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Interview: Terry Gilliam Explains How "Hard-Bender" Gets Films Financed, Why He Doesn't Like TV & Much More

by Kevin Jagernauth
August 28, 2013 12:05 PM
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Do you have any second thoughts about "Lost In La Mancha" being made?  In a certain way your narrative over the past few years has always had Don Quixote attached.
It’s interesting only because I keep trying it, that's why the narrative ensues. If I'd had said, "Fuck it" that would be different. I keep drifting back to it, lured back by the siren song of Don Quixote. I’m glad the documentary got made because I think it’s really quite wonderful. There’s something about it because I’ve always been intrigued by ruins as opposed to finished buildings. There may be a film in people's minds based on the few bits of the ruin that still stands, that is a better film than the one I might make, if ever I do. And also how many times do you get to be in a film where you get your name on a poster ahead of Johnny Depp’s?

Over the past couple years, "Defective Detective" and "Mr. Vertigo" have been potential films. Are those still viable projects for you?
They’re there, yes they are. Whether anything happens I don’t know. I kind of forget about them at times and they come back at different points. They all have their problems, everything has got their complicated connections; this one isn’t easy to get your hands on, that one is stuck in the studio somewhere, and they all require a new impulse, a new momentum to get things going.  That usually means that we have a huge, big name star attached to one of these projects. That’s the stuff that gets people excited, nothing else. It’s very sick in that sense. If Jennifer Lawrence wanted to play the devil, all of a sudden it’d be boom. Luckily I still have some draw to big names, they still like working with me. Ultimately, if I got any power based on that, then big name people might be lured to the project.

"There may be a film in people's minds based on the few bits of the ruin that still stands, that is a better film than the one I might make, if ever I do."

Do you have the “Hard-Bender” number yet?
Oh, I got his number! The problem is with all this stuff is who’s hot one week, a month later “Oh, no, we can’t raise money on him.” I’ve been through that so many times. Suddenly, I got an actor I just love who I think is a big name and suddenly, “Oh no, the last film didn’t work” and so they’re out.  It’s so immediate now, there’s very little long-term thinking. I mean, Johnny is one of the few who can keep making films that are somehow less successful and still end up on people’s lists.  

There’s a film, "1884," which you’ve been involved with.  Is that still moving along?
I’m basically an executive producer; it’s a friend of mine who worked at my effects company and he’s an absolute genius. He spent so much of his life on it, it’s ridiculous. A couple years ago they got money from the French and some other people and it looked like it was going ahead but they needed a bit more support and they asked me if I would godfather the thing - put my name on it. I said "Of course" and there was a flurry of activity then it went very quiet and I haven’t heard anything until just recently when these articles popped up about these Python films that aren’t happening and that’s all I know about it.  They haven’t started work on it so again they may have been hit by the crisis. All it takes is a keystone to fall out and the whole thing unravels. They haven’t been in touch with me; I tend to stay out of these things until they need me and nobody’s screamed yet.  Maybe my star has descended so far they don’t even call me for help anymore. I may be bad luck.

The Terry Jones film "Absolutely Anything" is also sitting in the background?
It’s just floundering around the place. I keep seeing things on the web that are clearly intended to stir up new interest in it and then it goes down again.  It’s been a bit oversold as a Python film which is completely wrong because number one, not all of us are involved and those of us that are, are in places for alien creatures. They keep being pushed with Pythons name all over it which does irritate.

Have you heard about the "12 Monkeys" TV show that’s being developed?
Thank God for the web, that’s how I know about this shit.  I get my Google Alerts daily, for anything that I’m involved in — or supposedly involved in — and I had no idea. None of my people have been contacted; I know nothing about it and I can’t see that it’s going to be anything but "Time Bandits" without dwarves.  

What do you think of the recent restoration?
They had a chance to tidy up things; it’s not like Steven Spielberg taking the rifles out of "E.T." They were scenes that were able to be tidier, it’s clean, it looks beautiful and it’s great. It’s a nice way to tray to get it out again because we had a screening a couple weeks ago and it was wonderful up on a big screen and wonderful for new people discover it. Everybody who saw it said “Well, it was like it was made yesterday.”

Before the restoration had you watched the film recently?
No, I tend not to look at my stuff. By the time I finish it; I’ve seen it hundreds of times and can’t stand it. To be honest, I watched some bits of it because a couple years ago we were trying to do a 3D version to bring it back to the public’s attention. I was really impressed with it, it looked really good and the thing that made it more interesting was that the work was being done in Iran more than anywhere else.  

Why did you ultimately decide not to do 3D with Time Bandits?
It became a whole problem with [production company] HandMade Films going through another one of its eruptions where it all falls apart and has to be reassembled. "Time Bandits" was sold to this company, Arrow, who are distributing here it just before it fell apart. That’s the good and the bad: Good that the film is out there being done; bad because I don’t see a penny.

Are you an avid movie guy?  Do you keep up on what’s going on?
No, I basically wait till the Academy DVDs come in and watch them.  

So even you don’t go to the cinema!
I’ve been to see" Pacific Rim" a week ago; I went to see "The Lone Ranger" opening night, it was half empty. Shocking, on the opening night. You read about something making vast sums of money and yet you go to the cinema and its half empty.  

Maybe people are all at home watching TV.
Maybe, or maybe the sun came out. Nobody goes to the cinema when the sun comes out in London.

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  • helen | August 30, 2013 1:17 PMReply

    I find the whole hard-bender issue odd. Tom Hardy's films have not done well commercially when he's been the lead actor. If they are counting his box office via a Batman film or Inception I don't think that can be regarded as his success. The majority of Fassbender's films have been small scale and not set the world alight box office wise. Again he's one of many in the x-men franchise so it seems to me some film makers are going to come a cropper eventually if they sink a lot of money into hard-bender films.

  • Betsy | August 30, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    I'm sick to death of the same actors in films. Tom Hardy, Bale, Bradley Cooper, Fassbender, Helmsworth. Its such lazy casting.

  • Layla | November 26, 2013 4:42 AM

    "Tom Hardy, Bale, Bradley Cooper, Fassbender, Helmsworth. Its such lazy casting."
    Can't you say that about every actor and actress in the industry?You don't think casting Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp , Robert Downey Jr. , George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks aren't lazy casting either?

  • Ella | August 31, 2013 2:34 PM

    Comments like these make me laugh. Tell me, how many mainstream films have Hardy and Fassbender been in, specifically as leads? Bale has been consistent in his filmography over the last decade, but he is hardly overexposed. Cooper might be hovering on overexposure, I will grant you that. And Hemsworth? That guy has played Thor, was in a Snow White film and Rush will be his first serious is that being overexposured? He hasn't had a film in cinemas in almost a year. The Internet creates the illusion of certain actors being overexposed and in "every film" but it is far from reality. You probably have a cubicle mate that fancies one of these actors, but =/= the same actors nor lazy casting.

  • Billy | August 28, 2013 4:24 PMReply

    Great article -- always nice to have a catch up with Gilliam. He's like the favourite uncle who comes back from his travels now and again with gifts.

  • Ella | August 31, 2013 2:35 PM

    Haha! Good analogy about Gilliam.

  • Curtis | August 28, 2013 12:54 PMReply

    The cinema is filled with people on their f*@king cellphones and talking at full volume and acting like douches mostly. I avoid it now unless it's an early morning Sunday matinee after the film has been out for 2 weeks and then...maybe.

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