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The Imagination of Terry Gilliam

Photo of Terry Gilliam by Cedric Arnold.

I had the great honour of talking with the inexhaustibly talented Terry Gilliam about his latest film, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.


WD: Let's start at the beginning. I'd love to ask you how you developed the ideas behind this film.

What was your starting point?


TG: God came to me at night and said “do this or die.” When you've got a god that wants to watch movies and is bored with the shit that's being produced these days, he gets angry. He forced me to do it and it was as simple as that, and how simple it can be. He's a god that I don't even believe in, which is even more extraordinary.


You're going to get one of these interviews that won't be like any of the others (laughs). You can check the answers on the other interviews.


WD: This is exactly what I'm looking for (laughs)!

So perhaps I should ask you then, what inspires you? What gets you to decide “I'm going to make another movie.”


TG: When people offer me large sums of money. I get very inspired. I realize life is worth living again. Unfortunately nobody offered me large sums of money on this, so I had to take a lot of drugs... aspirin mainly (laughs).


WD: How do you see this film in context with your earlier work?


TG: It's kind of the best of everything... except for the films that weren't so good (laughs). We wanted to make something that was like a compendium film. There's a little bit of everything in there.


I would say it links in with Time Bandits and Munchausen most, mainly because both those films have little theatres in them (laughs). That's the connecting link.


Also, I think all of those leapt around in time and space, and within The Imaginarium , you leap through many different worlds each time you go through. It fits with those most of all I think.


WD: I'm curious as to how you came to choose JohnnyColin, and Jude, why you chose three people to replace one person.


TG: Well there was no way any one person was going to be able to replace Heath in my books so that was ruled out. It was obvious very quickly that his character goes through the mirror three times, so three might be the magic number.


The father, son, and the holy ghost were not available so I had to get these other guys.


I went straight to the top. Here's a guy that pushed me into making this movie so “get to work”, but they were not available. Neither the father, nor the son, nor the holy ghost. I don't know where the son was working, probably down in Texas, he spends a lot of time down there perceive angelical living (laughs).


WD: It's no fair making me laugh


TG: It is fair, come on, it's making me laugh. I'm especially awake here. I've been doing this for years now, these interviews. Not this specific one but... I've talked about the same piece of shit films (laughs).


WD: Can you tell us, besides the tragedy of losing Heath, what the most challenging part about making the film was?


TG: It was trying to get my head around the fact that we could actually finish the film; actually make it. That was the hard part. I mean everything else was just what you do. It's difficult.

In Vancouver I think we were there for five weeks doing all the special effects, all the Imaginarium stuff. It's blue screen work...

It was very tricky, once we started up again, to mesh all the different schedules of Johnny, Colin, Jude, and the film schedule. That was a nightmare because we had limited stage space, and depending on who was available we had to wheel a set outside, replace it with something else, and then the next day try to bring the other set back in. The puzzle of shooting within all these different schedules was nightmare-ish. Other than that, it was kind of straight forward.

The hardest part was getting the money and that always is the hardest part. In the end we made this thing with no American money. This is the Queen's film. No cheap American money.

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