- Director Terry Gilliam opened up to Business Insider about his 30-year quest to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”
- He explained why he hasn’t officially signed on to Apple’s series remake of his beloved movie, “Time Bandits.”
- He also shared the reason he doesn’t have another movie lined up to make yet.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
For the first time in Terry Gilliam’s legendary, 47-year career – which spans from being a member of Monty Python, to fantastical movies he’s directed like “Time Bandits,” “Brazil,” “The Fisher King,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – he doesn’t have a crazy idea for his next movie. In fact, he has no ideas at all.
But you can’t blame the guy.
For almost 30 years, he’s been on a quest to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” his take on the famed novel by Miguel de Cervantes, that had countless false starts and one real attempt, in which Johnny Depp was to be the lead, that was so disastrous the unravelling was the subject of the beloved documentary, “Lost in La Mancha” (which helped the new movie finally see the light of day).
In the movie – which is playing in theatres for one night only on Wednesday through Fathom Events – Adam Driver plays Toby, a successful director who, after coming across his first movie, returns to the small Spanish town where it was shot and finds that the person he cast as Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce) still believes he is the character. Seeing Toby, the man mistakes him for Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza, leading both on an adventure in which Toby gradually can’t decipher reality from dreams.
Business Insider sat down with Gilliam in New York City earlier this week to discuss the movie, why he hired Adam Driver, his guarded optimism about the upcoming “Time Bandits” Apple series, and the big reason why he’s not motivated to make another movie right away.
Jason Guerrasio: I know that around the time of releasing “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” you looked at the “Quixote” script after years of it being in the drawer, and you realised it was complete crap.
Terry Gilliam: Yeah. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: And you rewrote it. Is that the version that’s on screen?
Gilliam: Yes, it was the filmmaker-focused story from that point on. And it’s that thing where I don’t watch my movies, I just want to believe that they are good. The script had been sitting around for quite a while, and in that time I thought it was a wonderful script. Then I actually sat down and read it and I realised, “Oh no.” It’s partly because I changed. A few years had passed and I realised the thing was bull—-. And so the big leap was we see Toby making a film ten years earlier and you can see the change in him. In the Johnny Depp version we never really looked into his past. We didn’t know what he was before getting into commercials. We just knew him as an a——. So we went back and now it became a film about his guilt. And in Johnny’s version it was set in the 17th century, so we had to worry about planes in the sky and pragmatic things like that. Now setting it in the modern day we didn’t have to worry about that. And what also intrigued me was that as Toby is being dragged by Quixote the world becomes more and more like Quixote’s vision of the world. That was not in the last version. So that was more interesting. The effect of what films do to people, whether they are the watchers or the people in them, is interesting material.
Guerrasio: And that effect it can have on people made me think of Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie.”
Gilliam: I’ve never seen it.
Guerrasio: Basically in the movie when the production leaves the village in Peru, the villagers think the movie is still going on. So they construct cameras out of branches and go around town “filming” things. And often causing harm because they don’t realise it’s reality.
Gilliam: Oh, that’s good!
Guerrasio: It’s similar to how you show Quixote in the tent going through his routine when we first see the character.
Gilliam: I’ll have to check it out, I didn’t know that was in the Hopper movie. Using that element we now had a good Dulcinea compared to the earlier version: A 15-year-old girl Toby discovers in his movie, and seeing what happens to her life once she becomes a star. And it’s Toby becoming Quixote to rescue her. But she is so cynical by that point. It’s wonderful. In the Johnny version he doesn’t become Quixote.
Guerrasio: And you have Adam Driver as the face of the project now. Were you aware he had the talent to carry the movie?
Gilliam: I have never seen “Girls.” I have never seen “Patterson.” [Laughs.] I saw “The Force Awakens.” But my daughter, Amy, who is one of the producers, she said I had to meet Adam because he’s bankable. That’s it. We met at a London pub and I was just blown away by him. As a person. He wasn’t behaving like an actor. He was thinking like someone in the real world. And he doesn’t look like a leading man. To me these were great things! [Laughs.] He was the guy.
Guerrasio: Part of the joy of watching this is the fact that you finally made it. Because it took so long, did that help at all with getting financing? That the legend of the project could help it?
Gilliam: No, it didn’t work that way. [Laughs.] In fact, it had been around so long the business felt it smells like last week’s fish. It was old and tired, from their perspective. We could only get around $US12.5 million [EUR]. And I was always convinced the budget was $US16 million. And we could never get there. In the end, even with Adam and Jonathan we were only at $US12.5 million. And this lady that Amy had met who had come into money later in her life had seen “Lost in La Mancha” and knew the story and said, “I just want to see the movie,” and gave $US3.5 million. And suddenly we were off.
Guerrasio: It really is amazing how that documentary pushed the rock over the cliff.
Guerrasio: But never after the disastrous shoot did you feel that “La Mancha” could be helpful in finally getting it made?
Gilliam: That’s far too intelligent. I don’t think like that. And I’ll never forget [the directors of “Lost in La Mancha”] were pissing and moaning because the movie is falling apart and they had come to make a film about the making of “Quixote.” And I was like, “Just shut up and keep shooting, you are getting something better!”
Nobody gets the unmaking.
Gilliam: Yeah. I remember when the flood happens there’s a shot from inside the car. That’s them hiding in their car so their camera wouldn’t get wet. The footage of the flood outside of the car is from a French stuntman who was out there in the storm shooting it. But those guys made a very good documentary. It really is like the longest-running trailer ever for a movie. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: And because of that popularity you place in these great jokes related to the documentary in the movie, like the sudden rain in one scene.
Gilliam: After it all fell apart and we rewrote it we put in a few lines. “It’s the one month they say it never rains in Spain.”
Guerrasio: Where do you go from here? This consumed decades of your life.
Gilliam: I don’t know.
Guerrasio: Has this unknown feeling ever happened to you before?
Gilliam: No. I got nothing in there. There’s always something bubbling away there. I just think I’m exhausted. But it does worry me because I’m reading a lot hoping something is going to trigger something. But there is the TV series for “Time Bandits,” which I’m executive producer [on].
Guerrasio: How involved will you be?
Gilliam: I don’t know. I’m trying to find that out. I only found out the director had been hired through the web. No one told me.
Guerrasio: Wow, no one told you?
Gilliam: Well, I haven’t signed my contract yet. [Laughs.] But I seem to be important to them. Once I get the contract signed I will engage more.
Guerrasio: You haven’t signed because you are still negotiating what your involvement would be?
Gilliam: I know what it is, but it’s trying to figure out how much control I have. It’s as simple as that. Taika [Waititi], I think he’s very good. I’m not moaning about that, I think he’s excellent. But I just want to get the tone of the thing right and that’s the trickier bit. To get the right comic tone and yet still the innocent magical quality of the thing. All that needs to be there. And it will be interesting to find out if we can get enough little people out there. I have mixed feelings about it.
Guerrasio: But this can’t be the first time a big company comes and wants to do redo one of your projects.
Gilliam: But I’ve always said, “No.” It’s been a long “no” on “Time Bandits.” Once we got an offer for “Time Bandits,” it was going to be a franchise, three parts. It was with one of the major studios because they said they loved it. The only stipulation was they didn’t want dwarfs in it. So I said, “Bye, bye.” I mean, the idea to do “Time Bandits” with no dwarfs? That was madness. And it was a highly respected producer that came up with that.
Guerrasio: So is a dealbreaker with you for Apple that there might not be dwarfs?
Gilliam: No, they have all agreed that they want dwarfs. But until you start working on it you never know. So, I mean, on one hand I could really enjoy being paid for just nodding. Or I could be really involved.
Guerrasio: Just thinking out loud here, maybe the next chapter for you is okaying people to do your work. “Parnassus” kids movie –
Gilliam: “Brazil” the musical.
Gilliam: Maybe that’s why my brain is empty because that’s all that’s left for me is redoing the old stuff. [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: But in all seriousness, I would imagine going forward you don’t want to hustle for financing anymore.
Gilliam: I don’t. That’s why the “Time Bandits” thing is nice. Somebody wants to do it, they have the money. Other things, ugh, I would be so happy if somebody would come to me with a good script and say we’re ready to go. Because I don’t want to get into that long, long thing anymore.
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