Phil Penfold discovers how Jonny Lee Miller's latest film role transported him into the world of cyberspace and matrimony

IF the term ``fast-paced cyberpunk thriller'' means nothing at all to you, you're probably more at home with a pencil and a sheet of paper than you are with today's computer revolution.

It's the expression being used to describe the movie Hackers, opening in Scotland today, which explores the world of kids who are creating their own culture - in dress, com-munication, and supremacy of the world of the computer chip.

It must have been a good working atmosphere out there on the set of the Iain Softely film (he directed Backbeat, which explored the early days of The Beatles), because the two principal stars are now well and truly hitched. Angelina Jolie, daughter of veteran movie man Jon Voight, is now Mrs Jonny Lee Miller.

Mr Miller is currently enjoying considerable success as Sick Boy in the British smash Trainspotting and, at the age of 21, has a widely respected body of work behind him.

Softley's premise is that never before has so much computing power and advanced technology been packed into such relatively inexpensive machinery. It allows for an explosion of accessibility at every social and economic level. And it makes the computer an instrument of escape, expression, and empowerment.

``The last decade has seen the advent of the long-awaited information highway, an exponential increase of on-line and Internet services that has made computer exploration virtually limitless - if you know the path,'' says Softley. And if that is so much gobbledegook to you already, then here comes Miller to chip in: ``If you're not using it now, don't worry. You don't need it. Stick with what you've got - and cope.''

Miller says that he took up the script - the story is that he and Angelina are computer rivals who join forces to combat a computer genius who is about to commit massive fraud through a global communications empire - ``because it's about a culture that has emerged about today. Iain wanted to go for a cyberimagery that speaks for the late twentieth century, where it is reflected in fashion, in music, in everything. The thriller bit is really a peg to hang it all on. It's about characters, and it's about imagination.

``Neither Angelina nor I were particularly adept with, or interested in, computers. But we are now. We know our way around them now because in three weeks of preparation for the film, Iain wanted us to get as familiar as we could. I even went off to a hacker's convention...... incredible people.

``One guy was called Malice, and had a completely shaved head. Flame wore a boiler suit that was covered in images of fire - young people are completely re-inventing themselves. But the strange thing was that these were normally people who wouldn't have given each other the time of day. They'd have hung out in a different set of circles and cliques - and hacking brought them all together.''

Yes, admits Miller, hacking into someone else's computer is a crime. And it's a fairly glamorous one. But who are they really hurting, he wonders.

``The Apple Corporation originally started off as a market-place operation selling black boxes to people who wanted to tap into the phone network to get free phone calls, and look where it is now! There are property and trespass problems, sure. But hackers have also been instrumental in revealing a lot of information that has been illegally stored. So it does have its uses!''

Miller speaks with a perfectly modulated English accent. In the film he's an all-American boy. In Trainspotting, he is a Scot. ``I guess I'm just easy with accents,'' he says. ``Of the two, I think that the American one was the hardest. I needed a voice-coach - the English think that they can slip into it so easily - but they can't.

``For Trainspotting, I just picked it up somehow and did it day and night, on and off the set. I was a Scot! And, I have to tell you, there were some locations we used in Scotland where an English accent doesn't go down too well. I actually needed it to survive!''

He and Jolie will live in London - she's already had a high-profile career as a model - and yes, they'd like to work together again. ``In fact, the whole Hackers team would like to work together some more. It was a real group thing - an ensemble. Since we were playing a tight-knit group of people, we had to concentrate on that coming-together.''

Before Hackers, Miller confesses: ``I had no idea how huge a thing the computer network is. And how big it's going to be. We just couldn't learn all there is to know in a mere three weeks, but Angelina and I can now navigate an Apple Mac. But we haven't been seduced by it at all.''

Miller says he firmly believes that we have to reach out to each other. ``We are a global village, and that's fascinating. What could be more interesting than to be, say, in New York, and to talk to someone down a computer line to New Zealand?''

When they're apart, he and Jolie send each other graphic little packages by e-mail. He laughs: ``I think that when anyone first goes on to the Internet, they try to look for the `naughty bits'...... but the legend is very far from the truth.''

And talk about art imitating life. Many of the school scenes in the film were shot at Stuyvesant High on the Hudson River. It boasts a new, multimillion-dollar computer facility, one of the state-of-the-art education centres in the US.

As it turned out, it was an even more appropriate choice than Softley could ever have imagined. A few months after Hackers wrapped, several of Stuyvesant's students were busted by the FBI. For hacking.

Softley says: ``In many ways, the backdrop, the thing that binds these characters together, isn't just the hacking; it's the shared interest in cyberculture as a whole. One of the things I wanted to bring to the movie was the sense that here was a colourful, passionate, sexy, energetic, fast-paced adrenaline-driven world that audiences would want to visit for a while.''