Archive for December, 2009

Gilliam Talks About Heath Ledger’s Final Movie

Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is a gorgeous, mind-bending rumination about death, aging, and creation. The movie, which opens this week, won much praise at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival and is easily the strongest film that the visionary director has produced in years. Yet “Parnassus” is probably best known for being the final work of Heath Ledger who tragically died halfway through production.

Gilliam has a legendary track record for being utterly cursed during productions: Universal initially refused to release his masterpiece “Brazil” until critics dubbed it the best movie of the year; his next movie “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” was crippled by studio politics and a shiftless producer; and another project, the aborted movie “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” which suffered one disaster after another until it was shut down after only a week of production, was immortalized in the documentary “Lost in La Mancha.”

So when the star to his latest effort died after only a third or so through the shoot, “Parnassus” looked like yet another casualty to Gilliam’s freakishly bad luck. Yet he not only managed to pull it together and finish the movie, he managed to make it work.

The movie’s story is about the titular Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a thousand-year-old traveling showman who invites audience members to venture into an alternate reality through his magical mirror. He got these unusual abilities through a bet with the devil (Tom Waits) and when he tries to collect, a mysterious figure named Tony comes to save the day. Tony is, of course, played by Heath Ledger. He’s also played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.

As Gilliam describes below during my interview with him two weeks ago, the director conquered these seemingly insurmountable problems with a combination of luck, ingenuity, and with a little help from Heath’s friends.

Gilliam one stroke of luck was that he shot all of the “real world” scenes before Ledger died. His second stroke of luck was that the three A-list stars, all friends of the late actor, stepped up to help save Ledger’s final film. Thus, with some quick rejiggering of the script, Heath plays the real-world version of Tony while Depp and the gang play transformed dream-world versions of him.

Also in my interview, Gilliam talks about how he developed the film’s story and put together what he calls “One of the finest casts I’ve ever assembled.” He also expounds on the cravenness of Hollywood studios, the nature of God, and his time working with the legendary UK comedy troupe Monty Python. Continue reading ‘Gilliam Talks About Heath Ledger’s Final Movie’


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