Gilliam at the 36th Deauville American Films Festival in 2010
Terrence Vance Gilliam|
22 November 1940
Minneapolis, Minnesota, US
United Kingdom (1968–present)|
United States (1940–2006)
|Alma mater||Occidental College (B.A., 1962)|
|Occupation||Actor, animator, comedian, director, producer, screenwriter|
|Spouse(s)||Maggie Weston (m. 1973)|
Gilliam has directed 12 feature films, including Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Tideland (2005), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). The only "Python" not born in Britain, he became a naturalised British subject in 1968 and formally renounced his American citizenship in 2006.
Gilliam was born in Minnesota, but spent his high school and college years in Los Angeles. He started his career as an animator and strip cartoonist. He joined Monty Python as the animator of their works, but eventually became a full member and was given acting roles. He became a feature film director in the 1970s. Most of his films explore the theme of imagination and its importance to life, express his opposition to bureaucracy and authoritarianism, and feature characters facing dark or paranoid situations. His own scripts feature black comedy and tragicomedy elements, combined with surprise endings.
Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Beatrice (née Vance) and James Hall Gilliam. His father was a travelling salesman for Folgers before becoming a carpenter. Soon after, they moved to nearby Medicine Lake, Minnesota.
The family moved to the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Panorama City in 1952. Gilliam attended Birmingham High School, where he was the president of his class and senior prom king. He was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" and achieved straight A's. During high school, he began to avidly read Mad magazine, then edited by Harvey Kurtzman, which would later influence Gilliam's work.
Gilliam told Salman Rushdie about defining experiences in the 1960s that, he said, set the foundations for his views on the world:
I became terrified that I was going to be a full-time, bomb-throwing terrorist if I stayed [in the U.S.] because it was the beginning of really bad times in America. It was '66–'67, it was the first police riot in Los Angeles. ... In college my major was political science, so my brain worked that way. ... And I drove around this little English Hillman Minx—top down—and every night I'd be hauled over by the cops. Up against the wall, and all this stuff. They had this monologue with me; it was never a dialogue. It was that I was a long-haired drug addict living off some rich guy's foolish daughter. And I said, "No, I work in advertising. I make twice as much as you do." Which is a stupid thing to say to a cop. ...
And it was like an epiphany. I suddenly felt what it was like to be a black or Mexican kid living in L.A. Before that, I thought I knew what the world was like, I thought I knew what poor people were, and then suddenly it all changed because of that simple thing of being brutalized by cops. And I got more and more angry and I just felt, I've got to get out of here—I'm a better cartoonist than I am a bomb maker. That's why so much of the U.S. is still standing.
Gilliam began his career as an animator and strip cartoonist. One of his early photographic strips for Help! magazine featured future Python cast member John Cleese. When Help! folded, Gilliam went to Europe, jokingly announcing in the very last issue that he was "being transferred to the European branch" of the magazine, which, of course, did not exist. Moving to England, he animated sequences for the children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set, which also featured Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.
Gilliam was a part of Monty Python's Flying Circus from its outset, credited at first as an animator (his name was listed separately after the other five in the closing credits) and later as a full member. His cartoons linked the show's sketches together and defined the group's visual language in other media (such as LP and book covers and the title sequences of their films). His animations mix his own art, characterised by soft gradients and odd, bulbous shapes, with backgrounds and moving cutouts from antique photographs, mostly from the Victorian era.
In 1978, Gilliam published Animations of Mortality, an illustrated, tongue-in-cheek, semi-autobiographical how-to guide to his animation techniques and the visual language in them. Roughly 15 years later, between the release of the CD-ROM game Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time in 1994, which used many of Gilliam's animation templates, and the making of Gilliam's film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Gilliam was in negotiations with Enteractive, a software company, to tentatively release in the autumn of 1996 a CD-ROM under the same title as his 1978 book, containing all of his thousands of 1970s animation templates as license-free clip arts for people to create their own flash animations, but the project hovered in limbo for years, probably because Enteractive was about to downsize greatly in mid-1996 and changed its focus from CD-ROM multimedia presentations to internet business solutions and web hosting in 1997 (in the introduction to their 2004 book Terry Gilliam: Interviews, David Sterrit and Lucille Rhodes claimed that the internet had overwhelmed the "computer-communications market" and gave this as the reason that the Animations of Mortality CD-ROM never materialised). Around the time of Gilliam's film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), the project had changed into the idea of releasing his 1970s animation templates as a license-free download of Adobe After Effects or similar files.
Besides creating the animations, he also appeared in several sketches, though he rarely had main roles and did considerably less acting in the sketches. He did, however, have some notable sketch roles, such as Cardinal Fang of the Spanish Inquisition; the bespectacled commenter who said, "I can't add anything to that!" in the sketch "Election Night Special"; Kevin Garibaldi, the brat on the couch shouting "I want more beans!" in the sketch "Most Awful Family in Britain 1974" (episode 45); the Screaming Queen in a cape and mask in The Visitors; and Percy Bysshe Shelly in Ant Poetry Reading. More frequently, he played parts that no one else wanted to play, generally because they required a lot of makeup or uncomfortable costumes (such as the recurring character of a knight in armour who ended sketches by walking on and hitting one of the other characters over the head with a plucked chicken). He took a number of small roles in the films, including Patsy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which he co-directed with Terry Jones; Gilliam was responsible for photography, while Jones guided the actors' performances) and the jailer in Monty Python's Life of Brian. He also designed the covers of most of the Monty Python albums, including Another Monty Python Record, The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief and Monty Python Live at Drury Lane, and their film soundtrack albums.
With the gradual breakup of the Python troupe between Life of Brian in 1979 and The Meaning of Life in 1983, Gilliam became a screenwriter and director, building upon the experience he had acquired during the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He says he used to think of his films in terms of trilogies, starting with Time Bandits: the "Trilogy of Imagination" (written by Gilliam) about "the ages of man" in Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). All are about the "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible." All three movies focus on these struggles and attempts to escape them through imagination; Time Bandits through the eyes of a child, Brazil through the eyes of a man in his thirties, and Munchausen, through the eyes of an elderly man.
In the 1990s, Gilliam directed a trilogy of Americana: The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), which played on North American soil and, while still surreal, had less fantastical plots than his previous trilogy.
Well, I really want to encourage a kind of fantasy, a kind of magic. I love the term magic realism, whoever invented it – I do actually like it because it says certain things. It's about expanding how you see the world. I think we live in an age where we're just hammered, hammered to think this is what the world is. Television's saying, everything's saying 'That's the world.' And it's not the world. The world is a million possible things.
As for his philosophical background in screenwriting and directing, Gilliam said on the TV show First Hand on RoundhouseTV, "There's so many film schools, so many media courses which I actually am opposed to. Because I think it's more important to be educated, to read, to learn things, because if you're gonna be in the media and if you'll have to say things, you have to know things. If you only know about cameras and 'the media', what're you gonna be talking about except cameras and the media? So it's better learning about philosophy and art and architecture [and] literature, these are the things to be concentrating on it seems to me. Then, you can fly...!"
His films are usually imaginative fantasies. His long-time co-writer Charles McKeown commented, "the theme of imagination, and the importance of imagination, to how you live and how you think and so on ... that's very much a Terry theme." Most of Gilliam's movies include plotlines that seem to occur partly or completely in the characters' imaginations, raising questions about the definition of identity and sanity. He often shows his opposition to bureaucracy and authoritarian regimes. He also distinguishes "higher" and "lower" layers of society, with a disturbing and ironic style. His movies usually feature a fight or struggle against a great power which may be an emotional situation, a human-made idol, or even the person himself, and the situations do not always end happily. There is often a dark, paranoid atmosphere and unusual characters who used to be normal members of society. His scripts feature black comedy and often end with a dark tragicomic twist.
Gilliam is fascinated with the Baroque period because of the pronounced struggle between spirituality and rationality in that era. There is often a rich baroqueness and dichotomous eclecticism about his movies, with, for instance, high-tech computer monitors equipped with low-tech magnifying lenses in Brazil and a red knight covered with flapping bits of cloth in The Fisher King. He also is given to incongruous juxtapositions of beauty and ugliness or antique and modern. Regarding Gilliam's theme of modernity's struggle between spirituality and rationality whereas the individual may become dominated by a tyrannical, soulless machinery of disenchanted society, the film critic Keith James Hamel observed a specific affinity of Gilliam's movies with the writings of the economic historian Arnold Toynbee and the sociologist Max Weber, specifically the latter's concept of the "iron cage" of rationality.
Gilliam's films have a distinctive look, not only in mise-en-scène but even more so in photography, often recognisable from just a short clip; to create a surreal atmosphere of psychological unrest and a world out of balance, he frequently uses unusual camera angles, particularly low-angle shots, high-angle shots, and Dutch angles. Roger Ebert said that "his world is always hallucinatory in its richness of detail." Most of his movies are shot almost entirely with rectilinear ultra-wide-angle lenses with focal lengths of 28mm or less to achieve a distinctive style defined by extreme perspective distortion and extremely deep focus. Gilliam's long-time director of photography Nicola Pecorini has said, "with Terry and me, a long lens means something between a 40mm and a 65mm." This attitude markedly differs from the common definition in photography, by which 40 to 65 mm is the focal length of a normal lens, resembling the natural human field of view, unlike Gilliam's signature style, defined by extreme perspective distortion due to his usual choice of focal length. The 14-mm lens has become informally known as "The Gilliam" among filmmakers because of his frequent use of it at least since Brazil. Gilliam has explained his preference for using wide-angle lenses in his films:
The wide-angle lenses, I think I choose them because it makes me feel like I'm in the space of the film, I'm surrounded. My prevalent vision is full of detail, and that's what I like about it. It's actually harder to do, it's harder to light. The other thing I like about wide-angle lenses is that I'm not forcing the audience to look at just the one thing that is important. It's there, but there's other things to occupy, and some people don't like that because I'm not pointing things out as precisely as I could if I was to use a long lens where I'd focus just on the one thing and everything else would be out of focus. ...
[M]y films, I think, are better the second and third time, frankly, because you can now relax and go with the flow that may not have been as apparent as the first time you saw it and wallow in the details of the worlds we're creating. ... I try to clutter [my visuals] up, they're worthy of many viewings.
In another interview, Gilliam mentioned, in relation to the 9.8-mm Kinoptic lens he had first used on Brazil, that wide-angle lenses make small film sets "look big". The widest lens he has used so far is an 8-mm Zeiss lens employed in filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
Gilliam has made a few extremely expensive movies beset with production problems. After the lengthy quarrelling with Universal Studios over Brazil, Gilliam's next picture, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, cost around US$46 million, and then earned only about US$8 million in US ticket sales. The film saw no wide domestic release from Columbia Pictures, which was in the process of being sold at the time.
In the mid-1990s, Gilliam and Charles McKeown developed a script for Time Bandits 2, a project that was never produced because several of the original actors had died. Gilliam also attempted to direct a version of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, which collapsed due to disagreements over its budget and the choice of a lead actor.
In 1999, Gilliam attempted to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, budgeted at US$32.1 million, among the highest-budgeted films to use only European financing; but in the first week of shooting, the actor playing Don Quixote (Jean Rochefort) suffered a herniated disc, and a flood severely damaged the set. The film was cancelled, resulting in an insurance claim of US$15 million. Despite the cancellation, the aborted project did yield the documentary Lost in La Mancha, produced from film from a second crew that had been hired by Gilliam to document the making of Quixote. After the cancellation, both Gilliam and the film's co-lead, Johnny Depp, wanted to revive the project. The insurance company involved in the failed first attempt withheld the rights to the screenplay for several years but the production was restarted in 2008.
From 2002 to 2006, Gilliam tried to get funding for an adaptation of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, with Robin Williams and Johnny Depp rumored as possible stars, but movie studios found the apocalyptic theme unacceptable in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and funding never materialized.
Gilliam's first successful feature, Time Bandits (1981), earned more than eight times its original budget in the United States alone. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), although it was a flop at the box office, was nominated for four Academy Awards (and won, among other European prizes, three BAFTA Awards). The Fisher King (1991), his first film not to feature a member of the Monty Python troupe, had a budget of $24 million and grossed more than $41 million at United States box office. 12 Monkeys grossed more than US$168 million worldwide. The Brothers Grimm, despite a mixed critical reception, grossed over US$105 million worldwide. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with a budget of $30 million, has been an international success at the box office, grossing over $60 million in worldwide theatrical release. According to Box Office Mojo, his films have grossed an average of $21,602,510.
Since his first feature, Gilliam has shown a propensity to work with particular actors in numerous productions. Up until the 1990s, each of Gilliam's non-Python films has featured at least one of his fellow Monty Python alumni (particularly Palin, Cleese, and Idle), and for his finished projects Gilliam has worked with the following actors at least twice (in order of first film appearance):
Other recurring collaborators include Gilliam's cinematographers Roger Pratt (Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys) and Nicola Pecorini (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Brothers Grimm, Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote), and his co-writer McKeown (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).
J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is a fan of Gilliam's work. Consequently, he was Rowling's first choice to direct Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 2000, but Warner Bros. ultimately chose Chris Columbus for the job. In response to this decision, Gilliam said that "I was the perfect guy to do Harry Potter. I remember leaving the meeting, getting in my car, and driving for about two hours along Mulholland Drive just so angry. I mean, Chris Columbus' versions are terrible. Just dull. Pedestrian." In 2006, Gilliam said that he found Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to be "really good... much closer to what I would've done." In retrospect, however, Gilliam has stated that he wouldn't have liked to direct any Potter film. In a 2005 interview with Total Film, he said that he would not enjoy working on such an expensive project because of interference from studio executives.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, director David Yates paid homage to Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil, portraying the Death Eater–infiltrated Ministry of Magic in a fashion reminiscent of Gilliam's totalitarian bureaucracy.
In 2002, Gilliam directed a series of television advertisements called Secret Tournament. The advertisements were part of Nike's FIFA World Cup campaign and featured a secret three-on-three tournament between the world's best football players inside a huge tanker ship, accompanied by the Elvis Presley song "A Little Less Conversation".
In 2006, Gilliam directed the stage show Slava's Diabolo, created and staged by the Russian clown artist Slava Polunin. The show combined Polunin's clown style, characterised by deep nonverbal expression and interaction with the audience, with Gilliam's rich visuals and surrealistic imagery. The show premiered at the Noga Hall of the Gesher Theatre in Jaffa, Israel.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, directed and co-written by Gilliam, was released in 2009. In January 2007, Gilliam announced that he had been working on a new project with his writing partner Charles McKeown. One day later, the fansite Dreams reported that the new project was titled The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In October 2007, Dreams confirmed that this would be Gilliam's next project and was slated to star Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits. Production began in December 2007 in London.
On 22 January 2008, production of the film was disrupted following the death of Heath Ledger in New York City. Variety reported that Ledger's involvement had been a "key factor" in the film's financing. Production was suspended indefinitely by 24 January, but in February the actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell signed on to continue Ledger's role, transforming into multiple incarnations of his character in the "magical" world of the film. Thanks to this arrangement the principal photography was completed on 15 April 2008, on schedule. Editing was completed in November 2008. According to the official ParnassusFilm Twitter channel launched on 30 March 2009, the film's post-production FX work finished on 31 March. During the filming, Gilliam was accidentally hit by a bus and suffered a broken back.
The film had successful screenings including a premiere at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The UK release for the film was scheduled for 6 June 2009 but was pushed back to 16 October 2009. The USA release was on 25 December 2009. Eventually, this $30 million-budgeted film had grossed more than $60 million in worldwide theatrical release and received two Academy Award nominations.
In July 2012, Gilliam revealed plans for a film which would be shot in Bucharest, Romania. He denied that it would be Don Quixote but refused to give any further details. The actor David Walliams reportedly entered into talks with Gilliam to play a part in it and was told that he'd have to "be willing to work with Johnny Depp and fly to Bucharest where the movie is to be filmed." Depp, to that point, had made no mention of his involvement but was seen in Bucharest around the same time in mid-July as Romanian news outlets reported Gilliam was staying in the city for negotiations on studio work with the Romanian film production company MediaPro Studios. On 13 August 2012, this project was announced to be The Zero Theorem, set to start shooting in Bucharest on 22 October, produced by Dean Zanuck (son of the late Richard D. Zanuck, who was originally to produce the film in 2009), with worldwide sales handled by Voltage Pictures, Toronto, and starring the Academy Award–winner Christoph Waltz in the lead (replacing Billy Bob Thornton, who had been attached to the project in 2009). The Zero Theorem premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival on 2 September 2013.
Gilliam made his opera debut at London's English National Opera (ENO) in May 2011, directing The Damnation of Faust, by Hector Berlioz. The production received positive reviews in the British press On 16 September 2012, the production opened at the Vlaamse Opera in Ghent, Belgium, in the opera's original French-language version and received praise from critics and audiences alike. After a number of performances in Ghent, the production moved to the opera house in Antwerp for sold-out run of performances.
Gilliam has several projects in various states of development, including an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's and Terry Pratchett's comic fantasy novel Good Omens. Other projects Gilliam has been trying to get off the ground since the 1990s are an adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (starring Mel Gibson); an adaptation of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which has been adapted as movies several times before; and a script entitled The Defective Detective, which Gilliam wrote with Richard LaGravenese (who wrote The Fisher King). While promoting the US theatrical release of The Zero Theorem, Gilliam revealed he and LaGravenese were meeting to see if The Defective Detective script could be made into a miniseries. If this comes together, it would be the first time Gilliam has ever directed for television. Stanley Kubrick had Gilliam in mind to direct a sequel to Dr. Strangelove.
It was rumoured that Gilliam may direct or be involved in the production of the animated band Gorillaz movie. In a September 2006 interview with Uncut, Damon Albarn was reported to have said, "we're making a film. We've got Terry Gilliam involved." However, in a more recent interview with Gorillaz-Unofficial, Jamie Hewlett, the co-creator of the band, stated that since the time of the previous interview, Damon's and his own interest in the film had lessened. In an August 2008 Observer interview, Gorillaz band members Albarn and Hewlett revealed the nature and title of the project, Journey to the West, a movie adaptation of the opera of the same name, based on a 16th-century Chinese adventure story also known as Monkey. In January 2008, while on set of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Gilliam stated that he was looking forward to the project, "But I'm still waiting to see a script!"
After regaining the rights to the screenplay of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Gilliam restarted preproduction in 2008, with Johnny Depp still attached to the project. The film was to be reshot completely, with Rochefort's role recast. Michael Palin reportedly entered into talks with Gilliam about stepping in for Rochefort and playing Don Quixote. However, Gilliam revealed on the Canadian talk show The Hour on 17 December 2009 that Robert Duvall had been cast to play Quixote, before the film was postponed once again. In January 2014, Gilliam wrote on Facebook that "Dreams of Don Quixote have begun again". At the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, it was confirmed that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was going to be made, with Michael Palin and Adam Driver in starring roles. In March 2017, filming finally began, with Driver and Jonathan Pryce starring. On 4 June 2017, Gilliam announced that the shooting of the film was complete.
On 16 December 2010, Variety reported that Gilliam was to "godfather" a film called 1884, described as an animated steampunk parody of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, with several former Pythons lending their voices to the project; Gilliam was to be credited as "creative advisor".
During the second half of 2011, Gilliam and Paul Auster wrote a screenplay for a film adaptation of Auster's novel Mr. Vertigo. In June 2018, Gilliam announced at the Brussels International Film Festival that he was working again on Mr. Vertigo, and that it might be his next film, and that he had Ralph Fiennes attached to star in it.
In October 2015, in a webchat hosted by The Guardian, Gilliam announced that he was working on "a TV series based on Time Bandits" and "another based on a script by Richard LaGravanese and I wrote after Fisher King, called The Defective Detective."
Gilliam has been involved with a number of charitable and humanitarian causes. In 2009, he became a board member of Videre Est Credere (Latin for "to see is to believe"), a UK human rights charity. Videre describes itself as giving "local activists the equipment, training and support needed to safely capture compelling video evidence of human rights violations. This captured footage is verified, analysed and then distributed to those who can create change." He participates alongside movie producer Uri Fruchtmann, music producer Brian Eno and executive director of Greenpeace UK John Sauven.
Gilliam has been married to British makeup and costume designer Maggie Weston since 1973. She worked on Monty Python's Flying Circus, many of the Python movies, and Gilliam's movies up to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. They have three children, Amy Rainbow Gilliam (born 1978), Holly Dubois Gilliam (born in October 1980), and Harry Thunder Gilliam (born on 3 April 1988), who have also appeared in or worked on several of his films.
In 1968, Gilliam obtained British citizenship. He held dual American and British citizenship for the next 38 years, until he renounced his American citizenship in January 2006. In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, he described the action as a protest against then-President George W. Bush, and in an earlier interview with The A.V. Club, he also indicated that it was related to concerns about future tax liability for his wife and children. As a result of renouncing his citizenship, Gilliam was permitted to spend 30 days each year in the US over the next 10 years, "less than any European". He maintains a residence in Italy near the Umbria–Tuscany border. He has been instrumental in establishing the annual Umbria Film Festival, held in the nearby town of Montone. Gilliam also resides in Highgate, London.
Mad comics inspired everything we ever did. (p. 67)
...we're going to see Heath Ledger's work in Terry Gilliam's new film, and that we're also going to see three very interesting actors step up to offer interpretations of him...now we've got the names verified... Johnny Depp. ... Jude Law. ... Colin Farrell.
Report: The three actors have signed on to complete film. ... Heath Ledger died last month at the age of 28, but his final performance will live on – thanks to a little creativity and some famous friends. ... Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell have all signed on to film scenes as Ledger's character in Terry Gilliam's 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,' a magical re-telling of the Faust story, according to Aintitcoolnews.com. The announcement serves as a tribute to the man many have called one of the best actors of his generation.
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