Talking with the director of ''The Brothers Grimm'' -- Terry Gilliam opens up about his adventures in Hollywood and takes a swipe at today's movies

In a studio outside of Prague, director Terry Gilliam has created a fairytale forest, complete with eerie trees and a witch-queen’s castle. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the legendary siblings in The Brothers Grimm, and in this scene a curse has been lifted, a bevy of enchanted little girls hopping and skipping in delight. Unfortunately, the conditions aren’t magical: The crew is near the end of a wicked five-month shoot, Damon needs to jet off to begin filming The Bourne Supremacy, and the air is filled with so much mood-setting dust and dirt that those off camera wear masks (Gilliam opts for a blue bandana, bandit-style). And the girls aren’t exactly effervescent: ”Come on, kiddies, whoop-de-doo!” chirps Gilliam.

”More happy, more happy!” The scene drags on: There is grime application (Ledger), wig adjustment (Damon), and excessive nose blowing (everyone). ”The girls seem not to be jumping up and down with joy,” Gilliam mutters. He yells cut — and curses with deep sincerity.

By that point, he had plenty of reason. Filmed back in 2003, the $80 million Brothers Grimm is the most expensive movie Gilliam has ever helmed — and the famously independent director clashed repeatedly with Dimension Films studio chief Bob Weinstein over everything from leading ladies (he wanted Samantha Morton, he got gorgeous unknown Lena Headey) to cinematographer (his regular collaborator, Nicola Pecorini, was fired six weeks into the shoot; Weinstein says it was because he wasn’t fast enough; Gilliam has other thoughts). Of the conflicts, Weinstein shrugs and says, ”If you work with one person on something so big and it’s your first time, it’s like you get married and have nine kids the first year.”

The battles and long delay to release — due to more conflicts, over Grimm’s editing, as well as the Weinstein brothers’ divorce from Disney — have only added to Gilliam’s reputation as a maestro of chaos. The man has created fantastical, engaging films like Time Bandits, The Fisher King, and 12 Monkeys. But he’s also credited with making one of the most notorious flops ever, the $40 million Adventures of Baron Munchausen. More notably, his aborted shoot of the Johnny Depp film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was so fascinating in its implosion, it became the basis of a documentary, 2003’s Lost in La Mancha. During the grueling editing of Grimm, Gilliam took a break and filmed an entire indie movie, Tideland, the surreal story of a lonely little girl who creates an alternate world, which includes talking Barbie doll heads (it’s set to premiere at the Toronto film festival). The image of a man in disarray is one his stars fervently dispute. ”People on the outside go, ‘Oh, he’s a mad genius and nobody understands what he’s thinking,”’ Damon says. ”Nothing could be further from the truth — he’s so good at communicating. He has a huge personality, which might intimidate people, but he’s not cruel. He yells to the gods. Although unfortunately those gods oftentimes are studio executives.”

The Brothers Grimm
  • Movie
  • 118 minutes