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Writer and Director Terry Gilliam

His new film is Lost in La Mancha. It's a documentary about Gilliam's failed attempt to adapt the story of Don Quixote to the screen. The film Gilliam was supposed to make was titled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, starring Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis and Jean Rochefort. Gilliam is a former member of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe and was responsible for the Monty Python TV show's quirky animation. He went on to write and direct such films as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, an adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel.


Other segments from the episode on January 30, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 30, 2003: Interview with Terry Gilliam; Interview with Simon Russel Beale; Review of a new series of operetta re-issues.


DATE January 30, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Terry Gilliam talks about his dream of making a film
of "Don Quixote" and how the film eventually collapsed

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

When Terry Gilliam first decided to adapt Cervantes' "Don Quixote" to the
screen, he knew the project had a cursed history. Orson Welles had also
attempted a film version of the novel, only to have his starring actor die
before the film could be completed. But the odds didn't daunt him. As a
director, Gilliam has always pushed the limits of the possible. He started
out as an animator for "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and co-directed "Monty
Python and the Holy Grail." In The New Yorker, Giles Smith writes that,
`Gilliam's work is characterized by a taste for outrageous fantasy, a contempt
for conventional behavior, an interest in the curious affinities between
people and reptiles and a distinct liking for dwarves, giants and men with
shaved heads.'

That's a fairly accurate description of Gilliam's movies, including "Brazil,"
"Time Bandits," "12 Monkeys," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "The Fisher
King" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen," which is often cited as a
classic example of a Hollywood fiasco. Its budget doubled during production,
and then the film flopped at the box office.

"Brazil" and "Baron Munchhausen" earned Gilliam the reputation in Hollywood of
a visionary and a battler of windmills, so it seemed a perfect match that
Gilliam would take on "Don Quixote," until it all went wrong. How wrong?
That's the subject of the new documentary film, "Lost in La Mancha," produced
by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, which charts the series of mishaps, acts of
God and outright disasters which plagued the production. Here's a clip. This
is Gilliam musing about his passion for Don Quixote.

(Soundbite from "Lost in La Mancha")

Mr. TERRY GILLIAM (Filmmaker): Quixote struck me more powerfully when I
reached middle age, because that's what I thought Quixote was very much about.
He's an older man, he's been through life. It's kind of like a last hurrah.
He has one last chance to make the world as interesting as he dreams it to be,
you know. And I'll be 61 in another couple of months, just an old man who has
only done X number of films, and I should have done more with the amount of
ideas that are floating in my head.

BOGAEV: Terry Gilliam, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. GILLIAM: Hi, there.

BOGAEV: Could you take us back to the beginning of the story? When did the
"Don Quixote" project begin, and was it a film you were always planning to

Mr. GILLIAM: I think it was around 1990 when I decided it was time to try to
deal with Quixote. Like most people, you know, I knew the story and had seen
Peter O'Toole singing his heart out in the film of--What was it?--"The Man of
La Mancha," and Quixote had always been, I suppose, part of my personality, or
madness, all my life, this pursuit of impossible things, and unhappiness with
the banality of life and the need to try to make it more exotic and more

And so it was around 1990 I said, `It's time to do Quixote,' and I called
Jake Eberts, who had been the executive producer on "Baron Munchhausen," and
said, `Jake, I got two names for you. I need $20 million.' And I said, `One
name is Gilliam and the other is Quixote,' and he says, `Done.' And then I had
to sit down and read the book, because lazily, I had never bothered to read
it. And the copy I had was an old, late 19th-century copy, so it weighed
several tons, and it took me several weeks to get through it, and then I
realized how foolish I'd been thinking that I could make a film of this book,
because it's such an extraordinary, vast canvas. And nevertheless, I set out.
That was a long time ago.

BOGAEV: Can you give us a sense, before we start talking about some of the
things that went wrong, about how you envisioned the film visually. Tell us
some of the visual elements, and how you were going to bring Don Quixote's
hallucinations, his dreams, to life.

Mr. GILLIAM: When I deal with fantasies, I tend to do them very
straightforward. I mean, I'm looking at the world through the eyes of the
madman, so when you're doing that, you're not seeing things with sort of
strange colors around the edges and weird, out-of-focus stuff, you see it as
real. So that's the way I tend to approach it, so when he sees windmills as
giants, they're giants, and it's only when we step back and look at it from
somebody else's point of view that we realize what they are. So I try to drag
the audience in, I suppose, to be Quixote, even though the audience is
supposed to be following this other character. And, in fact, what happens in
the story is that the other character begins to see the world like Quixote
does. So I've never dealt with fantasy other than what I thought was a
totally naturalistic or realistic way.

BOGAEV: So you worked on this film, "Quixote," for 10 years, and you went
through two producers; you tried to start the film twice, and this is all
before the attempt portrayed in the "Lost in La Mancha" documentary. But
finally, you pulled together a production team, and these are people from all
over Europe. At this point, you have no Hollywood backing--that's fallen
through--and this whole...

Mr. GILLIAM: No, to be accurate, it hadn't fallen through. We never asked
for a penny from Hollywood. That was part of the job I was doing. I was
determined to show that we could make big, spectacular international films
without any help from Hollywood in any possible way. In fact, that's one of
the most disappointing things about the film collapsing is that we failed in
that attempt, because the current financial situation is such that that's not
going to be possible in the future.

BOGAEV: Well, let me correct myself. You pulled together a production team
from all over Europe. You had no Hollywood backing. And you all assembled in
Madrid for pre-production. How did things go at that point? For
instance--and I'm thinking that many of the production staff didn't speak much
English. How much of a problem was that, just simple communication? Because
you're struggling to communicate your ideas, your very personal, specific
ideas with costumers and puppeteers and set designers. It can get very

Mr. GILLIAM: Not really, because there's an advantage. I mean, I draw, so
that is the way one can communicate. Yeah, it isn't quite as efficient,
possibly, as if everybody spoke perfect English. In fact, the disturbing
moments are when you--because people are speaking English, you're thinking
they're understanding everything you're saying. In fact, they're only
understanding 90 percent of what you're saying, and that 10 percent can
provide some interesting problems.

But, no, that wasn't really the problem. You know, we can get around those
things, you know? I may need to shout a bit louder, but I can always draw
something or I do it physically. I grab something and say, `I should be this
way,' and bum-bum-bum.

BOGAEV: Well, one problem you had--your star is Johnny Depp, who played
Sancho Panza, and the French actor Jean Rochefort, who plays Don Quixote--they
don't show up for pre-production costume fittings or rehearsal. In fact, I
think at one point in the film, it seems as if you can't get Johnny Depp on
the phone at all.

Mr. GILLIAM: Correct.

BOGAEV: That must have been disconcerting. I mean, how worried were you?

Mr. GILLIAM: No, I mean, there's no question--no, I'm not worried about
Johnny and I wasn't worried about Jean, either, to be honest, I mean, because
the one thing--having worked with Johnny, I know this is a guy who can turn up
five minutes before you start shooting and it'll be amazing. He doesn't--that
doesn't worry me. It gets frustrating, because there's always things you want
to talk about, and you start tearing your hair out because you kind--and
Johnny was busy doing the film "From Hell," and he was in Prague, so he was
under the gun because they were running late. And I was worried that he
wasn't going to get there in time. And, in fact, he was so exhausted, he did
take a week off before he finally got down there. But the fact is, he was

But with Jean, because he'd--I don't know; he'd achieved a hernia about, I
think, a month before I started shooting, and the result of that was that it
was starting to press on his prostate, and the prostate became infected. And
what was shocking is when he did turn up--'cause he did not get on a plane and
then he got down there--was that I suddenly was dealing with a man that was
about 20 years older than I'd last seen him a month earlier. It was quite an
experience, because he's 70 years old. He raises show jumping horses. The
man has never lost a day of shooting in his life. He's far more fit than I
would ever hope to be. And this nasty little organ became infected, and he
literally went from what seemed like a 50-year-old man to a 90-year-old man
almost overnight.

BOGAEV: He did show up for filming. You began filming the movie, and the
first day of shooting, the troubles seemed to begin. What went wrong right
from the start?

Mr. GILLIAM: Well, there was a little problem about the extras not being
rehearsed in a particular fight sequence. That was the moment I went berserk
because, again--what happ--here's--it's a problem in films, because especially
on something like this, I was working with some people I hadn't worked with
before, so you're relying on other people's knowledge of them. And there are
always some people on the film that spend most of their time trying to impress
the director by being incredibly charming, rather than going out and doing the
hard graft work. And I stumbled on one of those people, unfortunately, and
something hadn't been done. Rehearsal hadn't taken place. And we're out in
the middle of this hot desert area with always a limited amount of time, and
nobody's prepared themselves properly for that moment. And that was a huge
shock. I mean, I did go crazy 'cause it was something I didn't expect.
And I...

BOGAEV: I think the words you used are, `You need to tell me if I'm going to
be'--expletive deleted--`beforehand.'

Mr. GILLIAM: Beforehand. Yeah.

BOGAEV: `I need to know if I'm'...

Mr. GILLIAM: `If I am, I want to know in advance. That's all I ask.'

BOGAEV: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILLIAM: And that's--I mean, it's very funny, because I think the
four-letter F-word I use more than, you know, a thousand times in the
documentary. I think I was quite amazed at how limited my dialogue had

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOGAEV: The second day of filming was the real disaster, though.

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah.

BOGAEV: And in the documentary, it looks as if a hurricane blew in while you
were shooting on location in the Spanish desert. It really looks like a storm
of biblical proportions.

Mr. GILLIAM: No, it was. And...

BOGAEV: What was it like on the set?

Mr. GILLIAM: It was like--well, I was exhilarated, frankly, because suddenly,
a lot of my concerns about our production problems and potential future
problems had all been taken away from me by this hand of this rather violent
God. It was quite extraordinary the way it built, because it was a slow
build, and we thought, `Oh, there are some clouds coming. Oh, there's a
little problem.' And when it hit, it was literally like the beginning of
"Wizard of Oz." And, in fact, I'm running around trying to decide whether I'm
in "The Wizard of Oz" or if I'm playing King Lear--in "The Tempest" in the

And it was quite extraordinary, because what, in fact, I did--we were under
this marquee and all the equipment was there, all the people were there, and I
just walked out into the storm. I was so crazed at that point, howling, and I
found a large overhanging rock, which I crouched under as this storm started
building, and it got bigger and more spectacular. It was absolutely beautiful
in its anger, I think. And little by little, I started watching water pouring
down these mountainsides, which were dry, and suddenly there became
waterfalls. And then there was a rush of water, and then hailstones started
crashing down.

And eventually, after about 45 minutes, it ended. And I had been under this
rock, looking away from the set. And I crawled out from under my rock and
looked back, and there's nothing there. A sea of mud is all that's left.

BOGAEV: It looked like flowing rivers, and they're carrying off your

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah.

BOGAEV: the flash flooding.

Mr. GILLIAM: I mean, it literally was a flash flood. It was just taking
everything away, and people--what was the funniest thing about it was Lou
and Keith, the documentary filmmakers, they had only one camera, and what
they did was run into their car, you know, protecting their camera. They
weren't actually filming the stuff. It was--in fact, the stunt coordinator
with his digital camera, his own home camera, was filming this. Things--they
were in the car--you'll see it in the film--shot through a windscreen as the
hailstones are descending, you know. It's them protecting their one piece of

BOGAEV: Terry Gilliam. The new documentary "Lost in La Mancha" chronicles
his attempt to adapt "Don Quixote" to the screen. We'll talk more after this
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" theme music)

BOGAEV: Back now with director and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam.
His failed attempt to adapt "Don Quixote" to the screen is documented in the
new film "Lost in La Mancha."

You did regroup and began filming again, and I suppose this is when the most
ironic misfortune happened, something that truly elevates this "La Mancha"
story to a fiasco, and that's that your star, Jean Rochefort, fell ill and he
couldn't ride a horse. Now we have a clip from the movie. It's from the day
of shooting that you realize Rochefort is too ill to ride. Let's listen. And
here, you've just filmed a take and noticed something is wrong, and you're on
the set talking to your first director, Phil.

(Soundbite of "Lost in La Mancha")

Mr. GILLIAM: Cut! We're (censored). Did you see him sit...


Mr. GILLIAM: Did you see him sit on the horse? The pain when he sat down?

Mr. PATTERSON: (Censored) crazy? He can't (censored) connect. He can't do

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah.

Mr. PATTERSON: It ain't gonna happen.

Mr. GILLIAM: I was watching his face very carefully when he got on the
horse, and it was just--oh, (censored).

Mr. PATTERSON: He can't ride like that, he certainly can't act like that and
he certainly can't jiggle hand props with that, you know. Honestly, I want to
go to the French and say I'm going to refuse to shoot with Jean Rochefort on a
horse until he's medically fit.

BOGAEV: That's a scene from the new documentary, "Lost in La Mancha" about my
guest Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to adapt "Don Quixote" to the screen.

So here you have a Don Quixote who can't ride a horse. Did you know at that
point just how physically impaired Rochefort was?

Mr. GILLIAM: I think we did, because the irony was that when I had been
hunting for a Don Quixote who had to look a certain way, be a certain height
and a certain age, always the problem was that you could find an actor who
looked right but couldn't ride a horse. It was the one thing that Jean was
absolutely expert at. He's a brilliant horseman.

So on that day, when he was on that horse and you realized--looked in his face
and you saw the pain he was in, we knew we were in trouble. I mean, I didn't
know how bad the trouble was because we broke for lunch and Phil Patterson,
the first assistant director, said, `I'm not going to let you put him back on
the horse. I mean, the man's in real trouble.' And I said, `Well, no, no,
no, no. We better talk to Jean.' And then Jean said, `Listen, I've been here
all week. I've been able to do nothing. I don't think I'll be able to get
through the weekend unless I'm able to do a scene. I've spent seven, eight
months learning English to do this, and I'm going to do it.' And then the
producers had said, you know, `He must go back on his horse,' and then talked
to Johnny Depp and said, `What do you think, Johnny?' And Johnny said, `Well,
if he really wants to do it, I mean, you can't say no.' And I--he's an adult.

So we put him back on the horse, and all we did--he was on the horse for about
45 minutes, just walking. And at the end of it, it took two people to lift
him off the horse, and he was in bad news on the plane the next day to Paris.
It's that thing with actors, and that's why I love them, but they can, you
know, almost kill themselves in trying to do their work, and Jean almost did

BOGAEV: Well, Rochefort left after that day's shooting, and he promised to
return in two days. He was seeing doctors in Paris. But two days became four
and then 10 and then, I guess, maybe never. What was going on while you
waited in limbo to find out your star's prognosis? Were producers coming to
you, saying, `Why can't we recast? Find a different Quixote. Bruce Willis.'

Mr. GILLIAM: There was all of that going on. The insurance company in
particular said, `Recast,' and I said, `Well, we spent almost a year trying to
get to this point. How do you just suddenly recast, 'cause there aren't many
people out there that fill the bill.' And I said, `We've also got very
complicated scheduled problems. To reschedule is going to be very difficult
and costly.' And because we were, you know, an independent production, there
was no fat in the budget. And I said, `I don't know how we can do all of

Johnny felt very strongly as, indeed, did a lot of the cast and the crew,
that, `Let's wait for Jean. Maybe he'll only be a month. Maybe it'll be two
months. We'll all go away. We won't charge any money for waiting. And when
he's well, we'll come back and continue the film.' And I was on that side.
That's what I wanted to do. But we were given a deadline to come up with an
answer, either recast or reschedule or whatever, or they'd pull the plug. And
I just felt we couldn't, in the time, put it together in a new form, and so
they pulled the plug.

BOGAEV: At some point in the documentary, you're on the phone and you're
explaining to someone that you've just lost all sense of what the film was,
that you had the whole film in your head, you carried these images around in
your head, this vision of it all, for a decade, and it's just dribbled out of

Mr. GILLIAM: Well, I think it's, you know, become such a--I don't know,
maybe it's a way of surviving. Maybe my system just shut down and sort of
closed the door on it. Maybe that's what it was, because having spent--you're
torn because, on one hand, you've spent so long at it, you're tired of it, you
hate it and you're worn out with it. On the other hand, you know, you just
want to get it up on the screen. And so your system is doing bizarre things.
And I think physically, I was so exhausted, and then you had the emotional
exhaustion on top. It was kind of like on one level, there was a relief, `Ah,
the nightmare's over. I can go back to some other kind of life.' But--and
you think you've got over it, and then it would hit you like a month later
what a complete and utter waste of, you know, years of your life this has
been. And it comes and goes. But it's why I am still going to make the film
because this is the only way I can deal with these problems is to convince
myself that, yes, we will do it, and we'll do it in a year or two.

BOGAEV: So do other people say, `You're insane. You should just drop it'?

Mr. GILLIAM: Oh, that's...

BOGAEV: Like your wife, or people who care about you?

Mr. GILLIAM: There are those. And anybody in film would say, `Of course you
have to move on. You know, that was unfortunate; you probably learned a thing
or two. Move on.' And I said no, I mean, mainly because it's the best script
I've ever been involved with, I think. I think it's a great script. I mean,
it took us a long time. I think we finally got it. And it's just--I just
know how good a film it'll be. So that's the problem. It may be stupid to
try to do it because there's another side of me that says, `Well, look at
"Lost in La Mancha"; the documentary shows you a few moments from what the
film would have been, and maybe it's better to leave everybody's imagination
working. They'll probably imagine a better film than we ultimately make.' So
there's a side of me that thinks like that as well. But I've got to do it
just because I said I was going to do it and because it's very stupid and
impractical and obsessive and something a grown man should walk away from;
that's why I must do it.

BOGAEV: Well, it's interesting, because you've had in your career a lot of
battles with Hollywood studios. I mean, "Brazil," there was a famous battle
between you and MCA/Universal in which, at the end, they wanted you to edit
the film, make it shorter and make a happier ending, and they wouldn't release
the film when you wouldn't agree to do that. And you took out this full-page
ad in Variety addressed to the president of MCA/Universal, Sid Scheinberg.
And in the end, you won that battle. But it was a real--you went up against a
huge bureaucracy. But in this case, you were working in the way that you want
to work. There's no real...

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...bureaucratic evil...

Mr. GILLIAM: No, no. I'm just the victim of, you know, a little infection.
A virus got me this time. That's what's so bizarre about it. Yeah, you know,
there's--I can't really blame anybody except for Jean getting this infection
which disabled him, and then everything fell apart. It is that problem of
working where you have no fat, where you've got no safety net, and that's what
we were doing. So when it went bad, it went totally bad. Usually, I mean, if
you're working with a studio, there's a lot of fat around the place, so, you
know, these films get made.

And I think the result of the whole thing--and that's what was happening when
it was all falling apart--I kept telling Keith and Lou as they were shooting
to keep shooting, 'cause at least if they will get a film out of this whole
mess, even though I don't, then there'll be some record of it.

BOGAEV: Director Terry Gilliam. His failed attempt to adapt "Don Quixote" to
the screen is the subject of the new documentary "Lost in La Mancha." We'll
continue our conversation in the second half of the show.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.


(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Coming up, we continue our conversation with film director,
screenwriter and former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. And we meet Simon
Russell Beale. The British actor is performing in two concurrent plays at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz
reviews some light opera.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Let's get back to our interview with the director and former Monty Python
member Terry Gilliam. His films include "Brazil," "The Fisher King," "12
Monkeys" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." In 2000, Gilliam started
filming "The Man who Killed Don Quixote," a screen adaptation of the classic
Cervantes novel. The production did not go well, disastrously, in fact.
Gilliam's failed attempt is the subject of the new documentary film "Lost In
La Mancha," produced by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe.

Now let's talk about the filming of this fiasco, because it's an interesting
thing. I was trying to figure out why you would have anyone document the
making of your film, given that, for instance, "Baron von Munchausen" was a
very painful experience for you. Your budget seemed to spiral out of control
or to double in the making of it, and some in the industry point to it as an
example of a director out of control, a movie that didn't do well in the box
office. I know there are a lot of ways to interpret that...

Mr. GILLIAM: That's the one that Hollywood loves.

BOGAEV: Right, right.

Mr. GILLIAM: That version.

BOGAEV: But it occurred to me that maybe you wanted people to--a documentary
team on the set of your film in order to provide a record, to prove that you
aren't a director out of control, that there is a method to your madness, but
then this series of unforeseeable disasters happens.

Mr. GILLIAM: I mean, I wasn't approaching it that way. I just know that
every time I make a film, something interesting happens is all I know, and I
always regret the fact that, you know, it's not been documented, that somebody
wasn't there to record it, and there's another side that--I mean, a kind of
selfish, vain side. It's just trying to have my own, you know, diary of what
went on there at least or somebody else's diary that shows what was going on.
And it was as simple as that.

And Keith and Lou had made a documentary about "12 Monkeys" called "The
Hamster Factor," and it was a wonderful bit of work. And they had been
graduate film students at Temple University in Philadelphia, and basically we
just gave them a Hi-8 camera and said, `Shoot. Here's lots of tape. You've
got access to everything.' I wore a microphone the whole time, and I said,
`It's your film. I'm not going to interfere with it. I'm not going to censor
it.' So they made a wonderful film then, so I trusted them. And when I said,
`Come on, come out to Quixote country and see what happens,' they were game.

And once they're there, as far as I'm concerned, they have complete freedom,
complete access. I'm so desperate for the truth. That's what I want to see,
and I don't--especially in films and show business, everything's about image.
Everything's about illusion. Nobody ever sees the truth of things. And, for
me, I just want that to happen. So as everything was coming apart, they were
sometimes incredibly apologetic and actually turning their camera off in
certain situations because they felt there was too much, you know, pain and
anguish around the place, and they felt embarrassed recording it. And I said,
`No, no, you've got to keep shooting. This is the truth. This is honest.
This is the reality of the thing, and I think you'll get an amazing film out
of it.'

And I think that's what's happened. I think when people see "Lost in La
Mancha," people say, `Oh, how terrible, how painful, how awful that was.' And
I say, `Well, no, the reality is most filmmaking is more like this than what
you see in all the press kits.' It's a rough business, and people never get
to see that side of it.

BOGAEV: What occurs to you when you watch the documentary?

Mr. GILLIAM: Well, it occurs to me that I should never watch it again is what
occurs to me.

BOGAEV: Did you watch it?

Mr. GILLIAM: Yes, I've watched it several times, and I can't stand it. It
leaves me depressed for a couple weeks, and I'm trying to get my life back.

BOGAEV: After the "La Mancha" debacle, you auditioned to direct J.K.
Rowling's "Harry Potter" film. That's one of the things you did in the wake
of the Don Quixote mess...


BOGAEV: ...for Warner Bros. How does a director's audition work? What's the

Mr. GILLIAM: It wasn't actually that I auditioned. What happened was that it
turned out J.K. Rowling and the producer wanted me to direct it. The
likelihood of me directing it was very slim; I think non-existent. And I have
a feeling that Warner Bros. brought me out to Hollywood just to show them that
they were doing their due diligence and giving everybody a fair chance. And
it was a very interesting experience, because I know when I went into the
meeting that a majority of people were against me, and by the end of the
meeting, I'd actually won over quite a few people that were against me. And I
was so angry with myself for getting excited about the project, knowing I
would never get it.

BOGAEV: For caring.

Mr. GILLIAM: I ended up driving around for hours later just kicking myself.
For a moment, I allowed myself to really fall into that world and begin to
imagine it and think that, `Yeah, I could do this,' and that kind of feeling
when you're not going to ever get the job, when you know that, is very
irritating to say the least. And on it went. So the film was made as it was,
and it was a huge success, and they obviously made the right choice in

BOGAEV: What did you think of the film?

Mr. GILLIAM: Crap.

BOGAEV: Really?

Mr. GILLIAM: I think the film is very badly directed. I think it's
uninspired, unfortunately, I mean, to be quite honest about--I think the first
"Harry Potter" just was very, very disappointing, it was very pedestrian.
There was no real magic in it. It was by the numbers, and "Lord of the Rings"
is a wonderful film in comparison. That's what I think.

BOGAEV: Well...

Mr. GILLIAM: That the box office doesn't agree with me, I don't know.

BOGAEV: What do you think the distinction is, though, in the way that they
create these visions? Because I'm thinking that they're two very different
styles, and "Lord of the Rings" seems to have more of a dark and yet childlike
imagination to it.

Mr. GILLIAM: Yeah. No, I'm totally impressed with Peter Jackson. I think he
actually believes that world. I think he's a very good director; let's begin
with that. He's an excellent director. He threw himself so passionately into
that world. He understands it. He understands magic, heroism, epic--the
whole thing; just feel it's in its bones, and so it spews out onto the screen,
and it's totally believable. You know, the film was--whatever--three hours
long, that first one, and I sat there and I was just transported into this
other world. I never felt that for one moment with "Harry Potter." I thought
it's sort of by the numbers. There's some, I mean, technically brilliant
stuff in it, but there's no magic. There's no real, you know, immersion into
that world.

BOGAEV: My guest is Terry Gilliam. His catastrophic attempt three years ago
to film an adaptation of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" is the subject of a new
documentary, "Lost in La Mancha."

This film does function as a kind of diary of your worst moments as a
filmmaker, so it must be very painful to have that part of your career exposed
to millions of people, millions of your potential people in your audience.

Mr. GILLIAM: No. I don't know. I'm beginning to think that failure's a
really important part of life and should be given more time on the air. I
think everything's so positive now, everything is so uplifting. Everything's
blah, blah, blah. The reality of life is it's very up and down, so it doesn't
bother me. I think what's been most interesting is that people come away
saying that I'm not a madman, that I'm not out of control, that I do know what
I'm doing, which people or my agents in Hollywood say, `Oh, this is going to
be so good, so useful, you know, for the executives to see what a responsible
and decent human being I really am as opposed to the monster they fear.'

BOGAEV: Terry Gilliam, it was such a pleasure talking to you today. Thank
you very much.

Mr. GILLIAM: Thanks.

BOGAEV: Terry Gilliam. The new IFC Film "Lost in La Mancha" documents
Gilliam's failed attempt at adapting "Don Quixote" for the screen. When we
spoke, Gilliam was in negotiations with the insurance company to get back the
rights to his script, "The Man who Killed Don Quixote."

Coming up, we meet British actor Simon Russell Beale. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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Interview: Simon Russell Beale discusses his roles in the
productions "Twelfth Night" and "Uncle Vanya" and his career in

The New York Times recently described Simon Russell Beale as the greatest
actor Americans have hardly seen. On the London stage, Beale has played kings
and commoners, fops and Shakespearean clowns, characters from Chekhov and
Ibsen. Two years ago, Beale performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as
Hamlet. Now he's returned to BAM with the Donmar Warehouse Theater in an
interesting double bill. He plays the manservant Malvolio in "Twelfth Night"
and the title role in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya." Sam Mendes directs the
productions. In both plays, Beale explores the comic and tragic dimensions of
his characters.

When I spoke with Simon Russell Beale, we began by talking about "Twelfth
Night." His character, Malvolio, is the butler for Lady Olivia. He's
secretly in love with her. The other household servants decide to make some
trouble by misleading Malvolio into believing Olivia has feelings for him.

Mr. SIMON RUSSELL BEALE (Actor): And then a trick is played on him where a
letter is written apparently from Olivia, which says `I love you,' and he
believes it and dresses up in what he regards as very sexy gear and seductive
gear, and Olivia, of course, is horrified. He's then accused of being mad,
which I think distresses him enormously, and he's shut away. And when he's
released, he is a very bitter man whose life has been destroyed, and he ends
with this extraordinary curse on the whole company, which is literally seconds
before the play ends, so there's this big black cloud over the end of the
play. And the big debate is, you know, whether you regard his punishment for
being pompous and overbearing and a bully, which he undoubtedly is, whether
his punishment fits the crime, and I think most people will think the
punishment was probably excessive. I mean, his life is destroyed, the poor

BOGAEV: I'd like to talk about your physical presence on the stage, because
you're a very physical actor, and it's fascinating to watch, especially to
watch your hands. Both as Malvolio and as Vanya, you cultivate certain
mannerisms, and Malvolio has some extremely precise dismissive gestures, a
sweep of the hand, for instance. He also fusses. He's a butler...

Mr. BEALE: Yes.

BOGAEV: I guess he's a little anal. He fusses with hanging his coat on
the back of a chair, is very fastidious in the beginning, and then as his
psyche deteriorates and these awful things happen to him, he becomes less so.
And you also develop those kind of gestures in the Vanya character. Vanya
fingers the...

Mr. BEALE: Fidgets, doesn't he, yeah.

BOGAEV: He fidgets. He picks at his hands. He fingers the long table, which
is the center of the stage, the central prop. He emphasizes what he's saying
by placing his outstretched fingers, his fingertips on the tabletop, and he
talks with his hands. All of this makes for a very, very realized, believable
human being on the stage. Where do these mannerisms originate for you as an
actor and how do you hone them?

Mr. BEALE: Well, it's funny you mention the hands, because somebody else
mentioned them to me a couple of weeks ago, and I was certainly unaware of it
in "Vanya," and then now, only half-aware about a lot of the physicality of
Vanya. To explain something about the Vanya physicalities, when we started
rehearsing, Sam put out a sort of carpet with loads of big cushions and big
easy chairs for the "Vanya" rehearsals, and a lot of the original exercises we
did as we were exploring the play was with us--we naturally sort of gravitated
to lying on the cushions and lying on the carpet or slumped into this very,
very comfortable chair. And that continued into performance, certainly with
me, and I spend, as you remember, a lot of the time actually lying on the
floor of the stage. And I found that very useful because, you know, Vanya's a
child really, in lots of ways. He's a man who is just at the end of his
tether, and consequently, his physical behavior becomes more and more extreme.

BOGAEV: Watching you on the stage, I had the sense that, as an actor, you
have an idea of the physical shape of a character and that the words come out
of that. It's as if you have an idea of what you look like from the audience,
and that somehow the interpretation and the words flow through that.

Mr. BEALE: I've always pretended that that's not the case, but you're right.
I mean, I've never thought I've had a very strong visual imagination, really.
But I do remember that when I did "Richard III," which was one of the very
first things I did with--the second thing I did with Sam, I had an immediate
clear idea of the way I wanted to look, which sort of took me by surprise. I
mean, I wanted to look like a huge retired American footballer, you know.

BOGAEV: Johnny Unitas.

Mr. BEALE: I don't know the reference, but with a huge shaved head and big,
big man. When Sam offered me Ariel in "The Tempest," you know, the most
unlikely choice in the whole company is to play Ariel, as...

BOGAEV: And Ariel is a sprite. It's usually a little elfin...

Mr. BEALE: He's a creature of air, yes.

BOGAEV: ...creature.

Mr. BEALE: And as we've said before, I'm not a creature of air. But I had
that funny thing in my stomach when he phoned me up and offered it to me, and
I just had that funny, excited reaction, butterflies in your stomach,
thinking, `Ooh, ooh, my Lord,' and I knew he'd come to me partly because I
could sing, and Ariel has to sing, but I thought, `Wow, what can we do with
that? How can we make this particular person into a creature of air?' Now I
don't have sort of the same reaction to "Richard II."

BOGAEV: How did you make Ariel work? How did you reinterpret Ariel to jive
with your physical appearance?

Mr. BEALE: Well, actually, to be perfectly honest, it was a series of lucky
accidents. I was given a very beautiful blue silk suit, Chairman Mao type
suit, and during the rehearsal, the whole show required Ariel--the way Sam had
directed it was that Ariel did all the work, as it were. I mean, he's a
sprite who's the servant of the great magician Prospero, and Ariel did all the
work, and I had so much to do. I had to bring cactus on the stage and set the
props for them and, blah, blah, blah, all that, and I thought the only way I
can do it is very, very slowly, and so during one of the final runs in the
rehearsal room, I was just doing it very, very slowly, and at the end of it,
Sam said, `Well, that can either be really boring or we could push it and make
him incredibly slow.' And in the end, he moved in this extraordinarily
beautiful suit and bare feet very slowly and haughtily and rather
balletically. And because it was a blue set, they could light me so I almost
disappeared. It was very clever actually of them. I mean, it was a clever

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Simon Russell Beale. He's currently starring in two
productions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. He performs as
Malvolio in "Twelfth Night" and Vanya in "Uncle Vanya."

When you played Hamlet, your mother had just passed away. Did that inform
your performance?

Mr. BEALE: Yeah.

BOGAEV: In what way?

Mr. BEALE: It was my tribute to her, really. She knew I was going to do it,
and the dates, you know, cruelly were not--I mean, she couldn't have come to
see me because she was ill for five months. But it was my tribute to her.
And, you know, as a gift for somebody who's grieving, you can't get much
better than that; I mean, the greatest, the greatest discussion of grief and
mortality that's ever been written, and, I mean, I was enormously privileged
to be able to do that and to be able to give it to her, really. And I think
Hamlet turned out very different from what I expected him to turn out. I
wanted it to be a play about love, for him to be a sweet prince, for it to be
about a good man, I mean, struggling with the fact of death. So, yes, it had
an enormous effect.

BOGAEV: Did you have to struggle to channel your grief in an effective way,
an appropriate way, in your performance or did you find that as opposed to
that, your performing "Hamlet" and experiencing grief through Shakespeare's
words, that he got it right actually, that you could compare?

Mr. BEALE: I didn't use the grief literally because that would have been
horrible, but, yeah, you know, you've put it better than I could, which is
that Shakespeare got it right. And...

BOGAEV: About grief, you mean?

Mr. BEALE: Yes, and about, you know, the whole last beat of the play, about,
you know, the great human need to say, `It'll be fine, it'll be fine. All
things shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.' That's not
Shakespeare's, but it's that sort of thing, you know. As I said earlier, you
know, to stand on stage and say to an audience, almost, `Shush, shush, it's
all right. You know, death will come and the readiness is all and it'll be
all right,' I think is a fantastic privilege to be able to do that. And, you
know, it wasn't a direct--I wasn't grieving there in front of the audience,
but it was about saying, `Shakespeare allows us some sort of debate or does it
better than we could do.'

BOGAEV: Thank you so much. Simon Russell Beale, thank you for talking with
me today.

Mr. BEALE: Well, a pleasure, thank you.

BOGAEV: Simon Russell Beale is currently performing in "Twelfth Night" and
"Uncle Vanya" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Donmar Warehouse Theater
production continues through March 9th.

Coming up, light opera. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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Profile: Reissues of well-known operettas

Some recent reissues of well-known operettas and a performance of a
little-known one got our music critic, Lloyd Schwartz, thinking about the
soothing nature of light opera.

(Soundbite of music)


Last summer on a short visit to Vienna, the home of Demel’s Chocolates and
the Sacher Torte, I saw a charming operetta from the 1930s, "Bewitched
Maiden,"(ph) by a composer famous in Vienna but new to me, Ralph Benatzky, who
emigrated to Hollywood during the Nazi regime but didn't find success in
America. If `opera,' opera (pronounced OH-pei-rah), is the Italian word for
work, then `operetta' means something lighter, sweeter, a little work, less
work for the composer but also less work for the listener, who doesn't have to
grapple with the vast scale, the historical or moral complexities of grand
opera or the musical subtleties of the great comic operas. I found Benatzky's
music irresistible enough to buy a copy of the record in the lobby.

Here's the star comedian of the German stage, Uwe Kroger, singing the chanson
of "Hocus-Pocus,"(ph) in which his interference is about to change the hero's
luck from bad to worse before the happy ending.

(Soundbite of "Hocus-Pocus")

Mr. UWE KROGER: (Singing in German)

SCHWARTZ: In Europe, operetta is still a national tradition: Offenbach in
France, Gilbert & Sullivan in England, Johann Strauss in Germany and Austria.
In this country, it was a major source of American musical comedy and had a
brief revival in the film musicals of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. But
now it's virtually extinct. By the 1920s, Broadway musicals were rebelling
against the excessive sweetness of operetta, not only the corny, Ruritanian
plots, but all the waltzes and marches. After the heyday of Victor Herbert,
Americans wanted something literally jazzier, more syncopated. Enter Irving
Berlin, Rodgers & Hart and Cole Porter, who changed the landscape.

But maybe it's time to look back. The record label indispensable to lovers of
musical comedy, DRG, has been re-releasing some wonderful 50-year-old Decca
and Columbia operetta recordings, titles that in themselves recall a bygone
era of almost silent movie naivety: "The Desert Song," "The Student Prince,"
"The Merry Widow," "Babes in Toyland." There's an art to singing this kind of
music. It can be impossibly arch and cloying if it's condescended to. Here's
the great Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior taking seriously the famous
drinking song from Sigmund Romberg's "The Student Prince."

(Soundbite of "The Student Prince")

Mr. LAURITZ MELCHIOR: (Singing) Drink, drink, drink, oh, ...(unintelligible)
the stars are just shining on me. Drink, drink, drink, oh, lips that are red
and sweeter than fruit on the tree. Here's a hope that those bright eyes will
shine lovingly, longingly soon into mine. May those lips that are red and
sweet tonight with joy my own lips meet.

Group: (Singing) Drink, drink ...(unintelligible) stars.

SCHWARTZ: You may remember Kitty Carlisle from the TV game show "To Tell the
Truth" or as the love interest in the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera."
She was a lovely singer. Here she is in one of the most enchanting songs in
any operetta, "Vilja" from Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow."

(Soundbite of "Vilja")

Ms. KITTY CARLISLE: (Singing) Vilja, oh, Vilja, my love and my bride

SCHWARTZ: I don't know if operetta will ever really catch on again, but it's
an appealing oasis from serious thinking and a happy reminder of a time when
it was still possible to have an illusion of innocence.

BOGAEV: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix.


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of music)

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