Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 16:43 UK

Talking Shop: Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam's latest directorial effort.

The fantastical morality tale stars veteran actor Christopher Plummer in the lead who, along with his travelling acting troupe, allows the public to explore their imaginations when they step through his magical mirror.

The movie hit headlines in January 2008 when actor Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose halfway through filming.

After production was temporarily suspended, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell were later cast to play Ledger's character - the mysterious Tony - for when he steps into the Imaginarium.

The film also stars Andrew Garfield, model Lily Cole and Austin Powers's Verne Troyer.

This film was not without setbacks - how do you feel now it has finally been completed?

It's great! I felt very nice a couple of months ago when we finally put it together and realised it was working - up until then we had no idea whether we'd pull this little miracle off.

We've been having so many great screenings in France, Italy and Spain and it's going brilliantly - I'm a happy guy.

Heath Ledger
Filming was suspended after Ledger died halfway through production

This was a real labour of love for you wasn't it?

All my films are a labour of love because they're horrible things to do. You've got to be either possessed or obsessed to do it in the first place.

This one was obviously more difficult than anything I've done before, but when you're surrounded by great people and some help they're able to all band together to make it work.

How did you decide who you would cast as Tony, Heath Ledger's character?

Once we had Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law it all worked out. Johnny had to be first because I wasn't sure if it was going to work, but if it worked with Johnny doing it then I thought everything else would follow.

Strangely enough I had been talking to Jude about playing the part of Tony before Heath got involved, but Jude was involved with something else and wasn't available. We made a book to help sell the film and I did a painting of the ladder scene and it was Jude on the ladder, so it was only right that he did that.

And Colin - who gets to play the really evil side of Tony - he's got a widow's peak so he's perfect!

This film is visually stunning. How did you come up with the idea for the Imaginarium and is this what your mind looks like inside?

It was a chance for me to play. Every time someone goes through the mirror it's a different world so it's like me doing my cartoons again and also back to Python days.

There's one scene that's very much Pythonic, but it was a chance to be free and explore and dance around wonderful worlds.

Jude Law
Jude Law was one of the actors cast to replace Ledger

With the current trend for big budget blockbuster and teen movies, how do you think general audiences will receive the film?

Hopefully this is what they've been waiting for, for several years. When I go to the cinema and look at trailers, I see the same movie again and again just with different costumes - it's the same thing and it's getting really boring.

The one thing I feel about this film is that it's unlike anything out there. It's really fresh and works.

I've seen this playing in large audiences all over the world so I know it works. You go from seven-year-old kids who get it, to teenagers, to all sort of ages.

It reminds me of Time Bandits in that sense because it appealed to people from seven years to 80 which nobody at the time thought was possible. I think this one is in the same league.

Is it true you are beginning to work on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote again, 10 years on from your first attempt?

Yes, the budget arrived yesterday. I've been looking at locations in Spain and already started casting, so it begins!

It's the 40th anniversary of Monty Python this year - are you surprised by its longevity?

Yeah, because it was made with just six guys entertaining each other and the fact it just seems to go on and on is just amazing. It provides a nice pension fund and allows me to spend lots of years between each movie trying to raise the money!

Terry Gilliam was talking to BBC Entertainment reporter Genevieve Hassan.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is on general release.

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