Quint chats with Terry Gilliam about his goofy short film THE LEGEND OF HALLOWDEGA and the current status of QUIXOTE!
Published at: Nov. 8, 2010, 2:20 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a brief chat with one Mr. Terry Gilliam. To paraphrase one Mr. Winston Zedmore, when someone asks if you want to talk to a God you say yes. The circumstances for the talk weren’t as interesting as my last conversation with the man (read the very long and very frank discussion from Comic-Con 2009 here), but I’m such a gonzo fan of his that when I got the call to chat with him via phone for a short film he did about Nascar of all things, I of course said yes.
I only got 10 minutes with him, but we talk about the short film, titled The Legend of Hallowdega, his working relationship with David Arquette (who shows up in the short and brings a Gary Busey sized amount of crazy with him) and where he’s at with Don Quixote.
If you would like to check out his short (and if you’re reading this I’d imagine you would) you can check it out at this website!
Hope you guys enjoy the chat. When you get to the end look for a link to the short film itself!
Quint: Hey, how’s it going sir?
Terry Gilliam: How are you? (Laughs) Fine, I’m fine.
Quint: I’m doing very well. I got to check out the short. You and NASCAR don’t seem to be the most obvious combination. I love that they brought you in to do this crazy thing. It seems like they gave you a lot of freedom, especially when David Arquette shows up things get really bizarre.
Terry Gilliam: I think the new patrons of the arts are corporations and when Pepsi said “We want you to make a little film, you’ve got complete freedom.” That’s it. It’s not a commercial, so I was thinking it was kind of like the new meta che and I’m either the new Michelangelo or Leonardo or this is how low things have sunk. (laughs)
Quint: But it must be great. When you do something as big as a film, you’ve got a lot of people to answer to; there are so many people that want to have a say and if they gave you complete freedom, that must have been extremely attractive.
Terry Gilliam: It was actually just something fun to do on a week that I had nothing else to do, that’s what it was really about. It was about playing. Again, I’m just trying spell out it’s not a big film that requires all of the production, the pre-production, and the planning. This is just something we kind of through together quickly, had a good laugh and had a great time.
What was most fun was working with David and Justin who were… And it’s the same thing, they just came down to play and that’s what we did. It was almost like… I wouldn’t say it’s Python, but it was the same kind of light free fun.
Quint: And I think that shows through, it really does. At the beginning, I’ve got to be honest, they were like “Here’s this short that Terry Gilliam directed about NASCAR.” I’m like “Oh… okay.” It really won me over the second that David Arquette showed up and I’m like “Okay, I get what you guys are doing now.” It really is just kind of this loose, as you said, very laid back fun.
Terry Gilliam: Yeah, it’s not going to change history. It’s not going to make society better, it’s just having some fun and for me also it was just shooting very fast with a really good crew of people. We just handheld the whole thing and this is so unlike the way I normally work and that for me was one of the things that interested me because I couldn’t spend the time on all of the things I normally spend time on. We would just grab things and to be honest it really loosened me up a lot, possibly for the future even.
Quint: Can you talk a little bit about working with David specifically? That dude goes into some crazy places there. He’s a little OUTER LIMITS in that character and it’s really fun.
Terry Gilliam: That was the thing. Literally I had never met David before; I had talked to him once on the phone and he was a big fan of TIME BANDITS among my other things and I just said “Just come on down, we will just play.” That’s what happened, he got down there, we met the evening before we started shooting, talked a bit, got the costume sorted out thanks to the guy who was doing the tattoos, he was wearing the trousers that David had ultimately in the film and those were better than the costumes that were given to David. (Laughs)
Everything was ad hoc and then to focus David’s mind on this weird character, I gave him a lot of references of arcane symbolism of Robert Flood, who was an alchemist and said “Look at all of this stuff.” And then he had this waistcoat that he then spent the entire evening and night drawing all of these abstract symbols all over it. It’s a piece of art now which he made and which was kind of his training for the character.
Quint: And something else that I really liked about the short though was kind of the red herring where I love that there were ghosts, but that wasn’t what was causing the accidents. Do you know what I mean? It’s like I love that there was all of this time spent trying the find the ghosts and they are there, but they are really not doing anything.
Terry Gilliam: It’s such a silly joke… It’s actually just a shaggy dog story, really. It has a very silly ending to it. (Laughs) Even the sound guys were having fun, because when the car gives the final moment… We don’t want to give anything away yet, the car does its final flop, there’s the sound of the pipe and foot.
Terry Gilliam: Another funny thing is one of the first characters that comes on, a local, he’s the guy who’s in a business suit and he’s with the little cars on his mantle piece. “There’s nothing like Nascar.” The guys working on this thing, because they all seem to be fans... Ken Shabby is the character that I think Michael Palin played in Python. I changed the spelling, if you look at it, it’s “Kenneth Shabeigh.” It’s just for Python fans, there are bits and pieces.
Quint: Nice! Another thing that caught my eye a little bit was… You are very well-known for casting really interesting people and I loved seeing all of the faces discussing the ghost stories.
Terry Gilliam: That’s the thing, some of them are real drivers who are in real races and others are actors and others are real local people that we picked up. The (person) who is talking about how she’s half Indian she says, that’s a lady that was just in a little country restaurant we found. The two guys at the beginning who are sitting in the chair and they say “You want use of this moonshine?” Those are real guys who were just there.
Quint: (Laughs) Yeah, it felt like it. They were either the real guys or the best actors I’ve ever seen.
Terry Gilliam: Those are real guys and they are great! They are just wonderful. So I think for me, I think the most important thing was being able to spend time in Alabama and meet all of the people down there and I really liked them. They come with a rather bad reputation of being dumb and blah blah blah and a bunch of rednecks. That’s not what I found. I just found great people.
Quint: Yeah, well you know it kind of reminds be just a little bit of seventies filmmaking. You have movies like DELIVERANCE where they have the real people and that felt like a little bit more redneck-scary, but then the other side is like Spielberg and JAWS and casting so many of the Martha’s Vineyard locals as Amity townsfolk and that really does give an identity I think to things and I could feel a little bit of that.
Terry Gilliam: It’s like the guy who is Ken Shabeigh is actually the manager of the hotel we were staying in. (laughs) And there were a lot of guys that were playing ghosts who were waiters in the same hotel. Everybody just wanted to come and play and that’s what we did.
Quint: That’s great. Do you think that you will do more of this kind of stuff in the future? It sounds like you had a fun time.
Terry Gilliam: It’s not where my main attention is. This happened to come at a right moment where there was a gap and I was depressed and I wanted to do something different, just to shake myself up. This came at just the right time and it’s perked me up to no end.
Quint: Excellent, so what are you onto now? Are you still chugging away at QUIXOTE?
Terry Gilliam: Of course, QUIXOTE is the main thing and we are trying to put the other leg back on the horse, the one that fell off! That’s one reason I’m in LA right now, meeting a lot with people just to get the thing back and running. In fact I just saw Robert Duvall two nights ago, we had drinks and he’s as excited as can be. It’s nice. It’s nice when you’ve got people who are so committed to this project.
Quint: I talked to Robert for GET LOW. I was pretty nervous, but he seemed like the coolest, most down to earth dude.
Terry Gilliam: And he’s a truly great actor. I had never seen him put a foot down wrong, really. He even takes little nothing parts and makes them interesting somehow and his best work is pretty hard to top by anybody.
Quint: Absolutely. Well, good luck on the film and I speak for a bunch of fans of yours that we can’t wait for you to finally get it up and going. Thanks for taking the time.
Terry Gilliam: We’re in California panning for gold right now.
Quint: (Laughs) Well, we hope you strike a deep vein.