Staging Principles: Casting Advice from Terry Gilliam

An extra quickie from the AV Club interview. The best casting philosophy I’ve ever heard:

Terry Gilliam: […] I think Johnny [Depp] is interesting, because he has kind of become the great clown, and the one everybody loves. Because nobody does what he does. He dances on high wires when he does it. [Laughs.]
AV Club: This is something the two of you share.
TG: That’s why it’s a joy working with him for me, because we just start on each other’s shoulders.
AVC: Is that a criterion for you as far as working with people? That they’re willing to be up there on the wire with you and not look down?
TG: That’s exactly it. I want brave people. Fearless ones. A good actor just goes out and leaps off the edge and develops wings on his way down, hopefully. That’s the kind of people I really enjoy working with. Playing safe isn’t much fun. I like danger. It’s controlled danger, always, and that’s why I hope I don’t lure too many good actors down into the pits with me, because I hope they maintain their own unique talents. That’s what’s important with someone like Parnassus, like Chris Plummer. No mater how much I tried to lure him into my world of silliness, he maintained his dignity—which is important. [Laughs.] So I cast knowing that these people will be strong and they’re not going to be too easily seduced by me.
AVC: You can put ridiculous makeup on him, and it will still be Christopher Plummer underneath.
TG: That’s it. That’s the key to it. That’s what was interesting about Heath. He always managed to keep his feet on the ground, no matter what he was doing. That’s why I like working with good actors.

In short, says Gilliam, you need to trust me when I do this to you:

Got that, Johnny?

And no complaining about your costume!

Terry Gilliam is a Terrifying Genius

There is a moment in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard where a servant says to the clown of the play: “Yephihodov, you a genius. A terrifying genius.” This comes right before he strikes out with the girl of his dreams for the upteenth time and makes a complete and utter fool of himself in pretty much every way possible. I bring up Chekhov because I love him and I’m always on the lookout for my life to imitate his art. And I think I might have found a real life Chekhovian character at long last.

Director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam is a pretty amazing person. His dystopian reimagining of 1984, Brazil, is a landmark film, and his animation work for Monty Python perfectly set the tone for their greatest works (especially Holy Grail.) This is made all the more amazing by the fact that Terry Gilliam is quite possibly the most frustrating person to work with. Ever. He was also probably cursed by an angry gypsy. No lie. Seriously.
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