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The son of Irish Catholics, a laborer and a dinner lady (the beloved army of women who serve free lunches to British schoolchildren), Boyle, who has a twin sister who's a special-needs coordinator and another sister who's a translator, grew up near Manchester and came of age there during punk's heyday. His deeply religious mother earmarked him for the priesthood, but a savvy priest advised Boyle to go to university instead. He got into the film business via theater ("which is weirdly more democratic for working-class artists"), then moved into television, where he produced Alan Clarke's Elephant before turning to directing. "Art was my rebellion against Catholicism," he says. "It gives you the confidence to rebel."
Now 52, with two grown daughters, Boyle still has the excitable enthusiasm of a big kid. Among other things, it makes him a great director of children, who in Slumdog Millionaire never act as if they're just taking instruction. "It's the kids who release me," he says. "I don't like my films to be taken too seriously or pompously. And it gave me a great excuse to behave immaturely. All the crew thought, 'Oh, he's just relaxing the kids — that's why he's playing football with them at lunchtime rather than working on storyboards.'"
In a scene that requires a junior Jamal to jump into a communal latrine, Boyle covered the boy in peanut butter and chocolate. "It's delicious; the smell was absolutely fragrant. It was very ironic and great fun."
Boyle has since placed two of his slum-dwelling actors in schools to prevent them from becoming child laborers, and he plans to visit them in December. He loved his time in Mumbai, and not because it's the emergent city of the future, where Will Smith takes business meetings and Steven Spielberg just refinanced Dreamworks through Reliance, one of the biggest telephone companies in the world. On the contrary, the twin themes of Slumdog Millionaire, with all its po-mo brashness, are the ancient, universal ones of community and destiny. "It sounds silly to say, but over there, it's a bit like it was growing up in Manchester in the 1950s and '60s," Boyle says. "That sense of people liking each other and wanting to do things together." He adds, a touch wistfully, "As opposed to now, when we lie to each other and don't like each other. Here in the West, we separate poverty from wealth. In Mumbai, they don't get rid of the slums. A successful person does not separate his destiny from the person who's had his hand chopped off to make him a better beggar."
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