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Irvine Welsh On Sticking With Chicago: NY, L.A. 'Not Real American Cities'

By Serena Dai | July 2, 2013 3:02pm
 Irvine Welsh, Scottish and cult-icon author and screenwriter, lives in Lakeview and co-wrote "Creatives" with local author Don De Grazia.
Irvine Welsh, Scottish and cult-icon author and screenwriter, lives in Lakeview and co-wrote "Creatives" with local author Don De Grazia.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Heroin, cocaine and even a dead baby have marked cult author-screenwriter and Southport corridor resident Irvine Welsh's work.

But for the newest screenplay that he co-wrote with local author Don De Grazia, addiction isn't the theme — it's writers and their egos. 

"Creatives" will be read publicly for the first time Tuesday night in a live stage reading at The Public House Theatre. It will soon be made into a low-budget film, Welsh said. The author who wrote the cult classic "Trainspotting" now spends his days visiting the Metro, mulling over screenplays in Bad Ass Coffee (and before it was closed, Safari Cup) and writing on the Brown Line.

DNAinfo.com Chicago caught up with the Scottish author prior to a stage reading debut of "Creatives" on the premiere of his new film Filth starring James MacAvoy, why he loves Chicago and where he gets stopped for autographs (hint: it's not in Lakeview).

Why stay in Chicago?

My agent’s in L.A. I’ve got a theatrical agent in New York. I can get to New York or L.A. quite easily without being there. I like New York and L.A. I didn’t want to be somewhere like them. They’re not real American cities.

This feels right for me. It’s a bit more relaxed. It’s not a whole lot of film time. I don’t have to think about work all the time. [Chicago] still retained that American ethos. It’s not too fancy. It’s managed to hold on to sort of a quintessential American attitude.

How did you pick James McAvoy for your upcoming film Filth, [about a sex-obsessed, drug-addicted police officer]?

First thing we did, my jaw was on the floor because ... he looks about 10 years old. He’s got a fresh voice. He looks like James McAvoy, basically.

I left him and Jon [S. Baird, the director], to go to my room, and my wife said, "How did that go?" I said, "It’s not going to work, he looks about 10 years old. He could never be a divorced alcoholic.'"

I went back down, and Jon was really excited. James, he had this really horrible look. He looked so grungy. He had gone into character. His face had actually changed. It was almost like he’d grown this scrubby beard. That’s what actors do. They’re always auditioning. I said, "F------ a, man.' If he can do this in the space of 20 minutes with no script, with no makeup, with no discussion of the role. ... Jon was so excited, it was like punching the air. Finally we got the guy.

Tell us about the new screenplay "Creatives," [a dark comedy about a crime fiction author who returns home to Chicago to present a prize to his former mentor's creative writing class].

What struck Don and I when we were writing is — more people want to write more than ever. There’s less rewards for being a writer now. You can make money, serious money. But now you have to be doing big airport novels to make big money writing books. It’s like the NBA was 10 years ago. 

No one wants to hear that they’re not creative. It’s just one of the things that nobody wants to hear. People put their egos, theirselves on the line. ["Creatives"] is about these kind of rivalries that develop in that environment, or in any creative environment. Whether it’s an art school or creative writing class.

Any inspiration from real life? 

I’ve obviously taught in different programs over the years. I’ve got a lot of friends who are writers. It’s such a weird thing. It’s an intense friendship, but it’s an intense rivalry as well. It’s an atmosphere that you want to be supportive to other people in the class, but you also want to make your voice heard as a dominant voice. It’s a very weird thing. The extreme competitiveness.

How do you feel about the live-stage reading of the screenplay at Public House?

It’s a fantastic initiative ["Put 'Em Up," where new screenplays get a live stage reading.] It’s a great thing for writers. It could also be a really fantastic thing for producers as well. The way it’s evolving, it could be a real powerhouse to get low budget film productions and theatrical productions. Chicago’s got a great theater position, but everyone needs a starting point where you can have a genesis and start point to have new plays and have movie plays to be developed.

Do you ever get stopped on the street? Where?

Yeah. The only place people notice me is Wicker Park, Logan Square and Pilsen. It’s great here [in Southport]. It’s soccer mom central. It’s yuppies going to Cubs sports. Nobody knows. It’s great. 

Do people still offer you drugs?

Not so much. But when I used to go on boat tours, people would always want me to get f----- up. But I'd say I’m off to go to bed. I can’t take all this f------ s---. I’ll be flushing all this stuff down the toilet before you go onto the plane.

The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., will host a stage reading of "Creatives" Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $7 and include a free drink. After the reading, the audience is invited to give feedback.