TERRY GILLIAM: THE CURSE OF DON QUIXOTE

Tell me about the vision for your Don Quixote film. It’s not the original Quixote story, but your own interpretation of it, correct?
Well, basically I tried to loosen up, because the book is so vast and almost too impossible to make it into a film. To condense it, would lose the point of it. So, I basically changed it into a modern day advertising executive, played by Johnny Depp, who’s in the business of selling dreams – cheap and nasty dreams – who somehow falls into the 17th century and Quixote thinks he’s Sancho Panza. So, you’ve got this modern sleek exec becoming the servant to a mad man.

Why do you think a Quixote’s transformation into a film has been so cursed? You’re not the only director who encountered problems. Orson Welles had his own doomed Quixote project.
It’s a very difficult project and it gets those of us who are trying to make it sort of obsessed. I don’t know, but there does seem to feel that. It took Orson Welles 10 years not to finish his movie, so I’ve got a bit of time not to finish mine.

Through the course of the making or unmaking of the film, you see rainstorms and flash floods and problems with the actors – yet through the entire process, you never give up. Was there ever a point where you felt it might not come together?
All through that I was actually very concerned we couldn’t do it. But I don’t show that. My job as director is to convince everybody that we can do it. So I think some people who’ve seen the film think I was a bit naïve. I wasn’t. My job is to make people believe we can do it, even when, in my heart of hearts, I know we couldn’t do it.

You gave Louis and Keith, the documentary filmmakers, unprecedented access to your life. How did you find these guys and how did they gain your trust?
Well, they were graduate film students and I wanted someone to document “12 Monkeys.” We had no money, so we got them the hi-8 camera, all the tape they needed, and total access. And they made a really good documentary. So I realized they were intelligent and sympathetic. So when it came to doing “Quixote,” I wanted them on the job again. And they ended up getting probably a far better film than had we made the movie. (Laughs)

Exactly. They got a film out of it and you’re still waiting. You mentioned you gave them access for selfish reasons, because you wanted to see what you were like.
The simple fact is, I haven’t a clue as to who I am. That’s a simple fact. I remember several years ago we were doing “Fisher King” and it was Robin’s (Williams) birthday and we did a surprise on the set for him and we shot him on the set from above. And the next day I was watching this bit and there was this guy in the room I didn’t recognize – and it was me. This creature running around busy with everything, so I don’t really know. Selfish in the sense that I wanted a diary kept because I knew something would happen. And my memory is getting more and more faulty and I thought here would be a way of having something in the future to look back and say. “Oh, that’s how we did it.”

Have you ever thought about going back into animation where you wouldn’t have to worry about actors or flash floods or natural disasters?
Part of me keeps thinking about that. The other side is that I used to do that and I moved into live action and I want to stay in it as long as I can. That is my fall back if everything falls through, I can get back on my computer and keep playing again.

So you prefer live action over animation.
Well, I really have come to like working with actors. It’s strange. It’s more to me like Python because it’s a group thing, y’know? I have my ideas, they have their ideas and somehow we make more interesting work because of this combination of ideas. I just prefer it. I don’t want to make boring, naturalistic films. I still want to create extraordinary worlds and beautiful images. I want to use real people because they surprise, and with animation, you’re less surprised because you’re in total control of the thing. Maybe now I’m easily bored, so with every film I hope something’s going to go wrong because it’s kind of a test of my own ingenuity. But this one test was too great and I lost.

Well, what little of the movie we got to see through storyboards and camera tests, it looks like a cartoon, big and fantastic and imaginative.
And it is that. When I do my storyboards, they are cartoons and trying to translate those cartoons into living moving images is intriguing, always surprising.

Now, you’ve said you’re not going to give up. That you’re going to make this movie.
No, because I’m an American that’s why.

Can you tell us your plans?
Right now we’re in negotiations with the insurance company to buy the script back and hopefully that will resolve in the next few weeks. Then the long process begins to raise the money. With any luck, my plan is next September, three years after the original start date, we can start again.




Posted on December 17, 2002 in Interviews by

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