The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” might also be called the imagination of Terry Gilliam. The latest film from the protean director, his first in four years, is the story of an ages-old sorcerer with magical storytelling powers who has made a pact with the devil. In the present day, Dr. Parnassus, played by Christopher Plummer, presides over a motley troupe of entertainers who travel the streets of London in a horse-drawn wagon that’s their home as well as impromptu theater.
For English hair and makeup artist Sarah Monzani, the challenge was to create the many looks for each of the characters. “There’s their grungy everyday reality, their theatrical selves during the shows, and how they appear inside the Imaginarium,” she says.
Gilliam, she notes, is very hands-on and collaborative, but can also be enigmatic. “He keeps a lot in his head, and sometimes you have to tease out what he wants,” says Monzani, who has known the helmer since she worked on “Brazil.” When she asked him for more of his thoughts on Dr. Parnassus, “he very happily said, ‘He is me — in my mind.’ I said, OK, and we had a good laugh. But we’d constantly go through these maddening conversations.”
For all of its visual dazzle, the budget for “Imaginarium” was a modest $30 million. “When I started on the film, there was very little money, so we weren’t able to anything extravagant, so I wound up using traditional techniques,” notes the hair and makeup artist (in England the same person is responsible for the two crafts).
For me it was like having a theatrical box in the makeup trailer. It was very much a case of pulling things out to make it work,” adds Monzani, who won an Oscar and BAFTA for her work on caveman saga “Quest for Fire” and has credits on “Midnight Express,” “Alien,” “Evita,” and “Valkyrie.”
Minimalism was used to good effect during the performance sequences. Dr. Parnassus, for example, covers his own scraggly beard with a longer artificial beard that hooks over his ears with pipe cleaners. His face is pancaked and rouged in red. Tufts of hair are stuck on his eyebrows. “The makeup was supposed to look like something they put on themselves in the wagon,” Monzani explains.
The project was almost derailed by the death of Heath Ledger midway through lensing. Filming was able to resume when Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, friends of Ledger’s, filled in with three versions of his character during the remainder of the film.
The last scene — in which Ledger is seen with his gold-covered face peering into the mirror before he breaks through into the Imaginarium — was actually created after he died. “Amazingly, we found footage from his pre-production makeup test that was inserted into the mirror and made for exactly the transition we needed,” Monzani reports.
I loved every moment of working on it before Heath passed,” she adds. “And the camaraderie that happened between all of us afterwards was extraordinary. I’ve never been involved in anything that was so touching.”