John Millar talks to the makers of Leonardo DiCaprio's cult movie about the planet versus Hollywood - and why Ewan McGregor is in the huff with them

Andrew Macdonald smiled as The Mix apologised for starting our conversation with an inquiry about the environmental brouhaha created by the Scots producer's film team as they re-arranged the geography of a chunk of Phi Phi Leh, a tiny island in the Andaman Sea.

''That's all right, it's what I'm here for,'' said Macdonald when we met after a special preview screening of The Beach at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Then, patiently and carefully, he outlined exactly what did happen in Thailand as the makers of Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and A Life Less Ordinary, embarked upon the business of bringing Alex Garland's best-selling novel to the big screen.

Having secured the rights to the book, worked out a deal with Twentieth Century Fox, and signed Leonardo DiCaprio - Hollywood's hottest young star - as their leading man, the film makers scoured Thailand for the ideal location. Eventually, they decided that a beach on this small island, which is part of a Thai national park, most suited their purposes for the story of backpackers and their unsuccessful attempt to find a secret paradise. But to make the location perfect, work had to be done - and that's when the trouble started.

Environmentalists claimed that the pristine beach was being raped by Hollywood, protestors gathered at the Fox headquarters in Bangkok, and shock-horror headlines were emblazoned on newspapers throughout the world. Even now, months later, the fuss lingers. So it would be perfectly understandable if this was an issue that Andrew Macdonald was fed up with or even reluctant to discuss.

On the contrary, the slim, youthful character, who looks more like a student than the producer of hit films, welcomes the opportunity to put the record straight.

''It is difficult to find any location that is right for filming,'' he said, relaxing beneath a promotional poster that's dominated by the handsome features of DiCaprio.

''The problem was not the beach itself, but the area behind it, which was a flat plateau - coconut trees did exist there but they got blow down every monsoon - and just behind this plateau was an empty space which was not very camera friendly and did not fulfil our idea of what paradise should look like. So we very carefully brought in these 60 trees and planted them. Then we took them out again. They were only there for three weeks. That's the real story.

''There is no smoke without fire, though, and we did film in a national park in a sensitive area. But we took every safety precaution and spent a lot of Rupert Murdoch's money to make sure that we did everything absolutely perfectly. What we said we would do we have done. Danny Boyle (the film's director) and I were back there 10 days ago to check that the beach and the area behind the beach has been returned to the way that it was when we found it. I

would like to ask anyone who

says otherwise if they have ever

been there.''

Macdonald also stressed that the image of the film location being mobbed by outraged conservationists is bogus.

''Protestors, in fact, were very rare,'' he said. ''We had more media than protestors. There was one lady in Thailand who was a genuine environmental protestor and whom I met on several occasions and told exactly what we were doing. It is very annoying that people would actually believe that we would set out to wreck a naturally beautiful place to make a film. It's just not true.''

When The Mix wondered whether all the headlines - real or imagined - had meant that The Beach was the most controversial film tackled by Macdonald, Boyle and writer John Hodge, the producer thought for a moment.

''I don't know that it is the most controversial film we've made. I can remember during Trainspotting when Radio 4's Thought For The Day was to pray for all the people who were going to see the film

''What I really learned from this experience was how famous Leonardo DiCaprio is. I had never met or worked with anybody who is that famous. The very mention of his name sells a lot of papers. That is what happened with us. You would be on the set and read that Leo was supposed to have been in a nightclub in Manhattan with three strippers and you could have sworn that he was in Thailand with you. To a certain extent, that's what happened with this environmental thing.''

Controversy appears to be a constant factor as far as The Beach is concerned. Fans of the novel might be irritated, for instance, that the film version features a different ending from the written work. Not surprisingly, though he stresses that he likes the movie, novelist Alex Garland admits he prefers his bleak climax. Then there is the Ewan McGregor factor to be considered.

McGregor - the star of Macdonald, Boyle, and Hodge's first three films - had originally seemed most likely to win the starring role in The Beach and continue what had been a successful relationship. But then the bad news was broken to McGregor that he wasn't going to become a Beach Boy.

Understandably, he was huffed by this decision. But there was no going back. They wanted an American name to give the film more clout and Macdonald and Boyle had their eyes on DiCaprio, an actor they knew to be a fan of Trainspotting.

Although DiCaprio is best known as the hero who heads for a watery grave in Titanic, it was his work in other films, such as Romeo And Juliet and What's Eating Gilbert Grape that had made Macdonald and company so interested in securing his very expensive services - it has been suggested that the wages handed by the studio to this young actor

would have been in the region of

$20 million.

''We started talking to him about the time of Romeo And Juliet about doing a film together,'' said Macdonald. ''When we were in Cannes with Trainspotting, he was there with Basketball Diaries, we met and he was enthusiastic about the

Continued on Page 4Continued from Page 3

film and became very friendly with the actors. He was obviously very genuine. Then, when we went to New York to promote A Life Less Ordinary, we had a supper with him and we were talking about The Beach then. Eventually, we had a script and we sent it to him - and it took quite a lot of persuasion before he accepted.

''I think it was the story that finally caused him to agree. He was looking for something that represented his generation. He wanted to play a contemporary character, something that he believed in perhaps, more than playing a period character.''

From the start, the film makers stressed to DiCaprio that The Beach was not going to be a fun in the sun job. Weather conditions alone meant that it was going to be a very strenuous film. There was also the unexpected to contend with, like the sudden wave that upturned a boat containing stars and crew and had them swimming for their lives. It could have been fatal but fortunately speedboats rescued everyone.

Even when things were going exactly to plan, there was pressure on the star of The Beach simply because DiCaprio's character is in almost every frame of the film.

''That meant we were going to need 100% commitment from him,'' said Macdonald. ''But he had had a year off and he was desperate to work. He really loves working.''

Not only did the young team of film makers get the star they wanted for The Beach, they also achieved the not inconsiderable feat of talking the Hollywood studio round to their way of thinking about the release of the movie. Which is why The Beach is being released simultaneously in Britain and the USA.

''It irritates me so much that we see films that were made with the skill of people from this island three months after America,'' said

Danny Boyle. ''So we fought very hard for it to be released at the same time.''

There's no doubt that, from start to finish, making The Beach has been quite an experience for all concerned. However, Macdonald, Boyle, and Hodge admit that such an exotic beach would not be even close to the top of any list of their ideas of paradise.

''I don't like hot climates,'' insisted John Hodge. ''For me, paradise would be in a bothy here or somewhere in the Alps. I would certainly never want to live on a desert island with a bunch of beautiful young people - it would drive me mad.''

l Flash, Bang, Wallop, what a picture - Page 6

l William Russell's review - Page 12