Gilliam talks to Dreams about Parnassus, Zero Theorem and Quixote

Edited by Phil Stubbs

Terry Gilliam spoke to Dreams at the end of June, just before setting off for the Munich Film Festival. It's been a few months now since his latest project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus was completed, and the director has been to Cannes with his new picture. Gilliam has recently been working on two potential new projects, Zero Theorem and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The director reveals below that he has abandoned plans to make Zero Theorem, but has firm plans to resurrect the Quixote project for shooting in 2010.

A few days before this interview, Johnny Depp spoke about Quixote. The actor said, "I mean, I love Terry and I'd do, personally, anything the guy wants to do. The thing is, with Quixote, my dance card is pretty nutty for the next couple of years, so I'd hate to have to put him in a position or ask him to be in a position to wait for me. That would be wrong. But, also, in a way, I feel like we went there and we tried something and whatever it was, the elements and all the things that got up underneath us were there and happened and were documented well and were documented well in the film Lost in La Mancha, so I don't know if it's, I hope it's right for me to go back there. I don't know if it's right for Terry to, but if he wants to..."

Gilliam told Dreams that no cast is in place for Quixote; Depp has "first dibs" on the project, but neither the filmmaker nor producer Jeremy Thomas feel they can wait until Depp is available to start production on Quixote.

Now, the interview...

Terry Gilliam (right) directing Christopher Plummer in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Phil Stubbs: The first showing of Dr Parnassus at Cannes, how did you find that?
Terry Gilliam: It was fantastic. I think there was a 13-minute standing ovation. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but it sounds pretty good. That was far too long for me, I kept trying to stop it and leave. I thought: this is boring. There's a competition there, who gets the longest standing ovation, which is a pretty silly thing.

Dr Parnassus was not In Competition at Cannes - was that your decision?
I didn't want it In Competition. The minute something goes In Competition, the fun goes out of it as far as I'm concerned. Suddenly, you start worrying. Win or lose, what's going to happen here? It just seemed better to go in there and show it. You get the same kind of elaborate red carpet treatment without going through all the nonsense of: are you a winner or are you a loser?

Was the response better than Fear and Loathing?
There was a day and night difference. Fear and Loathing they loathed, the critics hated it. I stood at the back of the theatre this year and nobody left, which is quite extraordinary. I expect people to leave, no matter what I do. But no, it was fantastic.

Twitter, some tweets have been released, have you played a part in writing these?

Yes, the ones coming from Dr Parnassus were from me. Everybody keeps saying I should be taking it more seriously and I should spend more time on it. But it doesn't interest me that much. I do it occasionally, but I get bored. It seems, if you are going to tweet, you've got to do it regularly to get people hooked.

I think it's a terrible piece of software. People only put banal things up there.
"I'm going to the bathroom, I'm going to pick my nose". This is called communication. I'm not very impressed with Twitter. Stephen Fry is addicted to it. But even then, it's "I'm sitting at the airport, I'm reading a book. It's a good one." At least people read good books. It's popular with people who are not doing interesting things. They just put banalities up there. It's such a waste of internet space.

Have you seen that other website imaginariumofdrparnassus.com? It's amazing.

Yes I've seen it, I've been emailing with Theresa, the editor
I go there to find out what's going on with the film!

There was a project called Zero Theorem
That was a thing that I was going to be doing this year. We were moving ahead on it with Dick Zanuck, who's been producing the Tim Burton movies of late.

What was the appeal of the project?
Just a very good script. It appeals because it is so simple to do, quite small and contained, it's a very smart script. I thought I could do it quite quickly and cheaply, and that would be a nice one, rather than getting caught in more expensive, more complicated or hard-to-finance things. But the year just got swallowed up by Parnassus and publicity, and preparation for Don Quixote. I just didn't think it would be viable and I pulled the plug earlier this year.

What is the latest on Quixote?
I'm about to sit down this evening with Tony Grisoni and see if all the bits we've been doing in this last couple of weeks are enough to keep us happy and say that's it. Basically, we are pretty much there on the script and then Jeremy Thomas and I have been moving ahead on different deals. He's been talking to people. What I would like to be doing next month is getting down to Spain, and start looking for locations. Also get it out to potential cast and see where we go.

The idea is you would shoot Spring next year?

Is any of the cast in place?
No, nobody. Johnny gets first dibs on the thing. I think he is just tied up with too many big projects that he is locked himself into. Neither Jeremy nor myself feel we can wait until Johnny's available. Nevertheless, he gets first choice, and we'll see if anything changes on his dance card.

If he doesn't join the project, then other actors may be reluctant to step into Johnny's shoes
I don't think so. We've done quite a rewrite on the thing, and it's not quite the same project it was. The character is basically more rounded. I've changed his story, the character of the Man Who Kills. And Don Quixote himself has been changed. Events are the same, but the reasons the events occur are now different, if that's understandable!

Have there been any other projects that you might have considered?
Parnassus has just absorbed every moment of my life. It took for ages, because the special effects took much longer than they were supposed to. We didn't finish until… it's a long time elapsed that we hadn't planned on spending.

Gilliam then went on to talk about Dr Parnassus in considerable depth. The resulting articles, and many other interviews with cast and crew of Dr Parnassus will be released here at Dreams in the run-up to the release of the picture.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, which opened the Munich Film Festival, is expected to be released in the UK in October 2009, followed by release in other countries in subsequent weeks and months.

Link to Dr Parnassus homepage within Dreams

Heath Ledger as Tony in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

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