Terry Gilliam talks 'Monty Python', 'Zero Theorem,' and being legendary

Terry Gilliam. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Terry Gilliam. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:39 PM ET

Terry Gilliam was the least enthusiastic of the Pythons going into that live reunion gig in London.

Prior to the series of sold-out shows at London's O2 Arena -- which culminated in a feed to movie theatres worldwide Sunday -- he was quoted making sarcastic comments about paying John Cleese's alimony and the mortgage on Terry Jones' mansion.

That was then. Last week, Monty Python Live (Mostly) was still in full swing as he gave a phone interview from London promoting the video release of his movie The Zero Theorem. And he confessed to a mood swing.

"When I was interviewed before, I was in the middle of rehearsing an opera (Benvenuto Cellini, his collaboration with Brian Eno), and I was to shoot a film in autumn (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote).

"So this buggered up my plans. I was not a happy guy.

"But now that we got into the show, unfortunately, I'm enjoying it. I'm very disappointed about that," he says with a giggle.

"The show is really working, it's fantastic, it's big and beautiful, unlike shows we've done in the past. Even my wife, who thought it was a bad idea six months ago, came and thought it was wonderful. So I take back everything I said."

Gilliam had just had his first look at the 50-foot dead parrot that had been created as a prop for the inevitable TV special. Was he gobsmacked by all the attention?

"No, it's what we deserve!" he says with playful sarcasm. "Aren't we legendary? I keep reading this in the press."

The irony is that, away from Python-mania, Gilliam has made a career of wildly imaginative, and sometimes confounding movies -- some of them classics (Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys). Each has been, I suggest, a Sisyphean struggle, many opening to barely a ripple at the box office.

"Sisyphus is my favourite Greek," he says of the mythical king doomed to push a rock uphill for eternity. "I feel like I've been living his story."

The Zero Theorem is a case in point. Set in a corporate Orwellian future marked by a barrage of noisy ads, it stars Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, a misanthropic computer drone, mysteriously chosen by Management (a singular figure played by Matt Damon) to find a theorem that proves the universe is meaningless.

Citing Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, I ask about his fascination with dystopia. "Dystopia? Why, this is a utopian future! It's wonderful! All those ads with happy faces in them? Lovely clothes, beautiful people. This is about the one guy who doesn't enjoy it. He's the dystopian character."

Like (1984's) Winston Smith? "Boom!" Gilliam replies.

And why would a corporation want to quantify the meaninglessness of life? "Because it would leave you empty, and every commercial you see is saying you lack something, that you're failing in some way. But we can fix it for you. Advertising, to me, is designed to undercut any confidence you have and offer you the solution. It works just like Scientology."

Scraping by with stars working for scale (including Tilda Swinton and David Thewlis), and shooting in Bucharest, The Zero Theorem was reduced to finding wardrobe at a Chinese market. "Just terrible man-made s--- bought by the tonnage. Poor Matt was sweating under all that plastic."

And does making a movie for $8 million keep studio fingers out of the pie? "At that price, there are no fingers in the pie. That's the good thing. When producers float around, they comment, but it's my film. And that's how I like it."

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