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Terry GilliamBluntly Speaking | Terry Gilliam
an emily blunt interview (for Clyde)





Bluntly speaking? Okay, here's where I get film-geek girly girl. Terry Gilliam, is perhaps, one of five directors (alive) that I simply dance about when I hear a new film is en route. His work since Python's cartooning, has enthralled me. I actually took an animation course I was so drawn in by Gilliam's work; he, in a way, inspired my career. I even own his out-of-print animation book. 'Nough said?

So, here I am …heading to meet the man himself. Rodriguez? Yeah, Huge fan and admirer. Tarantino? Oh - yes indeed. Marty Scorsese? He has his own wing... Burton? I am not sure my heart would actually stand it…But, Mr. Gilliam is the Babe Ruth, the unopened 'Meet The Beatles' LP (Ask Me Why version) of the collection.

His work is never for all, yet always remarkably unique. He's had some downs (like the Don Quixote film that never came to be: a clever doc was made though - review here->). And, classics attached to his name forever, like Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (screenplay/direction - obviously NOT the novel, ahem), and Brazil… and that whole fore-mentioned little Monty Python thing he did.

Today, we are meeting to chat about his new film (a higher budget more legal schpiel) piece called, The Brothers Grimm

He is a filmmakers filmmaker. My fairy tale begins…

Em: Were you a Grimm Fairy Tale kid?

Terry: I was completely informed by them. They made me. This is a product of Grimm's fairy tales as a child. We didn't have television. I was pre-television. Those were the books I was reading. I still see the world through those stories. There are patterns those stories reveal. And I kind of look of the world like that. I can't quite get them out of my system. So it my revenge on the Brothers Grimm for all those nightmares they gave me.

Em: Talk to me a bit about your actors - the choices of your leads…

Terry: It used to be that great character actors became lead actors through the force of their talent. Now you have great actors, like lead actors who desperately want to be character actors like Matt and Ethan. That's got to be so gratifying. Johnny Depp, all these great people. They're actors. The problem with leading actors is they tend to get pigeon holed. They become stars and you've got to deliver the same thing each time for your faithful following. It is a terrible trap to be in. Once you can allow them, like in our instance I think we cast against type, they fly. They become character actors because they really are that. The system wants stars, they don't want character actors it's too uncontrollable.

Em: You're one of the delightful outsiders really. An independent guy with a "style." Can a director be successful AND creative in Hollywood?

Terry: (winks) It does seem today that the system doesn't want originality and certainly originality could be your middle name.

Em: Would it make you proud, folks say, "It's Gilliam I'm Going? I will walk to that film if I have to!" A nod that maybe originality is appreciated more by audiences than the studios?

Terry: Well. What's given me heart is The Island has collapsed and a few other films, Stealth has gone bad, so maybe the audience is finally voting with their feet. Maybe that is what is happening. There certainly is a buzz of panic in Hollywood. Where've we gone wrong? Well, you've been going wrong for years folks. You go to the movies - I saw the War of the Worlds a couple of weeks ago (smiles)- and the trailers were up there and I've seen those trailers for the last 15 years. So I think it is about time the public are finally realizing they've been getting the same nonsense for so long.

Em: Ya, I wasn't big on that… Does the media help, or hinder, a film's success? Really?

Terry: Oh, I hope you are telling the truth. And even if you are exaggerating, keep doing it. Maybe they'll start believing you. And they'll let people like me in there and make a few films. I think the problem is, there's too much written about films at the moment. I honestly do believe that. I think they're too many films being made. I actually think the audience knows too much. I mean they know the box office results, and people have been kind of conditioned now - if it's doing well we've got to see it and if it's not doing well, maybe there is something wrong with it. I've watched that over the years develop and it really fills unnecessary information. It's almost like history is in the making with each film that comes out and if it is a big hit I've to be part of that history; I can't miss it! It's like the kid in War of the Worlds who has got to see the world blow up.

You know I have to ask for all the Gilliamnites out there…What is your reaction Lost in Mancha?

Terry: I was really glad that they made it. As it was, when Quixote was crashing and burning, the guys put were putting their camera away because they said they had come to make a movie about the making of a movie. I said you've got a better film here keep shooting. And I saw it at different points when they were cutting it and gave them a few suggestions and I thought they ended up making a pretty great film and I don't want to ever to have to watch it again. (Laugh) If I watch it now it will throw me for a couple of weeks, so I don't watch it. I am glad they made it. I think they did a great job and it is a great trailer if we ever get it off the ground again. (Laugh)

Em: in Brothers Grimm, there's a bit of newsy- stuff. Was that intentional on your part?

Terry: Interesting…No, it wasn't intentional, certainly. I think I am always responding to the world that is really happening around me so a lot of it becomes rather subconscious. What I was really thinking at the time was there was Germany at the beginning of the 19th century invaded by Napoleon's armies. The wave of rational thinking, the enlightenment was pouring into a country which was still living in a world with the old stories --the Norse tales, all of that. And that is what it was about. I mean if you look at Germany in the 19th century -romantic writing, romantic painting --there's an attempt for the Germans to try to hold on to their identity in defense of the French new thinking. So that is what was REALLY going on in my mind. If it is happening again to day it may be. The world keeps repeating itself. (laugh)

Em: Talk about your meetings, showdowns, within this film - for the record and be done…

Terry: Sometimes the best technique in fighting is to keep back peddling. It wears them out. (Laugh) It's an oriental technique. Something I have never done in my life before but I realized that they are great fighters. They're incredible. Unlike the rest of the studio people they do, they really do care about films. They want to be filmmakers. They're very invasive in that sense. And I have always fought. But I realized with them fighting only gave them more strength and it wore me out. So I tried my new back peddling technique. Rope-a-dope. (Laugh) It was a very strange experience. It was actually great. In fact, what it did, this hiatus, was something I had always talked about being a good way of making a movie. Where you finish the movie. You go off. Put it aside. Do something else. Clear your head. Look at the world with fresh eyes. And then come back and look at it. It is one of those things you're never allowed to do. But in fact that is what happened this time. And the film definitely benefited. When we came we said, that's not working as well, that can be cut, change this a little bit. So we made a few changes. They are very small thing but they were good things and I wouldn't have made them if I hadn't had that break. And like a good fairy tale everyone ended up happy. Everyone likes the film. At least they like it. And I like it. I don't know about the rest of you. But it's a start. (Laugh)

Em: Where does your heart lie is it as a director who loves CGI to play around with or the animator?

Terry: I've given up being the animator. I just make films. I've got images in my mind that I want to get up on the screen. It's just these stories I want to tell that tend to be fairly elaborate visually and so I will use whatever is required, models, CG. I've actually got my own CG effects company I've had it every since the beginning. After Holly Grail we started this company called Peerless Camera and all my films have been done through them so it very hands on and I can go in there and sit on the computer and it is not sending it to ILM and done by people. I am there everyday, so in a sense I am still an animator. What was interesting on this one was that animation in CG tends to be beautiful, articulate, flowing and these guys are brilliant but I kept saying I don't want it like that. I spent my time messing up their work. I said trees don't want to be like a Disney, they've got to be more jerky. When a wolf leaps and lands he doesn't land beautifully he skids or loses his footing. So it was a very interesting experience trying to make these things more real, make them as messy as the real world and unfortunately most CG people are just sitting there at their little computer and they're lost. Witness Star Wars and things like that - there is no reality up there. I look at them and say this is beautiful but there is nothing tactile, nothing that feels like the world we live in. I find it weakens those films because you are not in anything like the real world. Strangely, animation and puppetry work better because you know they are in a different world and the form is completely different and you'll except it just like theatre. But when you are doing film, film is a fairly realistic medium and I have a real problem with the Van Helsings and the Star Wars. Now I think graphically they're stunning, they're beautiful, but I am not in those worlds. They're just artificial. But on the other hand, when you do Sin City, I was there because it was so graphic and I thought that works. It is a very subtle thing and it is very hard to describe precisely what the difference is, but it is a difference.

Em: The million, err, box-office question… Is there a chance the film will ever open?

Terry: Oh, no, no. Our problem is the script is tied up in a legal Gordian knot at the moment and I have been trying to get it out of this problem for the last several years. There is a bit of movement right now because Jeremy Thomas who produced Tideland, the film I did in the middle of Brothers Grimm, thinks he has a way of loosening it up. And IF he does loosen it up and we actually get back it will be the film I try to make next year. But until that happens, you know…

Em: What's next for Terry Gilliam?

Terry: (deadpan serious as only a ex-Pyth can do…) Dinner. That's about it. I really don't have a plan yet. I have to get through this most pleasurable experience selling the film. (Laugh).

Em; I have to ask a coupla Python bits…Do you have to sign off on Spamalot. Can you talk about that? Was it an easy sell or a hard sell ?

Terry. Of course. The way that Spamalot developed was that Erik had been making noise that he wanted to make a musical version of Holly Grail. We all sat around and talked about it and in the end said if we're going to be ripped off it is better that one of us rips us off (laugh). And so we all agreed that Erik had the right to do whatever he wanted to do with Holly Grail. It was as simple as that. And that was it. As he was working on it he would occasionally send us the songs, the book. So there was always a contact. Originally, we had actually agreed that it wouldn't be Monty Python's Spamalot it was just going to be Spamalot. because we wanted to keep a certain distance from it. As it developed, people were quite happy to have THE NAME put on there and so it became Monty Python's Spamalot. And it certainly put a bit of life back in the old corpse. It's kicking. It's alive. I am really intrigued by those audiences because I thought there's a Python audience. They've obviously been breeding a bit so they've got children but after that, but it's still only a limited number. It's just gone crazy. What it does to, as far as Broadway musicals, part of the success it seems to be in Broadway, is that the second act is very much a piss take of Broadway musicals so it's pastiches of Andrew Lloyd Weber's songs. So, that is part..I remember on opening night that Broadway audience just loved it because it was self-referential. It was about their world. Their theatre.
Broadway has never seen so many straight males going to the theatre. (Laugh) We've hetro-sexualized Broadway musicals? God, what is the world coming to? (Laugh)

Em: What is Tidelands?

Terry: Hmm…After a big project like Grimms it was nice to do something small. It was a book by a guy named Mitch Cullin. He sent it to me a few years ago and I just picked it up and started reading it. This is fantastic. It is the story of a little girl who ends up in up at a very strange and bizarre situation and how she copes with it. And I particularly liked it because I am so tired listening of hearing what victims children are. And how vulnerable..children are really strong. It is about their reliance, this film. The main character is a 91/2-year-old girl played by this phenomenal Canadian actress named Jodelle Ferland. Her father is Jeff Bridges, her mother, Jennifer Tilly. Janet McTeer plays this strange woman and there's a great young Canadian actor, Brendan Fletcher, who plays a 20-year-old retarded epileptic kid. My cheap version of it is Alice and Wonderland meets Psycho. My French version is Amile with balls. It is an extraordinary thing. It is an extraordinary book. It was just a chance to go out there and make something that was going to get a lot of people walking out of the theatre. It is always nice to test the audience, I say. (Laugh)


Okay, so my steps a tad lighter, and my heart may start again...abandon your peguins upon the tellies, and get out and see the Grimm Brothers.



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