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A Film Issue

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam got his start being the most beloved guy in his high school and then he went on to do every job that anyone has ever fantasized about and to collaborate with everyone that anyone has ever wanted to meet or be.

by Nick Gazin, Alex Sturrock
Sep 1 2009, 12:00am

TERRY GILLIAM

INTERVIEW BY NICK GAZIN

PORTRAITS BY ALEX STURROCK

Terry Gilliam got his start being the most beloved guy in his high school and then he went on to do every job that anyone has ever fantasized about and to collaborate with everyone that anyone has ever wanted to meet or be. He worked for Harvey Kurtzman on Harvey's longest-running post-Mad attempt at magazining. He was in Monty Python and did all those animations and distinctive visuals. Then he went on to make really big, great, depressing movies like Time Bandits, Brazil, 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Also George Harrison, aka the best Beatle, was his number-one fan. Gilliam is a genius. I think that so many things have come easily to him that he has to make the most difficult-to-film movies possible just to keep from getting bored.

The person who was originally supposed to conduct this interview died or something while working on a story in Detroit, and I was called up at the last minute to fill in. I didn't have time to do research although I'd spent much of my formative years obsessing over Terry Gilliam. That obsession waned once I started obsessing over how to be Terry Gilliam. So this interview contains some of the stock content that you get when you talk to someone as famous as him, but I also wanted to know about how, for him, depression and hope relate to making creative work. I don't know if I did a good job or not. I didn't see his last couple of films. I hope he didn't hang up the phone and say to himself, "What a jackass."

Vice: I'd like to start with something that's near and dear to me. I love Mad magazine and I love Harvey Kurtzman, so I'd like to ask you about growing up reading Mad and your eventual work with Harvey.

Terry Gilliam: Well, Mad was THE magazine when I was a teenager so far as I'm concerned. It was so smart and so funny and so... troublesome.

It was fantastic—the bomb in the mailbox on the letters page.

Yeah, all that stuff was freeing. It was like, "Wow!" You couldn't wait for the next issue. And the art was brilliant. Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Willie Elder... It wasn't just destructive anarchy. It was really intelligent. They were brilliant at satirizing whatever was going on in the world, whether it was other comic strips, television, or movies. It was a fantastic, funny mirror held up to the world. So I became a huge fan of it and started learning how to cartoon like those guys. Wally Wood's women were so sexy that I felt that it was possibly a form of pornography, and I used to hide the magazine from my parents because I felt guilty.

That's how you know it's great art. I remember seeing the first six issues. My dad had them. I forget when the first issue came out. '52? '51? But it's still edgy today. The sex and anger are all on the surface.

There was nothing else like it at the time, so there was nothing to compete with it. Every cartoonist I know from my generation was totally affected and influenced by it. Harvey became kind of a god for all of us.

You got to work for Harvey at Help! magazine along with Robert Crumb and some other greats.

It was after Harvey walked out of Mad and his other magazines, Humbug and Trump, came and went. Help! was the one that seem to develop a life of its own. I was in college at the time, and some friends and I took over the school's art and literary journal and turned it into a humor magazine. Help! was in many ways the model. Our magazine was called Fang.

You went to Occidental College in Los Angeles, right?

Yes. We started doing parodies of things like West Side Story. I sent a copy of our magazine to Harvey and he wrote back a nice letter and that was the end of it for me—I just had to go to New York and meet this guy. I wanted to be part of that world. I wrote him back saying that I was thinking of coming to New York after I graduated and he wrote back again saying, "Forget about it, there's nothing for you here, we're self-sufficient." And I said, "No, no, I'm coming."

Nice.

It was really funny, that summer I had been reading a book called Act One. It's the autobiography of Moss Hart. He was an incredibly successful playwright. His story was of a callow youth going to New York to meet his hero and ending up being his partner in writing—and that's what happened to me. I met with Harvey at the Algonquin Hotel, which at that point was famous for the round table where Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker and all these brilliant wits hung out in the 40s. I went up and knocked on the door of his suite, and it wasn't Harvey in there, but Willie Elder and Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth. All of these cartoonists were busy working on the first issue of Little Annie Fanny.

Oh my God.

It was like walking onto Mount Olympus and there were the gods. Eventually Harvey turned up, and this is where luck enters the whole picture. The guy who was the assistant editor was quitting and they were looking for someone else to work for next to nothing. I was the kid standing there, and that's how it happened.

Brazil (1985)

What's it like to meet and then work with someone you idolize?

Well, for one thing they come off their godlike-status pedestals and become real people. Harvey was so meticulous in the way that he worked. He was a great teacher, but he also gave me incredible freedom. One of the things we used to do was take photographs or engravings and then caption them. I would spend ages down in the New York Public Library going through old photos and books. I learned so much—about art, about history—just by having to do this work. The magazine's staff was basically four people: Jim Warren, the publisher who we never saw, Harvey, myself, and Harry Chester, who was the production guy. Harvey would be up in his attic in Mount Vernon working away and I'd be down in his office administering with Harry Chester and his pasteup guys. Because I was the assistant editor of the magazine, all of these other young cartoonists were turning up in New York and hanging out with me. Whether it was Gilbert Shelton from Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers or Bob Crumb, we were all roughly the same age. I guess they thought I was more successful since I was the assistant editor of Help!, but I was getting paid $2 less a week than I would have if I had been on the dole. [laughs]

Help! is also where you met John Cleese, which kind of started you moving through the creative industries like a shark. I envy that a lot, for an artist in one lifetime to work and move through so many different fields and become masterful in them.

What I really wanted to be was a film director. That was the goal, but I had no idea how you got there. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and it was there dangling just over the hills. From the summer camps I worked at, I knew all of these Hollywood kids—Danny Kaye's daughter, Hedy Lamarr's son, Burt Lancaster's daughters. I was a counselor at the camp while I was working my way through college. Hollywood was so close, but I just couldn't see how you worked up through a system like that.

But you did start building connections to that world through Help!

Because of the fumettis—

We should just say, for those who don't know, that fumettis are comics that use photographs.

Right. And we needed actors for them. I would go down to theaters in the Village. We were only paying $15 a day, but I kept meeting people through that. I met Cleese and Woody Allen that way.

Making fummetis must have taught you things that came in handy later, doing TV and then film.

I produced the fumettis by organizing locations, costumes, and actors. I learned an awful lot. The thing about Harvey was that he always wanted to be a director, so the cartoons in Mad were very filmic. He used the frames like a camera.

What did you do after Help! folded?

I hitchhiked my way across Europe. When I was coming back from Turkey and I didn't have enough money to return to the States, I stopped in Paris. I went to see a friend who was editing a magazine there and asked for a job so I could get money to go home and he said, "OK, I want you to fill up two pages with as many jokes as you can about snowmen." And so I sat in this tiny little hotel room in Paris freezing my ass off drawing snowmen, and it got me enough money to get a plane ticket. When I got back I didn't have any place to stay but Harvey's attic. [laughs] It was grand, it was a great time.

Wow. And when you got back, was that when John Cleese asked you to do animations for Monty Python?

No. After living at Harvey's for a bit I moved to LA. Do you remember Joel Siegel, the film critic on Good Morning America? He was one of my best friends then, and he and I did a book called The Cocktail People. I think it made me 12 and a half dollars, but it did lead to Joel getting me a job at an advertising agency called Carson/Roberts. They invented two things: the smiley face and the phrase "Have a happy day." That's what the receptionists would say when you called. They inflicted that on the world. Joel and I worked there for a year, and when I'd had enough of it I wanted to move back to Europe since I had fallen in love with it. I was living with an English girl at the time, so the two of us came to London and I worked in magazines there for the better part of a year. Cleese was the one person I knew there, so I called him up one day. John, by then, was very well known on television there. I asked him to introduce me to someone in television since I wanted to get out of magazines. I met a producer who was working on Do Not Adjust Your Set, where Mike Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle were writing and performing. The producer was an amateur cartoonist. He liked my cartoons and he bought a couple of written sketches from me. So I was thrust upon the other three, much to the chagrin of Mike and Terry. Suddenly I was in that group, and when I did a cartoon for them, that was the beginning of the connection.

Was it an animated cartoon?

Yeah. Basically what happened was Eric and I became good friends and we started working on another show called We Have Ways of Making You Laugh. There were five or six of us who would sit around as the core group. I was the cartoonist. A guest would come on the show, I would finish off a caricature of them, and at the end the camera would mix to my drawing of the guest. One week I suggested doing an animated film. They gave me two weeks and £400 to make it. The only way to do that was to simply cut out the drawings and move them around.

Jabberwocky (1977)

So your famous stop-action collage style was a financial necessity at first.

No one had ever seen anything like that on television before, and overnight I became an animator. [laughs] That started a second season of Do Not Adjust Your Set. There were six of us then, and that became Python.

Talking about Monty Python is almost hard for me because it was such an omnipresent thing in my life at certain points.

Ah, another victim.

Every year there's a kid in every middle school doing the dead-parrot sketch. It just never goes away. Kids who don't fit in always discover Monty Python.

You know what's funny is that in the States they seem to start discovering it around 11 years old. That seems like such a young audience for it. But they suddenly bump into Python and I think the absurdity of the whole thing gets them going.

That's when I got into it. I didn't like what was popular culture at the time and Python made sense to me.

That's what's interesting about Python—on one hand it's very intelligent and erudite stuff and on the other hand it's completely silly and juvenile. So it always appeals to smarter kids or more anarchic kids who have difficulty with authority. We were those people and we seem to pass on that attitude to new generations.

So yeah, I don't know what to ask because I know so much about Monty Python. [laughs] Maybe it's been talked about too much.

There's so much that's been written about it. When we are interviewed there's kind of a set thing we say. I don't recall the nightmares and the terrible times. I only remember the good bits. It was a very special time because the BBC was so laissez-faire. Once they said "yes" we could just get on with it.

I don't think that really happens anymore.

Well, you've got The Simpsons and South Park, and thank God for Family Guy, which is wonderful. Anyway, the BBC was an old and lazy organization that just let things happen, but now it's become terribly bureaucratic. It's full of executives. It's almost like a Hollywood studio. There are so many people making a living managing and making decisions and passing the buck down. When we were there, the producer would be given the go-ahead, there would be the money, and you would just do it.

Since Monty Python has been covered as covered can be, let's move on. I rented your first feature film, Jabberwocky, from my public library expecting it to be Pythonesque, but I got something a lot different.

It was my escape from Python—or semi-escape, because you have Mike playing the lead character and Terry Jones in there too. People kept trying to sell it as a Python film, which was a big mistake.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Movie-marketing people are fucking assholes. I live in New York and when you're walking down the subway platform, every movie poster just gives you less and less of an idea of what the movie is about. They're ugly and vague and bland.

You just get the two faces of the stars. What I used to love, I used to collect these old Polish movie posters. They were abstract and beautiful and they make your brain spin a bit.

So Jabberwocky had a big effect on me. It confused and upset me as a 13-year-old. It was funny and scary. The ending was not one that a teenager would have expected. And that made me think about you as a teenager. You were popular in high school. Weren't you the homecoming king?

I was very popular. I was a letterman, student-body president, homecoming king, and valedictorian. I was perfect as a human being. But none of it made any difference to me.

I wonder if being so popular back then helped you to be quick to make friends and connections in your career. I mean, being well adjusted couldn't hurt.

But I was always just creating my own little world. An outsider's view could have been like, "Boy, he must have been networking a lot." No. I've always been gregarious and I genuinely like people until they say no to my ideas and projects, and them I hate them and I want to kill. [laughs]

Still, you're so lucky to have not had to do a "real" job all your life.

The last proper job I had was on the assembly line at the Chevrolet plant in Sacramento Valley on the night shift when I was working my way through college. I just hated it. The repetitive nature of it, the stupid dumb mechanical nature of the eight hours I had to spend there every day. At the same time, I could look down the line and see that the other guys were quite happy putting their eight hours in. They got their pay and went home to their wives and families and that's what they were happy to do. And then it also made me crazy working in an advertising agency; I felt like I was trapped in a bureaucracy. That kind of stuff is what led to Brazil, which was the catharsis against all of the jobs and situations I had found myself in and was angry about. The rest of the time I was just enjoying what I was doing, playing and cartooning. I could actually draw things and make these worlds. I think that was the difference. With a pen and a piece of paper I've got control of the world, in a sense. I think that's why a lot of writers get on. They may be solitary figures but they're not unhappy figures. Just give them a piece of paper and they start putting the words down. That's how you get through the mess that life is.

Would you say that you get bored easily?

I can get bored quite easily but then I get to doing something because I can't stand it. I occupy myself instead of going into a depression.

You just channel your positive energy?

Yeah, though it gets harder as you get older because it's easier to get bored. Things are less surprising. But, being visually excitable, I can sit and look at something and be amazed at, like, a wood carving over here or the shade on this lamp. Taking in the world around me and enjoying it on a visual level gets me through a lot of the boring moments of life.

Do you get depressed, though?

I get depressed a lot. I spend a lot of time being depressed. Rather than fighting it, I just go with it. I let the depression take me down to the bottom of the pit. When there's no lower to go, then suddenly you start crawling back up.

Storytime, an early animated short (1968)

Sometimes a person who can confront depression and the grim aspects of life doesn't like other people. They don't want to talk to anyone, much less worry about selling an idea to a producer or an agent.

You're probably right. But I actually do like people. I'm not frightened by them and they surprise me. And also, talking to you now or talking to a group of people, I'm slightly different from who I really am. I'm outside of myself, performing. Then I go back home and my wife gets to see the truth.

I can relate to that. And when you're by yourself and deprived of stimulus it's just you and your thoughts.

But actually that's one thing that I'm fighting for so much now. Because of Facebook and Twitter and all this crap, people don't have time to be alone and confront themselves and who they really are. It's the thing that really worries me the most about the modern world. People just seem to be extensions of a social order now. We have a house in Italy with no telephone or television. My son would be there, and he was used to playing his video games and blah, blah, blah, and he'd go there and get bored. My wife would say, "Well, we have to do something to keep him entertained," and I'd say, "No, let him get bored and you'll see what happens." After about two days of boredom and saying "There's fuck all to do here," he started inventing things. He was creating a really interesting world, because he was involved in creating it. He wasn't just having it created for him. I think so much of what we do is now done for us. It's digested, it's handed to you. I like video games but I also think they're dangerous because of how much time and energy they consume. It's not the same as reading a book.

You also read a book at your own pace, while TV and video games keep going even if you stop.

[laughs] Exactly. Then you're filled with this terrible feeling like [sinister voice], "They don't need you." Another thing is this: My son had the Tony Hawk video game and he was brilliant at it. Then he started skateboarding and he realized that it actually hurts. And this is what bothers me about so many of these video games. They've removed that element of pain. You just sit there and you watch your life force go down, but you're not experiencing pain. You're sat there flipping through the air, and then you try to go out and do it in the real world and: "Ouch!"

After Jabberwocky, you made Time Bandits, a movie that I loved a lot as a child. It sits in my mind along with Jim Henson's Labyrinth. I wanted to watch it over and over again. It's also one of your most positive films even though it has a lot of scary elements. I mean, the main character's parents die in the end!

Part of it is the journey of a kid who has a lot of heroes. He goes through history meeting them, and he realizes that they are not quite what he thought they were—not quite so heroic—and ultimately he earns the right to stand on his own two feet. His parents should be listening to him as opposed to ignoring him.

It's a common theme in comics, too, like in Batman and Superman. Kids secretly want to kill their parents and be free of the restrictions they put on them. Anyway, just thinking about Time Bandits now makes me happy. And George Harrison was involved in the film. He was my favorite Beatle. I don't want to get off topic here, but can I ask you what George was like?

He wasn't the quiet Beatle, which most people thought he was. He was very funny and outspoken. "Sardonic," I think, is the word. He was quite wicked and he was a great gardener. He spent the last 20 years of his life tending 37 acres of one of the greatest gardens in the world. He was spiritual but he could joke like the best, and he was the number-one Python fan.

Amazing.

George was a special guy. You don't meet many like him because his feet were so firmly on the ground even though his head and his heart were floating high.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Time Bandits, to me, has a happy ending. The main character ends up free of his parents and I can imagine his adventures continuing. I also liked that Sean Connery, who played King Agamemnon earlier in the film, turns out to be a fireman at the end.

Connery wasn't supposed to be there at the end. He was supposed to die when they have the big battle with Evil—all of these archers were going to turn up and Evil gets turned into a pincushion. Connery was supposed to be leading that group, and then he was supposed to be crushed by a falling column. But we'd run out of time with him. We only had X number of days with Connery, so I had to kill the character Fidgit instead, which was a better idea anyway.

Even though it gutted me when I was a child.

So there was a point when I didn't quite have the ending of the film sorted out. I remember talking to Sean, and he had suggested that Agamemnon come back as the fireman. He was in tax exile, so he was just in London for a day on the way to his accountant when we grabbed him for literally an hour and got two shots of him, including the one in which he winks at the main character. It wasn't until a month or two later that I actually wrote the scenes around that. Films write themselves, ultimately.

Happy accidents. So Time Bandits ends with a hopeful note and Brazil ends with no hope—

That's where you're wrong. That was my altruistic ending! That was my happy ending! [laughs]

I guess I never saw that before. [laughs]

It goes back to what I was saying earlier about inventing my own world. That's what I did at the end of Brazil. Sam is inside his imagination, and he may be mad, but who gives a fuck? He's created a world that's satisfying to him. The outside world can't get at him and that, to me, is happiness. Now, today, in the modern world, this idea of somebody being alone, being separate from their peers, is frightening. But to me that's liberating.

Brazil does feel like a pretty scary and dark film, though.

There's a lot of badness out there, and Brazil, while I wouldn't say it was totally cynical, was getting that way. I just dumped my anger and all the bad things in the world on the screen to get them out of my life. But there must be far more altruism than not in the world. Otherwise we'd all be dead. I'm assuming that altruism is 51 percent of the world and the other 49 is shit. [laughs]

So we're more good than bad?

Yeah, we have to be. Otherwise wouldn't we all be gone?

It's nice to hear you say that.

Well, I think you have to believe that. When I left America I was so angry about what was going on in the late 60s that I wanted to start throwing bombs. I was just like, "There are a lot of shits out there and they all should die." So I actually left America because I thought I would probably make a better cartoonist than a bomb maker. I stayed with what I was good at.

Time Bandits (1981)

You recently renounced your citizenship and now you can't come back for more than 30 days a year.

I punished myself for betraying my country. [laughs] No, I decided that I've been here in the UK for 42 years now. I thought, "Come on, stop pretending." But the real reason—the one that finally tipped the balance—was when I discovered that when I die, the American tax authorities would have assessed everything I own in the world and taxed me on capital gains for 40 percent or whatever it was. My wife would literally have had to sell the house in London to pay the death duties to America, a country I haven't lived in for 42 years. So I said, "Fuck this, time to say goodbye."

I've heard that there were serious production difficulties on Brazil and Baron Munchausen.

Filmmaking is really hard. I've had more books written and documentaries made about my difficulties than other people have, so everyone thinks I've had it worse. I haven't, though—I'm just more public and I like the idea of bursting the bubble about the joy of filmmaking. With Brazil, 12 weeks into the shoot I realized it was going to be a five-hour movie and we'd be millions and millions over budget. So I stopped shooting for two weeks and tore pages out of the script. I finished the film and then Universal decided it was unreleasable. Luckily I didn't have a Hollywood agent to calm me down, so I went to war and—surprise, surprise—the film was released. Nobody had ever done anything like what I did: take out a full-page ad in Variety with a little black frame surrounded by empty white with a letter in the middle saying, "Dear MCA President Sidney Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film Brazil? Signed, Terry Gilliam." That's just not done in that town. It created a lot of shit, but it was good fun. [laughs]

You get away with a lot of things that would get other people blacklisted.

That's because I don't have a career. Other people think in terms of a career, but the minute you start thinking like that you've already compromised yourself. I just do one thing at a time, and that one thing will be the most important or even the only thing in my life at that time. So fuck it. Until we get the movie out, the battle is on. [laughs]

Brazil is full of huge buildings that look like tombstones, much like the building at the beginning of Monty Python's the Meaning of Life, which are just imposing and horrible monsters.

I think that comes from me living in New York for several years with no money. The place overwhelmed me, the scale of it, with humanity seeming very small in comparison—living and working in these great monolithic buildings with all these people trapped inside.

Let's talk about The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I loved it but other people didn't.

I know. But Munchausen has come into its own over the years. And when it came out it got the best reviews that Columbia Studios had seen since The Last Emperor. But the company was in the process of selling itself to Sony and so they basically didn't release the film. They put it out in 52 cinemas and I think they went wide with 172 prints. That's all they ever made. It's very hard to judge how it would have done had it been distributed properly. It was sort of my Magnificent Ambersons, if you know Orson Welles's stuff. It was my comeuppance because I beat the system on Brazil and the system was going to beat me this time around. I really felt that.

It's another movie like Time Bandits that's so full of neat ideas. It's beautiful.

Kids loved that film because it was like a storybook. The kids would come out of the cinema dancing. And musicians loved it, artists loved it, theater people loved it. I wanted to do a series of ads because I had all of these quotes from people like Pete Townsend from the Who. He said, "A fucking masterpiece." George Harrison and all of these guys wanted to rave about the film. There's a Blu-ray version of it that just came out this year, on the 20th anniversary of the film. So obviously over a longer period of time it's been appreciated. It's like a good wine—you have to lay it down for a few years.

A few years later The Fisher King came out. I saw it when I was 14 and I don't remember much about it.

You were the wrong age. Appreciating a film has a lot to do with the age at which you see it. Fisher King was a huge success among 20- to 30-year-olds. It was for people in love or people wanting to be in love with the possibility of being in love.

Who was in it?

It starred Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. It was basically Jeff's movie, but Robin got nominated for a Golden Globe and won an Oscar for it. Mercedes Ruehl also got the Academy Award for her work in it. Richard LaGravenese wrote the script and I thought it was wonderful. I understood all of the characters in it. It was his first script and he had written it on spec. The studio had it and they kept trying to change it into a robbery caper. But it was about stealing the Holy Grail! It was absolutely bullshit what they were trying to do. Then they got me on board because I could get Robin and they wanted him.

And then there was 12 Monkeys.

That was another great script. David Peoples wrote that. We moved it through the studio system by getting Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt on board. We were shooting during the moment when Brad became a superstar. We were working and no one was bothering us and then Legends of the Fall came out and we had to have security everywhere. It was just extraordinary to watch.

Everything looks so great in that movie. All the set design and the machines, that big tube you shove down Bruce Willis's throat. The animals moving around the abandoned city. It's just beautiful.

I have a hard time making things look ugly even when they are. [laughs] Even if it's some rotting corpse, I still find beauty in that. It's very hard for me to make something look truly ugly. 12 Monkeys went smoothly. It was a nice chance to get Bruce and Brad to play opposite what they were usually cast as, and Madeleine Stowe was just wonderful. It was a simpler movie without a lot of special effects, but the animals running around Philadelphia were still a lot of fun.

And now you've got a movie coming out soon called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Wait, you missed Tideland. Have you seen Tideland?

No. I didn't see it. I'm sorry.

OK, well go see Tideland first just to punish yourself. It's one that divides people completely. Some of them get so angry with that movie. And when they get angry they don't shout and scream—they just pretend that it never happened. [laughs]

I also didn't bring up Fear and Loathing or The Brother's Grimm.

Those are classics in their own time and they will be discovered one day if we live long enough.

But hold on—how do you feel about Tideland?

I think it's great. Wonderful. I was doing something that I thought might spark a controversy or a dialogue or an argument—putting a young girl in what could be deemed jeopardy, into a very strange and disturbing experience. I thought it would get people screaming, but it didn't. I thought, "Oh my God, what has happened to society that they can't get angry about something that's worth arguing about?" That was the disappointment with Tideland for me.

Do you want to tell me about your new movie at all?

Well I just went to Comic-Con and told 4,000 people how it's going to make their lives worth living.

"Go drop $10 if you want to live."

Yeah, that's it. Don't drop acid, drop dollars. And so many people have walked out of screenings of this movie saying things like, "I'm still tripping." By any measure this film shouldn't have been finished at all. This goes back to my argument about altruism and love in the world. Heath Ledger died in the middle of the shoot and so far as I was concerned, there was no way we could carry on without him. But I was surrounded by people who just would not let it go, who said that the film must go on, it must be finished for Heath's and for everybody's sake. So I called up Johnny Depp and he said, "Whatever you need, I'm there." Then we got Jude Law and Colin Farrell. They all came in and took over Heath's part. We ended up with three other actors to finish the part that Heath began. I think that says a lot about love and goodness.

And about being able to see past failure and keep going and improvising.

Yes. I was in my giving-up state when my daughter, who was a producer on the film and my cinematographer, just said, "No, you don't get out of it that easily. Go back to work." And that's the good thing about my films: They always have a magic quality. And that saved the day.

I'd just like to thank you for inspiring me as a teenager, and thanks for inspiring me right now. It was good talking about hope and art.

I think they go together. That's what the creative thing is about. Keep reinventing the world, keep making it worth living in—if only for yourself and nobody else.

We're all in it together.

I know. [laughs] I love that.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be in theaters October 16. Also, head to VBS.TV later this month for more with Terry Gilliam.

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