His latest movie is "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," which premiered in London last week. Halfway through filming, its star, Heath Ledger, died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. The tragedy of Ledger's death is handled in typical Monty Python fashion.
In a recent interview with New York magazine, Idle, in response to whether he has been working with Gilliam on his new movies, said, "Oh, no, he's never let anybody near his projects. I've been in a Gilliam film ("The Adventures of Baron Munchausen"), that's enough for me. Look what happened to Heath Ledger. I felt like that on a Gilliam film, too." Non-PC jokes aside, Ledger's death was a big blow to the director who had also worked with him on "The Brothers Grimm" (2005). "Heath was so close and losing Heath was devastating on so many levels," recalled Gilliam.
He was going to give up on the film were it not for his director of photography, Nicola Pecorini, and his daughter Amy, who were relentless. Pecorini suggested that Gilliam replace Ledger with another actor, since his character goes through magic mirrors and, as such, can be transformed into different men.
Three days after Ledger's death, Gilliam called Johnny Depp to commiserate. Depp starred in Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) and was also close friends with Ledger. Depp assured Gilliam that he would be there for him in whatever he needed, which helped save the funding for the movie. Other friends of Ledger, like Jude Law and Colin Farrell, also came to the rescue and Gilliam believes that when the audience sees the movie, it will seem as if all the changes were part of the original design. "Gods are making their own movie and I'm the hand that writes it," he mused.
"Imaginarium" revolves around a 1,000-year-old former monk, Dr. Parnassus (played by Christopher Plummer) who made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) to become immortal. In exchange, he promised the devil his future child at the age of 16. Parnassus has a traveling Imaginarium theater, which allows its audience to enter a magical world depending on the strength of one's imagination. "If you go in with someone else with a stronger imagination, it may affect yours," explained Gilliam cryptically. Ledger played the mysterious amnesiac named Tony who ultimately tried to save Parnassus' daughter from the devil. His character (due to his untimely death) changes as he goes through magical mirrors and is played by Depp, Law and Farrell. "All those guys are real pros ... There was no time for rehearsal. With Johnny, we had one day and that was it. What I love about Johnny Depp is the speed of preparation and he took whatever we threw at him," said Gilliam.