While the documentary "Lost in La Mancha" drew many comparisons between Terry Gilliam and Cervantes' classical hero, who featured in the director's film "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," the aborted making of which 'La Mancha' followed, it's perhaps not the most appropriate literary comparison. Instead, the project seems to be closer to Gilliam's white whale from "Moby Dick," an obsession that won't let go of the filmmaker, even if he wanted to.
We spoke to the director this week at the Marrakech Film Festival, where he was one of a number of figures being paid tribute to, and the director filled us on the latest on the project, which is still pushing forward, but unfortunately without one of the stars recently attached to it. When asked if the project was a dream, Gilliam quipped, "No, it's a punishment, it's a nightmare. Because it won't go away and at the same time we don’t have the money to make it yet. In a way, I’ve decided to not talk about Quixote, because everytime I talk about it and say, ‘I’m going to be doing it next year,’ it doesn’t happen.”
As Gilliam says, funding continues to be the issue on the project. "Well, we're always waiting for money. Everything is about money, and until you get the money…That’s the problem with films, the things that I’m trying to do cost $20 million dollars, maybe more. And if they’re made in Hollywood they would cost $80 million dollars. Big visions cost money, you have to create them and they cost money. So I’m in that very difficult financial slot. If you make a film for $10 million you get the money like that [snaps], or even 15. $20 million starts getting to a dangerous point."
Nevertheless, Gilliam did update us on 'Don Quixote,' saying that, sadly, Ewan McGregor is no longer involved in the project. "But Robert Duvall is! But we've got to hurry, because he's 82," Gilliam joked. Looking more optimistic right now is his Paul Auster adaptation "Mr. Vertigo," a project that's only eight months old, a fraction compared to the decade-long gestation of 'Don Quixote.' And the good news is, it seems to have reached the stage of Gililam trying to find his lead. "That's with a certain actor who is reading the script. There's always certain actors out there..." he told us, cryptically.
Gilliam says that he's been working with Auster on the project, and feels that it's the one book by the writer that fits his own sensibilities, after he was given it by his long-time music supervisor Ray Cooper. "[Cooper] said, 'You have to read this! This is perfect for you.' And it is. I think it’s the one Auster book that I could actually do and it takes place just before the depression in America. It’s about a 10 year old boy, a thieving street urchin, who meets a strange man and the man says, ‘Listen, you’re scum, you’re a worm, you’re not even worth crawling on the earth you little shit, but if you come with me in three years I will teach you how to fly – not an airplane, to fly—and if I fail you can cut my head off,’ and that’s how it begins."
Unfortunately, one project that doesn't look like it'll happen now is his mooted collaboration with Damon Albarn's animated band Gorillaz. "No, it’s all gone funny,” he said. “Damon and I, we all talked and got excited, but then, eh [makes deflating balloon sound]. It’s a very different world before music and movies and timescales and they’re more quick and we take much longer." Still, fingers crossed that Gilliam gets something going in 2012.
In the meantime, he's executive-producing the animated film "1884," made by, as Gilliam says, "...a guy who works in the special effects company that I have in London, he's been working on it for twenty years, and he's been doing it all in his bathroom. It's real animation, it's models, it's everything, it's brilliant. It's a science-fiction film made in 1884, about what the world would be like if certain things changed." Hopefully we'll see more from that, and his European Film Award winning 2011 short "The Wholly Family," which is currently seeking internet distribution, in the new year. Keep your eyes peeled for more from our interview with Gilliam, as well as other coverage from Marrakech, very soon.
Interview by Jessica Kiang