Terry Gilliam was the last guest of the “In Conversation Series” hosted by the American Pavilion at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The director of “Brazil,” “The Fisher King” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” talked about his past, present and future, as well as “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” with and without Heath Ledger.
James Rocchi, critic and journalist for MSN Movies & AMCtv.com, was on hand to moderate the conversation between the somewhat infamous Monty Python alumnus and the gathered guests at the Roger Ebert conference room. Rocchi ‘s clever tongue and quick wit was an excellent pairing to Gilliam’s self-deprecation and split second quips. And although the audience seemed prepared for anything, Gilliam may have surprised most people by being, well, normal.
With all the hype and history of Gilliam being a difficult and strange talent to deal with, I was expecting anything but the down to earth, rational, thinking craftsman that he appears to be in person. He was extremely pleasant and jovial, immediately at ease with the audience and made light of the pressure placed upon him as an iconic filmmaker. He even seemed mystified by the colorful reputation he’s garnered over the years. Yet, Gilliam is very much aware of the negative rumors surrounding his personae and simply chooses to ignore them, dismissing the reported incidents of misbehavior as baggage that comes with the territory of being a working artist.
In fact, Gilliam believes that the moniker of “difficult” appeared about the same time as a lawsuit against ABC regarding the unauthorized editing of some Python work meant to air in the States. A woman from the audience informed him that the legal decision is now used as an example in entertainment law classes. Previously unaware, Gilliam seemed tickled by this news and graciously accepted the law professor’s book that has a section dedicated to Gilliam’s successful court case which is responsible for all Networks being required to notify director’s in writing before any cutting can take place. Gilliam cooed with pride as he confessed that he had always found those letters to be annoying and now knows whom to blame for them.
Open to all topics, Gilliam welcomed a discussion regarding the passing of actor Heath Ledger in middle of shooting “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”. By all accounts it was a horribly tragic event that initially paralyzed the production. Gilliam’s first reaction was to shut down and discontinue the project. However, many involved with the film believed that decision would be an injustice to Ledger’s final performance. Coupled with the encouragement of the late actors family, shooting resumed. It was the necessary addition of a clever plot twist that enabled Gilliam to complete production with three different actors assuming what was left of the role to be performed. Gilliam chose to approach only Ledger’s closest friends in the acting community to fulfill the new vision, and that’s how Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrell came to be involved.
Before concluding, Gilliam confirmed the preproduction status of a retooled Don Quixote project. Many things had transpired to derail the previous attempt, but (as demonstrated by the underlying themes of most of his work) Quixote is a subject dear to his heart, and not a project he is likely to forego altogether. It is being reshaped and reworked, but it will transpire in one form or another. As evidenced by the challenges he has faced recently, and indeed throughout his career, Gilliam is not a man to give up or give in. And there’s nothing strange, unusual or obstinate about that. To Terry Gilliam, that’s just normal.
Photos: Mike Gendimenico