How Much Of "Dr. Parnassus" Was Changed After Heath Ledger's Death?

Illustration for article titled How Much Of "Dr. Parnassus" Was Changed After Heath Ledger's Death?

Terry Gilliam's new journey into psychedelia, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, is opening in several more theaters this weekend. We've got answers to your most pressing questions from director Gilliam and cast.


Dr. Parnassus is a tricky and trippy little film that only someone like Terry Gilliam could make. Characters wander in and out of reality, and into their own imaginations. After Heath Ledger passed away during filming, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel and Jude Law all stepped up to take over his remaining parts, which all happened to be in the imaginary world. It may sound odd, but the casting actually works well in the final cut of the film: After all, in your imagination, you can take on any shape, size or face. Now that the movie is opening for a wider audience, we know there will be plenty of questions regarding how much was changed. So we chatted with the cast and director Terry Gilliam to find out what they had to do to salvage Dr. Parnassus after the tragedy of Ledger's passing.

We were at a press conference with Gilliam, and this is what the director had to say.

How did your vision for the film change following the passing of Heath?

Terry Gilliam: It didn't change, basically, I just got these three other guys in. Basically what happened, we'd shot almost everything, on this side of the mirror, [in the film characters can jump into a mirror, "this side" refers to the real world]. There were a couple scenes we hadn't shot.

There's a scene between Anton and Jude, that used to be Tony's trial, and it used to be in the wagon with all with the other. By putting it on the other side of the mirror, it's a better scene, because they are the ones battling for Valentina. It worked out better. At one point I was just going to say it was co-directed by Heath, because he was creating these situations, where there were only a few solutions to. As far as Johnny, Colin and Jude taking over, that was inherent in what we had. It's already stated that two people go through the mirror, and one imagination may be stronger than the other. It's entirely possible that the middle-aged shopping lady could be dreaming of Johnny Depp and not Heath Ledger. But other than that, the dialogue is exactly the same as it was before.

What I can't tell, and will never know, is how the film would differ if it were Heath carrying the character all the way to his death. It might have been a stronger film. This way it might be a more entertaining film, it's certainly more surprising, because you don't know who you're going to see next. It was important to me not to change anything. There's a moment [in the dream world] with Princess Di and James Dean, a lot of people think that was written as a eulogy to Heath, that's exactly what was written before he died.


That's the advantage of not being a studio film. How many studios would have let me introduce Heath's character as we do in the film? And leave the dialogue in, "why are you fishing dead people out of the river he's dead." I said, we're not changing anything.

Christopher Plummer didn't want to say the line, in the monastery, when he's talking about different stories "It could be a comedy, a romance, a tale of unforeseen death." He didn't want to say it, it was after Heath died. I said, you have to say it. That's the film Heath and I were making. You don't change these things.

Illustration for article titled How Much Of "Dr. Parnassus" Was Changed After Heath Ledger's Death?

Are there any cut scenes with Heath that we didn't see and may see on the DVD?

Gilliam: It's all there. Nothing is thrown away, every bit is in there. For him to die when he did, it's like, how could you do it so tidily, I don't know what other word to use. He didn't destroy the film. He somehow got all the important work of his done and then died. It's still a very strange experience that I haven't completely sorted out in my head.


We also asked actresses Lily Cole, who plays the red-headed Valentina, what her take was on working without Heath. Did her character have to change?

You never kissed Heath Ledger's character, in the real world or in Dr. Parnassus' mirror world. While you eventually have that very intimate moment with Colin Farrell, who replaced him after his untimely death. Was that intentional, and how was that for you?


Lily Cole: I think the kiss itself is irrelevant. It was always going to be a symptom of a script. The actual experience of playing my character against Tony, still with the same relationship but at a different stage, with a different actor was very strange because of the circumstances. Colin was so lovely and funny and sympathetic and was going through a difficult time as well. At the same time, it was a very bizarre scene to play.



I enjoyed the look of it, was not as entranced by the story. Nonetheless, I want Gilliam to do more movies, period! At this point I'm willing to set up a fund for him to make Good Omens,