THE IMAGINARIUN OF DR PARNASSUS DIRECTOR TALKS MOVIE WITHOUT HEATH LEDGER

After his death, the script for 'The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus' was rewritten to allow other actors to play Heath Ledger's (l.) role, including Johnny Depp (c.) and Jude Law.

After four weeks of shooting the “real world” part of “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” in London, writer-director Terry Gilliam gave his cast a few days off while the production moved to Vancouver.

His star, Heath Ledger, headed for a few days’ rest at his apartment in New York, but eager to fly out later that week to finish the movie.

As the world knows, Ledger never made it.

“[We] finished on the Saturday night after midnight. The next morning Heath gets on a plane for New York and I go to Vancouver and on Tuesday he’s dead,” Gilliam says, his face still registering surprise almost two years later.

“You can not actually begin to imagine it. He was healthy, alive, vibrant, joyous. It just didn’t compute.”

The 69-year-old filmmaker has been no stranger to bad luck: Gilliam had to shut down his dream project, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” in 2000 because of a perfect storm of flash floods, budget problems and injuries.

Still, Ledger’s accidental overdose on prescription drugs on Jan. 22, 2008, left Gilliam in unknown territory.

Should he scrap the entire project – like George Sluizer did with “The Dark Blood” after River Phoenix‘s 1993 death – or should he go on, relying on special effects and body doubles to finish Ledger’s scenes – the way the late Oliver Reed‘s part was salvaged in 2000’s “Gladiator”?

Gilliam chose to do, in the words of one of his former Monty Python cast-mates, something completely different in his approach to the movie, which opens in New York Christmas Day.

It all started with a commiserating phone call with his friend, Johnny Depp.

“I told Johnny, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I might close the whole thing down. I don’t know how to finish it, I don’t know if I want to finish it,'” Gilliam said.

“And Johnny said, ‘Whatever you decide, I’ll be there.’

“And that kind of started the turn.”

Gilliam didn’t want to abandon his story of a traveling side show, where members of the audience enter a magical mirror that lets them choose between enlightenment and the more tempting eternal damnation.

At the center of the tug of war is Ledger’s Tony, a charmer with terrible secrets.

Since much of the movie is set in the computer-built imaginary universe behind the mirror, Gilliam decided Tony could look different depending on whose fantasy pulled him in.

The director recruited Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law – all friends of Ledger’s – to play the role. The actors then donated their salaries to a fund for Matilda Rose, Ledger’s daughter with actress Michelle Williams.

“Everyone raised their glasses and toasts were made and we all thought Heath was very much there in spirit,” Farrell told the News last year, comparing the set to an Irish wake.

“It was one of the most special seven or eight days that I’ll ever have in my working experience.”

Ledger’s passing does cast a shadow over the movie, most notably with his first scene – the very first he shot – showing the 28-year-old actor hanging from a noose on the underside of a bridge.

“There was not a moment I considered [cutting that visual] – that’s what a studio would’ve done,” said Gilliam, who relied on independent financing to make the movie. “Heath and I set out and that was the story we agreed on doing and that’s the story that we did.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/2009/12/20/2009-12-20_heaths_spirit_lives_on_in_final_film.html#ixzz0aLKZ2ALc

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~ by jennylilbit on December 21, 2009.

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