The Man Who Killed Don Quixote finally opens in Portugal this Thursday, February 17th, after hitting theaters in most countries between 2018 and 2019. This is a story inspired by the iconic books of Miguel de Cervantes – but reinvented from scratch.
This tale begins today when an advertising director meets a beggar who thinks he is Sancho Panza. This man ends up being drawn into a fantasy about time travel and can no longer distinguish reality from dreams.
The film was directed and co-written by Terry Gilliam, one of the mythical Monty Pythons and 81-year-old filmmaker known for productions such as Brazil: The Other Side of the Dream, Os Thidrões do Tempo, Delírio em Las Vegas , 12 Monkeys, The Fisherman King or The Baron’s Fantastic Adventure.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote seemed like a cursed project. That version was even put on hold after a court case pitting Portuguese producer Paulo Branco – who would be in charge of the project locally – against Terry Gilliam. But the story began much earlier.
Filming for the film began in 2000 with a different script and different actors. Johnny Depp was one of the protagonists back then. A series of disasters and setbacks prevented the project from moving forward. But Terry Gilliam’s heroic and epic struggle and desperation were captured in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Then several versions of the project were created with other actors and producers who did not move forward. Ewan McGregor, Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Gérard Depardieu, Jack O’Connell and Michael Palin were some of the names associated with it.
All these years later the film was shot with Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, the Portuguese Joana Ribeiro, Stellan Skarsgård, Óscar Jaenada or Olga Kurylenko, among others. Part of the filming took place at the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Read the NiT interview with Terry Gilliam.
This project has been a dream of yours for a long time. Is this the film you initially wanted to make after so many years? Or is it a completely different version?
It’s similar, because from the beginning – when I read the books of the [Miguel de] Cervantes – I thought: How do you do that? For a contemporary audience that differentiates between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries… That’s why we thought of including a modern man in this thing. And he was always a guy who worked in advertising and sold dreams, unlike Don Quixote who lives his dreams. It was, but it’s changed a lot over the years. I think the latest version is the best of all the scripts we’ve written and rewritten over the years.
Were there certain things that made you change your mind about certain parts of the film? Or was it a natural evolutionary process?
It was a start-stop process. I would stop and do other films along the way. Then he came back and he wanted to do it differently so it looked like a new idea. I’ve always tried to find it refreshing to surprise myself and it’s changed – that’s how it happened. And when you come to film and you have this or that actor, the film always changes. Incidentally, the film is never finished down to the last musical note. [risos].
Terry Gilliam with Portuguese actress Joana Ribeiro.
Have you ever given up the idea of directing this film? Or was she always there?
I wanted to give up, but when Quixote grabs you, he doesn’t let go [risos]. I kept coming back to him. I was finishing another project, thinking about what I was going to do, and all of a sudden I said, “Hi Terry, I’m here. I’m ready to fight giants.” [diz Gilliam com um sotaque hispânico, entre risos]. Basically, I never managed to escape from him.
When he began filming the film in 2000, he faced several difficulties. What was the biggest challenge this time?
The money was gone when we put the cast together and everything was in place. I won’t go into too much detail but we were ready to record and all of a sudden the money wasn’t there. So we had to start all over again. But then, Joana [Ribeiro] was already in the project. And it was a nice surprise. I was looking for someone who was latina in a way. When I came to Portugal someone told me to check out this girl. We had lunch and at the end of the meal he picked up the newspaper. If you go ahead and insist, you will find the right person. The same happened with Jonathan. [Pryce], who remained like Quixote. He’s wanted to do the film for a long time, but I was looking for other guys. I had already worked with Jonathan, I wanted someone else. But fortunately he did everything right on paper. to Adam [Driver] was one of the last to intervene. When I met him we were having lunch in a pub and I was completely blown away by him as a person. I thought this guy would be great because he has to become Quixote. When the two Twin Towers were blown up thanks to two planes, he joined the Marines to fight for America. It’s that kind of character. I saw immediately that he was perfect. None of the three could be better.
How was the reception in Portugal?
In a way, it was the best part of filming. We stayed at the Convento de Cristo in Tomar and I absolutely fell in love with this place. It’s so magical and extraordinary. And I have to thank the Portuguese, especially the first assistant director Maria [João Matos Silva]. It was the most organized part of the shoot. [risos], because we had recorded in Spain and we were tired. Suddenly we came to Tomar and everything went very well. The only surprise was when nature decided it was going to rain on us. A great joke of nature, because the weather was perfect for the rest of the recordings. We had a lot of fun, I have great memories of those moments.
When you first met the Convent of Christ, were you immediately enchanted?
Yes I find many places via google earth and was lucky enough to come across the monastery. The idea of the seven monasteries – which place is that? I have to go there. It’s incredibly beautiful and very different from the plans I had. I’ve always been a big fan of the Templars, they were expelled from France and turned up in Portugal, they changed their name and this monastery was born [risos].
He is preparing an upcoming film.
Has the almost mystifying effect of this film changed your perception of your work?
No, that’s happened with other films of mine. The production process of this film is exactly the same as the story I am telling. That’s what happened with Don Quixote. He starts, does something big, and then goes down. Then he gets up, but until the end there is a series of failures. And that’s it. And Portugal is the last country in the world to see the film and it’s a wonderful day to be back. It was a beautiful cycle that was completed here.
This film was a project that I had wanted to see realized for a long time. Do you have another story like this that you still want to do?
I’m working on something right now, I don’t know if it’s good. I read many books hoping that I will have the same kind of reaction. But nothing was ever as powerful as Don Quixote. Now I’m writing something about God deciding to destroy mankind. Because your beautiful garden, the earth, has been destroyed by mankind. I’m working on that.
Have you already written the screenplay?
Yes, it’s almost done. I don’t know if anyone will give me the money for it, but that’s another matter. [risos]. It’s funny: With climate change and the way we seem unable to fix things… Humanity is very good at rebuilding after a disaster. But this is crazy. Why can’t we stop or limit the catastrophe first? Things have improved but the Glasgow COP hasn’t done much. It has to get really bad before people start doing anything serious about it. And I think politicians are very weak. So God better step into the equation and make some decisions [risos].
Will it be a godly – and funny – approach to the subject?
It has to do with my frustration with the way the world is right now. And the fact of not knowing what to do to improve the situation. That’s why I want to make a film. Maybe someone sees it and thinks, yeah, we’d better do something about it.
Click on the gallery to find out more about the key films premiering in Portugal this year.