What made this time right for the cinematic coming-together of the Monty Python comedy troupe for the first time in 16 years? “I just like having friends around,” says Terry Jones, the Python vet who is directing John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and presumably Eric Idle (though that deal has not been inked yet) for the upcoming Absolutely Anything. EW spoke with Jones and producer Chris Chesser about the film, which centers on a pack of aliens who grant absolute power to an unwitting Englishman then sit back and watch what havoc he wreaks.
The Python guys will lend their voices to a pack of aliens in Jones’ and Gavin Scott’s long-gestating screenplay. If we’re very lucky, they may even lend their faces, as the film will be part CGI, part live action. “Maybe we should make the aliens look a little bit like John, Terry, and Mike — maybe distort their features a bit?” muses Jones. Chesser adds that he sees great potential for “Pythonesque or Gilliam-esque” effects in the finished project.
None of the creative powers that be could (or would) put their fingers on exactly what brought this project to fruition at this time, though Jones admits it helps that, “It’s turned into a very funny film!” Regardless of the circumstances, the involvement of the old gang was a no-brainer. “Just by its farcical nature, this movie lent itself to those guys,” says Chesser. However, he does note, “Terry didn’t develop this as a Python project.”
“The more Python project is a film that my son Bill is doing called A Liar’s Autobiograhy.” Bill, who was twice-nominated at last fall’s Emmys for his documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth — Lawyers Cut, is creating a 3-D animated film based on a vocal recording of late Python troupe member Graham Chapman reading his “so-called autobiography.”
In fact, it was Bill and his turn at the Emmys that inadvertently drove Robin Williams to Anything. Jones was also at the ceremony and personally recruited Williams for the still-developing project. As of this moment, Williams has officially signed on to play a dog that at times seems wiser than all the humans and otherworldly creatures around him. Though Jones hasn’t narrowed down the wry pooch’s breed just yet, he is thinking a canny Jack Russell might be a good fit. (With today’s news that The Artist‘s beloved Uggie is retiring, there’s a hole to fill!) Jones and Chesser are also in talks with Williams about playing a live action role called “The Frenchman.” Details are sketchy, but it’s pretty safe to say you can let your imagination run wild for that character — wackadoo Williams certainly will.
Unlike many Python movies before it, this film actually has a protagonist in British comic star Sanjeev Bhaskar (The Kumars at No. 42, Notting Hill), says Chesser. As for the supporting cast, Jones keeps mum on exactly whom he is eying for cameos, but he does hint, “I guess we’ll have a list of character actors coming out of England. My casting director is Irene Lamb, and she comes up with inspirational ideas.”
Jones shakes off the notion that his film about the disastrous potential of unlimited power was meant to have any political resonance amid the economic flailing of his native England and the brewing U.S. election. “I hope not,” he laughs, adding cryptically, “but maybe. I just want to make a funny film.” Then again, this is a man who has attempted for to avoid characterization for 43 years. “With Python, we always wanted to avoid any classification. We just wanted to surprise people, do a thing without any style,” says Jones. “The fact that ‘Pythonesque‘ is now a word in the Oxford English Dictionary shows that we’ve totally failed!”
Anything will begin filming late this spring of in early summer and is projected for a spring 2013 release date. In the meantime, Jones has been commissioned to create an opera (also featuring a world-wise canine — who practices medicine) for the Royal Opera, he is preparing a production of The Nutcracker, and he’ll also be behind-the-scenes on a barge-based opera of The Owl and the Pussycat for next year’s Cultural Olympics, running concurrently with the athletic games in London. With all these projects in the kitty (or should I say puppy?), Jones seems to have lived up to his desire to be beyond classification.