CANNES, France (Reuters) – Terry Gilliam finally brought his epic “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” to the screen on Saturday, after a 25-year struggle to make a film afflicted by financial, legal and logistical obstacles, illness and death.
Dedicated to the memory of John Hurt and Jean Rochefort, two deceased actors who starred in earlier, abandoned versions, the movie has long-time Gilliam collaborator Jonathan Pryce as Quixote, alongside Star Wars’ actor Adam Driver.
“I was the victim of Don Quixote, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He stalked me for 24, 25 years,” Gilliam told Reuters in at the Cannes Film Festival.
“It’s not the film I set out to make, it’s a much better film. The film I set out (to make) was just not a patch on what this film is. It’s taken all those years of marinating in my life to get there,” he said ahead of the world premiere.
A version starring Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis made it to the screen only in a 2002 documentary, “Lost In La Mancha” which charts the film’s descent into oblivion.
Initially, the plot was about a man who wakes up in the 17th century, believing he is the hero of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel.
In the final version, Driver plays an obnoxious director of TV adverts who realizes the Spanish location he is filming in is near where he made his film-school movie, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, a decade earlier.
He tracks down the man he cast as the lead, now a deluded geriatric convinced he really is Don Quixote living in the age of chivalry.
Driver, who stars in another prominent Cannes movie, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”, said it was “surreal” to be working with directors whose work he grew up watching.
Having acted in Martin Scorsese’s 2016 “Silence”, which also took decades to make, he was not daunted about joining “Quixote”, in the shoes of Johnny Depp.
“Any movie that actually comes together is always a miracle,” Driver said.
“If anyone’s been living with something for that long and they have that strong a will to get it done, then it inevitably will be interesting.”
Pryce, 70, whose breakthrough movie was Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian classic “Brazil”, said he had watched “Lost In La Mancha” in tears while the audience of non-filmmakers in the cinema laughed at the tragi-comedy.
“It was a bit scary that the two guys who made the documentary were there on the first day of this film, waiting for it to burst into flames,” he said.
The makers of “Lost In La Mancha” are working on a sequel, about the continued problems of the film which was subject to legal challenges that almost prevented it playing in Cannes.
Pryce said the real reason it took Gilliam so long to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” was that he was waiting for his lead actor to be old enough for the part.
Gilliam, who chuckled his way through the interview, has another story.
“(Pryce) used to come knocking on the door every few weeks saying: ‘I’m still available.’ It was always embarrassing trying to say: ‘Jon, I’ve got John Hurt,’ or somebody else. Until, basically, he got the part because finally his eyebrows got so bushy we didn’t have to have extra makeup for them.”
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is playing, out-of-competition, as the closing film of the Cannes Film Festival which ends on Saturday.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Gareth Jones
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