottish filmmaker Jon S. Baird decided to aim for the sky and the gutter simultaneously, adapting the hilarious, profane and disturbing novel, Filth, by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.
Jon S. Baird is feeling a bit out of sorts when we speak to him, having just jumped off a long-haul flight. “I just got back from India so my head’s a bit up my bum at the moment with jetlag and stuff,” he explains in his thick Scots accent. “But I’m strugglin’ through.” He is, however, keen as mustard to talk about his latest film. “I always find this a good way to get your head back in focus, y’know?”
Filth the novel is a deliberately offensive and obtuse book, detailing the downward spiral of Bruce Robertson, a monstrously selfish and cruel Edinburgh cop, as he pursues both the perpetrator of a savage murder and his own perverted gratification. At the time of publication it seemed like author Irvine Welsh’s concerted attempt to alienate the literati who had elevated him following the success of Trainspotting and, to a lesser extent, Maribou Stork Nightmares. This didn’t intimidate Baird at all.
“They said it was an unfilmable novel and I thought, ‘Ah, a challenge! I don’t think it is. I think there’s a way to do this.’” he recalls. “That’s the bottom line. I just always felt that it was his best book. I always felt it was the best and the most intriguing and the most complex and it had the best potential – that’s what I felt, anyway. And Irvine certainly feels that Filth is in his top two books – he won’t tell me what the other one is, though! I remember I bought it the day it came out and it was the first book of Irvine’s I’d read, so I’d read it before Trainspotting. I thought this character, Bruce Robertson, would make an incredibly complex antihero if handled the right way.”
He also insists that the success of Trainspotting the movie, which put director Danny Boyle as well as actors Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlysle and more on the map, did not give him pause. “ I never really thought about it too much. You get an author like Stephen King who has had so many different novels adapted, many different kinds of novels and many different kinds of movies and I just felt that I couldn’t concentrate on the other films, whether people like ‘em or don’t like ‘em; I just have to do what I want to do. So that was kind of it, you know?”
Indeed, even the process of adapting the novel into screenplay form didn’t faze him, although he admits to some heartbreak once the filmed scenes were assembled in the editing suite. “There were two massive scenes from the book that we actually shot that didn’t make the film and that was more heart wrenching. I got everything that I loved from the book into the script and we shot it all. I amalgamated characters, places and storylines and it was very tough to do, because you’re condensing a 300 page novel into a 90 minute film so it’s a difficult thing whatever the book is, but what was more difficult was the edit and getting rid of the scenes that we shot that I really liked but knew couldn’t stay in the film.”