Something in the Moroccan air agrees with Terry Gilliam. When we met him here last, two years ago, he was in fine, jocular form and again this time he laughed and joked his way through his Marrakech Film Festival duties as a returning guest. This is despite the fact that a lot of what he had to say was essentially pessimistic, often shaded with that dark humor that characterizes so much of Gilliam’s best output.
Following a screening of his latest film, “The Zero Theorem,” the previous evening (our review), Gilliam pulled up a chair in a pleasant Moroccan garden and held forth on everything from his who-the-hell-can-keep-up-with-if-it’s-happening-or-not ‘Don Quixote‘ picture, to the “Twelve Monkeys” TV show to doing the Monty Python reunion stage show for the joy of it, yes, but also largely for the money. As ever, he was a candid interviewee whose giggly, avuncular manner totally belies his sometimes barbed comments on the state of the filmmaking scene today.
So a long-cherished dream of comedy fans everywhere is taking shape in the form of the Monty Python reunion show. Tell us how it came about?
I knew about it about 3 weeks before the public! We had to get together because we were involved in a court case, which we lost. And we decided to change our management and suddenly realised we had a big debt. And because we were spending time together the idea came about that we could do a live show and ask what happened.
It was going to be one show, but that show sold out in 43 seconds and then we added four more and they sold out in 2 hours, so we were making a lot of money. So then when asked if everyone was available for one more week, we all said yes.
So is it just for the money or are you enjoying yourselves?
We better enjoy it or the audience won’t! There was talk about [a world tour] but if these 10 shows keep us happy, Terry Jones‘ mortgage will be paid and John [Cleese] will cover his alimony… we’ll see what happens. It’s been a huge shock, Eric Idle put a kind of script together, some sketches and things, then we read them out and it was just wonderfully funny again and everybody was really good. Michael Palin has been stuck doing these boring travel shows, and he was just brilliant—he’s such a great performer, so it was so good to see him being funny.
Any chance you’ll do another movie with them?
Hmm, the reason we’ve never done a movie is it involves months and months of being together. The show is going to take 3 weeks.
And will it be old stuff or mostly new material?
We are the old stuff.
Are comebacks a potential disaster?
Yes, but we have the public’s money already, like HBO we have the money first so we can take a chance… I don’t watch TV usually, but I signed up for Netflix a month ago, and I stayed up for 3 days and nights watching “Breaking Bad.” It’s really good. When you see something like that, that well-written and well-performed that’s what is so good about places like AMC, HBO, Netflix, even Amazon—they’re all doing the same thing and it’s making television far more interesting than cinema.
Does that give you any more hope for Syfy’s mooted “Twelve Monkeys” series?
No, I know nothing about that except what I read in the papers, I have no control, I get no money. I think it’s a really bad idea frankly, particularly because I thought we did a very good film. I thought the script was wonderful, Chris Marker was very happy with “Twelve Monkeys” since it was inspired by “La Jetee,” and I think the series will have nothing to do with that.
How about “Absolutely Anything,” the Terry Jones-directed live action/animation hybrid that was to feature all of you and Benedict Cumberbatch at one point?
This is one that Terry Jones is making and it looks like it’s going ahead now. The producers are trying to sell it as a Monty Python movie but it’s not. We are doing some voices, and it is no longer Benedict Cumberbatch. It is Simon Pegg.
So “The Zero Theorem” is a kind of existentialist fable, do you feel it’s in line with your other work?
Oh certainly an “auteur” made it, though I prefer to be a “filteur”—when you are making a film ideas come and go and I get to decide which one stays.
‘Zero Theorem’ was more a reaction to the connected world. We all exist as part of the connection, we are a neuron in this bigger thing, can we disconnect? Can solitude be more interesting? I don’t know if people know who they are unless they spend time alone…they only know reactions, tweets etc, not actual existences. So that’s what interested me in the script, and we just started working. The film is much different than the film we started with. I like this film!
The whole experience was very different, we shot very fast. The idea of doing this film probably began in July last year, though it was a script that had been around for 5 years. I had no work, everything had collapsed, so when we got Christoph [Waltz] that was the moment when we knew the film would get made, and we started shooting October 5. Don’t think, just do.It was interesting to work like that.
Why did you think of Christoph Waltz for the central role?
Well, because he’s brilliant. I met him some time ago at a BAFTA [event] or something and we said we must work together. He is such a wonderful actor, an interesting guy, just a regular working actor, and suddenly at 52 years old he becomes an international star. That is a very interesting thing to happen to somebody.
How do you disconnect?
That’s easy, nobody calls me! I don’t watch TV, except “Family Guy.” I have a love affair with my computer screen, and I read. I read 3 books at once. I don’t really watch movies that much, at the end of the year maybe. I think I see too many movies that are like other movies…the films are technically brilliant, extraordinary things but they are copies of copies of copies, no surprises. Entertaining but not making me think, so I’d rather get a book.
And what’s the latest on your white whale project, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”?
I think next week I will look for locations but it doesn’t mean it will be made. That’s [supposed to be] next September/October to shoot, and no, not the same cast. [Johnny Depp is] too old! I’m looking for the young Johnny Depp, I can’t tell you who. It’s very hard to get the money so I have to think who are the bankable actors.
.. I’m not even sure I want to make ‘Don Quixote,’ it’s more I want to get rid of it. It’s kind of like that, I just want to remove this tumor and then it will be done. The problem is it’s been around so long I can disappoint a lot of people. I’d love to do something else but it is like this tumor.
Do you ever regret participating with “Lost in La Mancha” in that it popularized a lot of the negative mythology around your ‘Don Quixote’?
No, not really, it was just a good diary, that’s how I look at it. I can watch it and see who I was then—what an idiot! The great thing is you look at the poster and my name is ahead of Johnny Depp’s what more could I want?
What do you think of comments Spielberg and George Lucas made back in June about the state of film financing?
Look, Soderbergh was right, his [complaint] was the best. For Steven and George to get involved and complain? I mean, if anybody is responsible for the state of the current systems it’s the success of their films! Soderbergh was very good and precise about this [subject]…if you make small films how do you compete with films that have a marketing budget of $80m?
And what of your other projects outside of film?
…Before coming here I was working on this opera that I was to do in the springtime…Thank God I was invited here, because a week ago I had gone mad, the problems with opera are very very complex. It’s Berlioz’s “Benvenuto Cellini.”
Cellini was this great renaissance sculptor—it’s a character I’ve always loved; the only renaissance artist to write his own biography. It’s a great book it reads like an adventure story and I love Berlioz, love his music because he’s crazy. I really identify with him…He has too many ideas, like the critics write about me!