Terry Gilliam previews ‘Imaginarium’

Director makes first-ever Comic-Con appearance

In his first-ever Comic-Con appearance, Terry Gilliam was greeted with warm applause and Comic-Con’s Inkpot award for achievement in film arts. “Where am I going to find room for this in my luggage?” he asked, before wondering if its more pointy bits would mean getting arrested for trying to take it on the plane.

The panel began with a five-minute preview of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” because, in Gilliam’s words, “everyone is waiting to see Heath’s last performance. That’s why we finished the film.” Footage was light on premise, but included shots of Ledger in character of Tony as well as Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law playing the same part after Ledger’s death in January 2008.

“I don’t like to deal with studios, thus I don’t have the money or resources other more talented filmmakers do,” Gilliam said. Indeed, he said the genesis of “Parnassus” came from the poor performance of his last film, “Tideland.”

“I felt like an artist traveling around trying to tell stories, except that nobody pays attention,” he said. This translated into the story of Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a former monk who tries to save his daughter’s soul from the Devil with assistance from the chameleonesque Tony. This character, Gilliam said, was inspired by Tony Blair — “one of our greatest prime ministers, who got us into a very silly war” — someone whose silver tongue is so persuasive that even he believes what he says.

Appearing with Gilliam was Verne Troyer, an actor best known as Mini-Me in the “Austin Powers” franchise. The director said he created a role specifically for Troyer after working with him on “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Said Gilliam, “I liked Verne’s attitude and he hadn’t had the chance to show what a great, great serious actor he is.”

Next, Gilliam will return to his notoriously aborted “Don Quixote” project. “I didn’t read the script for seven or eight years, because it was perfect… But then I reread it recently. So it’s been totally rewritten now. It maybe needed the break. So now I’m on the hunt for actors and money.”

“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” is slated for release this fall in a number of international territories; it has yet to find a domestic distributor.

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