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Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’: 6 Pivotal Moments in the ‘Cursed’ Passion Project

How Gilliam's long-gestating project starring Adam Driver evolved over nearly two decades.

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

After 17 years, Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” has finally turned the corner from cursed film project to completed movie, a historic and improbable milestone that has many people asking, “Is it really true?” One of the most troubled productions in the history of cinema, the project has been tormenting Gilliam for more than 25 years, since he first started tinkering with a screenplay adaptation in 1991.

READ MORE: Cannes 2016: Terry Gilliam on ‘Continual Failure’ and ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’

Despite several false starts over the years, Gilliam never bought into the idea that the project was doomed. “The curse is bullshit,” he said during an interview with IndieWire at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, a year that also marked the 400th anniversary of the death of “Don Quixote” writer Miguel de Cervantes.

Starring Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard and Olga Kurylenko, the film tells the story of Toby (Driver) an arrogant publicist who was once an aspiring film director and made a movie based on “Don Quixote” in a small Spanish village. Toby returns to the village years later, only to find that his film has had a terrible effect on the quiet place. Gilliam announced via Facebook on Sunday that he had finally finished principal photography. Here are six other pivotal moments in the now legendary production’s history.

2000: The first production

Filming began in northeastern Spain, with Johnny Depp in the lead role of Toby opposite French actor Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote. The location’s proximity to a NATO air base resulted in F-16 fighter jets constantly flying overhead and drowning out the audio. A flash flood then permanently altered the appearance of the set, which soon faced additional weather-related challenges including lightning and wind storms. Finally, Rochefort suffered a herniated disc and had to drop out of the project. The rest of the shoot was scrapped and the rights to the script fell into the hands of an insurance company. “I knew about four weeks down the line the shit was going to hit the fan on that film,” Gilliam said during an interview with IndieWire last year. “I was relieved [when it ended] because they couldn’t blame me.”

2002: “Lost in La Mancha”

A documentary originally intended to capture the making of the film became “Lost in La Mancha,” which tells the story of the doomed production. The film shows Gilliam experiencing every filmmaker’s nightmare, trying to overcome one unforeseeable disaster to the next. Despite working with a budget of $32 million, Gilliam said he needed twice that to execute his vision. Perhaps surprisingly, he ended up being a fan of the doc, as it offers a rare glimpse into the chaotic process of shooting a feature film. “I love that documentary,” Gilliam said last year. “You never get to see things like that, and that’s why it’s important.”

Terry Gilliam discusses location plans with his team in Tomar, Portugal.

Alfama Films

2010: Ewan McGregor replaces Johnny Depp

After navigating all the legal hurdles of getting the rights back from the insurance company, the project was back on with Ewan McGregor as the new lead actor, replacing Depp, and Robert Duvall set to play Quixote. Though pre-production had already commenced, the movie was once again sidelined just three months after the McGregor announcement due to a “financial hiccup.”

2014: A new start date

With John Hurt now attached as Don Quixote, Gilliam announced a new start date of January of 2015. He also revealed that the script has changed significantly since his first attempt. “I keep incorporating my own life into it and shifting it,” Gilliam said at the time. “The basic underlying premise of the version Johnny was involved in was that he actually was going to be transported back to the 17th century, and now it all takes place now – it’s contemporary. It’s more about how movies can damage people.” Production on the movie would once again be delayed due to actor John Hurt’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

2016: Gilliam arrives in Cannes (with Adam Driver)

After inking a deal with Amazon in 2015, Gilliam arrived at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival to announce at a press conference that he and producer Paulo Branco had fresh funding to begin shooting in October of 2016 in Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, with Adam Driver now in the lead role and a budget of roughly $19 million. “Finally this year I think I got the perfect cast,” Gilliam said, calling Driver “the guy I’ve been looking for all these years.” Four months after the announcement, and just days before production was set to begin, Gilliam had to delay the start date once again, to early 2017.

2017: Shooting begins, again

Gilliam finally began shooting his long-gestating passion project in March, IndieWire reported, but surprisingly, Branco was no longer involved due to a “disagreement” with Gilliam. Just last month, Branco even alleged in a statement that the production moving forward without him was “patently illegal.” The film’s producers released a statement of their own, claiming that Branco has “no rights whatsoever to ‘Don Quixote’” and that his accusations are “preposterous.” The conflict between Branco’s Alfama Films and Gilliam has yet to be resolved.

READ MORE: ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ Hits Yet Another Snag as Production Company Deems It ‘Patently Illegal’

After all of the challenges Gilliam faced over the years, what was the biggest hurdle?

“Maintaining my belief that I’ll be able to finish it,” he said to IndieWire last year. “It’s about fooling yourself into thinking you can do it, that’s all. And that’s where most of my energy is — just in trying to fool myself to believe in something, that this is possible.”

To see 10 photos from Terry Gilliam’s 17 years of production on “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” click here.

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