Quixote Through the Looking Glass



The preproduction of Gilliam’s Quixote project [v1], edited by Phil Stubbs


Terry Gilliam at the Quixote preproduction office. London, 30 June 2000

Quixote through the looking glass” is how Terry Gilliam describes his latest project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. I visited the director’s pre-production office in London at the end of June to find out how the film was developing. Terry seemed optimistic and – mysteriously – much younger-looking than last year, possibly rejuvenated Munchausen-style as a result of this latest adventure.

Gilliam summarised the plot, “It’s about an American advertising executive working for a British company in London and making commercials. One of the commercials he’s making is using the characters Quixote and Sancho. They’re making it in Spain and he somehow stumbles into part of Spain, he gets his tender little brain a bit confused and somehow he finds himself in the seventeenth century. And it goes back and forth between the two worlds.”

The script, written by Gilliam with Tony Grisoni, requires most of the actors to play dual roles. Says Gilliam, “the characters that are in the modern world are also in the seventeenth century.”

Shooting, around Madrid, Guadalajara, Toledo and Salamanca, is now just 10 weeks away and much already has been done. Most of the major casting decisions have been made. Gilliam confirmed the casting of Johnny Depp as the advertising executive, Jean Rochefort as Quixote, and Vanessa Paradis. He also announced that Christopher Eccleston, Miranda Richardson, Bill Paterson and Almodovar favourite Rossy de Palma are now signed up. Rumoured to be in Quixote for a long time, Penelope Cruz – to be seen with Johnny Depp in the upcoming Blow – is not in the cast.

Gilliam has taken Scottish actor Bill Paterson to Spain before as the leader of the acting troupe in Munchausen. He was quite happy to take the roles for this one, said Gilliam, as both a film director and the innkeeper.

Gilliam also provided details of crew appointments. Nicola Pecorini, who worked on Fear and Loathing, is to be Director of Photography, Phil Paterson is to be First Assistant Director, and the Spanish producer is to be Jose Luis Escolar, who was in fact Spanish First Director on Munchausen.

Further, the costume designer for Munchausen, Italian Gabriella Pescucci will be working on Quixote. The production designer Benjamin Fernandez, who designed the Morocco sequence for Gladiator, is on board. So too is make-up designer Christine Blundell who won both an Oscar and a BAFTA award for Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy.

In recent weeks, the Quixote project hit the headlines in London after it received millions of dollars from the UK’s National Lottery fund. UK critics of the award said the film was receiving cash from a British fund despite being made by a foreign (ie non-British) director, with foreign stars in a foreign country.

Faced with the criticism, Gilliam says, “A British director (being British as I am), and a British writer sit down and put a thing together. Pathe were a British company even though the French are behind them. And we qualified [for Lottery funding] and people like the subject even though it’s not British in a sense. It’s Spanish, but when people read the script they find it’s a British take on something.

“Johnny Depp plays an American in London, working in an advertising company in London. It’s another autobiographical film in that sense – I’m just using my attitudes, so whether it’s British or not I’ve no idea. The Full Monty is a British film – we can say that the content, everything about it is Britain, but I don’t see why British films should be limited to just being films about the national character.”

But before shooting commences, there is still plenty to do…

“We have to find the last couple of locations, build the sets, design and make the costumes, probably do some more rewriting. I need to get a time where I get enough of the cast together to read the script – to see if it reads as well when you actually say the words. Jean Rochefort has got to perfect his English… Vanessa Paradis has got to develop a Spanish accent. It’s all those things, there’s just so much work to do. Effects we have got to get organised, I’ve storyboarded them, but I’ve got a lot of storyboarding still.

“It’s about coordinating all things – the set dresser, the props, the set designer and costume, trying to decide who does what bit because there’s certain things that overlap. It’s about co-ordinating to make sure that people aren’t stepping on others’ toes. And we’ve got to get the rest of the cast together – the secondary characters are still to be cast.”

“I hope its going to be fun – it’s been such a long slog to get to this point today.”


Terry Gilliam interrupts the interview with blatant product placement

More to explore

Films in depth

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Zero Theorem
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
12 Monkeys
The Fisher King
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Time Bandits