Terry Gilliam

March 13, 2014

I'm Terry Gilliam. I don't care what you ask me.

I’m Terry Gilliam.

I’m doing this AMA on behalf of my newest film The Zero Theorem, which is at UK cinemas on March 14 (http://www.zerotheorem.co.uk/)

Victoria from reddit is helping me...Any questions?

proof: https://www.facebook.com/ZeroTheoremMovie/photos/a.541277665962810.1073741828.540886636001913/588810134542896/?type=1&theater

Unfortunately, I've got to go and stand on the street pretending to be a poster for Zero Theorem. I will be there for I think 3 days before I must move on.

But thank you.

Hi Terry. I was at the showing of The Zero Theorem in Dublin (constructive opinion: I really enjoyed it. Easily your best film since Fear And Loathing, and then it gets into pretty hefty competition).

At the Q&A you glibly described the upcoming Monty Python shows as 'five old men telling old jokes'. Given the huge unexpected response based largely on the Monty Python name, I'm sure a few of you are worried that it will flop, with people's expectations set unreasonably high.

I'm not actually trying to psych you out; my question is: are you looking forward to it or dreading it, or is it just like any other project?

My hope is that you all enjoy putting it together. You're funny guys, and you work together well. Do your own thing - like you did all along - and do your best not to die (in more ways than one).

You sort of answered the question yourself! There's nothing for me to add. I'm not excited, it's something to do, it'll be fun while we're doing it, and it will be a relief when it's over.

You sort of answered the question yourself! There's nothing for me to add. I'm not excited, it's something to do, it'll be fun while we're doing it, and it will be a relief when it's over.

Because then I can get back to my own life.

Hey Terry Gilliam, first off I want to commend you on your amazing work on the Monty Python series, being born in 96 I’m a little late to the party but they’re hilarious and I love them, I have a couple of questions and hopefully you’ll get to them

Thank you again for taking time out of your day to give us this opportunity, on behalf of this AMA I’d like to commend you on your amazing talents and wish you luck on your current and future projects

It was like all films, wonderful, difficult, tiring, exhilarating, and ultimately, very satisfying.

I have a great memory of shooting Holy Grail and trying to get the others to kneel down in a hole in the ground with a camera while trying to get their heads under the parapet of the camera so we could throw animals over, and they were all bitching and complaining, and I said "well fuck you! You wrote the script and I'm just trying to make it work for you. And if you don't do this it won't." And then I flounced off in one of my bitchy moods, and went off and lay in the tall grass and had a lovely day until we had to film the next bits.

For what? The early Nicolas Cage was a definite yay.

Terry I’ve loved your films ever since I saw ‘Time Bandits’ as a very young child and had my mind totally blown away by it. What advice would you give to aspiring film-makers?

Work very hard, take control of what you do, have a lot of patience, and good luck!

Hi I like Time Bandits. Could you make another movie that uses a lot of little people? They are under-utilized in films.

I would love to, because after I finished Time Bandits, I became the patron saint of little people around the world, and I got to meet lots of lovely people around the world. At the moment, I'm working with a lot of regular people, although in Zero Theorem I have a small person playing a clone, so if you want to watch a little person in one of my films, you'll want to see Zero Theorem.

How do you feel about Zack Snyder saying he made Watchmen to “save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world”? How much pre-production did you do on the film before the project was abandoned, and what do you think of Zack’s adaptation?

Charles Mckeown and I wrote the script. I always felt it was not the best way to treat it because trying to squeeze it into 2.5 hours is an unlikely thing. I think we wrote an interesting version of it, but I think it needed more time to really work. I thought Zack's film worked well, but it suffered from the very problem that I was happy to avoid by not making the film.

Deal. What is your favourite television show?

On another note, Monty Python is fantastic.

Well at the moment I'm afraid it's Breaking Bad.

Which actors and actresses would you like to direct that you haven't directed yet?

I don't want to say any names because if I don't get to work with them it will break my heart. I don't want to be rejected.

Terry, I love your movies. Tideland is one of those movies I show to people I've just met to gauge their reaction and see how well the friendship will last. My question is how was it working with a child on tideland and was it difficult due to the adult themes dealt with in the movie. Oh and were bruce willis and brad pitt who you saw in those roles in 12 monkeys? Thank you again so much for making my favorite movies!

Tideland is one of my favorite movies that I made. Working with Jodelle Ferland who was nine and a half years old was a joy. She is an incredible actress. At nine and a half, I felt that she was maybe the oldest person on the set. The fact that things were difficult in that, meant that I made it. I think it's important to deal with difficult things, and Tideland showed the resilience of a child. I thought that was important to show the world, who often thinks that children are not resilient. They are tough, they are designed to survive.

With 12 Monkeys, the part that Bruce played I originally wanted Jeff Bridges to play. And unfortunately the head of the studio rejected that idea, he thought Jeff was a jinx to movies. And the good thing about this is that that guy no longer has a job at Universal. The interesting thing with Brad's part is that the character is a real motormouth, and at that time Brad had given no indication that he could speak with that kind of energy. But Brad came to London, and we had dinner, and I really liked him. And I thought "let's take a gamble, let's see what he can do with the character." And he worked really hard to achieve that character and what he did was spectacular.

As a teen, Tideland was the first movie of yours I saw. It was a life changing movie as It opened me up to stuff outside of my normal realm of tropes. I had no idea this kind of stuff existed and was amazed by it. It was like taking the movie equivalent of a psychedelic and seeing things in a completely new perception. After that I discovered Brazil and was completely blown away.

It's also one of the biggest injustices on both IMDB and RT.

That's great. Tideland is the first movie of mine you seeing is very interesting, because I love that movie. I think we dealt with some very serious ways of looking at the world and trying to understand what a child is like.

Will "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" ever be made?

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned!

I'm trying to make it this year.

I'm trying to make it this year.

Whether we succeed or not is still open. I think we should open a betting pool on this one to see who wins.

Hello Terry. I was so thrilled to hear confirmation of The Zero Theorem's US distribution. It's going to be a long summer. Will there be any digital distribution we can get our grubby little hands on early at a premium, or anything like that? What were some of the factors that contributed to the difference in release times?

I don't know. The new distributors came on next week, and I haven't spoken to them yet, so I don't know what their plans are.

Whose idea was it to get Johnny Jude and Colin to fill in for Heath in Dr. Parnassus? They did that for free right?

Yes, what happened is I called Johnny when Heath died and Johnny said "I'll do whatever you want, I'm there." And then I discovered that both Colin and Jude were friends of Heath, because I only wanted friends of his to play those parts. And what they did, they all basically worked for nothing. What they did do is say that the money Heath would have been paid, had he lived, the money would go to his child, and that's what happened.

Hi Mr Gilliam! I recently decided it was time to introduce my wonderful girlfriend to the other love of my life - Brazil. We watched the first half hour or so and she made me turn it off saying it "was the most boring film you've made me watch since that 12 Monkeys thing". So anyway, I was wondering if you could give us an update on Don Quixote as she's just been studying the book in university, quite enjoyed it and I was hoping I might one day be able to use the film as a sort of gateway drug. Do you find yourself having to ignore the opinions of others as much making your films, as I do when watching them?

Yes. I mean, I don't listen to them. I work from what I believe, and what I want to say and do. And hopefully there's enough people in the world that want to watch what I do to make me enough money to make the next film. I don't expect people to agree about my films. And some people get them and others don't. And that's a fact. But what I get nervous about is if everyone agrees that the film I've made is wonderful. Something's wrong at that point.


It simply has to do with who I have in the cast, and how much money the budget is going to cost. And if things don't match properly the film doesn't get made.

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized John Cleese's or 1 John Cleese sized duck?

I don't even know how to begin to answer that question.

Can I just not fight anything and just go home and lie down and get some rest instead?

Logically, if John Cleese weighed the same as a duck... And in both cases he would... It likely matters not witch you choose.

That's brilliant. Exactly.

That's what I like, when people's own responses are much more witty than mine are. I love seeing how smart and funny people are out there.

Can you tell me about your experiences with Brazil and the studio edit?

Also, love your work. Can I have a bit part if you ever shoot in Pittsburgh?

Yes, I mean, it was a very long battle. What people should do is go out and find the book "The Battle of Brazil" where all the gory details are laid out. The simple fact is, it was a simple battle of who would give in first, and I wouldn't give in, and luckily a version came out. What happened ultimately was that the studio for syndicated television put out their version, which I was happy about so the public could decide who made the better version. I would much rather that my version was not interrupted every 5 minutes by commercials. So I was delighted that the studio sacrificed their version for syndication.

Are there any films you would love to remake?

No. I don't believe in remaking films. Especially if they are good films.

Terry, Thanks for this AMA. You were the only American in Monty Python but so many of your non-python works seem distinctly British or span the pond quite well. Are you still an "American" or have you adopted the UK as your physical home or muse? Second, did you personally help Seth McFarland do the Monty Python opening for Family Guy or just give him permission to parody your work?

No, I'm no longer an American. I renounced my citizenship I think 8 years ago. I'm now 100% British.

No, Seth was just given permission. I'm a big fan of Family Guy and so they could do whatever they wanted to do.

Now I have a question! Why did you renounce your US citizenship to become a Brit?

I thought I had paid for enough bombs, bombers, and tanks in the 40 years I paid taxes in America while I lived in England. As long as I've done my share in blowing up more innocent parts of the world, I feel I've done my job as an American, so now I'm going to be supporting the British arms race.

I still don't get 12 monkeys. Please explain it to me?


Do you watch any British TV shows these days? If so, what?

The only British TV I watch as of late is Sherlock, which I think is brilliant.

Why do you think I should watch Zero Theorem?

Because it's a wonderful movie that may actually open your eyes to the world you're living in.

Hello from Minnesota! I was wondering if you ever felt like the odd man out in Monty Python, because you were the only American and/or because you were doing the animations while the rest of them were acting in sketches.

Also wondering if you came up with the line "So that's what an invisible barrier looks like" in Time Bandits. That was comedy gold.

Both reasons. I was a foreigner, doing a very different job than the rest of them. But what it did allow me was more freedom than the others.

I think that was my line. Mike Palin might have suggested it was his, but I think it was mine.

Ever think of moving back to Minnesota? I promise most of the snow has melted.

I'm lying.

Hahah! It's cold in Minnesota. I'm actually glad I no longer live there. Especially when I lived there, we didn't have an indoor toilet, it's true! At 40 degrees below zero, I would have to walk out in my little bathrobe and walk out and sit on a wooden seat in the garden.

Hahah! It's cold in Minnesota. I'm actually glad I no longer live there. Especially when I lived there, we didn't have an indoor toilet, it's true! At 40 degrees below zero, I would have to walk out in my little bathrobe and walk out and sit on a wooden seat in the garden.

I actually have no sense memory of the bitter cold, it was just normal. It probably gave me the power to control my bowel movements in later life.

I actually have no sense memory of the bitter cold, it was just normal. It probably gave me the power to control my bowel movements in later life.

When it comes to bowel movements I'm Superman! I have complete control over them!

First of all I want to thank you for so many wonderful films! I'm a huge fan. So excited for Zero Theorem! My question is, what current director do you find inspirational? Perhaps a lesser known director that you don't think gets enough credit?

No, most directors I find inspirational are dead. Let me list: Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Bunuel, just to name a few. When some of the living directors die, I'll find them inspirational.


I don't have any questions for her today! I'm only the answer-man!

I'm just off for an afternoon nap. I don't have any questions but I just want to thank you for making Time Bandits and The Holy Grail which are among of my all-time favourite films, the latter being my favourite Python.

Obviously I like Brazil too but I rate those higher.

I'm really looking forward to Zero Theorem and hope it works out well for you!

Great, sleep well. I'm actually at the foot of your bed right now. If you feel something touching your feet, that is me.

cheers TG, thanks for the visit. which current comedians and/or comic actors are taking the form in the proper direction make you laugh?

Bill Bailey is wonderful, Billy Connolly is a joy, and Robin Williams is a genius.

Thank you for making The Fisher King. I saw that movie as a kid and it saved me (AND introduced me to the wonders of Jeff Bridges, so double-yay!). Please never stop making films.

Thank you.

BRAZIL is one of my favorite movies of all time. It creeps me out a bit like 1984 did that things in this movie seem to come true. Do you ever think about that when you see what is going on in the world now?

Well, haven't you noticed there is an organization called Homeland Security now, that didn't exist when we made Brazil?

Hi Terry,

Random question here. Do you own a pinball machine?

No, I wish I did though. If somebody's got one they'd like to give me, I'll give you my address later.

Mr. Gilliam, I have been waiting decades for an opportunity to discuss something with you. Brazil is among the very top of my favorite films. It is widely discussed as a film about a possibly futuristic (or retro-futuristic) totalitarian state. It certainly is that on one level. I have always viewed it as more importantly an examination, from a Freudian psychoanalytical/historical perspective, of self-repression. The film is replete with Freudian references; quite prominently, the Oedipal Complex, where the mother-son sexual relationship runs through the film. The principal agency of repression is the Ministry of Information, abbreviated throughout as MOI, from the French, “I”. The MOI logo is an almost pornographic representation of sex (and very much like Tantric yoni/lingum representations, which is another closely related angle of perception on the film to be explored). I could go on and on with such details. The first time I saw Brazil, I connected it strongly with Freud. But I struggled with that, asking myself, if it is Freudian, where is the anality? Indeed. I then understood the strange prevalence of ductwork, over-sized duck-billed hats, and the central role of the DeNiro character. Anality (ductwork as intestines/colon) is EVERYWHERE in the film. One could reasonably say it is the film’s central characteristic. Ha! I am no film (or Freudian) scholar, so I may well have missed this, but I have never seen the film discussed in this Freudian context. And viewing the film in this context does not mean it is not also about totalitarian state repression. But it demands that the relationship between self-repression and state repression be viewed as, perhaps, two expressions of a single repressive phenomenon (and one could well bring in the Tantric thing here as well, pointing us, perhaps, toward freedom). Would you comment on this Freudian, psychoanalytical approach to your movie? And, with a current events edge, how do you view the current surveillance state revelations and the relationship of that to self-repression?

Damn this is fun!

Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form.


I'm glad it allows people to expand what we did when we were just telling a simple tale about a boy who's in love with his mother and killed his father… sorry! that must be Freud. We were more into greek myths than Freud.

I just love the fact that I seem to be photographed by so many cameras 24 hours a day! I'm never alone. I know I am safe. The only problem is that when I want to make that bomb, somebody is going to spot me.

Just watched the trailer. WOW. Tell me this will soon be available in the USA. Why have I never heard of this before? I need to get you on some of the USA podcasts... maybe even the Bad Wilf podcast out of the UK. Ok, the question. So many off your films are very surreal. DO you aim to make them so bizarre and out there or is that just the way the story MUST be told?

I'm just trying to make people perceive the world in a different way than other films do. I don't want to reassure people. I want them to think and question the world they are living in. And we live in a surreal world, and nobody notices it.

All of your films have a certain unique and wonderful flavor and you have made the world better and smarter by not compromising just to get them made. Thank you, sir.

Well, that is nice. That is all I have tried to do is not compromise.

If you could take only three movies with you on a deserted island, which ones would you choose?

Well, does the deserted island have a projector or a DVD player or what? It's no good having movies with you if you can't actually watch them.

Have you read William Gibson?


So what exactly is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?



The question nobody has an answer to! This is the unanswerable question.

I love the journeys your movies take us on, particularly 12 monkeys and Brazil. 2 questions.

What was Heath Ledger like and what would he do in between takes?

Also, is there a movie you wish you had the opportunity to make?

Heath was a genius. Absolutely wonderful, wise human being. He laughed and danced between takes. We always had a jolly time.

Yes, the Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Probably heard this one before, but what was your favorite Monty Python sketch to film? I enjoy them all.

I liked the Undertaker sketch, where John comes to an undertaker played by Graham Chapman, with his mother's dead body in it, asking Graham for the best way to dispose of it. It was a very offensive sketch, and that was what was nice about Python, we were not afraid to offend and shock.

Hey Terry!! I've loved all of your films since I can remember!! Keep it up!! I have a few trivial questions:

  1. What is your favorite scene from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen?
  2. What was it like having to add actors in Tthe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus after the tragic loss of Heath Ledger?
  3. How much fun was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

and a final non trivial question:

  1. Would you send me a picture autograph signed to me?
  1. Oh my favorite scene: it was probably the one in the ballroom, with Uma Thurman playing Venus and Oliver Reed playing Vulcan.

  2. Well, it was the only way we could finish the film, and it was to me one of the greatest moments when you saw other actors coming forward to let Heath's last movie be finished.

  3. Fear and Loathing was great. Because we were like sharks, we could only move forward, we could never look back, so we just rampaged through that film.

Have you sent me privately your address? if you send it to me, I'll get a signed photo to you. That's your problem to solve.

Travelling an hour by train on Saturday to get to my nearest Zero Theorem-screening cinema- and I can't wait.

Did you have any kind of gut feeling or notion when you were writing and redrafting the screenplay of Brazil that it was going to garner the huge reputation it has now in the canon of dystopian fiction?

Also, not necessarily a question that can be answered, but I swear there are two shots- one from Brazil, one from Munchhausen, that are replicated in the early scenes of Disney's 'Up'.

No, we were just making a film we believed in, and thought it would be an interesting movie to have out there. The fact it was such a successful film, ultimately, is still a huge surprise to me.

Possibly? I know the guys at Pixar were big fans of both of those films, so maybe they stole from me as I stole from previous filmmakers.

No, we were just making a film we believed in, and thought it would be an interesting movie to have out there. The fact it was such a successful film, ultimately, is still a huge surprise to me.

Possibly? I know the guys at Pixar were big fans of both of those films, so maybe they stole from me as I stole from previous filmmakers.

The trailer of Wall-E uses the music from Brazil.

Hi Terry, I have 2 questions

1) Can you give any details on if there will be any new animation sketches at Pythonlive in July?

2) Are you going to be releasing any more movies on the Criterion Collection? Time Bandits perhaps?

  1. No, there won't be new animation, but there might be some re-jigged animation.

  2. If we can. A lot of movies are caught up in different contractual traps that we can't get them to Criterion. I love Criterion. They really give the public the chance to see great movies, uncut as they were meant to be seen.


When you sit down having finished a film, how good are you at judging what kind of critical and commercial reaction it will receive? I How accurate are your predictions and has the reaction to any of your films really caught by surprised.

And bearing in mind your previous accuracy; what kind of reception do you expect The Zero Theorem to receive?

Good luck with all your projects, by the way - heard you interviewed on Radio5Live by Simon Mayo the other day and you sounded rushed off your feet.

I don't know what the reactions are going to be, so I have a completely open mind. And I'm usually ready to be pilloried. But often surprised when I'm appreciated instead.

I don't know. All I know now, is that in all the screenings we've had in the past few weeks, the reactions have been incredibly good. So I hope there are a lot more people out there who are like those who have seen the film already.

Apparently I am the promotional campaign for Zero Theorem, so Zoey is the lady who rushes me off my feet to the next interview, day after day after day!

Hello! I saw Zero Theorem at the LFF and loved it. What advise you give to aspiring filmmakers to ensure we make the films we want to make?

The best way is to get a reasonably big named movie star to be in your movie, and then you can get away with anything you want to do.

What was the last time when a piece of art caused an overwhelming experience in you?
What would you eat a lot more often if it wasn't such a hassle to prepare or get?

Ah, that's interesting!

It's not the last time, but years ago, I was in Brussels, and there was a Bosch triptych. It might have been the Garden of Earthly Delights. And I did what young men used to do in the 19th Century, when young men had the Standahl Syndrome, which what it meant was that young men in Italy on the grand tour of Europe would see a great piece of art and SWOON. And looking at this Bosch painting, I swooned. I almost collapsed, it was so stunningly beautiful. So that was the last time I've swooned at art. Damien Hirst puts me to sleep, which is not the same as swooning.

I actually like easy food, like last night I had a really nice doner kebab from a Turkish takeaway place in North London. Easy, cheap, nutritionally sound. Everything.

When people try and shoot down your crazy ideas, what keeps you going?

That's the hard part. I think the spring inside my body was wound really tight when I was young, and it just keeps me going.

Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue has said that "Time Bandits" is his favorite movie of all-time. Would you consider directing the film version of Motley Crue's autobiography, "The Dirt"?

I've never read it, so I don't know whether I'm capable on it. Does it require my particular talents?

I was 9 or 10 when The Adventures of Baron Munchausen came out on VHS. My mom worked in a video store and brought it home for me because she knew I had loved Time Bandits.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen still is on a very short list for one of my favourite all time movies. It let a shy little boy know that it was ok to dream and how to be brave. It was vital to that shy little boy growing into a confident man.


Oh, that's very nice. I hope I haven't given you too much confidence, because life is ready to kick you in the balls when you least expect it. But that is very sweet.

Who is the nicest actor/actress you've ever worked with?

And who are the nastiest?

I'm very careful about who I choose to work with, so I've had a great time. I love Jeff Bridges, I love Robin Williams, I love Amanda Plummer, I love Brad Pitt. Because I choose carefully, I only have a good time. You have to choose your friends carefully.

Thank you for doing this IAMA

My question: Where would you rate working on Monty Python in your career?

It was probably the most important thing in my life, because I wouldn't be making movies now if I wasn't a part of python.

G'Day Terry!

What has made you want to make such interesting sci-fi thrillers, including your latest and one of my favourites 12 Monkeys, after years of excellent comedy with the Monty Python crew?

It was great to escape from comedy. Once I got away from Python, I could do films that involved romance, adventure, suspense. Comedy is a bit limiting.

In your opinion, what is the most underrated movie?

There are so many underrated movies! The most recent one I was sad to see not succeeding was Seven Psychopaths. Loved it. Thought it was great. Also, in America, the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus should have done more business, but that was due to terrible distribution so the public never really got to see it.

What's your happiest childhood memory?

That's nice. Probably being in an inner tube, tied to the back of my father's car, as he whiplashed me around the icy surface of Medicine Lake in Minneapolis in the wintertime. We'd bundle up, the ice was incredibly thick on the lake so you could drive on it, and he would tie a rope, and I would sit in the inner tube and be whipped around the lake, it was wonderful.

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Terry Gilliam conducted on Reddit on 2014-03-13. The Reddit AMA can be found here.