You once told that Italy's your favorite country. Is that still true, after the trouble you had filming The adventures of Baron Munchausen in Cinecittà?
GILLIAM: Cinecittà is not my favorite place. But Italy is wonderful; I think that the weekends are what keeps me surviving in this place. Rome is wonderfully refreshing and reinvigorating: in the weekends I'd spend maybe five hours wandering through Rome, and walk, walk, walk. I'd love not having to work, here.
Cinecittà is a very difficult studio, since it's very bureaucratic. It's very old and there's problems created that aren't necessary. The individual people working in it are wonderful.
And why did you decide to shoot Munchausen in Cinecittà?
GILLIAM: The apparently intelligent reason was that working in Italy was 30/40 % cheaper. But in a way I think I just wanted an excuse to come to Rome. It's quite nice to think you're working where Fellini made his films. *laughs* No, I think that England has become predictable when one knows how to make a movie. It was nice to go somewhere different and bring a few of my remaining friends along, and see what we could do.
IDLE: *yelling* And what he did was cut all my hair!!! Is that what friends are for?!?
Are you having as many troubles as you did while making Brazil?
GILLIAM: Oh no, many more! This is a much more difficult film. It's a very strange thing working with people speaking several different languages. Things that would be quite simple in a country where we all speak the same language, become very complicated because everything is being translated, so there are always voices traslating everything.
IDLE: He's also very hard to understand in english!
GILLIAM: *laughs*This is totally true! It's no joke!
Which film of yours did you like doing best?
GILLIAM: Anyone with Eric in. *laughs* No, I think I enjoyed "Brazil" the most. Battles afterwards were horrendous, but the making was very good.
IDLE: I liked making "Rutles" best, 'cause none of the other Pythons were in it.
GILLIAM: We're a very very tight group, as you can see!
When I saw Brazil, I remember wondering if you had seen Michael Radford's 1984. In both movies the future was visualized with a distinctly "Forties" style...
GILLIAM: Yeah! It was frightening because I went to the opening night of 1984 in London. We had been shooting Brazil six months before they had begun, and I knew they had been turning in locations that we had used. In the first ten minutes of the film I thought "My God! They've done it, it's incredible!". And then the rest of the film went on and on and on... *laughs* So I came out really much happier. A nice thing is that I've never read the book 1984. Strangely I bought it just before we started Brazil and decided "No, I've gone this far without reading it and I don't want to read it now". It's very strange the number of similar things, very precise things.
Do you think there will be further series of Monty Python's Flying Circus on TV?
IDLE: No, I don't think so. I think that that sort of show is a young men's show. We've gone past that stage, after. We like to make longer things rather that just sketches.
GILLIAM: You get less intelligent when you get older! We were very smart when we were young. I mean, in Monthy Python's The Holy Grail we didn't have horses because we couldn't afford them, so we made them with cocoanuts. That's a much smarter way of making a film, than having real horses. I think that the most intelligent solutions are forced on ou by lack of money and time.
IDLE: It turns out that Munchausen isn't very intelligent.
GILLIAM: Naah, it's just some people involved with it that are not very intelligent! Until now I'd never known what was it like to deal with sixty horses.
Do you know what are the other Python doing in this moment?
GILLIAM: Nothing very interesting.
IDLE: Are they still alive?
Actually, we've formed a production company, with a small studio and facilities. John Cleese and Michael Palin just made one film, and Munchausen is the second.
A famous scene in Time Bandits had a landscape shattering like a glass painting and revealing another one behind it. Was it a conscious tribute to Rene Magritte?
GILLIAM: It was stolen from Magritte! All the best things are stolen in my films. Again, it was a desperate solution to a problem of money and time. We had to invent a way to get from A to B, and we had no money to do it. So the idea was that we had actually reached the place, we just couldn't see it: it was behind an invisible barrier. I'm sure that the image of Magritte was just in me. I collect all that stuff in my brain and use it all the time. So I take all the credit for them until somebody discovers me.
Time Bandits was produced by George Harrison, of whom Richard Lester told once: "He makes films just to spend some of his money!". What do you think of him as a producer?
IDLE: No, George is very careful on how he spends the money. When we were making The Life of Brian he came and saved us. He said that the reason he wanted to make the film was that he wanted to see it. And he's not making Munchausen! But he did put his house up to provide the money for Brian. Hadn't it made money, he'd be living in a bungalow.
GILLIAM: We were very lucky because all our early movies were financed by pop musicians, which gave us an incredible freedom. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Charisma Records; they were very popular and they had tax problems, so we helped to solve them.
How did you work together in writing the gags for the Monty Python show?
IDLE: We just write different pieces, with different kinds of humour. And we mix all of them up, criticizing each other's work. It used to take about two years to write a picture: people think that we improvise, that we just go down and have fun; but everything's very carefully preplanned and worked on over two years. So very often it happens that the one who plays a certain gag is not the author of it. That's why we play women also!
We followed a trend of TV satire in England, when they used to attack in a very precise way certain politic men. So we avoided direct attacks to aim to more general targhgets. And the nice thing about that is that you can see it again and again, rather than depending on news and powers of the time. So we didn't have any geographical problem. Our show went to 73 different countries, and it's been # 1 in Japan.
GILLIAM: Yeah, but they changed the title. It was The Gay Boys Dragon Show. Maybe that's the explanation of the success! (he laughs) It's very strange but the Python seem to have found an audience in every different country. For years we thought we'd never make it in America, and eventually it proved to be our most successful territory.
IDLE: We always tried to make the stupidest things in the most serious way. It always worked on the assumption that if it made the rest of us laugh it was in, if it didn't it was out. We would sell the gag to others comedian. (he laughs)
GILLIAM: And they would make it work!
You often use lots of special effects. Don't you find it difficult to be funny with all this technical stuff around?
GILLIAM: I agree, it's terribly difficult. Eric can speak very well about this.
IDLE: Yes. One of the reasons why I came here late tonight is that I've been chased across the surface of the moon by a man throwing giant asparagus at me. They were about thirty metres long! And the man was riding a griphon with three heads! But I think that I love to be funny dressed in very elaborate costumes, or in very elaborate sets.
GILLIAM: I think that this film has cured me of special effects!
Your movies are always entertaining to watch. Do you also enjoy making them?
GILLIAM: No, it's terrible. Everything is so long. I hate making films! I wish there was another way of getting the ideas onto the screen. It's like having a long, awful journey, and you hope you have a few friends aboard to make it entertaining. I keep hearing of directors who are passioned: but there's nothing to improvise, it's just hard work. I enjoyed writing this thing with Charlie McKeown. Writing is great because everything is possible; but then the film is done before we start the shooting. Then the shooting is awful, except that I now enjoy watching the performances of the actors: it's when the part comes alive, usually in a way you didn't think of. And the editing in the end is also good fun, because you're now limited by all the mistakes you made, and you've got to make something good out of this dysaster. I wouldn't encourage people into making films!
So why don't you just write down your movie, and leave the shooting to somebody else?
GILLIAM: Because... I'm not a very good writer!