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THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

Carrying On
On January 22nd, 2008, during a stopover in New York, as the production transferred from London to Vancouver, Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

A devastated Terry Gilliam's immediate decision was to close down. "I just said I don't know how I'm going to make this thing work. I was too distraught to actually work out what to do. But everybody around me said ‘no, no, you have to carry on, you have got to do it.' Everyone was throwing in encouragement and ideas. The magical mirror solution was obvious, as we had already covered most of the scenes with Heath that happen on this side of the mirror, but the big question was ‘do we get one person to take over the part or not?' I already felt it couldn't be just one, it was too much of a weight, so we should get several people to do it if we could. I actually rewrote fairly quickly. There were only a few days to come up with a convincing solution and, luckily, there was no shortage of ideas, good and bad.

"We didn't have to rewrite that much, it was more or less a matter of juggling and trying to rearrange scenes that Heath was planned to be in, to see if we could make them with a double or find some cinematic trick.

Losing Heath created a situation that demanded clever solutions which pushed me into doing all sorts of things that were not my original intention. For example, we altered the part of Martin the drunk, at the beginning of the film, so that he was played by two actors. This established the principle that people can change on the other side of the mirror. Then I just started calling my friends and a lot of people who were very close to Heath.

"And so the three heroes, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law came to Vancouver to play these various aspects of Tony, the character which Heath Ledger began. Their willingness to help rescue the film and Heath's last performance was an incredible act of generosity and love. A beautiful and rare moment in our industry and, as a result of their involvement, the film is even more special: it's more surprising; it's become funnier. All in all, it's a bit more magical.

"We had to make a major leap to solve the problems created by Heath's untimely death, but, thanks to Parnassus and his Imaginarium, we have a magical mirror where, when we enter, things can be different, things are enhanced, are more extraordinary, are more wondrous. And so we made the leap. Every time Tony, Heath's character goes through the mirror, he becomes a different aspect of himself, played by different actors. It's been a constant delight to see what Colin, Johnny and Jude have brought to the part. Tony is an even more complex character and I think the audience will be on more of a rollercoaster ride as a result.

"We had to throw our schedule into the air. The shoot became a circus act of juggling, quick changes and contortions. There was a great deal of ad hoc movie-making, reorganizing the schedule as we shot, trying to fit everybody in. To make it even more stressful, Bill Vince was very ill with cancer. But, somehow it worked. Everyone was incredibly brave and positive, managing to jump into the spirit of a very desperate situation. And then, suddenly, we had finished the shoot. I don't know how, but we did it. This is a different film than the one we began. It's strange, but the forced solutions may have focussed us into creating a better film. The constant pressure on all of us was to end up with a film that was worthy of Heath's last performance.”

For Amy Gilliam, once they had decided to complete the movie, it was a hectic scramble to keep the momentum going: "While Terry was in London, figuring out the script changes, I spent three weeks running around Los Angeles. Everyone wanted to see the project completed, for many re

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