Two deaths, one broken vertebra – but still Gilliam makes it to Cannes

A dead A-lister, a dwarf, a trio of male cuties and a former Python with a wacky cackle drew the world's paparazzi to the Cannes Croisette last night for the first showing of Heath Ledger's final performance – but Terry Gilliam's fantasy tale The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus still lacks a distributor.

The director was in Canada last year when his daughter told him to look at the BBC news website: his lead actor, Heath Ledger, 28, had joined a select elite of actors, including James Dean and Oliver Reed, by dying during film production. Gilliam had shot about 45 per cent of the movie.

"The choice I made was to close the film down," he said yesterday in Cannes. "I couldn't see how we could finish it without Heath because we were in the middle of production.

"Fortunately, I was surrounded by really good people who insisted that I shouldn't be such a lazy bastard and I'd better go out and find a way of finishing the film for Heath. That's what we did." But not before the producer, Bill Vince, also suddenly died, requiring Gilliam's 30-year-old daughter Amy to step in. Then Gilliam (who memorably had to abandon The Man Who Killed Don Quixote after a series of misfortunes) was hit by a car in Soho, breaking a vertebra.

He rewrote the script and installed three stand-ins for Ledger: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. (Gilliam signed the latter in an impromptu deal at Ledger's funeral.) The actors donated their fees to a fund for Ledger's three-year-old daughter, Matilda.

"I basically was just calling people who knew and loved Heath," Gilliam said yesterday. "Everyone in the cast and everyone in the crew was determined that this film would be finished and everybody worked longer, harder and somehow we got through. It was really people's love for Heath that propelled this thing forward."

Ledger played the head of a children's charity who is found hanging from a London bridge and auspiciously saved by a travelling circus. He becomes part of the act. The show, led by the aging Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), allows audience members to slip through a magical mirror and enter a dream world of their own imagination.

Tom Waits appears as the devil, a bowler-hatted Lucifer with designs on Parnassus's teenage daughter, played by the model and Cambridge history of art student Lily Cole, 21. "I just know that the restructuring of the world through stories is vital," Gilliam added. "What I'm talking about is using one's imagination to expand the possibilities and the view of the world people have."

Gilliam arrived in Cannes this week still searching for a distributor, after a screening for Los Angeles film execs left them "dazzled but puzzled". His last two films, Tideland and The Brothers Grimm, tanked four years ago. Many end-of-festival distribution deals will be sealed in Riviera hotel rooms. Gilliam is no friend of Hollywood bean counters – he describes them as "hollow, desperate people" – but a good reception for Doctor Parnassus will propel reticent American buyers towards a deal, particularly given the cast and Ledger's enduring appeal (The Dark Knight surpassed $1bn in ticket sales in March).

However, the early murmurs from sympathetic critics are that the picture, while startling, may eventually be remembered merely as "Heath Ledger's last movie".

Ledger's family have yet to see the film, which they supported. "What was important for me was just to make a film with Heath's last performance up there alive and well," said Gilliam.

"I think they are going to be delighted by it."

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015