The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is Terry Gilliam's new film, and while I haven't seen it yet, it's a miracle that anyone has an opportunity see the movie at all. In the middle of production Heath Ledger suddenly passed away leaving Gilliam with a film without a star. With only half of the movie complete he found himself with too much movie left to shoot to salvage anything and conversely too much required to re-shoot in order to re-cast the role and continue. It appeared he would have no choice but to shut down the production but his daughter urged him to find away to go on and he ultimately decided to cast three new actors to continue Ledger's role. At the center of the film is a magic mirror and he revamped his script to have Ledger's character enter the mirror and emerge as different personas played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell; all friends of Ledger. (Each actor also donated their fee from the film to Matilda, Ledger's daughter with actress Michelle Williams.) The results, reportedly, are mixed at best, but I'm just glad he finished the movie. Had he not, it wouldn't have surprised me if Gilliam had retreated from filmmaking altogether, which would have been quite a loss.
Back in 2000, Gilliam was working on a project called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote when the wheels started to fall off. First, a flash flood damaged a lot of equipment and destroyed continuity making previously shot footage useless then his 70-year old star Jean Rochefort suffered a herniated disc in his back; which is problematic at any time, but it's catastrophic if you're required to ride a horse and act in a movie. Rochefort, who had spent seven months learning English in order to play Don Quixote, went home to rest while Gilliam and his crew tried to shoot the scenes he wasn't appearing in. It quickly became clear that Rochefort would not be returning and Gilliam had no choice but to shut his $32 million production down after just one week of shooting. The entire chaotic affair was captured in the documentary Lost in La Mancha; which is definitely worth checking out. Gilliam and his creative team give the documentary crew full access so you see this multi-million production disintergrate into dust in front of your eyes. Gilliam, who's had issues with run away budgets in the past, particularly on Brazil (a brilliant film) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (a massive bomb,) would then have two projects shut down during production as well had he not finished Parnassus and that would likely have been the knock-out blow in terms of him being able to find financing for future projects.
I had a chance to chat with Gilliam last week, which was a quite a thrill because his 1981 film Time Bandits was one of the first movies I ever really fell in love with. The movie, which explodes with imagination and creativity, literally blew my tiny mind and opened my eyes to what a unique medium for story telling filmmaking could be. To have a chance to actually tell the man who created that movie how special it was to me as a child was one of the cooler perks I've had working at MTV. We were there to talk with Terry about the difficult tasking of finishing Parnassus after Ledger's passing (you can check our chat with him here) but we also got a chance to ask him a few questions about Quixote as well, because he is now, almost a decade later, gearing up to try and make the movie again. His new take will star Robert Duvall as Don Quixote and Gilliam, who's now trying to scrape up the cash to make the project (a task that will me much easier if The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus performs well) said he hopes to be shooting the film next year. A recent piece at /Film is passing on a report that Johnny Depp - who was cast in the doomed original attempt to film the project - is confirmed to return, but I find this impossible to believe because Gilliam made it quite clear to us that there is no financing in place for the project at the 2010 start date is speculative at best. An actor as busy as Depp, who's essentially booked for the next few years already, couldn't possibly be committed to a project that is slated to shoot in the next year, not to mention that Gilliam himself only listed Robert Duvall as being attached. Here's hoping the pieces fall into place and he's able to make this project and exorcise the demon.