Rising national and film stars Christian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald play longtime friends apparently destined to go their separate ways and decide to make one last night’s visit to an illegal gathering.
Based on Kieran Hurley’s solo piece originally shown at the Glasgow Arches, Brian Welsh’s film is set in 1994, against the backdrop of the then Conservative government’s crackdown on the “free party movement” and underground rave culture across the UK.
Much of the film, which wrapped up the Glasgow Film Festival last month, centers on the “platonic love” between the characters Johnno and Spanner, two teenagers from a working-class West Lothian housing estate, are played Ortega and Macdonald. , true lifelong friends who met while studying at the Royal Scottish Conservatory.
Ortega was invited to audition for the role of Johnno while touring with the National Theater of Scotland in the United States after Macdonald spent weeks prepping for the role, only to be told he was better suitable as a Spanner.
Shot in black and white and set to a soundtrack overseen by Scottish clubbing pioneer JD Twitch, Beats has obvious echoes with Trainspotting, most notably in 1994 – between the release of Irvine Welsh’s novel and the Danny Boyle film – and the cultural revolution which swept through Great Britain during the birth of “New Labor” and “Cool Britannia”.
Macdonald had also just finished playing Mark Renton, the role played by Ewan McGregor onscreen, in a stage production of Trainspotting in 2017, when he saw a tweet from Ken Loach’s Sixteen Films company looking for young people. actors to audition for Beats, which releases May 17. .
Macdonald, who plays Spanner, said, âIt’s a friendship story, but for me it’s definitely a love story. That’s how I looked at it when we did it. These characters absolutely need each other, but especially Spanner. Her life without Johnno is very sad. Spanner is just your typical lovable thug.
âHe is caught between the idea of ââwhat masculinity is and what is expected of him as a member of a fairly sophisticated family, and being a deeply honorable, sensitive and vulnerable young man. The whole world is against him except Johnno, who sees him for who he is. He’ll keep this as long as he can.
Ortega, 28, said: âBasically it’s a platonic love story between these two friends, against a political background, as times change. What I really like about it is the personal collision with the political.
âJohnno is like the perfect distillation of adolescent angst and fear of not fitting in and not knowing your place in the world.
âThe reason they’re so close is that Spanner has a lot more heart and is just going to come out and explode, while Johnno is quite often trapped in his own head. Being led by Spanner in his crazy plans turns out to be pretty exciting. , but it’s also fraught with tension and fear. â
The character of sage Johnno has already been compared to Spud, memorable played in Trainspotting by Ewen Bremner.
Macdonald said, âI think Spanner might be a little smarter than Spud, but he’s the kind of guy you just want to give a big hug to, hold him and say you’ll be okay. He doesn’t get that from anyone.
“The reason people love Trainspotting so much is because they know people love the characters, even if they maybe slightly cartoonish.”
Ortega said that while it was “easy” to draw parallels between Beats and Trainspotting, there was a distinct difference between the two films.
He added: âThe thing with Trainspotting is that it was very trendy and trendy that was going on in the 1990s. What we do is look back in a way. a little melancholy and nostalgic.
âThere is something interesting about us looking back to tell the story. There’s a nostalgic element that wasn’t in Trainspotting.
âThere is the sense of optimism and mistaken hope of that time, and the way things have been going since then, especially in recent years and the current political climate we find ourselves in. It seems somehow unimaginable.
âI remember my mom and dad telling me about the feeling of relief they felt when Tony Blair was elected, but in four years they felt completely betrayed by him. They feel utterly helpless now – it’s quite heartbreaking in a way.
Macdonald, 26, said it was “strange” that Beats emerged at a time when 1990s clothing and culture became all the rage with teenagers.
He added: âI hope people react well to a movie that really celebrates this era and focuses on friendships and experiences rather than just saying **** of Scotland. It takes place in the rave scene, but it’s more of a celebration of the Scottish people.
âI have fond memories of my childhood in the 90s. I was just old enough to miss the massive influx of social media and the way the world looks at young people now.
âThere was something a little more naive, natural and innocent about this time.
âThey now face almost twice as much pressure as other generations.
âThey have two different lives now – the one they have when they go to school and the one they lead online. They are both equally important to teenagers.
Macdonald admitted that he thought he had the role of Johnno âin the bagâ during the audition process to be surprised by the director of the film.
He said: âBrian told me he thought I had a bit of Spanner in me and that he would come back the next week to get into him. It was a bit of a curve ball. But he was a very fun character to play.
Ortega was playing the lead role of Oskar in the National Theater of Scotland’s vampire drama Let The Right One In in Houston, Texas, when he received a message from Macdonald warning him that a role in Beats was up for grabs.
Macdonald said, âI mentioned to Brian that I knew a guy he would have to wait a few weeks but thought he would be perfect. I love Christian – he’s one of my closest friends.
Ortega said: âLorn and I have said many times how cool it would be to work together.
âI had my audition the day after I got back from the States and I was jet-lagged, so it was nice to have a friend supporting me in the room.
âBefore we started shooting, we were rehearsing in Glasgow and I was crashing on Lorn’s couch. We would go to work, rehearse together, come back and work on a stage, or just go out together. We are very close.