John Hodge’s most celebrated piece of writing originated 50 miles across the M8 via someone else. The “Choose life…” speech uttered by Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting first came from the pen of Irvine Welsh.
The Glaswegian’s first taste of success as a screnwriter came in the capital with Shallow Grave, which heralded the reign of three amigos: Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald and director Danny Boyle. The trio were acclaimed as the most successful British movie-making team outside of horror and comedy.
By the time Trainspotting emerged, Hodge had left the medical profession – but once he, Boyle and Macdonald went their separate ways, Hodge had the quietest profile.
Boyle has gone on to work with other screenwriters of note including Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions), Simon Beaufoy (on Slumdog Millionaire) and The Beach author Alex Garland (on 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both produced by Macdonald), before he became unlikely Academy Award bait. In the same period, even for a writer, Hodge was largely anonymous.
He has talked of the frustration of rewriting to hire, with an unhappy experience on Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising.
In late 2011, he emerged at the National Theatre, the same place his old mucker Boyle had directed Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein eight months before.
He shares the screenwriting credits on Boyle’s latest, pre-Olympics movie, Trance starring another Glaswegian, James McAvoy. In another link to the Mancunian, Hodge has written the script for Six Suspects, based on the book by Vikas Swarup, who wrote Q&A, the story of the Indian kid on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and a BBC series based on Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s life of the young Stalin.
Stalin is at the heart (if the words “heart” and “Stalin” belong in the same sentence) of his stage debut. Collaborators has attracted sympathetic reviews and the combined clout of director Sir Nicholas Hytner and National Theatre stalwarts Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings.
Mikhail Bulgakov, the playwright most outspoken about Stalin’s regime – inevitably then the biggest feather in his cap – is “persuaded” in rather the same way that Colonel Gaddafi was persuaded to give up power.
The play deals with the importance of writing as if your life depended upon it, and when it’s a job like any other.
Hodge has an upcoming credit on next year’s Sweeney film adaptation, and has written a script for Tom McCarthy’s first novel, Remainder. But it’s Stalin who has done for his career what Tony Blair did for Michael Sheen’s.
At the point when he has produced his most powerful meditation yet on writing, John Hodge has returned to centre stage.