‘I didn’t have a stroke’: Terry Gilliam on health scare and Don Quixote

As ‘cursed’ film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote premieres after three decades, director says reported stroke was a perforated artery no more painful than a stubbed toe

Terry Gilliam has said that he always believed that he would finish The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, despite the 29 years of development hell he endured making the film.

After more than a quarter of a century, numerous production troubles and a prolonged legal battle, the saga around Gilliam’s long-held passion project finally ends, with the comedy closing this year’s Cannes film festival.

The film, an adaptation of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, starring Jonathan Pryce as Quixote and Adam Driver as Sancho Panza, was shown to critics on Friday, with cheers greeting its opening credits. It will receive its official premiere at the festival on Saturday night and will be released in France on the same day, with a UK release date to be announced.

The former Monty Python cast member told the Guardian he never doubted his ability to get the film made. “I just kept going on and on,” he said. “I’ve never been able to explain why I was so determined, obsessed to make it. After a point I realised that if you’re going to do Quixote you’ve got to become Quixote. You’ve got to have ups and downs.”

The director made light of the health scare that saw him hospitalised last week – reported at the time as a stroke. “It’s like I stubbed my toe,” he said. “That hurt more, actually. It’s not actually a stroke; it’s something different with similar symptoms, a perforated medullary artery. I’m fine.”

Regarded as one of the most unlucky productions in cinematic history, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been in the works since 1989. It commenced production on eight occasions, the most famous being in 2000, when filming of a version starring Johnny Depp was disrupted by flash floods, constant flyovers by Nato aircraft and the French actor Jean Rochefort, who died last October, suffering a prostate infection. A tribute to Rochefort appears at the end of Gilliam’s film.

The dramatic events of that production became the subject of an acclaimed 2002 documentary, Lost in La Mancha. He Dreamed of Giants, a follow-up film chronicling Gilliam’s attempts to revive the movie in the years since, will be released alongside The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Gilliam’s woes were finally thought to be over last June when he announced that a new production of Don Quixote had completed filming. However, the film’s future was again cast into doubt earlier this year when producer Paulo Branco filed a legal injunction blocking the Cannes screening and cinema release. Branco claimed to have signed a contract in 2016 that provided funding for Don Quixote in return for contractual rights to the film. Gilliam says that none of the promised funding had materialised, prompting him to find backing from other sources.

Last week, a Paris court ruled in favour of the film being screened at Cannes, prompting the festival director, Thierry Frémaux, to declare: “We have won.” However, the court also ruled that a warning would have to be screened at the start of the film noting that the rights to it “are subject to current proceedings”. The announcement was greeted with hoots of derision during the press screening on Friday.

A final legal verdict on the rights issue is expected on 15 June. Gilliam expects the ruling to fall in his favour. “I think it’s going to be very hard to stop the juggernaut now,” he said.

The director came under criticism earlier this year for comments he made about the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, which he described as resembling “mob rule”. When asked if he had any regrets over the comments, Gilliam was careful in his response.

“My wife [the makeup artist Maggie Weston] has made me swear on my marriage certificate that I will not talk about this, so I have to obey her,” he said. “Nobody read the actual article. They read the headlines, is all I will say.”

When asked what he will do now that he has finally completed Don Quixote, the director said that he would consult Weston. “If my wife has her way we will go on a long holiday somewhere,” he said. “I think it’s about time. She and my daughter have really taken a lot of shit from me with this film, so I’ve got to mend a lot of fences.”


Gwilym Mumford

The GuardianTramp

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