Depending on how you look at it, director Terry Gilliam is either the luckiest or the unluckiest director around. His past works have had slow box office numbers but garner critic nods and become cult favorites. His Don Quixote film never made it through production yet spawned a must-see documentary, Lost in La Mancha. His most recent project, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was also on the brink after the untimely death of his leading man, actor Heath Ledger. Lucily the film was salvaged thanks to the actors Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp who filled in as various incarnations of Ledgers character Tony in the film. Regardless of which side of the coin hes on, Gilliam unbound imagination and knack for dark storytelling that keeps his diehard fans clamoring for more.
Gilliam was in Atlanta during Dragon*Con to discuss the 40th anniversary of Monty Python and briefly chatted about his upcoming film. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is currently in area theaters.
Whats your favorite word?
I remember when I was in college, I was a cheerleader the word fleck was very important fleck. And at football games wed get a thousand people in the stands and we used to throw out words, Give me a scubadiablé! and theyd go Scubadiablé! And I [once] said, Give me a fleck! and they all went Fuck! This was way back, around 1961 and those days you dont get a thousand people shouting fuck, so fleck became the word.
I notice a pattern with articles about you, whenever they say your name its always preceded by beleaguered. Is that how you see your legacy, or do you want to change that?
I think its because Ive had enough books and documentaries done, written about things going wrong and other people dont. I remember when Lost In La Mancha came out, the number of filmmakers that said [sigh] and started telling stories, and they were worst than mine. So Ive been lucky or unlucky to have these things recorded so you get stuck with an adjective like beleaguered, but I think Im lucky.
I read youd love to get involved with Pixar. You were quoted stating youd sweep the floors
It was the premiere of Wall-E. I think Pixar is great. I think its extraordinary what they do the way theyve structured themselves, internally the way they work is fantastic. Its really creative people running the show and thats a rare thing. I gotta think about my future, you know when Im old and ancient and I cant get any money and I cant walk.
Do you want to do an animated short film or feature?
No I have no interest in doing animation at all to be quite frank. I think maybe there will be a time when I might slide back there. I think one of the things about Parnassus is that theres great chunks of it that are much like my animation. Its that kind of freedom. But I have a feeling I going to always like keeping real people in however extraordinary or fantastical or animated the world might be.
You have such following of your animations from Monty Python, why did you decide to let that go?
I just got bored with it. The cutout technique is very limited - what you could or could not do. And I just literally felt I had kind of beaten this one to death, there was not that much more I could do and I never wanted to be an animator - I wanted to be a lumberjack you know. So I wanted to do live film directing and fell into this thing with animation and it was brilliant and it actually worked out to be thing that gave me the possibility to do now what I do. But it was great fun for a while but it was also exhausting. I was basically working on my own, I had an assistant that helped me with coloring bits and pieces, but I was just exhausted. At a certain point when the Holy Grail came along and Terry and I co-directed something my name was up there Directed by once it says that up there on the big screen youre a director. Then Bingo we got Jaberwocky and I was off.
I know you attempted to direct Watchmen and I wanted to know how you felt about the version that was released.
Well, I was impressed with the look of it, I thought he got it it looked like the book. But it was too reverential to the book. It needed a kick in the ass frankly. Charles McKeown and I wrote a script after [completing] Munchausen and it was frustrating cause to get it down to two hours we were throwing away so much and I wasnt happy with what we did and we didnt get the money and that was the end of that. At the time, I thought five part miniseries for television and I still think it would be better [that way]. It started so well and was brilliant then it just started slowing and then Come on it stopped moving. But technically, he did an exceedingly good job. I think he was a little bit silly - didnt he get an R rating because he showed his [Dr. Manhattans] dick? What was the point of that? Why do you want an R rating if youre going to spend that kind of money, you dont need. I dont think it was an essential part of the story to show Manhattans dick but obviously he did. Im not sure I like how the ending worked and the fighting went on and on I was really bored by then I think it was too loyal [to the original story].
Do you think if you were to do a 300-million dollar adaptation, the studios would say yes?
I dont want to. You dont want to get into that world because theres too much pressure, and you have all these terrified executives around you. When you work in that atmosphere with that much neurosis around, it affects you. Like Harry Potter, they were never going to hire me but I was glad because I watched friends work on it and it was horrible, its factory work. The last factory job I had was in a Chevrolet plant in San Fernando Valley, night shift so Im over it.