Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal at 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, January 2006.
"With his new film, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus", he didn’t think he would have any trouble raising the finance because of its cast: Heath Ledger, Oscar-nominated for Brokeback Mountain, had just finished playing the Joker in The Dark Knight, which was clearly going to be huge.
'I thought this one would be a piece of cake, to get £25 million with Heath Ledger on board’, Gilliam says. 'You would think that there’s intelligent life in Hollywood. But then you discover that there’s just fear. He giggles disarmingly, the famous high-pitched, faintly psychotic Terry Gilliam giggle, like Muttley in Wacky Races having inhaled helium.The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a voluptuous, gothic, sprawling, glorious, ambitious, chaotic, gorgeous feast of a film. Dr Parnassus, played by Christopher Plummer, is 1,000 years old, his immortality secured in a series of Faustian pacts with the devil (Tom Waits). With his daughter, Valentina (lucky Lily Cole, who gets to tango with Tom), travelling actor Anton (Andrew Garfield) and sidekick dwarf (Verne Troyer), he tours with his very uncontemporary travelling show around contemporary London, offering to take his audience – usually late-night drunks and shoppers – through the mirror of his Imaginarium, while he goes into a trance and they get a taste of their ultimate dreams. In order to avoid handing Valentina over to the devil on her 16th birthday, as arranged, Parnassus has engaged the devil in one last wager – the first to five souls. Enter Heath Ledger as Tony, an enigmatic, charming, worryingly insincere character who has, apparently, lost his memory.Ledger first worked with Gilliam on The Brothers Grimm in 2005, after Gilliam had learnt about him from his long-time collaborator the cinematographer Nicola Pecorini. They became good friends.
'I loved working with Heath on Brothers Grimm, he was fantastic’, Gilliam says. 'He went through an interesting time after Brokeback Mountain because he was so inundated with the big time. I would ask him about certain roles and he would say yes, and then no, so I learnt not to put any pressure on him because everyone else was. I didn’t actually ask him about this one, I waited until he asked me.’The shoot began in London in late 2007. Ledger was struggling in his personal life: he had recently split up with the actress Michelle Williams and was fighting with her lawyers over custody of their beloved two-year-old daughter, Matilda. Already suffering from chronic insomnia, he was exhausted after the Batman shoot and was fighting off pneumonia. But he threw himself into the work, ad-libbing a lot of the dialogue, and helping the other less experienced actors – Cole especially, as it was her first major role.Gilliam was working in the art department when his daughter Amy, one of the film’s producers, called him into her office and showed him the ABC website with the news that Ledger was dead. Gilliam had an idea: Johnny Depp, a long-term friend and collaborator, was also a good friend of Ledger’s. 'I just called him, as a friend, to say, “We’re f***ed.” Johnny said, “Whatever you want, I’ll be there.” Johnny has a huge heart’.'Johnny, Jude and Colin, they all did their job brilliantly, but what we’ll never know is what the effect of the film would have been if Heath had played all of it: when the audience suddenly realises how horrible he is – what would that have been like? Because there’s something so sweet about Heath.’Terry Gilliam grew up in Minnesota – 'happy kid, lived in the country’ – building treehouses, drawing, dressing up, swordfighting with sticks, entertaining himself in haunted houses in the woods, the swamp across the street. 'There were endless things to do,’ he says. 'I listened to the radio a lot; we didn’t have a TV till I was 11. It was, unfortunately, incredibly idyllic, and very Tom Sawyerish.’ Source: www.telegraph.co.uk