Phil Stubbs: How did you find Jodelle Ferland for the
role of Jeliza-Rose in Tideland?
Terry Gilliam: God chose her for us! We had been looking for
a long time for our lead actress. It was getting very close
to the start of production, and we still hadn't found her.
Luckily this tape came in from Vancouver - the casting lady
had put Jodelle and several of the young girls on tape. The
minute I saw her, I thought there was an incredible energy
there. She looked so tiny, and she had extraordinary eyes.
We brought her to Toronto and I screen-tested her. Her reactions
to things and how she chose to deliver lines were a real surprise.
I just said: you've got the part. It was so obvious. She wasn't
sentimentalised and cute like a normal child actor. Jodelle
was incredibly tough.
How did Jodelle cope with the role and the story? She's
the best child actor I've ever seen
but how do you explain
a story so disturbing to a child?
You don't have to explain: Jodelle's a very intelligent girl!
Luckily she also had a very sensitive and intelligent mother
to work with her. Dealing with the story is like playing with
dolls, and the disturbing nature of it isn't that disturbing
for her. I think what always happens is that adults find it
disturbing, but children don't see things the way adults do.
Also in many of the scenes, I let Jodelle make the choices
of how to do scenes. So we see how a nine and a half year-old
girl would do them, rather than a 64 year-old man trying to
tell and nine and a half year old girl how to be a nine and
a half year old. Children are surprising!
Did you use any of your own memories of childhood to make
the only thing that maybe was growing up
in Minnesota, and near the house were great wheat fields and
corn fields. There was that sense of the freedom from the
open space, of a beautiful landscape. That was something I
wanted to capture on film, because that was a great part of
And the opposite of that is the sense of claustrophobia
of the internal scenes.
That's probably more from my adult life.
Having worked with Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King,
how was he this time round?
Jeff is always a joy. He's so solid and meticulous. He's a
delight. When we were working on The Fisher King, Roger
Pratt said I'd found my cinematic alter ego: Mastroianni to
my Fellini. He grounds a lot of the stuff I do. When I get
silly, he will take the same thought and make it believable
What was outrageous on Tideland was that we had a prosthetic
dummy made to sit in the chair when he is dead. But Jeff ended
up doing the scene himself. That's what is wonderful about
Jeff - a lot of other actors would say: just use the dummy.
There would be subtle differences in Jodelle's performance
because she was sitting on a real person rather than a dummy.
Someone who liked the film told me she would hesitate to
recommend it to her more sensitive friends. She asked: why
did you choose to show so many revolting scenes. Would it
work less well if the scenes were less graphic?
I think her sensitive friends might not be so sensitive. Sensitive
people should be able to appreciate what's going on in Tideland.
We were translating the book to screen and that's what my
job is, it's not to write a different story.
The difference is that when you are reading a book, you can
filter the imagery, you can decide what is for you. With the
film, I'm doing the imagery, and it contains what makes sense
to me. Some people may find that strong, but I think you need
all the imagery that is in the film. It's what makes it so
striking and effective.
Now some negative comments from someone who was outraged
by the film...
Now we're talking!
How can one dare to do something so shocking and disgusting
and call it beautiful? Only a sick perverted mind might feel
happy about it. The world is not as ugly as you show.
We were showing how wonderful the world is in Tideland!
Those kinds of reactions always amaze me because there are
people living in a little bubble, not wanting to look at the
way the world really is. If you don't have the innocence of
a child, all you can see is the ugly surface
missing what the child is imagining and experiencing. In fact,
what's disgusting is what we watch on television, because
that is truly a lie. We see a different version of the world
on television, and it isn't truthful. People seem to be happy
We encourage the bombing of Lebanese citizens but we don't
have to watch what it really looks like. We allow everything
to be censored for us - I think that very dangerous way of
approaching life. What I think is wonderful about the film
is that the one group I keep finding that really reacts positively
is younger women, and I don't think they are perverted or
It's doing quite nicely in Japan, they aimed at what has now
become its core audience: young females, unlike in America
where it's 17 to 25 year-old males. Pairs of girls, girls
bringing their boyfriends. I think the pattern's going to
be the same everywhere - a minority that really love it and
a majority who just don't know what they think or they don't
like it. That's they way it should be!
Actually I was told that the French distributor said Tideland
would be a problem in France, because the French find farting
neither funny nor uncivilised. So maybe that was the problem.
Clearly they forgot their great hero Le Petomaine, farting
for the crown heads of Europe
in tune. He could do birdsong,
he could imitate different instruments, all to the delight
and delectation of the crown heads of Europe - a Frenchman.
With Tideland you have used a wide aspect ratio.
Since working with cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, you have
worked with a wider format with Fear and Loathing and
Tideland. How do you decide which ratio to shoot in?
It was really because we wanted the wide open spaces that
we chose the wide screen. That was also true in Fear and
Loathing - desert and space. Doing something in a city
where things are much more vertical, I go for a less wide
format. Brothers Grimm was 1.85 instead of 2.35 simply
because we wanted to show the height of the trees.
Could you explain the pros and cons of working on an indie
film versus working with Hollywood and which do you prefer?
To be honest, neither Grimm nor Tideland were
an indie or Hollywood film in the strict sense. There's kind
of a bullshit world going on about indie and Hollywood. When
you are dealing with indie distributors, most of them are
just branches of Hollywood studios. So it's become not quite
as independent. In the case of Grimm, it wasn't so
much a Hollywood studio as the Weinsteins - a different world
obviously. The main difference is that one was a big expensive
film and one was a small film.
Another difference was Jeremy Thomas as Tideland's
producer and his support - he did not try to make his own
version of the film. He doesn't interfere. In all these things
it's down to individuals rather than "Hollywood vs independents".
You can have indie producers who are just as monstrous as
any studio could ever throw up. But the difference was that
one was a big expensive giant of a film and the other was
small and quick guerrilla film. With Tideland one can
deal with more dark and disturbing subject matter, because
we are not appealing to big audience. It allows that kind
of freedom to do what you want to say. Effectively, it's "Fuck
For your next project would you prefer to do that, or would
you prefer the bigger budget?
It doesn't come down to that. It's whatever the project is
that captures my imagination and what that requires. At the
moment we've been trying to get Good Omens off the
ground, and that's a very expensive movie, and it's proving
to be very frustrating, because it's much more dependent on
'A' list actors, and therefore we are much more dependent
on other people, whereas if we were working with a smaller
budget it's usually easier. Yet Stephen Evans, the producer
of Good Omens, says it's sometimes easier to raise
80 million dollars than it is raising 8 million dollars. It's
just very hard these days to get any film off the ground.
At what stage is Good Omens?
Well, it's very costly, and trying to put together the right
cast is going slower than I'd hoped. Everybody wants there
to be 'A' list actors involved. It's really busy out there
at the moment. So I'm not getting the responses I'd want.
It marches on, but it's frustratingly slow.
Is the cash there if you want it?
The cash is dependent on the 'A' list actors. This is one
of the real problems with making expensive films, you are
dependent on so many other elements. It's not like you come
up with an idea and you need to raise a few million dollars,
and go off and make a film. In particular at the moment Hollywood,
where we are ultimately going to get money from, has become
very cautious and conservative. So I don't know where we're
going to go yet. But we march on.
I understand there's been some movement recently with your
Yes, apparently on July 4 it was the end of the legal battle
between the production company and the insurance company.
It appears that everything is now coming back to us. It's
just lawyers resolving all the fine points now. There doesn't
seem to be anything that's going to stop that happening. Maybe
it's going to be a couple of months before everything is going
to be resolved, and until I actually get the thing and see
the signed documents, I'm not going to look at the script.
Have you had any thoughts as to who you might cast as Quixote?
No, because I refuse to let my brain run loose on Quixote
at the moment. The order of events will be very simple. If
and when everything comes back to us, I have to then talk
to Mr Depp and find out when he's available, and then we know
how to start proceeding with it.
Anything for Billy? [based on a novel by Larry McMurtry]
Funnily enough, I just sent an email off about that one just
before I called you, to find out what's going on. There were
a group of Italians who were offering some finance. I don't
know what's going on, I'll just stir that one up a bit.
The Defective Detective?
It's just sitting quietly. Richard LaGravenese [who also wrote
The Fisher King] wants to have another look at the
script. I haven't looked at it in a while. My problem with
it is that I'm really in search for the regular producer that
can start delivering what I need. I don't have that person
for the bigger budget films. Jeremy Thomas is there on Quixote.
It's the other stuff I'm still struggling with.
Dan Leno? [based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd]
I think that's pretty dead. That was at a time when I was
in a very depressed state, and the idea of doing a film about
a serial killer excited me, but I thought in the end there's
enough blood on screen as it is!
Is there an actor or actress that you haven't worked with
who you feel would be great in the Gilliam universe?
Bill Nighy... and Gael Garcia Bernal is someone I'm really
intrigued with, I think he's really good. Who else is out
George Clooney - I actually think it would be
fun to work with him. The other ones, the great actors like
Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Laurence Fishburne. These are the
people I've never had the right script parts for.
Do you have any plans to work with either Roger Pratt or
Michael Palin again?
Roger and I have dinner every couple of weeks when he's in
town. It's always that he's been on another project while
I'm doing whatever film I'm doing. And Mike and I keep talking
about a project which is based on a book called Water Music,
by T. Coraghessan Boyle, about Mungo Park the famous 19th
Century Scottish explorer, who discovered the Niger river
for Great Britain. We keep talking about it, but nothing has
It's not comic as a comedy, it's funny yet it's also very
bleak, and strange. It's basically an adventure story, and
very different from the glorified exploring that was going
on in the 19th century. How a guy is reduced to behaving as
an animal to survive. I keep telling Mike he's got to stop
travelling, sit down and do some films again. But he keeps
He's running out of places to visit now really...
He's just done Eastern Europe. He's come back last week from
the first part of that one. There isn't much left I agree.
In fact I keep telling him he should really do Michael Palin
goes round the world in London. It's all here in London, almost
every country is represented somewhere.
You never quite catch a break when you are making movies.
You've been through development hell, production hell, post-production
hell and also distribution hell. Which hell do you prefer?
I love this question - but it's one you might ask Dante.
Well, he's not around so it's over to you
They're all tough - I don't want to choose. I'd like to avoid
all of them, but it doesn't seem to be my fate.
In the past you've indicated the images in your film have
come from a variety of external sources. Are most of these
sources of inspiration from a personal archive, or do they
come from more random day-to-day observations that you jot
down in a notebook?
It's a bit of both. I keep a notebook. I do scribble things
down that I see. I've got a big library, so if I run out of
ideas I start scouring. And often I'll go down to places like
the National Gallery in London, and wander around looking
at pictures until ideas start pouring out. It's a combination
of all of those things.
How do visions come up in your head?
That's the bit I don't know. Maybe it's because I have a bad
memory. I think they are original visions but they are probably
just reminiscences of something I've seen earlier and forgotten
about! But the actual process of how my mind works, I don't
really care to understand. I'm just lucky or perhaps unlucky
- because when I've got those ideas floating around in my
head, and I can't get financing for them, it's very frustrating!
I understand you have lost you American citizenship recently
I didn't lose it, I renounced it... that's a much better word.
I've been living in England since 1967, I've been paying taxes
in both countries. I thought I'm getting old, in fact I'm
now an old age pensioner. I've got to plan for the curtain
call. So I thought let's simplify everything
really an American anymore.
In interviews you seem so full of energy... except perhaps
those around Quixote. Where does all that energy comes
I don't know, I guess I was really wound up as a child. The
key is slowly winding down now.
What makes you go back time after time to the pain and
agony of filmmaking?
I love and hate everything about film, but it gets the juices
flowing. And unlike drawing, painting or writing it involves
so many different types of people, so many complications -
it's an art you can never truly master. You can only hope
that one day you might learn, but the truth is you never will.
There's too much in film that I just love dealing with
it incorporates design, costumes, movement, acting, writing,
effects, carpentry and painting. Because really, there is
nothing better than making films!