Terry Gilliam talks 'Twelve Monkeys,' 'Brazil,' and 'Harry Potter' at the CapeTown Film Fest

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Image Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

Terry Gilliam flew into Los Angeles for the screening of his hallucinogenic time-travel romp Twelve Monkeys at EW’s first-ever CapeTown Film Fest. The director and legendary enfant terrible sat down in front of the crowd with EW’s Geoff Boucher on Sunday evening for a freewheeling hour-long chat which skipped all over Gilliam’s storied career, from Monty Python to Brazil to why Hollywood won’t let him make movies to the time he almost (but not really) got to make Harry Potter. Check out a video of the chat below, and read on for the key lines from the legendary filmmaker.

On why 2001 is better than Close Encounters. Asked why his films so often left key questions unanswered, Gilliam contrasted the ambiguity of the Stanley Kubrick classic with the slightly-less-ambiguous finale of the Steven Spielberg classic. “It always stuck with me, the ending from 2001. I don’t know what it’s really saying. I know it’s beautiful, it’s telling me many things, I don’t quite understand it, but I know it gets me thinking. When I look at Close Encounters, there’s a perfect ending: The door opens, and that great sort of Preying Mantis Silhouette figure comes out. Cut to black, folks! Don’t let the little kids with the rubber suits come in! That’s a really f—ing awful answer!”

On the financial failure of Brazil. “In the long run, it was a huge success. And that’s why we, today, are so proud of Homeland Security.”

On sequels. “You’ve got to repeat all the things you saw in the previous film. It’s very important to keep repeating things, the audience needs to be comforted all the time, in these complicated difficult times. It’s nice to be able to go  back and see the same film again and again and again and again. Fast & Furious 6! There’s a repetitiveness that I think is about how people are so confused about the world, it’s changing so fast, so go back and keep re-experiencing something you liked once. Like a McDonald’s hamburger.”

On Transformers. “I think I watched the whole thing. I can’t remember. It just never stopped exploding and banging. No sense of gravity. How many plateglass windows can you fly through? How many stories of a building can you crash through, and never break a bone? It’s just madness! There’s no gravity anymore! The real world seems to be excluded from most of those films.”

On Heath Ledger. “He was going to be a great director. He’s one of the great losses. I keep bumping into people who worked with him once, and they all say that same terrible phrase: ‘He was the one. He was the one who was truly gifted.'”

On his new movie The Zero Theorem, starring Christoph Waltz. “If you want to go see a movie about a guy sitting in front of his computer in a burnt-out chapel waiting for a phone call that gives meaning to his life, that’s the one for you!”

On God. “Luckily, I don’t believe he exists.”

On the time he almost got to direct Harry Potter. “J.K. Rowling and the producer wanted me. Then wiser people — studio heads — prevailed. I was the clear choice. At one point they approached Alan Parker and he said, ‘Why are you talking to me? Gilliam is the guy who should be doing this!’ But I knew I was never going to get the job.”

On Time Bandits: The TV Series. “At one point Hallmark wanted to do a TV version. Charles [McKeown] and I wrote a couple episodes. And then 9/11 occurred, strangely enough, and they decided after that that people didn’t want to be entertained. I guess you’re supposed to be solemn after a major disaster.”

What the major studios told Gilliam decades ago when he was pitching Time Bandits. “Nobody wants to watch movies with dwarves.”

On Time Bandits: The Reboot. “I won’t name names, but a major executive was wanting to buy the rights to remake Time Bandits so they could do a franchise. They were offering me lots of money, but the only stipulation was that there wouldn’t be any dwarves in it. So history keeps repeating itself, folks. That’s how it works.”

On Time. “I’m not sure I believe in it, ’cause I’m only 27.”

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Read More:
Schedule: CapeTown Film Festival
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