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Interview: Terry Gilliam On Rewriting 'Don Quixote,' His Role In 'Jupiter Ascending' & Lacking Diplomacy

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 3, 2014 at 2:49PM

Terry Gilliam is fast becoming one of our favorite interviewees, so in general we take every opportunity we can to talk to him. Just after its Venice premiere, we had a long chat about his new film and at-least-partial return to form, “The Zero Theorem,” and then early last month we talked again in Marrakech. Which meant that during our time with him at the Göteborg International Film Festival this week, we found ourselves in the unusually luxurious position of having time to talk about other things, cabbages and kings.
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Terry Gilliam, Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam is fast becoming one of our favorite interviewees, so in general we take every opportunity we can to talk to him. Just after its Venice premiere, we had a long chat about his new film and at-least-partial return to form, “The Zero Theorem,” and then early last month we talked again in Marrakech. Which meant that during our time with him at the Göteborg International Film Festival this week, we found ourselves in the unusually luxurious position of having time to talk about other things, cabbages and kings. We have another piece coming from the session soon, which we're using to road test a new potential series of filmmaker interviews, but first there were a few upcoming projects that we wanted a status update on...

It feels like we’re checking in on this one every few minutes, but given its history perhaps that’s appropriate… is “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” still slated for an October 3rd start date?
That’s our game at the moment. That’s the one we’re playing. We’ll see. On the one hand I’ve got a little bit more faith in the likelihood this time, on the other hand there’s a great part of me that knows better. It makes me kind of crazy. I’ve got to convince myself that it’s a reality so that I can do all the things that are needed to be done. In fact just last weekend Tony Grisoni [“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the “Red Riding” trilogy] and I rewrote parts of the script and made a real quantum leap forward. It’s the slowest-written script ever. And it’s evolved over time, partly because I’ll be like, "Oh we’re not getting as much money as we wanted to so let’s cut that scene out" and seeing "Oh, hey, we didn’t miss it." So it’s constantly evolving and, I hate to say it but it’s better.

Terry Gilliam, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Well that’s quite a claim, considering you’ve always referred to it as “the best script I have!”
Until I rewrite it and it gets even better…!

But with these rewrites, do you worry that since the audience isn’t as familiar with the previous versions as you are, you might throw the baby out with the bathwater and change something that’s crucial?
Well, of course we’re very conscious of that when we’re doing it. And, you know, I don’t read it for a year or two at a stretch. And then I look at it again, first of all to remind myself that it IS a good script, and secondly there’s always some niggling bit that we didn’t quite get right which often triggers something else to happen. Tony was the one that cut this big scene out [recently], just boldly, and I had to admit, "Shit, it works."

Are cards still close to chests over who’s signed on? [Robert Duvall intimated not so long ago that he’s still attached, but Gilliam has kept very schtum.]
Afraid so. I don’t want to… every time I mention a name they die or something.

And how are your relations with Johnny Depp following his departure from your Quixote project to apparently set up one of his own?
Yeeaaah, I wrote him a note about it. And I saw him in London a few months ago and… [grins wryly] it didn’t come up in conversation.

This article is related to: Göteborg International Film Festival, Terry Gilliam, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, The Defective Detective, Jupiter Ascending, The Zero Theorem, Interviews, Interviews


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