The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Edited by Phil Stubbs


Back in 2000, Terry Gilliam arranged funding for his project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. He lined up an excellent cast and a talented crew. Shooting began at the end of September, and we all looked forward to seeing Gilliam's project at the end of 2001. But the film was never finished; it was abandoned after a few days as a result of flash floods and an ailment that meant that Jean Rochefort - Gilliam's Quixote - was unable to sit on a horse.

But all is not lost...there is still a chance that this project may see the light of day. Gilliam is currently working to buy the script back from the insurance company who came in as the project collapsed. Armed with the rights to the project, and the glorious few minutes of what was shot, Gilliam hopes to complete the project.

And as you can read below, British producer Jeremy Thomas might step in and help the director realise his dream project.

On this page is a brief history of the project, in chronological order... and you may also wish to read these other Quixote links within Dreams...

Gilliam defends UK National Lottery funding for Quixote - April 2000

Terry Gilliam speaks to Dreams about his preparation for Quixote - June 2000

Gilliam says Quixote will happen again - December 2000

Gilliam speaks out on Quixote collapse - April 2001

Lost in La Mancha - official website

Don Quixote, as illustrated by Gustave Dore

Cervantes' novel Don Quixote, about the adventures of a mad aging knight, always seemed to be ideal material for director Terry Gilliam. The director worked on a Quixote project in the early 90s, after the failed Watchmen project and The Fisher King. He wrote a script with Charles McKeown. At the time, Gilliam was dealing with French studio Ciby 2000.

Gilliam spoke to Neon magazine: "The years I wasted on this one! I was so frustrated with Hollywood, I went after European money, needing $20 million. And they said, 'You're on'. But I found out I needed more money. Sean Connery was mooted, but Quixote is air and Sean is earth, so I backed away. I saw Nigel Hawthorne as Quixote, and Danny de Vito as Sancho Panza. I dithered because I'd committed to The Defective Detective."

The Defective Detective never got going, and Gilliam instead made 12 Monkeys. It appeared that the Quixote project was disappearing from his grasp as 12 Monkeys was released, thanks in part to a rival project - based on an old Waldo Salt script - directed by Fred Schepisi, and starring John Cleese and Robin Williams. Said Gilliam in 1997, "That really hurts, that I let a project I'm convinced I'm the best director on the planet to do, slip by."

At the UK premiere of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Gilliam announced that he had been working on Don Quixote with a twist. A sort of combination of Quixote and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where a modern day advertising executive becomes confused and is transported to the world of Don Quixote. At the time, the Schepisi project had come to nothing, and Gilliam again set to work, this time with writer Tony Grisoni, on the Quixote project from a slightly different angle.

A great deal of 1999 was spent trying to get a European deal to get enough cash to make the Quixote film. In Spring 1999, Gilliam - speaking in Manchester - seemed more certain that this would be his next directing duty - still wishing to avoid Hollywood studio cash.  At the time, a Summer/Autumn shoot looked likely, and a deal was put together. However, by Autumn 1999, that deal had fallen apart.  Thus a wait began for a further deal.  "Windmills are taking up too much of my time," sighed Gilliam at the end of 1999.

Things looked up in March 2000 thanks to funds being made available by four sources: the UK National Lottery Fund, Le Studio Canal Plus, Hachette Premiere and KC Medien. Gilliam went to Cannes in May 2000 to celebrate the deal. At the time, Dreams reported:

Terry Gilliam is currently preparing to start production on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film based on Miguel de Cervantes's 17th century novel, Don Quixote.  The book follows the adventures of an old man who reads far too many books of chivalry for his own good. The script for Gilliam's proposed feature film, written by the director with Tony Grisoni, tells the story of a present day advertising executive who travels back in time and meets the Knight of the Doleful Countenance. The news of a deal to make this film, first reported in March 2000, is excellent news for the director, who has had an extremely frustrating time throughout 1999 in trying to get this movie off the ground.

In mid-May 2000, it was confirmed that Johnny Depp was to take a role in the film.  Depp had impressed Gilliam enormously during the making of Fear and Loathing, and Gilliam had long wanted Depp for his Quixote movie.  French actor Jean Rochefort has been confirmed as the eponymous Don Quixote.  Depp's partner Vanessa Paradis is also to star, it has been announced. Other names mentioned are Penelope Cruz, Madeleine Stowe, and Jonathan Pryce.  While Ian Holm has been quoted with respect to this project, the actor will definitely not be taking part.

Shooting is now likely to start in September 2000, with Rene Cleitman producing for Pathe Pictures.  Gilliam has already spent a great deal of time in Spain searching for suitable locations, and studio work is to take place in the UK.  A $30 million budget has been mentioned, pared down from an original $48 million.

At the end of June 2000, already well into pre-production at his Notting Hill office, Gilliam confirmed a cast including Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort, Vanessa Paradis, Rossy de Palma, Miranda Richardson, Bill Paterson and Christopher Eccleston. The crew included Nicola Pecorini and Gabriella Pescucci.

In September 2000, shooting commenced, but was rapidly curtailed as a result of floods and an injury affecting Jean Rochefort. After a few weeks wondering whether Rochefort could come back, the project was cancelled. All of the props and sets were taken away. The project would have to be started again from the beginning.

Throughout 2001, Gilliam spoke about the collapse of Quixote - much of this can be found on the Dreams news pages. The director concentrated on writing the script for Good Omens, but funding for this project has yet to emerge. Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, two filmmakers who were on set with Gilliam, edited together the story of how Quixote failed, and throughout this year created a documentary film Lost in La Mancha, which is set for theatrical release around the world in Autumn 2002.

The Quixote project remains close to Gilliam's heart. He is still keen to buy the rights back from the insurance company.

Jeremy Thomas's Recorded Picture Company has expressed his interest in making Quixote with Gilliam. From Cannes in May 2005, Screen Daily reported that:

Terry Gilliam is making a bid to revive The Man Who Killed Don Quixote with his Tideland producer Jeremy Thomas and the Recorded Picture Company.
The former Python is currently back in the saddle with two films – The Brothers Grimm and Tideland – after seven years away. Gilliam made it clear that he is now seriously engaged in trying to revive The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

The disastrous first attempt to shoot the project was documented in the film Lost In La Mancha and restarting the venture means a protracted legal tussle over rights. But Gilliam said: “There are good signs.” Added Recording Pictures chief executive Peter Watson: “Having collaborated on Tideland, it was such a good experience that we want to be in the Terry Gilliam business. We are now attempting mouth to mouth resuscitation on the corpse of Don Quixote.”

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