Terry Gilliam said last week that he plans to start production on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote on Sept. 29 in the Canary Islands. This comes on the heels of Gilliam’s January Facebook post of art director David Warren‘s new concept drawing for Quixote, which was accompanied by this message: “Dreams of Don Quixote have begun again. Dave Warren has started doodling. Will we get the old bastard back on his horse this year? Human sacrifices welcomed. Stay tuned.”
Adapting Miguel de Cervantes‘ Don Quixote has been Gilliam’s dream project for 25 years, and this will mark his seventh attempt to get a production of it off the ground. While the director has always been “desperate” to make Quixote, in an interview he gave this summer he said that he had accepted the fact he’d probably never get to make the movie after so many failed attempts.
The most famous failed attempt came in 2000, when a Johnny Depp-led production of Quixote was doomed by NATO fighter planes constantly flying overhead, a severe back injury to Don Quixote (Jean Rochefort) and a flash flood that ruined the location’s landscape and damaged equipment. All of that bad luck resulted in an estimated $16 million insurance claim and the script being thrown into legal limbo for much of the decade. The entire debacle was captured in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, a project that began innocently enough as a behind-the-scenes “making of” doc.
Gilliam’s Quixote re-emerged in 2009 with Robert Duvall set to replace Rochefort and Ewan McGregor to star, but financing never came together. Gilliam told Empire he’d be re-casting for the “11th time” and did not indicate if any of the previous version’s stars were still attached. It is unlikely that Gilliam will be able to count on Depp, who set up his own Don Quixote project at Disney last winter. It might be hard to imagine 81-year-old Robert Duvall literally climbing back on the horse come fall, but as recently as last month the actor indicated he was still planning on being Gilliam’s Quixote.
Gilliam did say he’s continued rewriting the script and hinted that the new version was smaller and could be made more cheaply. From the start, Gilliam never planned to take on Cervantes’ full text. Originally, he’d planned on adding the character of Toby (Depp), a modern marketing exec who travels back in time and whom Don Quixote mistakes for his sidekick Sancho Panza.
In 2010, Duvall told Movieline that his Quixote would be different than the one Rochefort was playing in 2000: “It’s a different take on [Quixote]: He really begins to believe he’s Don Quixote, even though he’s a shoemaker. I don’t even understand the script, totally, because he’s just so out there, Gilliam. You know, with dwarfs on the ground and everything. I told him, ‘You can’t have too many dwarfs!’ “
According Gilliam, the key to Quixote‘s 2014 rebirth is his new, smart and young (“young enough to still love movies”) Spanish producer Adrian Guerra (Grand Piano, Red Lights, and the upcoming Sean Penn starrer The Gunman). Guerra, only 29, already has the reputation for finding innovative schemes to get movies made cheaply in Spain by tapping into the country’s tax breaks to benefit local business. He is also a real cinephile, having launched Madrid’s Fantasy Film Fest at age 19 and founded Verses Entertainment, which releases classic films on DVD.
Will Don Quixote ride again? Stay tuned.